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My Family's Musical Heritage

Posted by revellfa on Wednesday, November 24, 2010

                Emory Harrison Fleegle was born to Lilly Fleegle on July 12, 1923 in Hancock, Maryland.  Like many who were born during this time period in Appalachia, Emory was raised in the midst of distress, hard times, and poverty.  These challenges were compounded by the fact that Emory’s mother Lilly was a single mother.  On March 4, 1930, another child, Arnold Fleegle, was born to Lilly. 

                With the growth of the family, hard times got harder.  With two small children and no social welfare system in place for single mothers times were very difficult for Lilly and the two young boys.  Despite the many challenges that they faced together, the family was very close and the two young boys in particular were always good friends.  Seven years Arnie’s senior Emory assumed the role of big brother, and in many ways, father.  Emory often said that he and Arnie enjoyed fishing together.  More than a mere recreational event that celebrated brotherly love, the family’s survival often depended on what they caught.  Simply put if they didn’t catch anything the family didn’t eat that evening. 

                Music was one of the few pure pleasures that life offered the two young boys.  Like many rural families of the era listening to the radio was the major pastime and many used music to lift themselves from the harsh realities of everyday life.  No doubt spiritual songs and the Carter Family classic of this era, “Keep on the Sunny Side” rang through the old radio in the Fleegle household more than once bringing them strength and encouragement. 

“There's a dark and a troubled side of life
There's a bright and a sunny side too
Though we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

   Keep on the sunny side   always on the sunny side
   Keep on the sunny side of life
   It will help us every day it will brighten all our way
   If we keep on the sunny side of life

Oh the storm and its fury broke today
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear
The clouds and storm will in time pass away
The sun again will shine bright and clear

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Savior always
To keep us every one in His care.”

 

                One Saturday evening in 1936 when Emory was 13 years old a friend, David Deal, asked Emory what he was going to do for fun that evening.  “Oh, I don’t know, I guess I’ll just go home and listen to the radio” was Emory’s answer as usual.  “Well, we’re going to go home and make music”, Dave countered.  “Wow, make music” Emory pondered.  Always one to make music a priority and not one to pass up a good time Emory found himself at Dave’s house that evening.  While at Dave’s house, Dave taught Emory his first few chords on the guitar and the two young boys quickly became close friends. This new friendship and newfound hobby inspired Emory to purchase a small, mail order Kalamazoo Guitar from his school for $8, a practice which was common at the time.  These guitars were produced by Gibson as a low-cost alternative during the depression and today are worth in excess of $800.  With a small body and a mellow tone, these guitars were perfect (especially for children) to learn to play and sing with.  SHOW KALAMAZOO PIC HERE.  Emory passed on what he learned from Dave to his younger brother, Arnie.   Little did Emory know that the young Arnie would one day be teaching him!

                For many years thereafter Emory, Arnie, Clarence Prior, and many others that Dave taught and encouraged would sit around and make music together.  Elva Deal, Dave’s sister, even joined in with some singing.  Instead of just listening to music, these young men and women were making music!  Undoubtedly the music made the tough times a bit happier.  However, happy times were nearly over.  Far away a war was brewing that would call many of the young boys away, some never to return. 

                In 1943 with the war intensifying, the need eventually arose for more troops.  At the age of 19, Emory was one of the first five teenagers in Hancock to fight in World War II (the others were Clarence Knight, Bob French, Henry Childers, a young man whose last name was Smith.)  He left on March 4, 1943 for training in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Later, when men with families were drafted, Dave Deal also left for the war.  Emory would never see Dave Deal again.

                Wanting to keep their friendship alive after both had left for the war, Emory and Dave corresponded by mail several times.  One day Emory noticed that the letter came back to him marked “deceased.”  Surely Dave couldn’t be dead Emory thought, so he continued to write letters.  The letters continued to be returned—“deceased”, they said.  After further inquiry, Emory learned the sad truth that his friend and musical mentor, Dave Deal, had been killed in combat.  As he sacrificed his time and talent to share them with his friends, Dave made the same sacrifice for his country.  To add to the heartache, Emory learned that so many individuals were being killed that the army couldn’t ship them all home.  Today Dave Deal rests in Holland.  Emory never got over this great and tragic loss, speaking fondly of David until his own death in 2003. 

                While Emory was away at war, his younger brother Arnie was beginning to lay the foundation for what would become his own musical legacy.  Emory might have left for the war, but his small, mail order Kalamazoo guitar remained under his bed!  However, for the young Arnie, access was strictly prohibited.  “That is Emory’s guitar and I want him to be the first to play it when he gets back”, Lilly used to warn little Arnie.  Some have also speculated that Lilly’s reluctance to allow Arnie access to the guitar was birthed from her belief that he only wanted to “play” and was not serious about learning music.  Of course, that didn’t stop the curious young man who would eventually become a professional musician.  You could say that he was willing to take his licks in order to practice his licks!

