Bluegrass 45: “50 years Ago This Week” (Week 6)

During week six of their first US tour, we find Bluegrass 45 going back into the studio to record, traveling to Carlton Haney’s Bluegrass Park in Camp Springs, North Carolina, and watching Bill Monroe on television.  

At Camp Springs the band met Jimmy Haley and Louis Reid Pyrtle (Lou Reid) who were with the band the Bluegrass Buddies at the time.  When asked about meeting the band, Lou said, “I saw them for the first time in 1971 and they hit the stage like Flatt & Scruggs.  They would swiftly run out and start pickin’.  When I heard them play ‘Fuji Moutain Breakdown’ I thought that was so neat.  I loved what the banjo player was doing on that song.  I was just a high school kid at the time and after they finished playing, I was so eager to learn that I knocked on the door of their bus and asked about that tune.  I was ready to beg, borrow, and steal anything that I could.  Sab played the whole song for me.

“Those guys were all so good natured and friendly and complimentary towards us, and that went both ways.  They sounded really good, I especially loved the way they did ‘Hot Corn, Cold Corn.’  They were all very proficient on their instruments…all of those guys played so good, I can’t talk enough about them.  I loved that band.”

During the summer of 1971 Haskell McCormick was the banjo player for Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass.  He remembers seeing Bluegrass 45 play and said, “I remember that during one tune they put their instruments behind their heads, even the bass fiddle.  That stood out to me.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they played the tunes perfectly.  They were real good entertainers.”

Here are Akira Otsuka’s recollections from week six of their tour in 1971:

1971/7/22 Thursday—Recording

We got up at 8:30 am—early morning three days in a row.  We borrowed a bass from Ed Ferris and got to Roy’s studio at 10 am.  We recorded:

  1. “That’s The Time”

Written by English folk singer Donovan.  We had so much trouble pronouncing “That’s the” and it took us many takes.  

  1. “Well” on “Bring Me Back”

We recorded just one word “Well” which is the last word of “Bring Me Back” and Roy spliced the tapes.  It came out well.  

  1. “Meet Me in Heaven”

This song was co-written by Mr. Goto from Kobe and Josh.  We had troubles recording yesterday,  but today it came out nicely.  One interesting part on the first banjo break is that Sab put a Japanese scale note when it goes to IV chord.  We gave a copy of the album to Lewis Family when it was released and Josh was very pleased when they told him they liked this song very much.

  1. “New Tokaido Line” 

A 12-bar blues written by Sab.  Liao decided to put down his fiddle and played percussion.  It took only one take.  

  1. “Train 45” 

This is an old tune that many people had recorded.  Only one take again, but rejected.

Back in those days the most time-consuming step of LP manufacturing was printing the jackets.  Since Dick Freeland wanted to release the album as soon as possible so that we could sell them at our appearances before we go back to Japan in September, he sent out pictures, text and layout to a print shop before we finished recording all the songs.  So, it meant we had to record all the songs they were printing, and no last-minute changes were allowed!!    Fortunately, we managed to record all the songs and we even recorded two extra tracks – “New Tokaido Line,” which appears on our second album Carava and “Train 45” that got rejected.

We went back to the apartment around 2 pm.  Liao, Toshio & Akira went to a swimming pool.  Later Dick’s wife, Sheila, and their kids, Ronnie and Tami joined us.

1971/7/23  Friday—Day off, then left to Camp Springs

We went to the swimming pool and the whole Freeland family joined.  Sab fixed a wonderful sukiyaki dinner for Freeland & BG45—party of 9!  Sab also crossed his legs in a lotus position and walked on his knees—everybody was laughing so hard and he almost killed few of us.  Freeland left at 11 pm, we packed and drove to Dick’s house and left Hyattsville at midnight.

1971/7/24  Saturday—Camp Spring Contest as a Guest Band

Photo by Akira Otsuka

We arrived at Carlton Haney’s Bluegrass Park in Camp Springs, North Carolina at 7 am.  Dick fixed us breakfast.  We talked to Mr. John Miller who owns Watermelon Park in Berryville, Virginia and he is Carlton Haney’s business partner.  Also, Bonnie Haney came by while we were setting up our tent.  Gradually people started showing up and we played our first set at 2 pm.

  1. Raise a Ruckus
  2. Mocking Bird
  3. Leather Britches
  4. Red Rocking Chair
  5. Fuji Mountain Breakdown
  6. Place In The Sun
  7. How Mountain Girls Ca Love
  8. Rawhide
  9. Hamabe
  10. Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms
  11. Devil’s Dream
  12. Calling You
  13. Blue Moon of Kentucky
  14. Black Mountain Rag
  15. Proud Mary

Dick threatened Josh at gun point and made him one of contest judges.  Sab & Liao bought diet soda by mistake, but I managed to drink it.  People camping next to us are playing tapes from this year’s Berryville shows.  I heard a band called Bluegrass Gentlemen is here and their mandolin player, Jerry Stuart, is the one who recorded “Rocky Run” on Folkways LP with a unique tuning.

