november 2009

The Top Cat Cha-Cha-Cha
We would have been more impressed if YouTube poster DreamDancer82 had used Bobby Rydell’s original classic recording of ‘The Cha Cha Cha’ but this later version still has a lot going for it, including those cool cats of the Top Cat crew. “The Cha Cha Cha” was written by Kal Mann and Dave Appel. Mann was one of the co-founders of the Cameo-Parkway label, the Philadelphia-based hit factory of the late ‘50s to mid-‘60s (the label’s last big hit was truly memorable, “96 Tears,” by ? and the Mysterians). Appel, a formidable writer-producer-musician-arranger (he broke in as a jazz artist and wrote the charts for the dance orchestras of Benny Carter and Earl “Fatha” Hines) whose band, the Applejacks, had a couple of Top 40 singles in 1958, led his hand-picked Cameo-Parkway house band in backing most of the top charting Cameo-Parkway artists, including Rydell, the Dovells, Dee Dee Sharp, Chubby Checker and the Orlons,


A special section devoted to examining aspects of the grassroots movement among residents of Appalachia not to protest mountaintop removal mining but to stop it completely. This is no PR agency or PAC funded stunt, it’s the at-risk residents who are banding with local and regional organizations to raise their voices in protest against the destruction of their environment and communities, some of which have already disappeared and will not be coming back. With the invaluable assistance of guest editor JEN OSHA, founder/director of one of the abovementioned organizations, AURORALIGHTS.ORG, we offer the following perspectives on the systematic destruction of the Appalachian Mountains, its people and its culture.

In the Prologue to his acclaimed Coal River, a book-length investigation of the conflict between the people of the coal country of southeastern West Virginia and the mining companies plundering it, Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson takes us into the heart of southern West Virginia, ‘where something looks very wrong.” Herein, from the vantagepoint of his 2004 reporting, Shanyerson fills us in on the history of the region, the threats to its survival, and the people who were raising their voices in protest against the devastation threatening the environment and the populace by unrestrained mountaintop removal coal mining. Shaynerson’s book remains a must read for anyone wishing to understand the complexity of the issues not only in the Coal River Valley, but in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, where MTR is a looming horror.

Originally published in The Nation’s October 19, 2009 issue, Jeff Biggers’s “Coal Field Uprising” is the most thorough summation of the current state of affairs in coal country with regard to both the politics and the people’s uprising against mountaintop removal coal mining. To read Biggers’s powerful reporting is to become increasingly enraged at what is happening in this part of America and at the politicians who are letting it happen (one infamous, pro-coal West Virginia Representative envisions the blasted away Appalachian Mountain range one day being dotted with golf courses). On the other hand, Biggers’s spot-on detailing of the burgeoning grassroots movement by the populace of coal country, ordinary people of little means who are determined to stop mountaintop removal at any cost, is reason enough for the rest of us to raise our voices in support and, in the words of one of the most vocal of those protesters, “don’t back down.”

Larry Gibson, who figures in Michael Shnayerson’s Prologue to Coal River, may one day be recognized as both prophet and martyr—he’s preparing for the latter, but directs his energies to seeing the former come true while forestalling the latter. Herein, a snapshot of the outspoken Gibson based on our Editor’s observations during a three-hour trip taken with Gibson to the top of Kayford Mountain, where Gibson’s family has owned property for some 200 years. The mountain is slowly, systematically being blasted away by Massey Energy (our cover shot was taken from atop Kayford Mountain), and with every new blast Gibson raises his voice louder, and the threats against him by Massey employees become more pronounced. But all available evidence, especially that observed in person by this reporter, indicates Massey is terrified of Larry Gibson and his small, still voice thundering in the night.

This month, columnist JEN OSHA, founder/director of, reports on the effects of blasting Coal River Mountain to smithereens, observing: ‘Already, some of these special places are gone forever. I cannot express through these words the pain of that loss, nor the insignificance of my feelings in comparison to the families who have lived at the skirts of this mountain for generations. It’s been deep mined and strip mined, but it was still intact. It still offered its resources and its protection to the many families it sheltered. And as Kayford Mountain is blasted apart to the north, and Cherry Pond mountain destroyed to the west, Coal River mountain is the last intact mountain in the watershed. It is the last stand.’

