All discussions about roots music lead to some kind of history lesson. But history in theory brings tedium and loss of context. The lucky crowd on hand last Saturday at the historic Granada Theatre were given a living history lesson none of us will soon forget. Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White, Ry Cooder and a grand supporting band performed country, bluegrass and gospel songs (none younger than 1965, Skaggs informed the audience) in grand aplomb
This is the source, the core. The musical crop seed of what now goes by the umbrella Americana. And the standing room crowd stood enthralled in this living and joyous journey into history.
Masterful musicianship and dazzling harmonies (helped by Sharon’s sister and fellow Whites band member Cheryl) wasted no time with a stirring version of Louvin Brothers’s gospel favorite “Family Who Prays.” The spirit of the ages filled the theatre for a nearly 2 hour performance that would alternately hush the room in a solemn silence and then rev them up into whooping, had-clapping, boot-stomping frenzy.
“(Take Me in You) Lifeboat” by Skagg’s own mentors Flatt & Scruggs followed , then a swinging rendition of Merle Travis’ “Sweet Temptation.” Next a solum moment with a devastating Hank Williams’ mournful “Mansion on the Hill.” On through the night on sounds from a reverent band of dizzying talent. But all was not somber reflection, Skaggs, White and Cooder traded affection and jokes all night. After breaking out a banjo for Stanley Brothers’ “Cold Jordan” Cooder quipped “I learned this song from YouTube, and so can you.”
Cooder then donned one of his several vintage electric guitars for the Delmore Brothers stone-rocking “Pan American Boogie.” Then a gloriously sweeping version of Hank Snow’s “A Fool Such As I” (video below) and then Kitty Wells’ song of heartbreak and woe “Making Believe” (written by Jimmy Work), and then a smartly-dressed White nephew joined the band to add to add twin fiddle to a rousing version of what Skaggs named “The state’s national anthem,” Bob Will’s ‘San Antonio Rose.’
Skaggs fluidly moved from mandolin to fiddle to acoustic guitar to a sweet cheery red Telecaster. Cooder was the master of the elusive tone. White was the soul of classic country on acoustic and other-worldly harmonies. A 84 year old Buck White showed why he’s a master of the ivories. Ry’s son Joachim Cooder on drums and Mark Fain laid a fluid yet solid foundation for the band to dance on.
Call it what you will, the music was alive and left the audience hungry for more.
The Family that Prays (Louvin Brothers),
Take Me to Your Lifeboat (Flatt and Scruggs)
Sweet Temptation (Merle Travis)
Mansion on the Hill (Hank Williams)
On My Mind (Flatt and Scruggs)
Cold Jordan (The Stanley Brothers)
Daniel Prayed (Ralph Stanley)
Hold What You Got (Jimmy Martin)
Pan American Boogie (The Delmore Brothers)
Fool Such as I (Hank Snow)
Above and Beyond (Harlan Howard)
San Antonio Rose (Bob Wills)
No One Will Ever Know (Hank Williams)
Gone Home (Ricky Skaggs)
Wait a Little Longer (Bill Monroe)
No Doubt About It (Flatt and Scruggs)
Uncle Pen (Bill Monroe)
You Must Unload (John B. Vaughan)
Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (Flatt and Scruggs)
Reunion In Heaven (Flatt and Scruggs)