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Red Clay Ramblers 1972-1981 NEWS
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1976 TV show posted on YouTube 9/5/13!

Where the Twisted Laurel Grows, 1976
Appalachian music program
presented July 4, 1976
West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The program starts with Lelly Mae Ledford ("Pretty Polly").  Second on the program is Tommy Jarrell with Barry and Sharon Poss ("Soldier's Joy," "Drunken Hiccups").  The Red Clay Ramblers close the show with "Hobo's Last Letter" and "Where the Twisted Laurel Grows." The latter song was chosen to be the title of the new TV show and is an early example of a music video with scenes of the band mixed in with a story scenes set West Virginia.

Mike Craver has sent along souvenirs of his RCR days.  First is an article he wrote for The American Interest magazine, "Rambling Man." Mike lets us in on his life and writing music and plays before, during, and after the Red Clay Ramblers.

Then Mike's friend and Rambler fan Elva Bishop passed along an article and interview "The Ramblers Return."  Back from Africa, the Red Clay Ramblers' Tommy Thompson talks with Joe Vanderford in Spectator Magazine, Nov 19, 1981. 

And Elva also passed along calendars and posters from her archive that Mike has also posted on his website. 

1980-1982 Cat's Cradle calendars
1984 Rhythm Alley gig posters
Tom Dummer's Wall - posters/tickets/business cards
(click on the pic for larger version)
Tom Dummer of the Hiawatha Festival in Michigan sent this picture of his wall to Bill in 2014.  Here's what Tom wrote: "You guys were in the UP in spring 1980.  Hiawatha was formed in 1979, and I started plastering posters on the wall of the spare room in my cabin.  I put up posters, flyers, tickets and other ephemera from any and all events we had. ... 2 years ago was a busy summer and all I managed to get done was to empty out the 2 last rooms.  That is when I rediscovered the archive walls, and I took some pictures.  There you were in all of your 1980 glory!  Somewhere in purging and storing I also came across a small stack of tickets to the armory dance you guys played for.  Ah, life as a hoarder!"  Many thanks to Tom for passing this on.  Bill, Mike, and Jim along with Joe Newberry returned to the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival in Marquette MI in 2013. This photo has been added to our 1980 page in the Photo Album.

Bill Hicks' daughter, Anna, went downtown in Durham in 2010 and found her dad's picture displayed on a large banner commemorating the founding of the Red Clay Ramblers from the old-time revival in the Hollow Rock area in 1972.  Celebrate!

Text on the LEFT pic says: "Tommy Thompson, Mike Craver, Jim Watson, and Bill Hicks perform at the Carter Family Memorial Music Center in southwest Virginia in the mid-1970s. Photo by Susanne Anderson."  This picture was originally published in The Smithsonian in 1976.

(click on the pics for larger versions)

Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem PA ~1980

Cindy Dinsmore posted this pic on her Facebook page, and Mike forwarded it for us. 
Front row: Jack Herrick, Mike Craver, Jim Watson, Bill Hicks & Jade, Tommy Thompson.  Back row: Patti Dinsmore, Dave Fry.
(version big enough to see)

TOMMY THOMPSON elected to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
tt_b&w_drawing.jpg (47398 bytes)

(October 12, 2010) Tommy Thompson of St. Albans. Born and raised in St. Albans, Thompson first heard many of the old jazz players and was introduced to Cajun music during a stint as a Coast Guard officer in New Orleans. He entered the graduate program in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963 where he divided his time between the five-string banjo and academia. In 1971, he took first place at the prestigious World Champion Old Time Banjo contest in Union Grove, NC. That same year, he co-founded the original Red Clay Ramblers, which he anchored for 22 years. Thompson died in 2003.

The latest inductees into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame are seven musicians who have made lasting contributions to American music.  Besides Tommy Thompson, inductees includ Kathy Mattea and Connie Smith. The formal ceremony will take place in October, 2011, at the state Culture Center.

Tommy Thompson Memorial Site

How long has it been since you heard this rip-roaring old time celebration by the founding members of the Red Clay Ramblers?  The wait is over.  With the availability of the Red Clay Ramblers' second LP on CD-R, their entire catalog is now on CD. Replace your LPs and cassettes with CDs from Mike's Store - free US shipping!

