Monthly Archives: June 2010

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd – Mountain Fiddler (County Records, 1978)

In 1979, Senator Robert Byrd traveled to Russia to meet  President Leonard Brezhnev. “We exchanged gifts. I presented a copy of my album, Mountain Fiddler, and he gave me a book of his speeches. I had played ‘country fiddle’ since I was a boy in the hills of West Virginia. The words and music of these traditional old tunes are a window on the early settlers and thus the roots of our great country.”

This is among a handful of personal stories in Senator Byrd’s 2004 polemic, Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency. While in Russia he had one objective, to school the Russian president on American Constitutional history. Although President Carter had signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (SALT II), it was up to the Senate to “Advise and Consent.” And as Senate Majority Leader, Bryd took that responsibility very seriously. In years to come he would demonstrate this commitment again, holding take his tiny pocket edition of the Constitution in his hand as he reminded (to no avail) President George W. Bush that Constitution grants the power of war to Congress, not the Executive Branch.

On the track “Cumberland Gap” Senator Byrd introduces the song with an anecdote about the coal miners that would board with his foster mother when he was a child. A fiddle player from the age of 12, he remembers them “singing and whistling” the verses. In Losing America, he tells a slight variant of the story. He recalls being able to look at the boarders and know who would cheat his mother on rent. “I was seldom wrong. Something about eyes, the tone of voice or the body language tipped me off.” He continues, saying that he felt that same way when looking at Donald Rumsfeld while questioning him on his involvement with Saddam Hussein prior to 9/11.

Byrd had something sorely lacking in the Senate today. Common sense. He know what it was like to be poor and he knew what it was like to work hard for what little you have. A student of history, Senator Byrd warned us that we were sleepwalking; allowing the government to wage an illegal war in our name. His was the loudest voice of opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Senator was stubborn. As Majority Leader he was known to leave a meeting when arguments became too contentious and would pick up his fiddle and play, sometimes for hours, until the assembled group had come to see things from his perspective. But he was also thoughtful, allowing his beliefs about civil rights to be challenged and changed over time.

The songs on Mountain Fiddler demonstrate the Senator’s skill as a musician and singer. Mostly composed of traditional classics, they are as heart warming as they are fun to listen to. I am happy that he was able to pass away while still doing what he loved– serving our country in the US Senate. God Bless West Virginia and good-bye Senator Robert Bryd.

Will the circle be unbroken? / By and by, Lord. By and by / There’s a better home a’ waitin’ / In the sky Lord, in the sky

Cumberland Gap – Senator Robert Byrd (download)

Will the Circle Be Unbroken – Senator Robert Byrd (download)

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Rappin’ Duke – s/t 12 inch (JWP Records, 1984)

Remember Rappin’ Duke? / Da-haa, da-haa / You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far” – The Notorious B.I.G

Chances are that you don’t remember The Rappin’ Duke, but you probably recall the 1994 track Juicy, The Notorious B.I.G,’s  reminiscence of his rise from drug dealer to world famous rapper. Every so often this track catches me at just the right time and I actually tear up a little. Its really fucking good, maybe one of the best rap songs ever recorded.

Early 80′ s hip-hop references pepper Juicy; Mr. Magic and DJ Marley Mal (first hip-hop radio show hosts), Word Up Magazine, and Funkmaster Flex (DJ on NYC’s Hot 97, the station where Lil’ Kim’s entourage would be shot up 12 years later. )

But who is the Rappin’ Duke? This self-titled (real name Shawn Brown) novelty hip-hop track took #73 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts in 1985. The song is a bizarre John Wayne parody that lampoons everything the Duke holds dear; 6-shooters, western braggadocio (“what I do on your grave won’t pass for flowers”), Ronald Reagan, the Ponderosa Ranch and Wayne’s own distinctive laugh repeated throughout the song as a deadpan “Dah-haa, Dah-haa.”

It’s hard not to see it from Biggie’s perspective. In just 10 years rap and hip-hop had gone from obscure send-ups of uber-white cow folk to serious business. The Rappin’ Duke might only be a footnote to music history, but an important one to Biggie.

Rappin’ Duke (download)

Pete Eye Trio – s/t (Cavern Custom Recordings, 1976)

I first heard about KC jazz pianist Pete Eye in the Jazz Ambassador Magazine April/May 2010 issue. He’s a long time figure on the jazz scene who unfortunately recently passed away.

The line up is: Pete Eye-Piano, Tommy Ruskin-Drums, Bob Branstetter-Bass.

Track one is a cover of the Meters classic “Sissy Strut.” Pretty good. The rest of album is a toss up. Pete’s cover of the theme from Love Story is OK I guess, if you are in tothat. Side two takes it in a different direction with a cover of Buddy Miles’ “Dem Changes.” Eh…it was the 70s.

Sissy Strut-The Pete Eye Trio (download)

The picture here is not the record being described in this post. I found the first Pete Eye Trip LP stuffed into this cover (the second, 1978 LP.) If you have the second LP with the fist LP cover maybe we can make a deal. (And hopefully that deal will be that you will give it to me.)