John and Frances Reedy
A Quiet Legacy: John and Frances Reedy's Music Released as a 2-CD Collector's Set
By Kara Martinez Bachman
John and Frances Reedy are considered by many to be early pioneers and major influencers of the bluegrass genre. Known for classic songs such as "Somebody Touched Me," their "backwoods" traditional country and bluegrass began making an impact as far back as the 1930s; their work influenced recordings of greats ranging from Ralph Stanley to Bill Monroe.
A newly released collector's set recalls this contribution to traditional music. "The Legacy of John and Frances Reedy and Their Stone Mountain Band" is a 2-CD set of 1960s sessions, available now via Shanachie Entertainment's historical imprint, Yazoo Records. Accompanying the music is a 20-page booklet that includes rare photographs.
Someone who can speak at length about the influence of John and Frances Reedy is their granddaughter, Timi Reedy, who performed as a small child on some numbers that appear on the new release.
"I think my grandparents and many other local bands of their era are some of the greats of music;they just were not recognized as such in their time," Reedy said. "As is the norm in eastern Kentucky, a lot of goodness happens on people's porches. So, of course, virtuoso performers recognized quality when they heard it. My grandparents are the tip of the iceberg of music that is hidden and yet to be discovered from that era."
"When my grandmother went into the studio to record, she would collect as many different recordings as she could," Reedy continued. "The diversity of her collection was outstanding and is currently housed in Berea College Special Collections."
She easily described what made the music special.
"They were prolific songwriters, and I do not think enough can be said about their accompaniment," she explained. "Usually [there were] a lot of family and friends around, playing music together for the sheer joy of it. Listening to the CDs, you can hear different friends and family taking lead vocals, taking lead on their different instruments."
"They were so good," Reedy added, "because they were so tight with each other."
She has great memories of learning from such talents.
"[There was] almost daily music at our house in one way or another if they were not performing somewhere," she said. "One of the most important things I learned from them was if you do something you love often enough and are passionate about and lose yourself in it, you will become a master of whatever that is. Learning that one thing has served me my whole life. They were so good because they loved it and lived it daily, and poured their entire beings into the music …and it shows."
Reedy's musical contribution to "The Legacy of John and Frances Reedy and Their Stone Mountain Band" appears on some tracks of the collector's set. She said she was four to six years old when she played washboard for those tracks.
"You can hear me play loudly and then stop and come back and pick it up again," Reedy said. "They were always teaching me chords, giving me percussion instruments, saving old harmonicas we could play with. We had small guitars and all manner of instruments we were allowed to touch."
"I think it is important to note that the reel-to-reel recorder was always on," Reedy explained. "About half of my grandparents' commercial recordings are on this release. The rest were on independent labels, or they bought studio time to record their own, so they were always recording themselves and practicing."
Reedy said recording themselves was a way of honing in on the right formula while keeping costs low. It allowed them to "work the kinks out" without spending as much on studio time.
"Interestingly, my grandmother saved all of these reel-to-reels, and they were falling apart,"Reedy explained." It seemed as if they would not be retrievable."
She said Harry Rice, sound archivist at Berea College Special Collections, "warmed them in a kiln overnight and somehow they were made available for a brief time after that. I think we only lost one reel-to-reel out of many."
"The second CD would not be there if it weren't for Harry and Berea College Special collections," she said. "Also, Harry knows more than anyone I have ever met about that era of music in eastern Kentucky. He accompanied us for an oral history at a recording studio in Knox County that belonged to David Lundy, where my grandparents recorded later in their careers. As Harry and Dave conversed, I realized how deep and tangled the roots and history of this music were in eastern Kentucky."
Despite not being active as a professional musician herself, Reedy is certain her creative grandparents have made a large imprint on her, the same way they did for so many others who are artists at heart.
"I am a prolific writer and poet," Reedy explained, "and I perform mostly for friends. I always loved the harmonica and can play that a little. I definitely picked up the songwriting gene. It just bubbles up and comes out of me and does not stop until I express it somehow. I found songs my grandparents had written on napkins, envelopes, old bills, whatever they had handy at the moment."
Reedy said she is happy to help promote the legacy of her grandparents.
"I am so grateful for how this has unfolded and cannot stop listening to the CDs," she said, describing it as a dream-come-true to harvest "the fruit of many years of effort to have my grandparents' music recognized."