This is Jim Haggerty from the Music on the Delaware, and I'm also here with Jim Richardson from Music on the Delaware. We have the pleasure of meeting this morning with Jay Unger at the Feather and Stone restaurant. Today is Sunday, October the 16th, and Jay is just going to tell us a little bit about his contact with Grant Rogers. How he met him, what a mentor he was, and how that inspired him to write this song, "Amid the Rivers and Streams." Jay?
I was probably in my late 20s and I was in a band called The Putnam String County Band. We had the wonderful honor and fortune of being part of a thing called The Traveling Folk Festival. I think it was sponsored by Sing Out Magazine. There were maybe four, five, six different acts, and we would travel from location to location and put on this festival. Grant was one of the acts and that's how I met him. He was probably getting close to 70 years old at the time, and he was so encouraging to me. I'd just started to be a professional musician. I had been playing since I was a kid, but here I was out in the world trying to be a performer, starting to write some tunes. He just encouraged me in every possible way. One of a couple of the things that I noticed about him that [was] unique [was] when we would arrive, let's say at a college or any kind of a venue where we were going to perform, Grant would find the folks like the custodial staff and hang out with them.
[He'd] maybe take his lunch and eat with those folks. That was how he liked to spend some of his spare time. He also spent time with the other musicians, and we'd be up late at night playing tunes together and singing songs, but he really bonded with people from all different spectrums, all different demographics wherever he went. He was a friendly person that wanted to get to know people and what they were about, and not many people do that. A lot of times when you're traveling you kind of wall the world off to a certain extent.
That's a great story, and I think it maybe does fit in with his music in a way. He never became a famous musician, but he just played music like he was a ??????
Woody Guthrie is very well known, but it's more akin to Woody Guthrie in a sense that his songs are about personal experiences, the people around him, and situations that are real to him. He just did it because he felt it. His music may not have had as universal appeal as Woody Guthrie's wound up having, but it was coming from the same place.
How about writing the song, "Amid the Rivers and Streams?" How did that come about?
I think it was Molly and my fourth time in Walton, and at this point I'd put things together and remembered that this is where Grant lived when I knew him. I'd never visited him here, but I knew he spoke of Walton. We find it a kind of oasis of sanity or something, in a sense, because it's peaceful. It isn't a place that's looking to grow--the constant concern about growth and expansion that the world and our society is involved in. Then the countryside itself; the rivers and the streams. It's part of what it is here, and it was a spontaneous moment. We were on the stage, I think after a sound check, and there was some time to be killed while something happened. This melody started coming to me and it didn't really get finished, but I recorded a little piece of it.
Then when we got home, Molly and I finished it together, and so it bound up in it our feelings of the place, the people, memories of Grant, the countryside itself. That's that.