                Assuming that Emory taught Arnie how to play the guitar around the same time that he was learning Arnie would have been six years old when he learned his first chord on the guitar.  At some point, Neil Addelsberger also showed Arnie some chords on the guitar and also sold Arnie his first mandolin for the grand total of $3!  Emory often told his family that by the age of nine Arnie could play anything on the mandolin and also played many fiddle tunes on the guitar.

                When Emory returned from the war in November of 1945 he was so pleased to be back home that he literally kissed the ground upon arriving in Hancock!  He was also amazed at how far the young Arnie, now 15, had progressed in his musical abilities on both the guitar and the mandolin.  Around this same time, Arnie picked up another instrument that was gaining popularity in the post-war years, the electric guitar.  It would be the electric guitar that would one day lead Arnie to stardom.  A fine musician in his own right, Emory later admitted that he never quite caught up with Arnie again in terms of sheer musical talent.  This is likely due to the fact that Emory, a combat veteran and a participant in five major campaigns, was unable to play any music the entire time that he was away at war (from March 1943-November 1945.)  While away at war Emory once wrote a letter home that read, “Been here too long and seen too much…”  Upon returning home, it would once again be music that lifted Emory from his pit.

                After returning from the war Emory made his best attempt to reintegrate into normal life.  One afternoon Emory decided to put on his best vanilla scented cologne and have lunch at a local restaurant where a young waitress inquired of him, “who is that that smells so good?”  Emory always had an eye for the ladies and was not one to pass up such an opportunity.  The two soon found themselves boyfriend and girlfriend.  A little over a year after he returned home from the war, Emory married Hallie Jane Corbett on Feb. 21, 1946.  The two were married for over 45 years.  Put Picture of nanny and pap here.

                Emory soon discovered that Hallie’s father, Pete (Pete Pop as he was known by later generations) was also a fine musician and singer.  Pete played an old Gretch Broadkaster tenor banjo and also sang.  Emory would later play several instruments but at this time he played the guitar only.  Through marriage, a new duo had been formed, Emory on the guitar and Pete Pop on the tenor banjo and vocals.  Later, Hallie would even chime in on the bass fiddle!  They played at various venues in the area including the Owls club, the clubhouse at Tonoloway, and also at local bars and dances.  Pete also performed at Weaver’s Restaurant where he met another talented young guitar player, Edward “Alph” Ridgeway from Great Cacapon, West Virginia.  “Alph” or “Alph Alpha” as he was known by his friends was around the same age as Arnie and the two quickly became friends as did their families.  Emory Fleegle, Jr. (Junior) recalls that Alph’s father played the guitar as well and that he had a Gibson J-45 that had groves in the neck and fret board from being played so much.  While Emory and Arnie still played music together often, Arnie also began to play with Alph Ridgeway and the two often performed together in and around Hancock, Maryland starting at Weaver’s Restaurant.  There was around this time two music venues at the eastern end of Hancock that occupied the same building.  The Shamrock Inn occupied the first floor, and the Owl’s club the second floor.  Both featured live music often.  Emory and Pete as well as Arnie and Alph played at both venues on a regular basis.  As the young Arnie was beginning to build a strong musical legacy of his own there would arise another conflict and duty would soon call him away as well. 

                Initially deemed medically unfit to serve due to an undetermined heart ailment Arnie sought a second opinion and left for the Army in 1951.  He returned to Hancock in 1953.  Arnie was originally stationed in Aberdeen, Maryland and was able to come home on the weekends.  Emory Fleegle, Jr. recalls that new records were available sooner in Aberdeen than they were in Hancock.  When Arnie came home on leave on the weekends he would always bring with him the newest records from the first generation of stars during this golden era of bluegrass music including; Reno and Smiley, The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, and Flat and Scruggs.  While home on leave, Emory and Arnie would learn the songs on these albums in their mother’s kitchen by slowing the record down in order to process the notes easier.  This was a technique that was used by many self-taught bluegrass musicians, especially during the folk revival of the 1960s.  Arnie possessed an uncanny ability to quickly reproduce the exact note that he heard and then add his own unique flair to it.  Arnie often worked new songs out as soon as they were released on record.  “He could play anything with strings on it”, Emory used to say.  When Reno and Smiley first recorded “Talk of the Town” in the early 1950s Arnie borrowed Emory’s banjo and played the song live on the Wheeling Jamboree with Bobby Well on the guitar as Emory listened from home on the radio.  Circa 1954 Arnie recorded “The Little Rock Getaway” with the great Don Reno on the banjo and Arnie on the guitar.  This recording was played on the radio and believed to be in the collection of either Ray Davis or Eddie Stubbs.

                This marks a significant event in Emory and Arnie’s musical history as they were directly influenced by the first generation of bluegrass legends.  Arnie’s time at Aberdeen came to an end and although technically a part of the Korean War effort Arnie was stationed in France which was still occupied by the Americans at this time.

