Program Notes: Ramblers Past and Present
Red Clay Ramblers Reunion for Tommy Thompson
June 14, 2003 - North Carolina Museum of Art
CLAY BUCKNER currently resides in Carrboro, NC, the self-proclaimed "Paris of the Piedmont."  Primarily a fiddle player and vocalist, he also performs on harmonica and mandolin. He has been a member of the Red Clay Ramblers since 1980, and has performed with them in concerts, film, and theatrical productions around the world. Credits include the Broadway hit Fool Moon with David Shiner and Bill Irwin (New York, L.A., San Francisco, Vienna, Munich), A Lie of the Mind, Far North, and Silent Tongue for Sam Shepard. He also appeared with Tommy Thompson in stage and radio versions of his wonderful play, The Last Song of John Proffit. Current motto: "I'm not an actor but I have played one on stage."

ED BUTLER arrived in Chapel Hill in 1982 and since then has performed on stage both nationally and internationally with a variety of acts and performers.  Since 1989, he has performed with the Red Clay Ramblers at The Winnipeg Folk Festival, L’Orient Festival in France, a couple of live radio broadcasts of Mountain Stage in Charleston, W. Va., on "A Prairie Home Companion," and Kudzu-A Southern Musical, performed at The Reynolds Theater at Duke University and Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.  In 1987, Ed performed in Morocco with world/jazz band, The Thelonious Society and in 1992 toured the UK and Europe with Mercury/Polygram recording artist Michelle Shocked.  Ed has also composed for a variety of theatrical performances: he was the in-house composer for Jelly Educational Theatre, a Chapel Hill based children's theater group, for a production of Electra, directed by Bob Leonard at Virginia Tech, and for Playmakers Repertory Company's 2002-03 season finale production of Oscar Wilde's Salome, directed by Trezana Beverly.

MIKE CRAVER grew up in Lexington, North Carolina and was attracted to folk music at an early age. Though not a founding member of the Ramblers, he was the next to join after Tommy, Bill and Jim. Hired as a bass player, in fact, Mike is primarily a gifted pianist, singer and songwriter, who broadened the band’s repertoire and style in a wonderful way. He left the Ramblers in the late 1980s and moved to New York City to pursue full-time work in musical theater. He co-authored and performed in award winning off-Broadway productions The Oil City Symphony, Smoke on the Mountain, and Radio Gals. Mike has also recorded three critically acclaimed solo albums: Fishing For Amour, Wagoner’s Lad, and Shining Down. He returned to North Carolina in the late 1990s, and has resumed performing his music, occasionally with fellow former Ramblers, while continuing to write songs and shows.

CHRIS FRANK’s professional debut was at the age of fourteen, playing bass in his brother's garage band. They actually had a gig, saving Senior Prom night from disaster by filling in for the "professionals" who never showed up.  After college and a short career teaching elementary music, Chris set out on the road as a "sensitive singer/songwriter” but eventually wormed his way into The Red Clay Ramblers, first performing with them as Music Director for Tommy Thompson and Bland Simpson's musical Life On the Mississippi in 1982; he continues with them today.  Chris has been active with the Ramblers in concert, film (scoring two Sam Shepard films) and stage (winning a Tony Award in 1999 for Fool Moon with David Shiner and Bill Irwin).   Chris's "day job" for the past ten years has been scoring music for film and TV.  If you stay up late you can sometimes catch TLC's "The Operation" which he scored for six years, and numerous Discovery Channel documentaries. He is the founder and CEO of, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to furthering the appreciation, preservation, and performance of traditional and contemporary folk music from around the world.

