Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Review: Reece Shipley - “Tennessee Swing”

Patuxent Records CD 077

Reece Shipley: guitar, vocals; Mal Cooper: banjo, vocal; Jeff Reynolds: fiddle; Helen White: fiddle, vocal; Betty Vornbrock: fiddle; Daniel Knicely: bass; Nate Keith: drums.

Goldmine in the Sky, In My Adobe Hacienda, Home, Someday Sweetheart, Mexicali Rose, If No News is Good News, I Love You So Much It Hurts, Yesterday’s Roses, When I grow Too Old To Dream, Catfish Boogie, Milk Bucket Boogie, Hillbilly Jive With a Boogie Beat, I Counted the Raindrops, Santa Miss Those Missiles.

Seems to me that one of the striking things about this world of the old-time that has flourished in the past 35 years, and which we celebrate in this “journal of record,” is that it’s overall a welcoming family of friends. As a result we’re occasionally debating in a friendly sort of way whether this or that really is old-time, or something else. Having recently attended Clifftop, I can say that singing in the old-time world of today has tended to be brushed aside in favor of ever more accurate representations of the great and almost lost short-bow Appalachian fiddling style of the ‘30s. I’ve always tried to see the music as a sea rather than a genre—sort of “what the old folks were playing when they were young,” which seems lately to have morphed into what we were playing and listening to when we young. Or like someone in my family said to me this year, “Bill, 60’s not old.” “You may find youself, in a beautiful house…” No, wait, I know that’s not old-time! But these days a kid might ask, “Daddy, why do those singers where cowboy hats anyway?” Reece Shipley’s career exemplifies this evolution, marks the path. He is an old-time singer.

Reece Shipley was born in 1921. He was playing swing style guitar in a band called the Carolina Pals around Kingsport, TN, by the mid-thirties, influenced by the music of Gene Autry and Bob Wills. The war came and he found himself out west—in the Seabees in Saipan. Later he was stationed in California and actually met Gene Autry, his musical hero. Then he came home to East Tennessee, working in radio in Kingsport and Bristol. In the Fifties he recorded a few rockabilly sides, five of which are included at the end of this CD. He was also a presence at the regional fiddlers conventions, which helped to bring old-time music to the larger audience served by the OTH—I remember him at Galax and Fiddler’s Grove during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Reece died in May of 1998. In 1995, Helen White had the good fortune to capture him and long-time picking partner Mal Cooper in a wonderful parlor session at his home in Johnson City, TN. Several years later the recording was “completed” in studio, with Helen, Betty Vornbrock, and Jeff Reynolds on fiddles, Daniel Knicely on bass, and Nate Keith on drums. The band is a fine complement to the centerpiece of Reece’s Autry-style vocals and swing guitar, and also sets up the bonus of the five “swingbilly” tracks included at the end—rare cuts you ain’t heard if you weren’t growing up in the Tri-cities in the ‘50s listening to the radio on the way to homeroom. The final cut, a Christmas song involving Santa Claus and the Cold War, is emblematic of a lost era (and possibly newly relevant given the current oilboy administration). The studio band that graces the parlor session is the equal of the ‘50s sidemen we hear at the end, and allows a nice aural merging of these two moments in Reece’s musical life that are, in fact, divided by over 50 years. Lacking in the latter day studio session is only the almost Chipmunk-style backup vocals that appear on the Missile cut—a surreal singularity that can be appreciated, whether intended or not, as ironic aural counterpoint to the image of Rudolph and the other reindeer dodging Redstones, Jupiters, and Saturn 5s. We all knew the names of the damn things back then.

--Bill Hicks

To Order: Patuxent Records, Inc.
PO Box 4243
Rockville, MD 20849
tom@pxrec.com http:www.pxrec.com

(previously published in the Fall, 2003 Old Time Herald)