                While in the service Arnie picked up another instrument—the banjo!  Emory Fleegle, Jr. recalls that Arnie learned how to play three-fingered style banjo from a fellow serviceman who hailed from either North or South Carolina.  This marks another significant moment in the musical history of the Revell/Fleegle families.  The three-fingered style of banjo playing that was receiving national attention during this time (1940s-50s) by banjo players such as Earl Scruggs (North Carolina) and Don Reno (South Carolina) originated and was initially popularized by a man named DeWitt “Snuffy” Jenkins who performed often in the Carolinas during the 1920s and 30s.  This style was also called “hard driving” banjo playing.

                Upon returning from the Army in 1953 Arnie soon taught Emory this same three-fingered style of banjo playing that he had learned.  Although he would continue to play the guitar and the mandolin for the rest of his life, Emory’s passion became the banjo from that moment on.  Emory was known for playing complex instrumentals and hard-driving leads and was considered to be one of if not the best banjo player in the area.  Emory’s roll on the banjo was certainly influenced by the earliest three-finger style banjo players as well as the first generation of bluegrass legends but it was also entirely unique and nearly impossible to imitate.  As Fred Revell would later comment, “Emory always had a handful of strings.”  Emory performed regionally with the Stevens Brothers (now the Stevens Family.)  In the early 1950s Emory was playing with either the Stevens Brothers or Merle Everetts at Ambrose Wild Game Farm in McConnelsburg, Pa.  The show that day featured “Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys” as the headliner. 

                Bill Monroe, notorious for firing banjo players (he had well over 100 banjo players during the course of his career) had fired his banjo player before the show.  Finding himself without a banjo player, Monroe asked Emory to fill in for the show which he did.  Emory recalls that Bill asked him to follow him to the next show in Ohio but Emory refused due to his family obligations and his day job.  This shows that Emory was a far advanced player in the early 50s and only got better as the years went on.  Emory also excelled at vocals, as Andy Boarman once told him, “you could throw your banjo away and take your guitar to Nashville and become a singer!”  This was no small complement coming from an individual who had significant exposure to many of the legends of bluegrass music. 

                During the prime of his musical career Emory played with several groups both informal and organized.  As previously mentioned Emory played with the Steven’s Brothers (now the Stephens Family) as well as with the Jacob Brothers, performing regionally including venues such as the Franklin Court Auditorium in Hagerstown, Md.  Emory and Pete also played in a group called, “The Dusty Mountain Boys” with Denny Swisher, a friend that Emory met while playing with Merle Everett on the Waynesboro radio station.  Emory would also play with the Tonoloway Ramblers and various other groups that included Delmar Melott, and Willis Kauffman and the Knight Riders.  These informal, or “jam” groups as they were often called, often included individuals who went on to stardom in the bluegrass world including Charlie Monroe and also brothers Del McCourey (who went on to play with Bill Monroe) and Jerry McCourey (who went on to play with Don Reno.)  During this, the height of Emory’s regional fame he also opened up WCST in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia as he was the first voice and banjo to be heard on that station.      

                Not only regarded as a fine musician Emory was also known for his gracious and kind personality.  Often banjo players would keep their “licks and secrets” to themselves however Emory was always willing to share his knowledge with others (however his playing was so complex that few could grasp it!)  Donnie Gibson, banjo player for Black Diamond Bluegrass, recalls that, “He [Emory] was one of the first great ones that I ever knew” and also that, “he [Emory] was always a gentleman.”  Fred Revell also recalls that in addition to his talent Emory’s gracious personality was another factor that led him to follow Emory all across the region to learn his banjo style instead of following other banjo players.  It was in this way that Emory was now beginning to influence a new generation of Bluegrass performers.  As his friend Dave Deal had influenced many musicians Emory was now doing the same. 

                On March 1947 the family’s musical legacy would reach another generation as Emory and Hallie had their first child, a son, Emory Fleegle, Jr.  Over the next decade the family continued to grow.  Emory and Hallie had seven children in all.  Life was grand for the young Fleegle family.  In the early 1950s Emory and Hallie purchased two lots from Chet Sagel in Hancock, Maryland.  The property was surrounded by the Tonoloway River and extended from Brent Street to Purrell Street.  It was here that Emory and Hallie built a home for their growing family.  Lilly who often struggled to get by in life was now secure as Emory also built her a home on the property.  Lilly, Emory, Hallie, and the children now had a place to call home (the land was often referred to as Blue Hill.) 

These events would later inspire the poem/soon to be song, “Tonoloway River” written by Fred Revell;

Chet Seagel said Emory remember that morning.

Remember that morning a long time ago.

We took a long walk on the Tonoloway River.

The Tonoloway River O how it did flow.

It’s here I will build my family a homestead.

