I used to sing (well, I still do when I paint). Nothing spectacular, but it’s always been a very special part of my life. My sister and I sang harmony on long road trips (my dad drove us cross country twice when I was young—before there were freeways). Two friends and I had a little singing trio in high school (you’ll see one of them, Joy Patterson, comment on the blog from time to time) and I also sang in the choir. I was part of a rich music culture in Eugene, Oregon when I lived there in the late 60s and early 70s.
But my sweetest memory is that of my grandfather, my mom’s dad. He was a farmer and they never really had much money. In fact they were quite poor. But he had his music. He’d come in from working the fields at the end of day and go right to his mandolin that hung on the wall behind the wood stove. He’d settle into his rocking chair, still in his overalls, a spittoon nearby, and begin to play.
When I was there he’d invite me to sing with him. He’d pay me a penny to learn a new song. I’d sit there on his lap, rocking with him, back and forth, feeling his heart beating against me, his breath coming in and out, the smell of chewing tobacco rich in the air, and we would sing: Oh Susanna, Comin’ Round the Mountain, Tennessee Mountain Home, Any Old Time… and he would yodel. He died when I was just 10, but those afternoons spent singing with him have always stayed with me.
It wasn’t until someone mentioned, decades later, that my singing style was reminiscent of Jimmie Rodgers (the father of country music, the singing brakeman) that I realized I carried my grandpa’s musical heritage within me.
I was talking to my mom about grandpa the other night and she told me he used to play fiddle for her to tap dance to—Turkey in the Straw—when she was little. I didn’t know mom tap danced or that grandpa played the fiddle. They had a huge house fire at one point and mom thinks the fiddle was lost to the fire. He also played the harmonica and juice harp. A very musical man. And that’s one of the wonderful things about music: it is accessible to everyone, rich or poor. Great music traditions have been born out of poverty.
I recorded various tapes over the years, but only one has survived. It was in an old reel to reel format, but Bob Pooler from Waldoboro, Maine, just transferred the tape onto a CD for me.
So I thought I’d share it with all of you, and dedicate it to my Grandpa Hammar. These songs were recorded in 1972 or 1973, I think, and until the other day, I hadn’t heard them in a very long time. I would love it if you all would send in recordings or videos of your own music, please!
Many of the photos in the music video were shot by Kevin Hulett.
Love to you all,