Larry Jamieson Interview 25:59
It's May 19th, 2017. We're in the Walton music store (Walton Music House) with Larry Jamieson and Robbie Jean Rice. My name is Jim Haggerty. We're going to interview Larry about some of his memories of Grant Rogers and, more importantly, even, his father and the legacy of traditional music -- how it's been passed down and how it's changed and developed over time. Any thoughts he has [to share] with us we're really looking forward to. So, you want to just chat away?
I think I remember Grant Rogers being in the store a time or two to buy either guitar strings or fiddle strings, and it's possible my father may have worked on his fiddle at some point in time. My father (Art Jamieson) was a traditional musician. Grew up on a farm up on East Brook, and I don't know how he got started in music. I know there's a piano in the house, and there's a picture of him and my Uncle Allen when they were both quite young with a couple of trombones that they bought from Sears and Roebuck. [. . .] They got started playing in music [. . .] and learned how to read music in school and tried various different instruments. [. . .] After high school my dad wound up going to Ithaca College to study music, and [. . .] he was [. . .] a baritone horn major [and] a violin minor. He had a violin that he'd gotten somewhere, and [. . .] I don't think he played it a lot in orchestras -- I think he played square dances. He used to play with a whole variety of people. The one I remember most was Bruce Hoyt, and I think they called that band the Pleasant Valley Boys. [. . .]
It was my dad, and Bruce, and whoever else they could find at the time. One story that my father told me once was that they played a job up in Mount Upton, at a hotel up there, and during break he laid his violin down on the chair. [. . .] Some heavyset fellow who had had a little too much to drink [. . .] came in and sat right down on his violin and broke it into pieces. [He] was real apologetic and told him that he'd get him another violin, and sure enough a week or so [. . .] he produced another violin and gave it to my dad. [. . .] Then my dad took it to Ithaca College and went to his violin lesson, and the instructor said, "Gee, your violin sounds a whole lot better this week than it did last." So, my dad said he wound up getting a better violin. So, that's the funny story I remember from his playing days, but he used to play quite a lot on weekends. [. . .] Bruce Hoyt would come to the house and pick him up. [. . .] Bruce called me "Speedunk." [. . .]
They'd go out and play various places, and my dad saved the money. [. . .] That was our summer vacation money. My dad played a lot of instruments. He would play piano, accordion or violin [. . .] He played rhythm guitar, not a lot of lead guitar, but mostly he got called to play violin or piano on square dances -- once in awhile accordion. [. . .] He did wind up being a school band director, and [. . .] taught both elementary and high school in Walton for years and years. Of course, he got some methods classes [at] Ithaca College in the various instruments, but he learned by staying one step ahead of his students. [. . .] He got so he could play all of the instruments, and he could not only read music, but he could fake, which meant he could play with bands where they didn't have charts to hand out to the musicians. He played a lot of [. . .] prom dates, that type of thing, and he would take [. . .] a stand, and he would have a trumpet, and saxophone, and [. . .] clarinet or something lined up on the stand. [. . .] He'd play a chorus on one, put it down, play a chorus on another. So, he was versatile, and because of that got a lot of work. [. . .] That's kind of what I remember about my dad's playing days.
[. . .] He must have played by ear, also. (Larry: Oh, sure, very good ear musician.) So, did he learn that from anybody? They don't teach that in school.
No, they don't teach it in schools. That 's something that you kind of learn by doing it. When I was a kid, when I was, oh, seven or eight years old, I started on a ukulele, and by the time I could hold a guitar, maybe 10 or 11, I started playing guitar. [. . .] I started with some chord book, and learned some chords, and my dad showed me a few things, but [. . .] I was real interested. [. . .] So, I [. . .] just kept on studying and doing whatever I could. [. . .] I would put on the popular records in the day and try to play along with them, and figure out what key they were in and what chords they were using. [. . .] That's what trains your ear. If you do that enough you get so you hear chord changes coming and [. . .] you have to train yourself to be fast enough to keep up with them. [. . .] All my life I've played in bands where there wasn't music. So, you just have to kind of wing it as you go, and hear the chord changes coming.
Tell us a little about the square (dances). How did that happen with your father getting into that?