And along this river my children will grow.

Someday they will leave the Tonoloway River

And start a new life wherever they go.

 

                The good times were many as the children spent their time playing in the woods.  To illustrate the priority that music took in the Fleegle family Hallie recalls that it was raining one evening and the roof began to leak.  “Emory, quick get up, the roof is leaking”, Hallie warned.  “Oh, no!” Emory exclaimed as he got up, put his banjo under the bed and went back to sleep. 

                Eager to pass the musical legacy on to another generation Emory attempted to teach his eldest son Emory Fleegle Jr. how to play the guitar in 1957.  Junior recalls that Emory purchased a small, cheap, broken guitar from a neighbor and fixed it up so that he could play it.  Even though he tried very hard Junior recalls that he had difficulty putting the chords together and playing rhythm at this young age.  Emory would eventually attempt to teach all of his children (Bob, Bill, Earl, Cindy, and Beverly) how to play but none of the children ever quite stuck with it.

                And then it happened one afternoon in 1961 when Junior was playing with his brothers out in the woods using grape vines as swings.  On this particular day the children were taking turns doing so and it was now Junior’s turn.  As he was swinging the vine gave way and Junior fell into a gulley.  Junior broke his ankle and was laid up for several weeks.  This presented a prime opportunity for another effort at learning how to play the guitar.  During his recovery Junior decided to give the guitar another try.  He found that he was now able to relearn the chord structures and it was soon discovered that he could play a rock solid rhythm with impeccable timing, a very rare skill in bluegrass music and a style that complements the banjo especially well.  Junior displayed an outstanding natural talent.  Junior could play both lead and rhythm very well (it is somewhat uncommon to excel at both styles.)  Emory later commented, “If I would have known that he could play that well, I would have broken his ankle years ago!”  Like his uncle Arnie, Junior was a quick learner he also picked up skills on the mandolin, and banjo.  Junior had improved to the point that it was time for a new guitar.  Emory eventually acquired a Gibson LG for Junior to play.  In the years that followed Emory and Junior performed at the Triangle in Hancock with Bob and Doris Gross.  Hallie waited tables and Fred Revell was often in the shadows listening to his musical idol and mentor.  Emory and Junior would also play live over the radio with friend and fellow banjo player, Red Shingleton.  Being the oldest of the children and the only one to play music at this time, Junior also had significant exposure to his Uncle Arnie who at this time was a professional musician. 

                Upon returning from the Army in Arnie teamed up with some old friends and played in a band named “Willis Kauffman and the Night Riders” which included Arnie (lead electric guitar, mandolin) Willis Kauffman (steel guitar and rhythm guitar), Ercel Kauffman (bass), Jimmy Unger (Piano), and Bobby Weller (vocals.)  The band played regionally at carnivals, legions, and drive-in movies. 

                Around 1955 Bud Messner of WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia Jamboree fame heard Arnie play the guitar and offered him a job with his group which was called “Bud Messner and the Sky Liners with Mollie Darr.”  SEE THE MAGAZINE COVER There were many variations of the band over the years and band members during Arnie’s tenure included Otis "Otis “Otis “Odie””" Palmer (with whom Arnie teamed up to play twin electric guitars), Bob Schopert (vocals), Ingram (fiddle), an individual whose first name was Frankie (rhythm guitar.)  An individual whose last name was Ellis was also in the group.

                It was this job that took Arnie’s musical career and legacy to another level as he often played (both live and on the radio) at the Wheeling West Virginia Jamboree (WWVA.)  Through this experience Arnie was exposed to some of the legends of bluegrass and country music.  In addition to playing at the Jamboree, Bud Messner and the Sky Liners with Molly Darr also played on WTPA television in Harrisburg, Pa. and also on WCHA radio in Chambersburg, PA.  They also toured the United States and Canada. 

                Although he was having a wonderful time displaying his talent with this well known group, Arnie wanted to spend more time at home with his new wife Beverly so he gave his notice to Bud Messner and returned home.  His desire to be with his family also prompted Arnie to later turn down a job as a studio musician in Washington, D.C.    

                Although he did not play as a professional traveling musician any longer Arnie continued to make music.  Upon his return he played with Dusty Schaffer (emcee), Wally Kitchenal , and Boogie Bill Boggs see webpage.  Dottie West also used Arnie as her guitar player on a set that she played in Hancock.  Previously known as “Wild Bill Fleegle”, Arnie became a devout Christian.  At this same time, The Rev. Raymond Jones was a popular preacher/evangelist/musician who preached and sang over the radio on WCST in Berkeley Springs.  He also held revival meetings.  Rev. Raymond Jones produced an album series entitled “Songs of Glory” which featured popular hymns and gospel songs.  In the mid sixties Arnie and Rev. Jones teamed up on Volumes Two and Three of the “Songs of Glory” series.  This would be the last recording that Arnie would make as he died in 1968 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 38.  Cindy Revell recalls that upon Arnie’s death, the Wheeling Jamboree did a tribute to Arnie broadcasting his music over their radio station for several days.

