Raleigh News and Observer, April 24, 1974
It Was a Finger-Pickin' Good Concert
by David Zucchino, Staff Writer

The little crowd was itching for some music.  The toe tapping and finger drumming had already commenced, right there in front of the lonesome instruments

But holy smoke, the Red Clay Ramblers were late.

It seems they had gone and locked their car keys in the trunk.  Had to take out the back seat to get to them.  One of the Ramblers, the one who was even more late because he had to park the car, figures the crowd had learned a lesson.

"Part of the music tradition is that musicians are traditionally undependable," he said by way of apology.

Like the old saying goes, it was close enough for old-time music.

By the time the Ramblers finally got heated up, the standing-room-only gathering at Olivia Raney Library Tuesday night got their heartstrings plucked by some down-home tunes.  Best of all, it was free.

And in between tunes, the Ramblers gave an impromptu lesson on such things as floating verses, sacred note singing and the long, hard history of the banjo.

The crowd high stepped it to favorites like "Ducks in the Mill Pond," "Old Ragin' Sea," "Sad and Blue," and "Man from Tennessee."  They learned that the banjo was brought to North America by African slaves and that the old-time mountaineers were noted for the mediocrity they brought to the harmonica.

The Ramblers had some one-liners, too.

"This room is great for our kind of singing," banjo picker Tommy Thompson said of the tiny library auditorium.  "It's like singing in the shower."

Then, after relating the progression of 1930's country music to modern bluegrass, Thompson observed, "Now you can see how somebody musta wanted something better than this."

The Ramblers were sponsored by the Wake County Public Library as part of a series of free public shows and events.  Based in Chapel Hill, the group specializes in square dance tunes and recorded country music from the 1920s and 1930s.

Composed of Thompson, Jim Watson, Mike Craver and Bill Hicks, the band was formed in 1969 (sic) and plays in fiddlers' conventions and festivals around the country.

On Tuesday, they stuck to that old-time string band music, some of it dating back as far as the Mexican-American War.  After all, anything in the last 20 years is modern stuff to them.

After the show, a library staffer asked the crowd if that was the kind of thing they wanted to hear in the future.  There were claps and whistles.  "Damn right," somebody said.

Then came the big announcement for the next week's show: a belly dancing exhibit.

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December 31, 2000