I make a kind of music that is uniquely American.
It emerged on this continent in the 20th century as a result of centuries of different cultures intermingling and influencing each other. Deep, hidden stories of people and place can be heard in American music.
My ancestors have lived in Mississippi for nearly two centuries. We are piney woods people, dirt farmers and rural laborers whose stories are mainly kept as the oral tradition of generations connected to the land. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church; hymnal singing is my earliest memory of traditional music. Though church music was a constant in our family, when I began learning to play stringed instruments in my early 20s I revived a practice that had skipped a couple generations. My great-grandparents once led a gaggle of children as a family string band who hosted neighborhood picking parties.
I enrolled in Bluegrass, Old-time, and Country music studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. In the Appalachian Mountains I encountered the unbroken lineage of mountain music. There I learned the stories of British Isles immigrants, ballad singers and the Carter family, fiddle and banjo dance music, the Library of Congress Recordings, the folk dance known as clogging, and the birth of recorded country music in Bristol. I studied the mandolin and the banjo and began to appreciate the origins and historical complexity of the music. Europeans, Africans, and indigenous North Americans all made contributions; the lines that distinguished cultures were blurred.
After college I lived in Memphis, Tennessee and started writing songs on acoustic guitar. Mississippi River towns carry weight: the low-grind of a barge engine working against the current, the blanketing heat and the hum of insects. The river towns have a rhythm of their own and I took it in. I did more listening than playing in those days; it was enough to be a witness.
Then the Rocky Mountains.
In Crested Butte, Colorado I found my soul-sisters, Jenny Hill and Lizzy Plotkin, and we formed a folk trio called FREE THE HONEY. We encouraged each other to write songs and book shows and spent several fruitful years together growing as artists. FREE THE HONEY recorded three albums and toured multiple states. We were especially honored to play for our community at the Crested Butte Arts Center, the historic Bean Blossom, Indiana stage at the John Hartford Memorial Festival, and Music City Roots in Nashville, Tennessee. Our final album, Fine Bloom, was recorded at Swingfingers Studio in Ft. Collins, Colorado and produced by KC Groves, a founding member of the old-time band Uncle Earl.
Many years and many roads brought me to Livingston, Montana and it makes home that much sweeter.
I like a place with character and Montana has plenty of it; the state has been an education in itself. In Montana I learned how to two-step and how to ride a horse, but more so, how to be honest enough to not ride a horse - a better deal for the both of us. I’m best with my feet on the ground and hands in the dirt under that big sky so dear to those of us lucky enough to survive it. My music took a new direction in Montana. It’s been electric guitars and pedal steel, honky tonk, and a chapter akin to Hank William’s “Lost Highway”. But I’m glad to say I’m off that highway and settlin’ easy into better days ahead.
RIDE ME DOWN plays a regular slot of Sunday afternoon country dance music at the American Legion Post #87 in Manhattan, Montana. It’s a privilege to play music for Montana’s best. They’re the old-timers; the kind of folk who show up at 1 o’clock in the afternoon polished and ready for a spin on the floor, ready to visit with a neighbor or hear that same Merle Haggard tune they’ve heard a thousand times before, ready to pay a cover at the door and tip the band; better yet, they show up to hear the band. The old-timers know the blood and the sweat that’s gone into the making of this country of ours, this America… and her music.
Hope to see you there.