                To say the least Arnie’s death took quite a toll on the entire family.  Emory Fleegle, Jr. recalls that they were in the car at the hospital when they got the news and that upon hearing of Arnie’s death, Emory put his head on the steering wheel and cried.  The two young boys who suffered hard times, fought for their country, and made music together were now parted by death.  Emory Fleegle, Jr. recalls that they were so upset that they didn’t play music for a short time.  Everybody was so discouraged that the family’s musical legacy could have died along with Arnie.  

                Fred Revell was born on August 11, 1936 to Francis “Frank” Eugene and Hazel Virginia Revell.    He was the fourth of five children and the family eventually settled in Pecktonville, Maryland in the very early 1940s.  In an era when live music and live musicians were somewhat scarce for rural families little Freddie grew up listening to his relatives make music.  His mother played the piano and sang and Frank made sure that all of the children got piano lessons.  Little Freddie preferred to play by ear as he didn’t like reading music so his older sister Peggy used to teach him what she learned which he would later memorize and play by ear.  Fred’s teacher could not appreciate this approach so she refused to give him any more lessons.  Frank was also musically talented as he strummed and chorded both the tenor banjo as well as the guitar.  Additionally he played the drums in the Pecktonville Community Band.  Fred also recalls that his father had a mandolin around but he doesn’t remember him playing it.   The family used to gather around and sing hymns and folk songs while Frank played the rhythm with either the tenor banjo or the guitar.  Fred also recalls that his uncle, Joe Murray played a little bit on the guitar as well.   

                Even in the slim years after the depression, the Revell family was equipped with all the modern conveniences.  The family was blessed to have a television repairman who lived on a cabin on the farm.  The children recall that it was their job to test televisions to see if they had been fixed properly.  Fred recalls that the family also had a floor sized radio.  Fred remembers that he used to get up on a chair to listen to the radio and that it was still higher than him!  At this early stage in his life, Fred’s musical tastes were very broad.  He enjoyed listening to a variety of music including polka, marches, and bluegrass.  One of his favorite groups at this time was a band known as the Korn Kobblers.  Fred and his siblings recall that he made a request for the Korn Kobblers that was honored on national television as the family watched from home!   The emcee announced, “We are sending this one out to Freddie Revell in Pecktonville, Maryland who has requested the Korn Kobblers—‘this group gets more sound out of their instruments than anybody I’ve ever heard’, Freddy writes.” 

                As Fred listened to a variety of music he became more interested in bluegrass, particularly in the five-string banjo played in the three-finger style.  It was through television and radio that Fred was gaining exposure to the first generation of Bluegrass legends.  Fred recalls that he would often pull in a television station out of Richmond, Virginia in order to watch Don Reno, Red Smiley, and the Tennessee Cut Ups.  Upon hearing the banjo played in the three-fingered style for the first time Fred recalls saying, “Wow, this is it.”  Always a fan of bluegrass music Fred reached the point where listening was not enough and he eventually yearned to learn how to play this music. 

                Because three-fingered style was still in its infancy at this time Fred recalls that it was hard to find an individual who played this style.  And then it happened!  Sometime between 1953-55 when Fred was still in high school he heard Emory playing the banjo on the radio and said, “I’ve got to learn how to do that.”  Fred mentioned this to his friend Arluss Shives who replied, “I can take you to that man’s house, that’s Emory Fleegle.”  So Fred, his uncle, Joe Murray, and Arluss Shives showed up on Emory’s doorstep.  Emory recalled that “a tall thin young man came to my door and told me that he was going to go into the Navy and that he wanted to learn how to play the banjo.”  Little did Emory know but that same young man would one day become his son-in-law.

                Fred entered the Navy in 1955.  He recalls buying a cheap banjo in a pawn shop in Jacksonville, Florida.  Still star struck by Emory’s music Fred always made it a point to visit Emory throughout the years when he came home on leave, often catching up with Emory and Junior when they played at the Triangle in the early 1960s.  “Emory always had a handful of strings”, Fred used to say.  Fred was always a friend and an occasional visitor to the Fleegle household so much so that he was eventually deemed an honorary sibling by Emory’s children!  While visiting Fred would always pick up a quick banjo lesson from Emory.  Fred also developed a romantic interest in Emory’s daughter, Cindy Fleegle. 

                Fred began to learn the banjo from a variety of sources.   While he was certainly influenced by Emory he was mostly a self-taught musician who learned by listening, watching, and by trial and error.  Still single at this time, Fred recalls that he worked out many tunes while he was alone in the airplane hangar at night.  Later in his Navy career Fred had the benefit of being stationed in Washington D.C. during the height of the folk revival and the emergence of the second generation of Bluegrass stars.  Fred’s banjo playing reflects this influence as well. 

