September 1, 2002

The second Red Clay Ramblers album, recorded in 1974, released by Flying Fish, Stolen Love, is now a collector’s item. The rights now belong to Rounder Records, but the album has not been digitally reissued...yet.  Rounder has yet to wake up and smell the coffee. Stolen Love was recorded just BEFORE the RCRs went to New York City with Diamond Studs. It represents an important stage in their development as a band. One has only to read the liner notes that go along with it to understand what a precious recording this is. Listening to it, one hears the very distinct personalities in the band, and each member’s love of music. The resulting chemical reaction is better than the best lasagna (with a pinch of cloves in the sauce) heated to a tangy tomato/gooey melted cheese mesa after twenty-four hours of stewing.

At the time of recording, I was a thirteen or fourteen year old. This was about the time my brother and I were building planes on the living room floor with a sleeping bag. We were at the end of a period of living in an apartment complex with a pool, where we spent many afternoons. Laurel Urton had just hitchhiked down from Maine with her dog Naji. She was soon to become a frequent "governess" for Tom and I while the Ramblers traveled.

I listened to the Ramblers practicing without being aware of listening. Dad talked about songs. I picked a lot of it up without knowing what I was learning. While my peers (Jane Pratt and Mary Lee) were listening to rock'n'roll (was American Graffiti out yet?) I was listening to an eclectic collection of songs ranging from Winston Ward's version of "The Golden Vanity,"  "Kingdom Coming" by Henry C. Work, and "Parting Hand," a sweet shape note hymn, to "Keep the Home Fires Burning" as sung by Mike Craver, and "I Got What It Takes" as recorded by Bessie Smith.

I sang a lot of these songs on a road trip to visit Dad during A Tune for Tommy this past spring. It was later, upon listening to Stolen Love recently, that I realized I had nearly memorized the album. No wonder I am such a nonconformist today. That is how I was raised.

So here they are: the liner notes by Bill Hicks, which tell so much about the origins of the band, and the early RCR sound. Read them:

Stolen Love -The Red Clay Ramblers

The Red Clay Ramblers are composed of Mike Craver (piano, guitar), Bill Hicks (fiddle), Tommy Thompson (banjo, guitar, harmonica), and Jim Watson (mandolin, guitar, autoharp, bass).  The band was formed in the fall of 1972, in Chapel Hill, N.C., when Tommy and Jim, who had been playing together for several years, invited me to join them.  We started doing gigs in local bars almost immediately, and recorded our first LP in the spring of 1973.  (It was released by Folkways in August, 1974.)  Previous to that, Tommy had recorded two albums with the Hollow Rock String Band (Kanawha and Rounder labels), Jim had appeared on the second Hollow Rock LP, and I had played fiddle with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band on both their Rounder LPs.

In the fall of 1973, Mike Craver joined the band, bringing with him a fresh and exciting sensibility towards all sorts of traditional music which he expressed in his piano and guitar work, and in his singing as well.  Though the band had its name before Mike joined, it was he who completed the circle and filled out the range of musical interests and potentials which the four of us had in common.

Since we recorded the first record, the Ramblers have been rambling up and down the east coast playing jobs where we could find them (and using up all our day-job vacation time in the process) and trying to keep growing musically.  For us this had included broadening the range of our repertoire--taking the basic string band instrumentation (plus the piano) and singing styles into musical regions where it has not existed, or only marginally existed, before.

In the fall of 1974 circumstances presented us with the opportunity of continuing this development in a new setting--New York City--when we became involved as musicians and (believe it or not) actors in an off-Broadway “country musical”--Diamond Studs: The Life of Jesse James.  The show was put together by two members of a rock band which shared the bandstand of a Chapel Hill bar with us: Jim Wann and Bland Simpson of the Southern States Fidelity Choir.  What started off as a six-week lark in Chapel Hill became quite serious when a New York producer, the Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn, invited the whole show  north for the winter.  We went, leaving our jobs behind.  Amazingly, the play, which utilizes traditional music as well as a range of “soft rock” material was (still is at this writing) a success.  And so we find ourselves somewhat unwilling New Yorkers for the better part of 1975, playing traditional music eight shows a week for New York theatergoers who, before they walk into the theater, don’t know a country fiddle from a kazoo.

We plan to leave Diamond Studs (with a great sigh of relief) at the end of August.  Then it’s back out on the road, this time as full-time musicians. For those gentle readers interested in bookings, write c/o Bill Hicks, Box 7167, College Station, Durham, N.C. 27708.

We are very grateful to our friend Doug Johnson for the beautiful painting which adorns the front of this jacket, and for his design of the jacket.

Bill Hicks
Central Park
New York, N.Y.
May, 1975

Note: Instrumentation and vocal personnel for each cut appear in that order in the parentheses at the end of each note.

