left photo, April 1974, Chapel Hill, NC, by Chuck Lewis, l to R: Jim Watson, tommy Thompson, Mike Craver, Bill HIcks; right photo, March 1973, Durham, NC, by John Menapace, L to R: Tommy Thompson, Al McCanless, Jim Watson, Bill Hicks
Thinking about this record this morning, the Red Clay Ramblers’ first, with the Fiddlin’ Al McCanless released in 1974 on Folkways records, FC1581 in the Southern Folklife Collection. Growing out of the Durham old-time music scene previously dominated by the instrumental dance music of the Hollow Rock and Fuzzy Mountain string bands, the early Red Clay Ramblers–Jim Watson, Tommy Thompson, Al McCanless,Bill Hicks, and Mike Craver–looked to experiment more with style, instrumentation and song selection than their predecessors and forged their own “old-timey” sound based on what they wanted to hear.
Recorded over 40 years ago, the Ramblers approach to old-time music on this first record still sounds remarkably subversive to me. Not many groups have been able to walk the line between innovation and creative imitation and come out with something that sounds completely their own. We are lucky to have a rare opportunity to hear two of these performers tonight in Chapel Hill. Al McCanless and Jim Watson will be joining together for a set at the same physical location where the photo of the left of the record above was taken, the Nightlight, formerly Cats Cradle.
Watson and McCanless will be followed by the Down Hill Strugglers, an active band based in Brooklyn who are comitted to a similar aesthetic and approach to performance as the early Red Clay Ramblers, and perhaps a more direct influence, the New Lost City Ramblers (the Down Hill Strugglers have performed and recorded with NLCR founder John Cohen).
Show starts at 8PM tonight at Nightlight. 405 1/2 West Rosemary, Chapel Hill. Fans of old-time music will not want to miss.