                As Fred’s banjo playing improved so did his banjo.  Sometime in the early 1960s Fred purchased a brand new Gibson Mastertone Archtop banjo with Bow-Tie inlays.  A few years later Fred would trade this banjo along with $350 to Berkeley County instrument maker Andrew “Andy” F. Boarman for a 1935 Gibson TB-3 with a five-string conversion neck.  It was a pretty good trade considering that today the banjo is of the holy grail “pre-war” era and is worth nearly $10,000.  It is the banjo that Fred still plays today. 

                The story behind how Fred acquired this instrument is quite fascinating.  At this time Andy Boarman was building very high quality (and high priced) instruments for professionals and also for fairly wealthy individuals.  While at a very popular and long-running bluegrass festival at Indian Springs, Maryland Fred approached Andy Boarman and shamed him!  “Andy, you are making all of these banjos for these doctors and lawyers and they are never going to learn how to play them, your instruments will never be played and nobody will know about them!”  “Freddy”, Andy quipped, “I’ma got just enough stuff to build one more banjer and I’ma gonna build it just fer you!”  A few weeks later the two made the above mentioned swap! 

                While in the Navy, Fred made friends with another banjo player, instrument maker, and fellow aviation worker, Geoff Stelling SEE ARTICLE.  At that time Geoff and his friend Greg Deering were building banjos in Geoff’s garage in California utilizing technology that Geoff learned from working with airplanes in the Navy.  Along with the tour of the then factory/garage the two also did some picking.  One would think that Fred gained valuable knowledge from this banjo guru however it was actually Fred who influenced Geoff!  During their time together the two played the song “Lady of Spain” and Fred recalls that even though Geoff could already play the song he really liked Fred’s version better and got Fred to teach it to him!  Not long after that Geoff Stelling and Greg Deering formed two separate companies and today both Stelling and Deering banjos are considered to be two of the top three banjo makers in America. 

                Fred’s brother Larry also played the five-string banjo in the three-fingered style.  Larry’s involvement with the Fleegle family came by chance as Hallie was doing laundry at the Laundromat in Hancock, Maryland.  “I met the nicest man at the Laundromat today” she exclaimed upon returning home.  “What is his name?”, Emory inquired.  “Larry Revell”, Hallie replied.  “Larry Revell, why that’s Fred’s brother!”, Emory exclaimed.  For a short while Larry also visited the Fleegle household and played music.  After retiring from the Navy in the early 1970s Emory and Junior were regulars at Fred and Larry’s home in Pecktonville, Maryland.  Like Fred, Larry admired Emory’s raw and unique talent on the banjo and Junior’s rock solid rhythm and lead guitar playing.  Emory and Junior were equally as impressed with the melodic style of banjo playing that the Revell brothers were playing.  Melodic style banjo differed greatly from the earlier traditional three-finger style of playing that Emory was exposed to through his brother Arnie.  Whereas the early three-fingered style that originated in the Carolinas attempted to stay true to the melody of a song, melodic style played around the melody and utilized left and right hand techniques on the banjo that had previously never before been seen or recorded.  Both Fred and Larry excelled at both the traditional “hard-driving” banjo playing and this new and complicated melodic style of banjo playing.  Fred is also well noted for having some of the best back up banjo skills around. The two brothers also had significant exposure to Arnie before his death in 1968.  Fred retired from the Navy in 1975 and married Cindy Lou Fleegle on August 7, 1976. 

                Around this same time (early 1970s) Emory had another son who developed an interest in learning to play music, his youngest son, Jim Fleegle.   At age 11 with his father as his teacher Jim began to learn how to play the guitar.  At age 17 Jim switched to the banjo.  Jim showed such interest in the banjo that Emory traded the old Gibson LG Guitar that Junior had been playing to Andy Boarman in exchange for Jim’s first banjo a Gibson Mastertone copy which he still owns today.  Show picture here.

                Jim’s banjo playing is influenced by a variety of sources.  In addition to his father, local banjo player Jeff Chesnut was an inspiration to Jim.  Jim also learned by accompanying Emory to bluegrass festivals in the 1970s at the KOA Campground and the Indian Springs Festival to name a few.  Jim picked up quite a bit of material from Fred who was dating his sister Cindy at the time.  The couple recalls that Jim became a real third-wheel in the process!  All of these influences led Jim to seek to apply what he had learned to the modern context.  Jim has played in over half a dozen bands including Stoney Creek, Red Moon, and Bluehill.  Jim’s enthusiasm for the banjo helped to renew Emory’s interest in music which had been somewhat diminished by Arnie’s death.