As part of the launch of her new Mountain Soul II album, Patty Loveless is taking the opportunity to support the Christian Appalachian Project. By logging on to visitors to the site can make a donation to the organization and will receive a free download of the gospel chestnut "Working on a Building" from Mountain Soul II. Speaking exclusively to, Loveless, a Kentucky coal miner’s daughter (her father died from complications of black lung disease at age 58), explains why she chose to get involved with CAP, an organization dedicated to helping feed the hungry and provide medical assistance to ailing, impoverished senior citizens.

A guide and links to the websites of grassroots organizations at the forefront of the populist opposition to the protest against mountaintop removal coal mining and the push for clean, energy-efficient, alternative sources of power, e.g. wind and solar.


Long-time Edwight resident Rick Bradford has been diligent in chronicling the history of the coal mining region where he lives, including the systematic dismantling of Edwight in the face of Big Coal’s lust for land. Bradford has graciously allowed us to reprint this chapter from his self-published book of Edwight memories and photos, Near the Mouth of Hazy. We have not changed a word, but rather prefer to let the voice of the man be heard unabridged. Bradford has witnessed the punishment inflicted on his native soil, taken the testimony of others who came before him and were trampled asunder by the coal industry, and set it down in print for all to see, as it was told to him or as he remembers it.

‘Mountaintop removal coal mining is the worst environmental tragedy in American history,’ asserts ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. in this July 3 op-ed piece for The Washington Post. ‘When will the Obama administration finally stop this Appalachian apocalypse?’


Eighty-one-year-old Roland Micklem, who led a protest on Massey Coal in September, which ended with him chaining himself to a guard gate and being arrested, has posted a moving statement online explaining his Christian and environmentalist principles for standing up against the rape of the Appalachians. From his jail cell he wrote this letter to explain the driving force of his 30 years of environmental activism.


Three of the finest artists of our time—ROSANNE CASH, PATTY LOVELESS and MARIA MULDAUR—each have new albums out comprised almost entirely of cover songs. In MARIA MULDAUR’s case, her delightful new jug band album, Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy, continues her scintillating journey into the distant past of her blues and country roots, when as a young, self-described “beatnik babe” growing up in Greenwich Village, she first joined up with the Even Dozen Jug Band (which included both David Grisman and John Sebastian), then gravitated to the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, where she met her future husband, Geoff Muldaur. In Interview, Muldaur takes us through her early years and how music recorded well before her birth took such a hold on her that now at 60-plus she’s still exploring it—and on this occasion, with a little help from her friends Dan Hicks (who contributes two new songs to the gems from the ‘20s and ‘30s comprising the rest of the long player), David Grisman and John Sebastian. Like Maria Muldaur, PATTY LOVELESS has returned to her deepest roots on her new album, Mountain Soul II, a followup to Loveless’s acclaimed 2001 album of bluegrass and traditional country, Mountain Soul. In our interview, Loveless explains why she went back to the music that first stirred her soul and the guiding vision behind the album’s mix of vintage and new selections (she and husband/producer Emory Gordy, Jr. co-wrote two exceptional new tunes, including the moving gospel number, “(We Are All) Children of Abraham,” a tune with “classic” stamped all over it), which are further energized by musicians on the order of McCourys Del, Ronnie and Robbie, in addition to Rob Ickes, Barry Bales, Jason Carter, Deanie Richardson and Emmylou Harris, to name a few of the supporting cast. ROSANNE CASH is one of the most important singer-songwriters of our time, but with The List her writing voice is absent. In its place is the voice of a woman who has also proven herself a supreme interpretive artist, singing some vital folk and country songs that were but a small part of a list of American song fundamentals presented to her by her father, Johnny Cash, when she was fresh out of high school and beginning her professional career as a member of his touring troupe. “The List,” as Cash pere’s document came to be called, was stored away and forgotten for many years, but is now breathtakingly realized in the captivating, spare productions of Cash’s husband, John Leventhal, and especially in Cash’s own stirring, searching probes of each song’s dramatic arc. How she found a new way into timeless numbers such as “Sea of Heartbreak” and “Heartaches By the Number,” among others, bespeaks the vision, integrity and magnitude of an important artist’s singular gift.