From the Indy....
26 NOV 2008 Chapel Hill
The Ramblers

The Cave—If you're lucky enough to squeeze underground and into The Cave tonight, you'll witness perhaps the state's most beloved and long-lasting musical institution as it continues to chart an unlikely chapter in our collective history. Young string band veterans Tommy Thompson, Jim Watson and Bill Hicks inaugurated their run as Red Clay Ramblers in 1972, adding Mike Craver a year later. The intervening 35 years have brought multiple lineup changes, multimedia experiments, solo albums, duo albums, three international tours sponsored by the State Department, several off-Broadway hits, the revival of one such hit for a new generation, performances at the 1st and 25th Eno festivals, two Carter family funerals, and the death of co-founder Thompson in 2003. Watson, Hicks and Craver roll on several times a year, their preservation of old-time tunes and their own material assisted now by Joe Newberry. —Grayson Currin

David Eustice used the Red Clay Ramblers "Aragon Mill" from Chuckin the Frizz to create a tribute to dad-in-law Tommy Thompson using Bobby Thompson's drawings, period photos of mills and workers, and Ramblers pics from back in the day.  Click the pic to stream from YouTube. 

Or click on the YouTube button to view the clip there and leave your comments.

Hard Times and Chuckin' the Frizz CDs are here!

Rounder re-issued the Red Clay Ramblers HARD TIMES and CHUCKIN' THE FRIZZ albums as limited edition CDs as part of their Rounder Archive series. 

(And update the rest of your RCR LP collection to CDs too!)

CHUCKIN' THE FRIZZ, recorded live at the Cat's Cradle in 1979, is considered by many to be the original line-up's finest release.  We have a special page for the honors, accolades, reviews and souvenirs for Frizz.  Read it and get excited with us!

"Red Clay Ramblers, Chuckin' the Frizz -- Any true Ramblers fan knows that this all-too-rare release marks the band's finest hour on record, a well-produced live recording of the rollicking 1979 lineup performing at the old, tinier Cat's Cradle. This is a superior string band at the height of its powers, spinning out traditionals and originals with inspired, infectious fervor." [more]
...Durham Independent 2003
"This is a superbly produced set with a superior recorded sound, fully capturing the rich overtones in the blend of stringed instruments and piano. Craver has never sounded better, and neither has Tommy Thompson, whose voice and banjo playing are adept and gorgeous. His ballad "Hot Buttered Rum" is wonderful, and this moving performance is one of the Red Clay Ramblers' best recorded moments." [more]
...Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide.

The Dairy Queen pig proclaims the starting point of the Crooked Road in Rocky Mount, VA, also home of the Red Clay Restaurant.  (Click on the pics for larger views.)
"Sprout Wings and Fly" - available on DVD!

Producers: Les Blank, Alice Gerrard, and Cece Conway.  1983 documentary on old-time legend Tommy Jarrell includes a scene of him playing with the Red Clay Ramblers and an brief interview with Bill Hicks. The DVD also includes short films "Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge" (1991) and "My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge" (1994)

Rushmore Ramblers
Recently rediscovered UK cover of the Merchants Lunch LP.
Thank you eBay!
click to see the whole cover
From the NEW-RIVER-OLD-TIME Digest - 10 May 2007 to 11 May 2007 (#2007-113), posting by Seth R. Boyd
Top 5 Old-Time Bands of All Time(in reverse order)
5. The Skillet Lickers
4. The Blue Sky Boys
3. The New Lost City Ramblers
2. Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers
Thanks Seth!
The Red Clay Ramblers 1972-1981 Website is
* * 17 * *
Thanks for the privilege, gentlemen...since March, 1999
Tommy Thompson is included on the recently released four-CD, one-DVD Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective. "The late Tommy Thompson, backed by the Red Clay Ramblers, provides the set's most moving moment with "Way Long Timey Ago," a selection from Daddies Sing Goodnight: A Father's Collection of Sleepytime Songs."  Read more from Rick Cornell in The Independent Weekly

The 2006 Carter Family Memorial Festival & Craft Show featured our Ramblers on the fan and the program.  The Red Clay Ramblers appear with Janette Carter in a pic taken by Cece Conway back about 1976 or so.  The Ramblers made their first appearance at the Carter Store in 1974 (see Smithsonian article).  Check out all the Carter Family Connections with our Ramblers -- memoirs, pictures, music.  Click on the fan and program for larger views or visit this page.
Meeting in the Air
Songs of the Carter Family
performed by Jim Watson, Mike Craver, & Tommy Thompson
Meeting in the Air on CD is here! Fans can retire their well-worn LPs and get a new CD copy directly from Mike Craver's website.  Mike is posting all the details of the release on his Meeting in the Air page. 
[ more info | order ]

Dirty Linen, August/September 2005 reviewed by Duck Baker, London, England
One of the best of the many tributes to the Carters that have appeared over the years was recorded in l980 by three members of that unique and wonderful outfit known as the Red Clay Ramblers. It's interesting neither Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson, nor Mike Craver play very much on mandolin, banjo, or piano here, though Thompson does pick up the five-string at times. The main instrument is the guitar, which both Watson and Craver handle nicely in the appropriate Carter style. The main focus is on the vocals, and they are just gorgeous. The leads are heartfelt, the harmonies just right, and the blend reflects all the years these guys had worked together. A variety of approaches is used, and all reflect a deep understanding of and feeling for the music.