                 Frankie Allen Revell was born on April 12, 1978 to Fred and Cindy Revell.  With Fred as his father, Junior and Jim as his uncles and Emory as his grandfather, Frankie was exposed to bluegrass music right from the start.  Frankie fondly recalls being exposed to music at a very early age at family get-togethers, bluegrass festivals, and attending his various family member’s performances throughout the community.   Frankie also recalls that his parents took him to the famous “Indian Springs Bluegrass Festival” to hear Don Reno when he was only a few months old.  Of the young child, Emory would often comment, “his fingers are almost big enough for banjo pickin’.”  Eventually his fingers did become long enough!

                It was in 1985 that the family musical heritage would touch another generation.  After the family dinner in the Revell household Frankie would often retreat to his room to play, very often his father would also accompany him to his room to play as well, the banjo that is!  One evening after dinner while sitting on the couch in the living room Fred asked Frankie if he would like to learn how to play.  Over the next week Frankie learned the song “Cripple Creek” and it was soon discovered that in the tradition of his great uncle Arnie and his uncle Junior, Frankie was a quick learner and a natural talent.  Frankie recalls Fred lovingly teaching him string for string how to play the old tunes while his mother Cindy patiently listened.  Later that year, at age seven, Frankie had his first job playing music.  He earned two or three dollars a week in allowance for practicing the banjo.  The practice paid off as Emory would often call while Frankie was playing and ask if there were a record playing in the background.  It is difficult to tell if this were a rhetorical question or not as Emory was always a great motivator and very encouraging.  Later that same year there is evidence of the first and perhaps only performance that the family received compensation for.  Show picture of that also.  This memento is significant as it is a combination of both old and new.  “Mountain Melodies” was at this time composed of Frankie, Fred, Emory, Page Heston (a friend of Emory’s) and Willis and Ercel Kauffman who years earlier had played with Arnie.  Frankie continued to practice and by the age of nine Frankie was mimicking Fred’s complicated style of melodic banjo playing and also excelled at Emory’s hard-driving style. 

                As time went on and Frankie entered his teen years, he quit playing the banjo for several years.  It wasn’t until 1999 that he returned.  Compelled to learn the hymn, “Are You Washed in the Blood”, Frankie called Emory and asked him how to play the tune.  Emory was proud that Frankie was once again interested in playing the banjo.  “Frankie always had a close relationship with my Dad. It was that relationship that brought Frankie back to playing banjo”, Jim Fleegle recalls.  In the years that followed Frankie had significant exposure to Emory and his music before his death in 2003.  During this same time Emory and Junior also taught Frankie how to play the guitar.  In the words of Jim Fleegle, “Frankie and I learned a lot from each other’s fathers.”    After work and college Frankie would often visit Emory and Junior to learn how to play the banjo, guitar, and mandolin and at this same time he would also play the guitar while his father Fred played the banjo.  Sound Clip here.

                After Emory’s death in 2003 the entire family was broken hearted.  A few weeks after Emory’s death Frankie transferred his studies to Frostburg State University this would mark a new chapter in his life.  Saddened by Emory’s death Frankie was unsure if he should continue to play music or if he should close that chapter in his life.  One weekend, while at home, Frankie decided that he would take his banjo back to campus with him.  He no sooner got the banjo into the dormitory before somebody exclaimed, “Wow, you can play the banjo?”  In the ensuing years Frankie received much encouragement by his friends at Frostburg State University and has always expressed a debt of gratitude towards them for encouraging him to continue making music.  While a student at Frostburg State University Frankie, Fred, and Junior performed on several occasions for events such as “Live at the Loft”, “Parent’s Weekend”, and recently at the annual “Appalachian Festival.”  Also during his time at Frostburg Frankie was the “Official Maryland State Banjo Champion” in 2003 and 2004.  Another championship would follow in 2006.  Frankie also received third place in the Mid-Atlantic Banjo and Fiddle Championship in 2004. 

                After graduating from Frostburg State University in 2005 Frankie enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. where he received his master’s degree in 2009.  From 2005-2009 Frankie was enrolled as a full-time student at Wesley Theological Seminary and pastored Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Morgan County, West Virginia.  Understandably his busy schedule didn’t leave much time for banjo playing except for the occasional performance at church with Fred and Uncle Junior. Show pictures here also.   It was at Wesley Theological Seminary that Frankie met up with bass player and fellow student, Dennis Crowley whose family also has Morgan County roots.  Frankie heard Dennis play the bass in the chapel and the two formed a friendship and jammed together on a few occasions while at seminary.  During one of their jam sessions, Dennis told Frankie that some of his relatives attended church in Morgan County at Michael’s Chapel.  Little did either of them know that Frankie would also pastor that church from 2008-2009!  Michael’s Chapel has long been a hotbed for gospel music in Morgan County as Morgan County native and mandolin player Beverly Johnson was a life-long member of this congregation and a gospel music enthusiast.  The family also owns French’s restaurant in Morgan County where a Sunday afternoon bluegrass jam still exists.