Well, I really don't know how he got into the square dance business, but he told me when [. . .] he was young, he would go to square dances at people's houses. [. . .] They would move all the furniture out of a couple of rooms, and the caller would stand in a doorway between the two rooms. [. . .] Maybe (there would) be just a fiddle, and a guitar, and the guy that called, and they would call square dances. [. . .] There'd be a couple sets going in each room, and [. . .] that used to happen a lot. Of course, there was no TV, there was no internet, there was no cell phones. [. . . ] They needed some kind of entertainment.
Could you place us [. . .] with Grant Rogers, as far as your father goes? Was he contemporary? [. . .] When was your father born?
Well, my father was born in 1923.
So, a little bit younger than Grant, and Grant died in '79. Your father ?
'09, I think.
So, he was a little bit young(er).
A little younger than Grant. I remember [. . .] hearing Grant's music on WDLA back in the day. It was a small town local radio station; they would play local music. It was before your whole music repertoire was dictated by corporate somewhere. Now, Ron Galley can't play anything they don't tell him he can play, and everything that he can play is on a disk and he selects from that.
Grant Rogers even sometimes went to the radio station and played.
Yea. My band, The Mustangs, went up to WDLA and played live one time. Way back -- it's probably in the '60s.
[. . .] Grant Rogers, [. . .] he just passed on songs that were written locally, recording them and whatnot. What we call traditional Did [your father] have any connection with Grant? Did he know him?
I don't think he ever played with Grant. He played mostly with [. . .] the Hoyts, Bruce or Hilton. There were some other musicians that he played with in prom bands that [. . .] were not so much country musicians, but played [. . .] the popular music of the day -- the big band music. My dad played a lot of that when he was in the service. He was in the Army Air Corps Band in [. . .] Florida, and that was during World War II. [. . .] On the side he played big band music at officer's clubs and private parties and that type of thing. [. . .] I played a lot [. . .] of that with him back in the day, so I learned to like those big band tunes and know quite a lot of them. [. . .] That also helped develop my ear in a different direction instead of just country or folk music. I was listening to a lot of folk music in the '60s because it was big.
Peter Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio -- [. . .] bands like that. [. . .] Joan Baez was out there. Not quite so popular on the radio, but had a lot of records. [. . .] I thought she was just terrific because she had a great voice, and played real nice guitar, and carried on the tradition of folk music. She played a lot of American folk and folk from Europe and so on.
0:09:29 Robbie Jean
The Mustangs. [. . .] Let's talk a little bit (about them) because this is real history of Walton also, The Mustangs. [. . .] Who was in your group?
The Mustangs started, oh, probably around 1964, and our original appearance was at a garden party over to Becky Dan's house. [. . .] At the time that was Steve Rowell, myself, and John Clark. [. . .] We had two acoustic guitars, and we sang, and we thought, "Hey, we can make a band." So, we started talking to different people, and we got Dave Lynch to play the drums. We got my brother, Rex, to play the bass. [. . .] When we first started out, John Clark was just a vocalist, but it wasn't too long before he bought a Doric Combo organ -- a lot of the bands, [ . . .] like the Dave Clark Five, had an organ in their band. So, then we were two guitars, organ, bass, and drums. [. . .] We played all the popular music in the day. We wrote a couple of tunes of our own, but they never went anywhere. We played for a lot of high school dances on Friday and Saturday nights. We played for civic groups like Kiwanis, and Rotary, and that type of thing.
We did a live show at the theatre in Hancock one time. The Rebeccas hired us, and we went down there and did a show for a couple of hours. [. . .] Had a good time doing that. We played in talent contests. We did two or three TV appearances. One [. . .] was, oh, that Jerry Lewis telethon that they did every year, but then we also did a show out of Utica called Hank Brown's Twist-o-Rama. [. . .] We did the Genie Sparks talk show out of Binghamton; played that one time. [. . .] That's when we made a record, was when we played Hank Brown's Twist-o-Rama. We went into a studio up in Utica and recorded a couple of our originals on an A and a B side. [. . .] We had, oh, I think 100 copies made, and when they arrived they looked more like Frisbees than records. [. . .] When you put [the record] on, the record kind of went like this. You got a lot of wow and flutter, so it never sounded really terrific.
Do you still have one?
I do somewhere, over at the house. I'm not sure where it's at.
How long did The Mustangs last?
Well, we lasted until 1967 when I graduated and John Clark graduated. [. . .] Then I think Steve Rowelll and Dave Lynch picked up Ernie Kinch and maybe somebody else, I'm not sure, and they went on for another year before they graduated.
