TO THIS WEBSITE
This is a website about the first ten years (or so) of the band, “The Red Clay Ramblers.” It is NOT a website about the current band “Craver, Hicks, Watson, & Newberry,” which plays occasionally when all of its members happen to be free of other musical and otherwise obligations. If you’re wanting to book “Craver, Hicks, Watson & Newberry,” or just find out what they’re doing or did lately, click here. It is also not a website about the current band The Red Clay Ramblers. You can find them at http://www.redclayramblers.com.
There has been some confusion about this website, in some quarters, which resulted in the “Craver, Hicks, Watson & Newberry Group” being called “The Original Red Clay Ramblers” by some venues who booked them for gigs, even when instructed not to do so by the CHWN band. This shall happen no more. Please! There is no such band as “The Original Red Clay Ramblers.”
Now, if you’re wondering about the Red Clay Ramblers you saw or listened to back in the ‘70s, you’re at the right place. (Or maybe your parents saw or listened to.) And, indeed, Jim Watson, Bill Hicks, and the late Tommy Thompson did decide to perform under the name “The Red Clay Ramblers,” in the fall of 1972; and in the spring of 1973 Mike Craver joined the group and for the purposes of this website will be considered one of the four original Red Clay Ramblers, because he appears on all of the recordings of the first 10 years of the band, and in many ways contributed to the unique sound and creativity of the original group, from the get-go. These four people, in other words, pooled their unique, individual musical abilities and sensibilities to create the Red Clay Ramblers and its musical “product,” which in simpler times would just be called their music.
This website will present a kind of scrap book of the Red Clay Ramblers’ first ten years, which included the accomplishment of some seven LP recordings as well as a very successful off-Broadway run of the play “Diamond Studs.” (Clive Barnes, New York Times drama critic of the period, said about the Red Clay Ramblers of 1975: "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!...the Red Clay Ramblers are authentic... they play like angels auditioning for Gabriel." )
There will also be sections on the subsequent careers and lives of the original members of the band, including in the case of Tommy Thompson, his tragic decline into Alzheimer’s Disease, which forced him to leave the Ramblers in the early ‘90s. Tommy’s daughter Jesse Thompson Eustice tells much of this story, as she became Tommy’s primary care-giver during his final years. And you’ll find some information, as well, about pertinent events in the years prior to the formation of the Red Clay Ramblers in 1972, such as pages about the Hollow Rock and Fuzzy Mountain string bands, and reminiscences about the famous Friday night jam sessions at Tommy and Bobbie Thompson’s house at Hollow Rock, which were the “garden of Eden” from whence all the rest of the good music flowed, so you might say.
At one time this site also included information concerning the reformation of the musical collaboration of Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, and Jim Watson, which began with a concert at the Festival for the Eno in Durham, NC, in 2001. After going their separate ways, Mike, Bill and Jim found that rekindling the old sparks and a lot of the music they had written or arranged, and recorded and performed, during the ‘70s was still a delight. Adding Joe Newberry on banjo completed the basic sound their ‘70s opus required, and Joe also brought his own personality and creativity to the new group. It seemed natural to include information about the new group’s activities on this site.
Unfortunately, the very sensible name of the site, “Original Red Clay Ramblers,” also looked like a band name to some people. This site does not wish to further any such misapprehension. Indeed, Craver, Hicks, Watson, and Newberry profoundly wish NOT to be mistaken for The Red Clay Ramblers—quite the contrary! Thus, information concerning the activities of the Craver, Hicks, Watson, Newberry group will no longer be found herein, but at their own, separate website. Mike, Bill, Jim and Joe also have other “places” on the web—here are links to them.
The Red Clay Ramblers did not close shop after the first ten years. The band evolved. Bill left the group in 1981. Jim and Mike left in 1986. Sometime in the late 1980s the Red Clay Ramblers became The Red Clay Ramblers, Inc. Tommy left in the early ‘90s, his Alzsheimer’s having become by then too debilitating for him to continue to perform. (Mike and Bill, together with Tommy’s daughter Jessie Eustice, performed with him in his very last public appearance, at Carrboro’s Fete de la Musique, in 1998.) The Red Clay Ramblers of today includes Jack Herrick, who became a member of the Red Clay Ramblers—bass and occasional trumpet--beginning in 1976, and who made significant contributions to the Ramblers’ music, including his contributions on their recordings beginning with “Twisted Laurel” in 1976.
This website, then, focuses on the first ten years of the band—the original or founding members of the Red Clay Ramblers. This choice of focus is not meant to imply anything concerning the later group and its ongoing activities. As with many things, Robert Hunter was perhaps correct when he said “what a long strange trip it’s been.” The archaic photo of the 1974 Red Clay Ramblers displayed above is from a piece of sheet music which Mike Craver, Bob Barrett, and myself produced in ’74. It’s the first original song we performed—we even did it at the Kent State Folk Festival that year. Traditionalists were not amused, as I recall. The song is reproduced later in these pages, for them what’s interested in a factual record.
This is Brenda Overholt’s website. She’s a fan of the music of the original Red Clay Ramblers. I’m delighted that she cared enough about those days and those records to bother putting up this site. There’s nothing for sale here, after all.