                Frankie soon learned that Dennis was a very accomplished and versatile musician who could play the mandolin, guitar, and bass.  With his own studies winding down and feeling an increased desire to share his music Frankie decided to formally organize a band.  In the summer of 2009 the Lickety Split Banjo Boys were born.  The band features Dennis Crowley on the bass and vocals, Fred Revell on the banjo and vocals, Uncle Junior on the guitar (both lead and rhythm), and Frankie on rhythm guitar, vocals, and occasionally banjo.  The group is very proud that they have such a vast musical heritage that has influenced them.  The group continues to evolve as they perform regionally.

 

Postlogue

                This has been the story of old and new, a story of poverty and hard times, a story of war and death.  But most of all this is a story about the music that overcame it all.    This has been the story of a musical heritage that began one evening in 1936 and was originally performed informally at home, then locally, then regionally, then nationally, and finally internationally.

                This has been the story of the musical heritage that has been passed on to me from at least three generations from both sides of my family, the Revells and the Fleegles.  Over the years it has been passed on to other members of my family as well, starting with my father, then my uncles Junior (Emory Fleegle, Jr.) and Jim, and most recently to me. 

                It is interesting to observe how we have all preserved this heritage in different ways.   Uncle Junior has hit the pause button as he attempts to mimic each and every song, lick, and chord exactly the way that Pap and Uncle Arnie taught him.  In this way listening to Uncle Junior today is like listening to Pap and Uncle Arnie many decades ago.  Uncle Junior has stayed so true to this heritage that he even refused a full time job with local banjo player Paul Cheaney and his band many years ago as Paul wanted Junior to alter his style to fit his band’s music.  Although he has continued to learn new songs and develop this style Uncle Junior has remained entirely in the past and he is proud of it.

                Jim has taken the musical heritage that has been passed onto him and hit the fast forward button as he has applied what he learned from Emory and Fred to a more “new grass” style of playing the banjo. 

                Fred was strongly influenced by the musical heritage of his own family and also of the Fleegle family (Arnie, Emory, and Junior.)  Although influenced by these individuals and a variety of other sources Fred has stayed true to nobody.  In addition to being one of the first melodic banjo players in the area he has developed his own unique style and displays a beautiful melodic roll with excellent back-up skills prompting the legendary Andy Boarman to complement this style on many occasions. 

 

                I have been blessed by having significant exposure all of these sources, save Uncle Arnie and Pete Pop, both of whom died 10 years before my birth, and Frank Revell who died in 1971.  Today I can say that I have been strongly influenced by all of these individuals.  As I study my roots and my family’s musical heritage I find myself hitting the rewind button (indeed this entire project was like hitting the rewind button.)   As time advances I find myself going backwards.  I find myself doing this in an attempt to better understand our family’s historic musical origins.  I want to know what Pap listened to at a young age that influenced him and encouraged him through the hard times.  I want to know which melodies rang through the Corbett and Revell households in the pre-war years as Pete Pop and Frank Revell strummed away on the tenor banjo.  I want to stay true to this heritage and not forget the influence of those who came before me.  In the band that I play with today (“The Lickety Split Banjo Boys”) alongside my dad, Fred, and Uncle Junior we don’t play any material past 1960 (around the time that Uncle Junior learned how to play.)  This I have found has happened by chance as our musical tastes are rooted in that era. 

                These days I tinker with many instruments including the banjo (in three-finger, two fingered, and clawhammer styles), rhythm guitar, bass, mandolin, tenor banjo, and Maybelle Carter-style lead guitar.  I enjoy listening to and learning just anything and am eager to pass on the same musical heritage that I have received to anybody. 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my grandmother, Hallie Fleegle, my uncle, Emory Fleegle, Jr., and my father, Fred Revell who were the primary sources for this project and who witnessed these early events as they happened.

This work is in honor of my friends at FSU and also to the memory of Richard Spencer, all of whom encouraged me and this work beyond measure. 

 



5 comments on “My Family's Musical Heritage”

RatLer Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @1:50:35 PM

What a blog!! I've got to come back to it when I got more time to really read it...the skim through was great!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

revellfa Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @3:25:23 PM

Thanks, I appreciate it!

banjodawg Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @5:25:24 PM

Frankie, about 18 months ago you told me about how Fred used to play banjo with his future father-in-law and about how he married your Mom when he came home from the Navy. I was fascinated with that much abridged version. The unabridged version of your musical heritage reads like a novel or screenplay. Wow! It's no damn wonder you are such an accomplished musician. (And you sure have crammed a lot of living into a life that began as I was getting out of high school!) Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your talented family!

christy65 Says:
Friday, November 26, 2010 @4:35:54 AM

that is great read ratler looks like you got a great start in music and it must be great to play all them instruments

wb4yal Says:
Saturday, October 8, 2011 @6:51:34 AM

Wow Frankie! That is great read. Thanks for sharing it.

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