Yellow Rose of Texas.  This version of the well-known song comes from Tommy Jarrell of Mt. Airy, who recorded it in the 1920s with Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters.  The song itself, according to one account, celebrates a slave girl named Emily Morgan, originally from North Carolina, who seduced Santa Anna at a most opportune moment and thus helped to pave the way to Sam Houston’s victory at San Jacinto.  (banjo, fiddle, guitar, piano; Hicks, Watson, Thompson voc.)
Big Sciota comes from the Marlinton, W.Va. fiddler, Burl Hammons.  Burl, like many fiddlers, doesn’t always play his tunes the same way.  This version, collected in August, 1970, by Malcolm Owen, Blanton Owen, and Bert Levy, differs considerably from the version of the tune which Alan Jabbour collected from Burl and included on the Library of Congress LP The Hammons Family.  (fiddle)
Abe’s Retreat was collected by Dr. Melvin Artley of Elon College, N.C., from the W.Va. fiddler Emory Bailey in the early 1950s.  Burl Hammons plays a similar version, and remembers the tune having been connected with a song about Noah’s Ark with the refrain, “forty days and forty nights.”  (banjo, fiddle, guitar,  mandolin)
The Golden Vanity is probably one of the best-known Child ballads (number 286).  This version, in which the “mate” who pulls the drowned cabin boy onto the deck has become female, was sung at a late night hotel-room jam session in Glenville, W.Va. by Winston Ward.  Eric Olson taped the session, and taught the song to us over the telephone.  For further information, call information, Cullawhee, N.C. (fiddle, guitar, guitar, autoharp; Craver, Thompson, Watson)
Stolen Love was first recorded by the Red Fox Chasers, an outstanding 1920s string band from Lowgap, N.C.  Many of their 78s, including this one, have been reissued by County Records.  (banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, mandolin; Craver, Hicks, Thompson, Watson; Watson lead voc.)
I Got What It Takes (But It Breaks My Heart To Give It Away) was recorded by Bessie Smith, and is included in the Columbia reissue series of her work which appeared a few years back.   (banjo, bass, fiddle, piano; Hicks, Thompson, Watson; Hicks lead voc.)
Keep the Home Fires Burning was written by Lena Guilbert Ford and Ivor Novello in 1914 (piano; Craver lead voc; Frances Tamburro, Thompson, Watson chorus voc.)
Honey Babe was recorded by The Mississippi Sheiks, a black string band based in Jackson, Miss., in the 1930s.  It can be found on a Yazoo reissue of their 78s.  (banjo, fiddle, guitar, piano; Craver, Thompson, Watson)
Balleydesmond Polka comes from the Irish fiddler Dennis Murphy.  He recorded it on his album Star Above the Garter.  (banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin)
Wind and Rain is an amalgam of two American version of the Two Sisters Child ballad, one from Dan Tate of Fancy Gap, Va., the other from Kilby Snow of Fries, VA. (fiddle, guitar, guitar, autoharp; Craver, Thompson, Watson)
She’s Been After Man Ever Since was written and recorded by Alfred Reed in the 1920s.  We suspect that even then there was a good deal of tongue-in-cheek involved.  Alfred Reed was a blind fiddler and singer who made his living playing music throughout the Appalachian region of the south.  (banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin; Craver, Thompson, Watson; Watson lead voc.)
Kingdom Coming was written by Henry C. Work in 1872.  The tune, usually known as The Year of Jubilo, is still played by many traditional American fiddlers, but we have never heard the song, which celebrates the end of slavery, sung by traditional musicians.  A shortened version of the song was incorporated by us into the “country musical” Diamond Studs.  (banjo, fiddle, guitar, piano; Craver, Hicks, Thompson, Watson)
Staten Island Hornpipe is a popular New England fiddle tune.  Our version is played more at reel than hornpipe tempo--a common approach to hornpipes in the south--and the C-phrase of the second part diverges from the written source for the tune, the “Nelson collection.”  (banjo, fiddle, mandolin, piano)
Parting Hand is a shape note hymn, traditionally used as the benedictory hymn in a hymn-sing. We follow the written harmony in The Christian Harmony, but have not included all the verses.  The song was written by Jeremiah Ingalls in 1803.  He published The Christian Harmony in 1804.  (Craver, Hicks, Thompson, Watson)
Forked Deer is one of the most popular American fiddle tunes, and would seem to derive from an Irish hornpipe.  We can cite no particular source for this version.  Happy hunting.  (banjo, piano)

Photo by John Rosenthal, Chapel Hill, November 1974.  Left to right: Lenny Rogoff, Jim Watson, Cece Conway, Laurel Urton, Tommy Thompson, Tom Ashley Thompson, Bill Hicks, Frances Tamburro, Spike Craver, Jess Thompson.

back to the top
Besides Tommy's section of the site, the following pages are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community

Site maintained by
September 1,  2002