The times: Before Diamond Studs, 1972 or 3
The place: The (mysterious) Forest Theater in Chapel Hill
The players: Youthful adults (somehow associated with the Everyman Theater Company) such as Jim Wann, Jeffryn Stevens, Nancy Zaffron, and Rick Simpson
The director: John Haber
The play: The Merry Wives of Windsor
The lusty fool Falstaff: Tommy Thompson.
As I recall, John Haber, dealing with the southern accents of many actors, set the play in the American West. My father, playing a western Falstaff, went to the Army/Navy surplus store in town (Poor Richard's) to find a double-breasted colonel's overcoat with ostentatious brass buttons. He delighted in the idea of "Happy Trails" as the theme song. I learned to sing "Happy Trails" on the way to school.
Mike Craver played piano in this show, and began jamming with the Red Clay Ramblers. Dad came home from rehearsals wondering aloud about inviting Mike to join the Red Clay Ramblers.
By the next year or so, John Haber was directing a new show by Jim Wann and Bland Simpson, called Diamond Studs. It was about the life of Jesse James, and starred many of the same actors and musicians that had been in The Merry Wives. Jim Wann, Bland Simpson, Mike Sheehan, John Foley, and Jan Davidson's group The Southern States Fidelity Choir provided electrified music, and The Red Clay Ramblers supplied the authenticity of old-time string band music. Everyone quit their day jobs and went to New York with the show, which was an off-Broadway smash hit. Jack Herrick was also a musician in the show. For a while, there was no great distinction between the members of the SSFC and the RCR. They played together every day, eight shows a week. I started to hear that same wondering aloud from Dad: "Should the RCR's ask Jack to join the band?" Some time not long after the Red Clay Ramblers returned to North Carolina, Jack Herrick joined them, and "America's Premier Whatzit Band" took on a new jazzy flavor with the addition of the horn. (Listen to Merchant's Lunch.)
John Haber must have liked The Merry Wives. Someone liked it anyhow, because it stuck around. Years after its original performance in the Forest Theater, John Haber, Tommy Thompson, Jim Wann, Bland Simpson, and Jack Herrick reworked the piece, entitling it The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas and including western songs. It ran in several theaters including one at Duke. When it was here at Duke, Dad played Bardolph, a wretched bartender.
In the last five years under the direction of Michael Bogdanov, the founder of the English Shakespeare Company, this play has been reworked as Lone Star Love. Jack Herrick says of this new version:
While most of the songs have been re-written, several pieces and parts of Tommy's remain -- notably "The Ballad of John Falstaff" which starts: "Bardolph, Pistol and Nym -- We're not proper and prim -- We go riding along, doing wrong, following him"Opening October 18, 2001, and running until November 4, Lone Star Love will be performed at the Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets for this show will be on sale September 9. Hopefully this show will go on and on to Broadway.
It sounds like a nice visit to Cleveland should be on the program this autumn. Oh, and did I tell you, John Haber and the Red Clay Ramblers have dedicated this show to my Dad?
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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
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September 3, 2001