Our second performance at 7 pm:

  1. Raise a Ruckus
  2. Old Joe Clark
  3. Little Annie
  4. Blue Ridge Cabin Home
  5. Green Mountain Hop
  6. Someday Soon
  7. Salty Dog Blues
  8. Bluegrass Breakdown
  9. Bring Me Back
  10. Wild & Reckless Hobo
  11. Sakura
  12. Bridge Over Troubled Water
  13. Mocking Banjo

During the contest in the evening, it started raining and interrupted the contest.  Mr Haney treated Josh, Sab & me to a burger dinner.  Bonnie Haney & John Miller’s daughter taught us English.  After the contest portion is done, the Bluegrass Gentlemen, Bluegrass Buddies (Jim Haley & Lou Reid Pyrtle), High Country Boys and others played their sets.

1971/7/25  Sunday—Camp Springs contest

We visited with members of Bluegrass Buddies.  Their bass player, Lou Reid Pyrtle, was hanging out on our bus all the time and whenever Sab did something neat on banjo, Lou would go “How did you do that?  Please show me.”  Whenever Josh played a nice guitar lick, Lou would stop and asked to do it again.  Same thing with me and my mandolin…..he was 17 years old and eager to learn!!

Our first set at 1 pm.

  1. Flint Hill Special
  2. You’d Better Get Right
  3. Crying My Heart Over You
  4. Border Ride
  5. Y’all Come

In the evening I helped and played bass with Bluegrass Partners.  “Bye Bye Blues” & “Riders in the Sky.”  Then another band – “Little Maggie” & “Home Sweet Home”

 At night I played with Bluegrass Partners again.  “Ruby” & “Proud Mary.”  They offered to buy me a dinner but I had to turn it down because Dick came over and told me Mr. Haney asked us to come over.  Mr. Haney treated us to KFC!!  Toshio has been eating beef but no other meat in his whole life.  However, Mr. Haney insisted on having chicken, so Toshio had a piece for the first time in his life.  Mr. Haney told us many stories about early bluegrass festivals and it’s too bad I didn’t record it.

Our second set:

  1. That’s the Time
  2. Bridge Over Troubled Water
  3. Fuji Mountain Breakdown
  4. Along The Way
  5. Mocking Banjo
  6. Encore: Foggy Mountain Breakdown

     After Mocking Banjo, Mr. Haney presented Josh an old arrowhead.

Contest results:

Band category, 1st: High County Boys, 2nd: Bluegrass Buddies, 3rd: Bluegrass Experience

Banjo category, 1st: High County Boys, 2nd:?, 3rd: Bluegrass Partners

Fiddle category, 1st:High County Boys, 2nd & 3rd ?

 At midnight we sung Happy Birthday to Josh and fired up fire crackers!  Left Bluegrass Park at 1 am.

1971/7/26 Monday—Day off

Monroe on TV

We got back to Hyattsville around 8 am.  People at a bus stop were watching us unload the bus.  Five Japanese boys carrying instruments, blankets, ice box…must have been a strange scene.  We took a nap and later that night we visited Dick and we listened to our recording tapes.  Freeland had a birthday cake for Josh.  We went back to our apartment around 10 pm but there was a TV show that night with Bill Monroe, Mike Seeger, Oscar Brand and others.

1971/7/27 Tuesday—Day off

At 1 pm Sab, Liao, Toshio & Akira went to DC downtown for sightseeing.  I sent many letters to Japan and we got back around 7 pm.  Josh also went to a dentist and had a tooth extracted.  While we were gone, Dick & Josh edited our recording tapes.  Dick brought us a radio & record player.

1971/7/28 Wednesday—Day off

Goofed off till past noon & then practiced “Bill Cheatam.”  Dick came by and asked me to go to downtown DC with him.  He parked in a no parking zone, asked me to watch and went inside for some business.  Of course, a police officer showed up and I was freaking out!!  

After we went back to the apartment, we went shopping looking for uniform.  Four of us could fit into adult S size fine but Liao was smaller, so we had to find same design/color shirts & pants in adult & children departments, which made it impossible.  Around 10 pm we started practicing “Faded Love,” “Where Could I Go” and others.  Then we discussed about music…  Dick thinks we’d probably have four songs to play at the Grand Ole Opry.

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