I've got a Mustang's picture on the bulletin board back there if you'd like to see it. We did play the New York World's Fair on Delaware County Day at the New York pavilion. [. . .] There's probably a thousand people there watching us, and that was the biggest crowd that we ever played for. I remember Woolley Bully was number one on the radio in New York City, and we played that. And again, that was part of my training as an ear musician. Every week, I would record the top 10 tunes. Delaware County WDLA used to play them on the radio and we'd see how many we could figure out [. . .] the chords to, and write the words down, and get them into our repertoire.
The Beatles changed that mold [of just a few chords]. Just a few chords was prior to The Beatles. Early rock and roll [. . .] was 12 bar blues and three chords; one, four and five. [. . .] Then along came The Beatles and they just went crazy. They used all kinds of chords, changed keys in the middle of songs, and did all kinds of inventive stuff. [. . .] I think that's one of the reasons that they were so successful, is they were a whole new breed of rock and roll.
Now we're focusing a little bit on the square dancing. We've talked with people about the singing, and the traditions, and things like that, but now we're looking at that issue, and we notice there's a little come back here in the dances.
Yea, the Castle [on the Delaware]'s trying to have some dances. They have brought in the Tremperskill Boys to do a square dance. There were a lot of square dances when I was a kid. One of the first times I heard my dad's band live, I was probably nine or 10 years old, and over at the Townsend School on Halloween night they had a night of fun. We would have our parade, and then we would go to the school, and they would have a square dance for the kids, and they'd have a talent show, and they would award prizes for window painting, and my dad's band played there. [. . .] I remember it was he, and Bruce, and Red Scherer was playing lap steel guitar, and I don't remember who else played. [. . .] I thought, "Gee, these guys sound pretty good." [. . .]I heard a song that I liked that I'd never heard before, and that was Hank Williams' "Hot rod Ford and a two dollar bill." I'm trying to think of the name of it. It'll come to me. Anyway, that was my first introduction to seeing my dad play.
By the time I was 12 or 13 I played a gig with him, and that was up somewhere in a community center near Carr's Creek. [. . .] I can't remember exactly where it was, but what I played was [a] six string banjo tuned like a guitar. [. . .] I just strummed along on the banjo and was able to play the chords on several of the square dances because a lot of them are four chords, fairly easy things, that just repeat over and over again.
So, why did you play banjo and not a guitar?
Well, Bruce was playing the guitar, so I played banjo to add a little different flavor.
There's (been) fiddles in square dance bands for a long time. One of the bands I played with is Hilton Hoyt, Bruce's brother, and in that band I played bass, Hilton played guitar. There was a Hathaway from Downsville that played guitar, and he was a really good player, [. . .] and then Bill Shampine from Delhi played fiddle, and he was a really good fiddle player. Bill Shampine, William Shampine -- S-h-a-m-p-i-n-e. At one time, he was New York State champion fiddle player, and he [. . .] was a heavyset fella, but he sat in the chair and his bow didn't look like he was working hard at all. He could play all kinds of stuff. I remember he came into the store one time, and my dad had an old fiddle hanging on the wall. It didn't look like much, and he took it down and played it, and it sure sounded good when he played it. So, [. . .] there's traditionally been fiddle in [. . .] square dance music.
Did your father play the fiddle too?
Yea, he did. Fiddle wasn't his main instrument, but he played pretty decent fiddle [. . .] and viola. Yep. Some of the time when my dad played, there's [. . .] Bob McClellan. He [. . .] was a mechanic down to Sibert's Flying A Station. He played fiddle, and he played quite often with my dad and Bruce. [. . .] When he was playing fiddle my dad would be playing either piano or accordion.
Bob McClellan and Bob Sibert -- the dad was a good musician. He played saxophone, and he played sometimes in some of my dad's other bands. Once in awhile there'd be a saxophone and a clarinet player in a square dance band. I played over the Schenevus area for a little while with a guy by the name of Charlie Hughes. [. . .] He was very famous in his area for square dances, and he played fiddle and guitar. When I was playing with him, he was playing rhythm guitar and doing a lot of the vocals in the band, but he was also a good fiddle player. [. . .] He's oh mid 80s now, and he still plays fiddle at home. We played at the Bell Hotel in Schenevus, and it was really a place designed for public dancing. [. . .] They had a bar, and then a big dance floor, and a stage for the band, and there'd be [. . .] 10 or 12 sets of square dancers out there every Saturday night.