‘Let’s Live This Thing. Nonstop, Every Single Day…’
The Giving Tree Band Takes Possession Of Its Art and Ethos on Great Possessions
By David McGee

When it comes to “walk it like you talk it,” few bands can credibly claim to top the Giving Tree Band in that department. It would be enough that its new album, Great Possessions, is one of the best long players of the year by dint of its stirring musicianship, exemplary songwriting and emotionally engaged performances. But while this inspired quartet (Eric Fink, brother Todd Fink, Philip Roach, and Patrick Burke, supplemented on disc and in concert by a few other players) is crafting powerful, moving music, so is it making a complete (or near-complete) stand for environmental stewardship, living every day with a heightened concern for the effects of their lifestyle choices on the world around them. This sensibility even extended to the logistics of recording Great Possessions, in ways that would humble other, similarly eco-conscious aggregates.

In the first of his regular communiqués from Mongolia,’s new Contributing Editor, Bilguun Munkhjargal, reports on the music and the culture informing the music of an intriguing new Mongolian traditional band, KHUGUSTAN. And in her second report from Romania, Contributing Editor Mirela D. offers another heartfelt appraisal of one of her favorite Romania folk singers, TUDOR GHEORGE, along with a couple of videos that go a long way towards explaining his status atop the ranks of the country’s folk troubadours.


Remembering SAM CARR, last of the Delta Blues drummers; SOUPY SALES, the man of 20,000 pies in the face; and VIC MIZZY, who wrote the theme songs for The Addams Family and Green Acres TV shows. (Mizzy is shown above on the Green Acres set with stars Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor.)


Both THE ISAACS and the GAITHER VOCAL BAND have strong new albums out. Herewith, our thoughts on both, which deliver the same spiritual message via different musical paths.

Of Many Colors, Indeed by David McGee

A new, long-awaited four-CD box set overview of Dolly Parton on record from 1959 to 1995 is cause for celebrating the greatest female country artist of our time.

By Christopher Hill

If this is the best shot that the Beatles establishment can take at shoring up weak spots or making up for shortcomings, the infrequency with which they’ve made any noticeable improvement is a powerful testament to George Martin’s vision for this band—and that in an era when rock and roll was not generally supposed to be substantial enough to carry the weight of vision.

By Billy Altman

Dedicated to the late Stephen Bruton, who plays on it, Geoff Muldaur and friends’ Texas Sheiks album assays vintage blues, hokum, jug band and western swing tunes, and it sounds like a splendid time was had by all.

by Laura Fissinger
In Search of Intelligent Emotional Life:
Some Theories About Big Bang Theory

Our intrepid columnist once again turns her eyes to TV, and tries to write coherently amid gales of laughter while checking out The Big Bang Theory, one of the freshest new comedies to come along since the late, lamented Arrested Development. Says Fissinger: ‘The result sounds unlikely when you say it out loud: America has made a hit sitcom out of a series about physicists.’


SAM BUSH, Circles Around Me— Being a solo artist has not been the main focus of Sam Bush’s long career, as is evident by this, only the seventh such album bearing his name alone above the marquee. But what a career it’s been.

EMMITT-NERSHI BAND, New Country Blues— At the confluence of Leftover Salmon and the String Cheese Incident arises the Emmitt-Nershi Band, headed by multi-instrumentalists/songwriters Drew Emmitt, he of LS, and former String Cheeser Bill Nershi. Seeking to craft something tradition-rooted but apart from standard progressive fare, the two band mates have found a niche to call their own out of the gate.

RICKY SKAGGS, Solo: Songs My Dad Loved— Say this about Ricky Skaggs: when he decides to do a solo record and leave his awe-inspiring Kentucky Thunder home, he really does a solo album. On Solo: Songs My Dad Loved, Skaggs plays and overdubs a dozen instruments, all acoustic save for the Danelectro electric bass, and overdubs his own voice when he needs to harmonize with someone.

