That question brought a wonderful rush of memories of my near decade of working with the Georgia comedian and single-note harmonica player John Doodle Thrower (1927-1994).
The Golden River Grass was the standard bearer for the Georgia Fiddle Band sound from the 1970s through the 1990s carrying on the traditions started by The Skillet Lickers, Fiddlin John Carson and Moonshine Kate and so many others. I had the honor to be one of four fiddlers including Bill Kee, Paul Wallace and Jerry Wesley who carried that torch joining in early 1985.
Doodle was a country comedian whose stories sometimes pushed the envelope. When I came to work with the group, my mother Pearl sat Doodle down and said The only way my son can work with you is if you keep your act clean and family friendly. Doodle agreed and he kept his promise, although he made it a point to stretch just a bit whenever mother was in the audience just to pick at her a bit.
During my time with the group, clawhammer banjo stylist James Watsons strong right arm established a rhythm that made it a breeze for a fiddler to play, acoustic bassist Gene Daniells fingers forged a rock solid bottom which pushed the music along like the driver of a train, guitarist C.J. Clackum, and mandolinist and guitarist Wesley Clackum both provided a steady and consistent rhythm. All of this created the energy with which we hit dozens of stages from Ohio to Florida, South Carolina to Alabama. This group was a fixture on the biggest bluegrass and folk festivals in the East.
The Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame honored James Watson, 72, Nov. 24 at its annual induction ceremony in Atlanta adding him to the core members previously honored. Watson makes his home in Roanoke, Ala. but most of his musical career was centered on Georgia.
We had old time Georgia fiddle sound more like the Skillet Lickers, he said. We had a lot of humor through Doodle.
James got his beginnings on radio with Pappy Lee (Farmer) and the Chillun but it was his Uncle Jack that sparked his initially sparked his interest in music.
While Doodle enjoyed a long musical career beginning at the age of 15 performing most of his life for square dances and local gatherings, he found his voice on the national scene when the musical magic of the Golden River Grass started reaching audiences.
James and Doodle were a perfect stage team with James usually finding himself quietly receiving the focus of Doodles jokes.
Doodle could mesmerize the people, Watson said. We had a following. Our style we done as good job as anybody that was out there. It wasnt bluegrass, it wasnt country, it was kind of hoedown. More like the old time.
Browns Guide to Georgia cited the group as one of the top 10 acts in the state. Their talents won the attention of the National Council on the Arts bringing them to make repeat appearances at the National Folk Festival. Folklorist Alan Lomax sought out the group to document and feature in his PBS documentary An Appalachian Journey for the American Patchwork series. They also starred in the PBS series Tonight at Ferlinghettis.
In its career, the group recorded about 100 songs of which I had the honor of fiddling about 60. I consider these recordings some of the most representative of the traditional sounds of Appalachia and closest to the music of my fiddling Great Grandfather A.J. Harve Franks and Great Uncle Tom Franks.
One of my fondest memories is of a Golden River Grass jam session at Holiday Hills Music Park in Florida. Adding to the energy of the jam session as we sang The Carter Family song Foggy Mountain Top was my friend Marty Stuart. I remember Marty telling me how much hed like to bring Doodle to the Opry if he ever had the ability to make it happen. Sadly, by the time Martys star had risen to that level he could make it happen, Doodles health failed him. Marty told me after he heard of Doodles death that we lost a true American treasure. I agree.
It was an honor to be part of this group who carried on a vital part of Georgias musical history and to work with Doodle. I learned a great deal from each member of the group. Congratulations James, you are a true master of your craft.
Friends, my original 1989 Golden River Fiddlin recording featuring all these talented folks is now available on CD. It includes 10 favorite instrumental fiddle tunes featuring some of the most popular selections such as Orange Blossom Special and Faded Love. Other tunes include Ragtime Annie, Back Up and Push (the Devil Away), Precious Memories, The Pilgrimage (to Bethlehem), Mississippi Sawyer, and Old Rosin the Bow. To order, send $16.50 to Randall Franks, P.O. Box 42, Tunnel Hill, Ga. 30755.
Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as Officer Randy Goode on TVs In the Heat of the Night. His latest CD release, Gods Children, is by etrecordshop.com. He is a member of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. He is a columnist and staff writer for The Catoosa County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org