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Gospel Roots

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I cannot remember a time when gospel songs were not a part of my life. The gospel itself was presented to me when I was about 10 year’s old at Vacation Bible School, Fork Union Baptist Church. Reverend Jetton had assembled a number of us in the sanctuary and explained to us the plan of salvation and what Jesus did on the cross. To me it made perfect sense and I readily accepted that invitation to make Jesus the Lord of my life. My journey down that road is another story, but the influence of gospel music and the prevalence of those songs in my life certainly increased.

Many in the Fork Union area will remember the music building that Randolph Snead built on his property in 1970’s. Again, he helped me get started with musical instruments and bluegrass music. During this project, I was promoted to the high-level job of “mortar-mixing engineer”. The automated mixer that I used consisted of a long, wooden handle with a flat piece of metal on the end for pushing and pulling the magical mixture. It was my job to mix the right amounts of sand, mortar and water and of course provide the “automation”. Randolph had the brilliant idea at one point to play some fast bluegrass music on the stereo with the idea that my mixing would keep time with the music.
The man that laid the block for the building was Herbert Greer. Mr. Greer did not hesitate to talk about the Lord while working. Also, after every day’s work, he requested a song. Randolph had worked up an instrumental version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” on the flattop guitar in the key of D. He would play that every work day and we would all sing it together on occasion.
Inside the building we made a stage, had chairs along the wall, and the main floor was left open for dancing. For those who frowned on the concept of dancing, we called it “moving our feet in time with the music!” I will never forget Randolph’s brother “Tap” Snead. No one enjoyed the music more than he did. He could hear the music outside and he would come in the door with both feet moving in and out in a way that is difficult to describe. We named it the “Tap Snead Toe Twister”
Do any of you remember the rock fire place in that building? I do not recall where those rock came from, but I remember all of us working together to set those rock precisely from floor to ceiling to make that rock fireplace and chimney. Randolph would fill it completely with wood and he would say “I gotta chunk that fire”. He had a big poker to push and pull the wood and then he would put it under the grate and stir those ashes like a wild man. He would have fire coming out of the top of the chimney 3-4 feet. People traveling down route 15 would honk when they saw that fire coming out the top of that chimney.
My gospel music foundation was laid and strengthened both here and at church. Many well- known musicians had the privilege of playing in this building – some I do not even know about as music went on for years after I was no longer playing with Randolph. We had our band – The Virginia Gentlemen (Randolph, Doug Haden, Nat White, me and numerous singers) and others such as: Larry Stephenson and the New Grass (where I met Larry Jett), Alvin Breeden, James Bailey of Country Gentlemen fame, Willow Branch (Robert & Gayle Noble), Geoff Stelling,  Pete Gooch, Roger Melton, Gloria "Butch" Gibson, Curtis Gibson, Ron Tolliver, and Ron Stokes. I know of others I have forgotten and a few whose names I cannot remember
I will never forget those days or the people who were so much a part of my musical upbringing.
In honor of this, I have recorded Gospel Medley I that has Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus; Onward Christian Soldiers, & Are You Washed in the Blood.

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Genre: Bluegrass
Playing Style: Bluegrass (Scruggs)

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Playing Since: 1972
Experience Level: Purty Good

[Teaching] [Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Chief trouble shooter for Rose Snead Inc.

Gender: Male
My Instruments:

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - Band
SonRise - Band
Willow Branch - Band
Don Reno - banjo
Eddie Adcock - banjo
Alvin Breeden - banjo
Carl Jackson - banjo
Jason Skinner - banjo
Robert Noble - banjo
Larry Jett - banjo and wonderful friend

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Created 11/28/2006
Last Visit 12/21/2021

I learned 3 chords on a ukulele when I was about 8 years old. I started with the guitar when I was 12 or 13. The man who taught me was Randolph Snead. He was an excellent bluegrass rhythm guitar player. After I had learned some things, he invited me to his home one night when he had his band playing. I sat over in the corner just trying to stay in time. This went on for several sessions throughout the months and finally I noticed the guy playing the banjo. He was a tall, thin man named Ron Stokes who lived in Virginia Beach. I was fascinated by what he was doing. It happened that Randolph had an old, cheap 5 string banjo with no resonator. He let me borrow it to see if I could play it. I must have been 15 or 16 years old. Ron helped me with some chords and basic rolls. When I left for college at William and Mary, my father bought me a pretty Alvarez banjo to take with me. When I wasn’t studying, I was playing that banjo. Whenever they would have me, I would go to visit Ron and Gladys Stokes in Virginia Beach for some good food and banjo practice. When I graduated from college, daddy had made a deal with Carl Stacy (Stacy’s Music in Charlottesville, VA) to trade my Alvarez in on a used Mastertone RB-250 that he had in the shop. It was a 1958, bow-tie inlay model. I played with Randolph for several years in a band called “The Virginia Gentlemen”. It was a great learning opportunity, I am grateful for the experience it gave me, and I met a lot of nice people. Health problems caused me to drop out of music for a few years. When I got back into it, I became interested in the piano as well. To make a long story short, I now play keyboard at my church in a praise and worship band. It was a big stretch from bluegrass into this style of music. But it has helped me tremendously on the banjo. Ron helped me with the keyboard as well, as he was a good piano player. He would play swing and music from the early 1900’s. I have enjoyed learning this as well, and it greatly contributed to my banjo ability on such songs as “Anybody Seen My Gal?”, “Hello, my baby”, etc. I am playing a Stelling now that Ron gave me. I look forward to expanding my knowledge and ability and learning some of the things I hear you folks doing at Banjo Hangout. I am working on the details of my life story with the banjo and music in general that I will put on my blog. I will also mention more people that I have known along the way.

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