Can 25 years really have passed since this record was made? Has Tommy Thompson really, truly gone on, perhaps to sing his parts with Sara, Maybelle and A.P.? Well, we have to believe it, apparently, which makes the reissue of Meeting in the Air that much more welcome. When it first appeared, everyone agreed that this was a great record. Now it seems something more that that, a classic. 

* * * *  4 Stars! Meeting in the Air reviewed by Jack Bernhardt, RALEIGH NEWS AND OBSERVER, 8/15/04 
In 1980, Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson, and Mike Craver – original members of Chapel Hill’s Red Clay Ramblers - made a critically-acclaimed, 14-song collection of Carter Family standards. Called “Meeting in the Air,” this splendid recording has long been out of print. Now comes a newly released CD version that sounds as fresh and inviting as the vinyl did. 

Greenman Review by Gary Whitehouse (scroll down to the second half of the link)
"Beautiful harmonies abound...The Ramblers give the music an extra note of authenticity by maintaining the rhythmic hooks the Carters wove into their songs."
And check Mike's great News page on his site for the latest happenings!
Two Smithsonian Folkways compilation CDs include the Red Clay Ramblers!
CLASSIC OLD-TIME MUSIC (2003), Smithsonian Folkways CD.  Included are "House of David Blues" by the Red Clay Ramblers and "Love Somebody (Soldier's Joy)" by Tommy Thompson and Joe Thompson.
CLASSIC BLUEGRASS vol. 2 (2005), Smithsonian Folkways CD.  Our Ramblers perform "The Girl Behind the Bar"  Both Red Clay Ramblers cuts are from their 1974 Folkways recording The Red Clay Ramblers with Fiddlin' Al McCanless
The booklets accompanying the Smithsonian Folkways compilations have this to say about RCR: "The Red Clay Ramblers are the most important group formed during the string-band revival that occurred in the 1970s around Durham, in central North Carolina."
Recent postings on the site you won't want to miss!
Interview with Jim in the Mandocrucian's Digest in 1989
New chapter in Blurred Time! "A trip with Ralph" - Ramblers open for Ralph Stanley in 1977
Chronology - updated!
Special "Extras" pages on RCR music
RCR Souvenirs
Theater Page
RCR and the Carter Family Connection
RCR Poster Collection
Updated info and organization on our Fuzzy Mountain and Hollow Rock String Band Sections
Janette Carter and Jim Watson, August 2005 - photo by Anne Berry

Sunday, January 22, 2006 -- Sad news this day for fans of acoustic music in general.  Janette Carter, the last child of the original Carter Family, has died at the age of 82.  It's been a hard year for Janette, with numerous medical problems and the death of her oldest child over the summer, but in her typical fashion went ahead with her life as best she could, attending shows   and occasionally performing at the Carter Family Fold on Saturday nights.  I got to know Janette about 30 years ago when the Ramblers first played at the Fold and she was always warm, welcoming and unfailing honest, with a great sense of humor.  Her daughter Rita Forrester and son Dale Jett will be carrying on with old time and bluegrass shows every Saturday night as part of the promise Janette made to her Dad, A. P. Carter, before he died.  So let's send good thoughts to Rita and Dale and the rest of the Carters as an era ends and another page is turned.  ---Jim Watson

Thursday, January 26 -- Mike Craver, Bill Hicks, Jim Watson, and Joe Newberry were honored to sing at Janette's funeral. For those of us who weren't able to be there, Mike has written a touching account of the service and the friends attending, and we've posted it in our Carter Family collection.

Mike writes of singing at Janette Carter's funeral service
Carter Fold Site | tribute from Tommy Bledsoe, a regular at the Fold
Red Clay Ramblers and the Carter Family Connections
"Morris Family Old Time Music Festival"
a film by Robert Gates
Special Collectors Edition now available!

Tommy Thompson, Bill Hicks, and Eric Olson on stage at Ivydale, WVa in 1972 with many more of the most important traditional musicians of that time