That was, oh, that was before I went to Oklahoma, so that would [be] circa '72, '73, right in that ball park when I was playing with them. Jim Wright from Walton played guitar, I played bass, Charlie, he used to play guitar, and Leonard Grossman from Walton played drums.
There was the Fisher's Brother Band in Walton for many years. You've talked to Loppy and the Hulse brothers as well, yes.
Your brothers all have some sort of musical ability, also.
Yea. Rex went to school for music, and he was a percussion and cello major at Marywood College in Pennsylvania. [. . .] Then he went on to have a career with the United States Army Fife and Drum Corps. He played drums for them for several years, and the last few years of the career he played fife. Taught himself how to play fife because it was much smaller to carry, and most of the time you just carried it under your arm. [. . .] The drummers drummed all the time, so it was an easier gig. [. . .] He still plays percussion with a band down in Virginia where he lives, and sings barbershop, and occasionally plays bass in some kind of a group. So, [. . .] he stays busy with music. My brother, Ted, sings in the church choir and plays drums. [. . .] He works with my band occasionally as a fill-in drummer, and then he has his own band that he works with which is Coyote Junction. That's he, and Steve Rutherford, and Kevin Rutherford. [Steve], he was my brother-in-law.
Steve had a band back in high school called The Rogues at the same time The Mustangs were going. There used to be a lot of garage bands or rock bands around back in the day. Not so much anymore. They're too busy playing with their phones or video games.
All this music in your family, did that come down from a prior generation that you know?
Not that I know of. [. . .]My mother played the piano, and she gave piano lessons for a lot of years. [She] sang in the church choir for a lot of years. She started music school in Ithaca, but she didn't have the talent on violin that she really needed to become an orchestral player. [. . .] Also, her family didn't really have the funds to keep her in school. [. . .] She wound up dropping out, and she worked for a year, and then she went to a dental hygiene school in Rochester. [She] graduated from there, but never did work in dental hygiene. Wound up raising a family instead, and working at Walton Music House when that got started.
But she played [. . .] as you were growing up.
Yes, she always played piano.
0:21:47 Robbie Jean
So, did she teach all of you to play piano?
Well, she tried. My brothers and I were all probably too ear talented to pay enough attention to lessons. I could hear what I was supposed to be playing, and then play it by ear fairly easily without having to read the music. So, I didn't learn to read the music real well on piano. I did take baritone horn lessons from my dad when I got into school, and got so I could read pretty well on that and then when I got into junior high, Julian Wilcox was looking for some bass players, and so I started string bass and picked that up fairly quickly. [. . .] I played bass in the orchestra all through high school and baritone horn with the band. [. . .] I still play gigs on bass once in awhile.
0:22:40 Robbie Jean
Your dad had perfect pitch? (Larry: He did.) That's what I thought. And you do too.
No. I have good pitch in terms of I can hear intervals and so on, but I can't just pick a note out the air and tell you what it is like some people can. I ran into a kid not long ago that could do that, and I can't remember who it was. There was one girl in our high school, Janie Hathaway, that could do that. She was a niece of that guy that played guitar in the band. Carl Hathaway was his name.
[. . .] One thing that has continued on, and it's still fairly strong, social dancing and group dancing. It's still here. It's not in a lot of other places, and the music that accompanies that that's just been changed from the normal [. . .] popular music of the day, or how else would you say? Do you have a comment about that?
Yea, well, there's a lot of rock and roll dancing when I was a kid in school, and people still knew how to slow dance. I don't know if they do anymore or not in terms of the kids, the Millennials. [. . .] We play, oh, once a month or so over in Oneonta for a dance club over there, and they both square dance and do round dances. [. . .] What we're playing is kind of traditional country music and then traditional eastern square dances. [. . .] Same thing up in Cortland, New York, we do that, but it's an older crowd at all those events. There's very few young people. So, it's not something the young people are learning or taking an interest in.
0:24:55 Robbie Jean
I just feel like there's a revival of the old time music.
[. . ..] One old time music genre that still exists is bluegrass and that hasn't changed a whole lot. There's still some out there. [. . .] Some younger ones that play the old time traditional music, but also do their own thing and play some newer stuff that they've written. [. . .] They also take pop tunes and make them into bluegrass tunes, but that's still very traditional and the same instrumentation that's been for a long time. Banjo, fiddle, and guitar, dobro, and bass, and mandolin.