RALPH STANLEY, Can’t You Hear The Mountains Calling— As Marty Robbins once sang, “Some mem’ries just won’t die.” So it is, to our great benefit as listeners and fans, with this stirring album from Ralph Stanley and one of his finest iterations of Clinch Mountain Boys, which is saying something in and of itself.

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND, The Show— Yonder Mountain String Band prides itself on being a bit out there, uninterested in perpetuating traditional bluegrass templates long since perfected by others but rather taking their cue to be daring from the music’s visionary giants—think Bill Monroe, think Jimmy Martin, think Del McCoury; and not least of all, think of early, challenging punk bands.


RAY CHARLES, The Genius Hits The Road—On his first album for ABC-Paramount, Brother Ray teamed up with the man who would become his most trusted and longest tenured producer, Sid Feller, and had way too much fun assaying a bunch of songs about preferred destinations. Good for him, even better for us. That this long player happened to also yield two classics in the lush, saloon-song iteration of “Georgia On My Mind” and the effervescent Percy Mayfield-penned barnburner, “Hit the Road, Jack,” makes it even more interesting.

DAVID GANS, The Ones That Look The Weirdest Taste The Best— Now recovering from a self-described “cardiac calamity,” wandering troubadour/Grateful Dead confidante and authority David Gans may not be able to get out on the road to entertain his extensive network of fans and friends at the moment, but his new album is mighty good company in the interim.

THINGS ABOUT COMIN’ MY WAY: A Tribute To The Music Of The Mississippi Sheiks— All the Sheiks are long gone now, but in 1960, Bo Carter, four years from dying blind and destitute, reflected on his group’s glory years in an interview with blues historian Paul Oliver. ‘We was the Sheiks, Mississippi Sheiks,’ he said, ‘and you know we was famous.’ Bo, you still are.

DARRELL NULISCH, Just For You— If you’re wondering if classically styled blues ‘n’ soul is alive and well—blues ‘n’ soul deep and bruised, horn powered with robust organ, moaning harp and crying guitar and a singer who gives it up with each and every note—look no further than this inspired work by Darrell Nulisch.

DAVE RILEY & BOB CORRITORE, Lucky To Be Living— When Dave Riley retooled the lyrics of Frank Frost’s ‘Jelly Roll King’ only Sam Carr among three of the four friends he mentions in the song were still with us, but on September 29 Carr passed away from congestive heart failure in Clarksdale, MS. So now this easygoing Mississippi shuffle becomes a wonderful tribute to Carr, his wife Doris Carr, John Weston and Frost, with Riley growling the lyrics in a manner that would no doubt meet the approval of his departed pals as would the whole of his second teaming with the master harp man, Bob Corritore.

THE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA, Songs From Lonely Avenue— Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Fats Waller were all high-spirited jokers whose forte was not singing, per se, but inhabiting a song by the sheer force of their personality and making it musical. Brian Setzer is in that league, and if you’re saying, ‘Brian Setzer never wrote ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’’ you best give him time.

CHRIS SMITHER, Time Stands Still— Artists like Chris Smither are treasures in any country, but our Chris Smither is an American, so it’s high time to designate him an official American Treasure. This is too often applied to an artist past his or her prime and living on reputation, but after 11 albums Smither may still be approaching his prime.

CHARLIE WOOD, Flutter And Wow— There’s not much on Charlie Wood’s Flutter and Wow that betrays his decade-and-a-half-plus tenure at King’s Palace on Beale Street, where he often teamed with the legendary blues guitarist Calvin Newborn. No, the Charlie Wood we encounter here aspires to classic pop respectability.


A tribute to Appalachian music with videos featuring the CARTER FAMILY, DELMORE BROTHERS, DOC WATSON, JEAN RITCHIE, RALPH STANLEY, solo and with PATTY LOVELESS and then-93-year-old mountain man SCOTTY STIDHAM. Plus a dash of AARON COPELAND’s Appalachian Spring, illustrated with the photos of ANSEL ADAMS.

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024