RICK GOOD, though the newest Rambler in the band, has been a Red Clay compatriot since the early seventies, when he was a founding member of the Hotmud Family string band.  For the past sixteen years, he's been composing, arranging and leading the band for Rhythm in Shoes. As an actor with the Mad River Theater Works, Rick starred in Tommy Thompson's one-man play, The Last Song of John Proffit, performing the show all over Ohio and Michigan, and he continues to be the only actor besides the author to have done so. His 1997 recording of original songs, entitled Nova Town, was followed in 2000, by a full-length theatrical production of the same name. His most recent collaboration, Rambleshoe, was a joint venture with Rhythm in Shoes and the Red Clay Ramblers. 

JACK HERRICK composed music and lyrics for Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, which he performed with the Red Clay Ramblers in 1985.  Wrote and produced music and lyrics for Mr. Shepard’s two feature films Far North and Silent Tongue. For regional theater: book music and lyrics for Tar Heel Voices and Cool Spring [with Bland Simpson]; Kudzu [with Doug Marlette and Bland Simpson]; Ear Rings [with Tommy Thompson]; Munci Meg [with Don Baker and Robin Mullins] and Glory Bound [with Tom Zeigler].  Mr. Herrick has written three children’s musicals commissioned and produced by The Saint Louis Repertory Theater:  Johnny Appleseed, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Bah Humbug.  In 2001 wrote music and lyrics for Lone Star Love [book by John Haber] produced by the Great Lakes Theater Festival.  With the Red Clay Ramblers, Bill Irwin and Dave Shiner, Mr. Herrick created and performed Fool Moon which in 1999 was given a Tony Award. Thanks to Lynn and Skyler, and to Tommy for so many great years of music and friendship.

BILL HICKS was born in Raleigh, in 1943.  While in graduate school at UNC he met Tommy Thompson (a fellow philosophy grad student) and started playing fiddle--he'd learned violin in the fine Needham Broughton string program lead by Richard Southwick in the 1950s.  In l970 Bill joined the Fuzzy Mountain String Band and recorded with them for Rounder Records.  In 1972 Tommy, Jim Watson and Bill formed the Red Clay Ramblers.  Bill wrote, toured and recorded with the Blurs until 1981, when he left the group.  He now plays and records with his wife Libby (South of Nowhere, on the Copper Creek label), writes songs (he has a solo live CD, The Perfect Gig, which features an Outer Banks ballad of romance and tragedy called "The SOB in the Carvel Truck"), is Associate Editor of the Old Time Herald, and is a stone mason by trade.  So much for a graduate degree in philosophy.

BLAND SIMPSON joined The Red Clay Ramblers in 1986, and since then has toured extensively in North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He has collaborated on such musicals as: Life On The Mississippi (w/ Tommy Thompson); Kudzu (w/ Jack Herrick and Doug Marlette); Cool Spring and Tar Heel Voices (w/ Jack Herrick); King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running (w/ Jim Wann, Don Dixon, and J.L. Mills); Diamond Studs and Hot Grog (w/ Jim Wann); and, w/ Irwin-Shiner-Ramblers, the 3-time Broadway hit and Special Tony Award-winning Fool Moon.  Director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Creative Writing Program, Simpson has also written the books: Heart Of The Country; The Great Dismal; The Mystery Of Beautiful Nell Cropsey; Into The Sound Country, with photography by his wife Ann Cary Simpson; and Ghost Ship Of Diamond Shoals:  The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering, a nonfiction novel.

JIM WATSON was born in Durham and is a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers.  He took to old-time and bluegrass music in the mid 1960s, and became part of the Hollow Rock String Band circle in 1968 that included Tommy and Bobbie Thompson, Alan Jabbour and Bertram Levy. He performed with the Ramblers for 14 years, contributing his skills on mandolin, guitar, autoharp on bass, as well as a powerful vocal presence. Jim has remained extremely active since departing the group, performing and recording solo and with friends such as the Green Level Entertainers and Rebecca Newton. For the past several years, he’s worked with Robin and Linda Williams as a member of Their Fine Group, appearing regularly on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Jim has recorded two outstanding albums of his own Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Know and Willie’s Redemption.

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June 17, 2003