More info - ordering - prices
The August 27, 2003 edition of the Durham Independent had some fine things to say about the Red Clay Ramblers.  We're quoting here from "The past: blues, bluegrass and power pop" by Brian Millikin.
"In the late '60s and early '70s, there was an area revival in old-time music, which brought fiddling and bluegrass traditions down from the Appalachian mountains. The Hollow Rock String Band formed at the Hollow Rock store between Durham and Chapel Hill; the Fuzzy Mountain String Band followed shortly thereafter. In 1972, banjo master Tommy Thompson and two others formed the Red Clay Ramblers, a legendary string band that mixed traditional and contemporary compositions for heel-stomping, toe-tapping national success (they even took their show to Broadway). Still around in various incarnations, individual members of the "Blurs," (a fan nickname for the Ramblers) have gone on to dozens of side projects and, in the process, have created a fearsome and thriving scene in and of themselves."
And later in the article, the Red Clay Ramblers' Chuckin' the Frizz was chosen as one of a small group of essential local recordings.  Here's what they said:
"Red Clay Ramblers, Chuckin' the Frizz -- Any true Ramblers fan knows that this all-too-rare release marks the band's finest hour on record, a well-produced live recording of the rollicking 1979 lineup performing at the old, tinier Cat's Cradle. This is a superior string band at the height of its powers, spinning out traditionals and originals with inspired, infectious fervor."
Can we get an "Amen, brother!"?  (See above -- Rounder released Chuckin' the Frizz on CD!)  And for more on Frizz, check out our new Frizz page with a review by Eugene Chadbourne!
Tommy Thompson Tribute Site
1937 - 2003
The Orange Co. (NC) Resolution in Honor of Tommy Thompson of the Red Clay Ramblers
"Celebrate the outstanding creative, cultural, and intellectual contributions of Tommy Thompson's life and his deeply rooted commitment to civil rights and progressive achievements during his life, and mourn the loss of this great cultural resource, who came to represent the music of the Tar Heel State to a worldwide audience."
read the entire resolution in Jesse's April 2003 letter
Jesse's letters: Jesse Thompson Eustice has been writing for the website since 1999 of her journey with her dad Tommy Thompson and his last years with an Alzheimer's like illness.   A new section of the site in memory of Tommy has links to the pages that celebrate his life and music. Tommy was the subject of  Old Time Herald's Summer 2002 cover article "Didn't He Ramble!" by David Potorti.  Last fall's OTH includes an article Jesse wrote.  Order your copy of both from the Old Time Herald Web site
"A Tune for Tommy" (partially based on Jesse's Letters) has a new page all its own.   And Manbites Dog Theater presented "A Tune for Tommy" February 14 - March 10, 2002.Read all about it
Tributes to Tommy Thompson from his friends and fans
Many of Tommy's friends and fans have written to share their special memories of Tommy.  Thanks to all who have written, and all are invited to contribute.
Stuff you won't want to miss!
Check the first page of our Photo Album for very early RCR pictures - Ivydale 1972 and a 1973 wedding gig.  New ones added all through the Photo Album!

New Chuckin' the Frizz pages!  Rounder re-released Frizz on CD in the fall of 2006.  We've beefed up the sparse book that comes with the CD.

Thanks to Libby Hicks generously mailing us all of Bill's scrapbooks, you'll see lots of new souvenirs on the site.  Stir up some great old memories with these new additions.  We've added a posters section for national gigs, Diamond Studs, and international gigs.  Then read what might be the best review ever written of a Red Clay Ramblers show from The Folk Life, March 1977, "The Red Clay Ramblers at Godfrey Daniels."  You'll believe you were there.  Best quote: "Mercy!"

Our site here is eleven years old.  By the size of it, you'd think we'd told the whole story.  But a casual eBay magazine purchase yielded important insights lacking before.  In Option Music Alternatives "Going Through Stages: the Many Careers of the Red Clay Ramblers," (March/April, 1988) Tommy Thompson reveals how the band attracted Sam Shepard's interest and what it was like to collaborate with him.  Roger Miller sampled the band, but spit them back out.  But Eugene Chadbourne not only recorded with RCR, but they also played at his wedding.  If that's not enough, Tommy also delves into RCR's pushing the limits of tradtional music.
**And now Eugene Chadbourne is writing for the All Music Guide and reviewing RCR recordings, Fuzzy Mountain String Band, and the Hollow Rock String Band

Ever wonder if the Red Clay Ramblers had proof of being "gods in Johnson City"?  How about four encores at the Down Home after the hour the beer stopped!  Read the evidence in this 1977 Pickin' review and interview.

Santa Mike Craver sends us pics from his scrapbooks.  The latest are early Red Clay Ramblers clippings as well as the Winnipeg Folk Festival.  Did you know the Red Clay Ramblers were on the soap opera Ryan's Hope? Or that they they did Shakespeare?  Go see!  And he sent along a couple of 70's concert ads from the Village Voice and the NY Times.  The Ramblers were in good company.  For a recent look, see Jim's Christmas 2000 pics and a 1997 benefit for Tommy.  Browse through the Photo Album for pics from the good ol' days.

Blurred Time, Bill Hicks' witty mix of short stories and history of the Red Clay Ramblers from 1972-1981
click, read, enjoy!
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February 12, 2016