Jesse McReynolds Interview: The Early Days Part 3
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A extended interview with Jesse McReynolds
conducted by Jim Moss 2-7-99: Part 3

For Reference I have listed the earlier parts:

A extended interview with Jesse McReynolds Part 1

A extended interview with Jesse McReynolds Part 2

A extended interview with Jesse McReynolds Part 4

NOTE: If permission to reprint this is granted by owner, each part must presented
in its entirety with the "by line" and URL ""


Continued from Part 2


Jim Moss:  Do you find yourself playing down in the lower registers much?


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, quite a bit.  A lot of cross picking you have to go down

there to get the notes.  That position get the first string open or the second, whichever.  With the

cross picking you have to have one string open and note the other two around it.

I will be playing on the melody on the third string, I'll note the second and third string

and the first one I will leave it open.  And if I go up on the third and forth string I use the

second string open.  Its hard to note one and do the cross picking on it.. mutes it down a

little bit, but that's how I get the ring out of it. 


Jim Moss:  So this is to get a sustain almost like a drone on a fiddle?


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, uh huh.  That one string open all the time pulling before it would be

cross picking.


Jim Moss:  So it carries you...


Jesse McReynolds:  So it carries like a thumb string on a banjo.


Jim Moss:  Do you play banjo?


Jesse McReynolds:  No.


Jim Moss:  Have you ever tried cross picking or flat picking the banjo?


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, a little bit.  I played a little on a tenor banjo some. 

I couldn't get much out of one.  The noting is different on it. 

I got this thing called mandolobro.  Its like a tenor banjo... or tenor guitar... and I play

it some, but I retune it different so I won't have to play in the...  like ah...  in the A position

the forth string is suppose to be  a C but I run it up to a D.   I actually got two Ds on it that

way and ah...   its actually A D G and C what it's suppose to be, but I put... I tune it up

like to ah.. A D G C...   does that make sense?   I tune it up somewhere! 


Jim Moss:  Do you tune it an octave higher?


Jesse McReynolds:  Well, its not an octave.  It just goes from the open C to open B.


Jim Moss:  I see...  ??


Jesse McReynolds:  It notes so long, hard to hit like a long A on the mandolin.  Its hard to

stretch that far on that thing.  Its like a mandolincello I guess. You got the same problem.


Jim Moss:  Its different when you play a Viola when you are use to a violin.  The obvious

difference it that the action is so slow.


Jesse McReynolds:  So on a viola do you tune... is the first string an A is it?


Jim Moss:  No I think it is C.  I have a 5 string fiddle... an electric 5 string fiddle and

its low string is a C.   


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah.


Jim Moss:  It always gets in the way though.  I have never seen any point to it.

My acoustic fiddle is a 4 string and it is more than enough... more than I can handle.

The C on the electric just starts going off.  It is such a big string and any kind of

micro phonics any vibration will cause it to rattle and it will have this C going in the

background of a tune in D or A or something.   ... and its terrible. 


So let me ask you a question about when you recorded...  a lot of people are

interested in your recording techniques.  I remember that you...  It was an amazing

lesson to me when we were there in the studio (recording Tanyards), that you

pretty much would play right through the songs and you physically planted yourself

in the studio and played practically through the whole album.  I don't remember

what mic you used at that time.  Do you have a favorite microphone? 


Jesse McReynolds:  No..  not really.  I don't know mics that well.  I should...

...the recording that I do.   I just let other people recommend what mics to use.

I just leave that to the people of the studio.  I just tell them what I want... how I want

it to sound.  I just tell them that I want my mandolin to sound like a guitar, to be real

big you know.  So they if they used a mic that was two mics on that particular session

or not, I don't know.  They put one down full your f hole and one out front to get



Jim Moss:  Out near the finger board or far away?


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah well, just out in front of the mandolin a little bit.


Jim Moss:  You think out about a foot or...


Jesse McReynolds:  I don't get it close to the finger board try to get it... one in close

to the mandolin and one out maybe 12 to 15 inches.  Out from the whole mandolin.

Helps get the full sound of it.  That's the way how I got it to sound the best... but what

kind of mics they use I go let the engineers pick out what is best mic to use for that.


Jim Moss:  So if you play in a studio environment, you have to be careful not to move

around too much right? because...


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, that's right. I have problems sometimes.  I like to go on and

overdub something and ah...  have to punch in a certain place, I will get a little closer

and it does make a big difference. 


Jim Moss:  Yeah, because your right there on the f hole and if you move a little

to the right or to the left, you...


Jesse McReynolds:  The last few sessions I done, they just ah, put it out in front of it

the mandolin hole.. rather than to mic it over the f hole.  I don't think anybody that

too much recently.  Of course, the recording techniques getting different seems to

be getting different mics and so ah..  I haven't kept up with it all. 


Jim Moss:  You know... I don't know, I think the classic stuff is really still by far

the best.  I know, I have a studio and I have been around a lot of recording. 

Now... and actually since the first time you and I were in the studio there to now,

I have spent a lot of time in the studio working on either my projects or other

peoples projects of all kinds of music...   and from not knowing anything when

I first was there to now, I made a point of studying the techniques that were used

in various recordings and I think that you can't ignore the classic setups.  With classic

mics and classic limiters.  You know some of that stuff that was done in the 50s

and 60s...  Actually in the middle and early 60s as far as mic technology is concerned

is the standard.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, well a lot of the things we did all the stuff we did back

in the 1960's I played into the same mic we sang into.  Later I think they did put

a mic on the mandolin. 


Jim Moss:  That's a good thing to talk about.  On your sessions, Are You All Alone,

Are You Missing Me, I have those... I got them off of a 78 rpm.  A collector, Aric Leavitt

had it on a Radio Promo 78 with a white label. 


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, that was all done on... on one microphone. I think I played

through the same mic as I sang through.  Back then we had to work the mics more.

We only used one mic on stage all the time.  Got to where we would work in to it.

I think some things, maybe the fiddle might have been on another mic.  Most of that

was done with one mic. 


Jim Moss:  They only had what... two track recorders.. maybe three?


Jesse McReynolds:  That was done direct to disk. 


Jim Moss:  Direct to Disk?


Jesse McReynolds:  Those... Are You Missing Me... all those done on

Capital, they were done direct to disk.


Jim Moss:  REALLY?


Jesse McReynolds:  That was before they started using tape.


Jim Moss:  Well, how did that work, I mean...


Jesse McReynolds:  We'd do...  we'd do two three tests on it...

just recording on the disks and ah, then he would do enough cuts to where

he would get one that he thought he be satisfied with...  He never would play

the cut he would keep back to us.  In fact, they never played much back to us

anyway.  They would just play it back in the control room.  We had what we heard....

what we heard through the mics you know.  Ken Nelson was producing that and

when he got the cut he thought he wanted he would say, "lets go on to the next song, that's ok".

I guess he had to scratch off some of them... I don't know how many tunes he

could put on each disk, three or four I guess.   And they used that disk to ah...

take it and make the masters from it. 


Jim Moss:  So.. well, the masters only last so long, for so many...


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, I guess they would put it on something, evidently, and take

that disk and I don't know what process they used, they would take that disk and put it

on a metal plate I guess... to press the records.


Jim Moss:  oh.. right...  I am not really sure about the process back then either, but

it would seem that sometimes you might be needing to make 4 or 5 different cuts

of the same song.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yes, we would yeah.


Jim Moss:  and they would press all of them. 


Jesse McReynolds:  yeah... well... I don't know how they would do that. Ken

would print the whole thing and them scratch out the ones he didn't want to keep.


Jim Moss:  Where did you record that at?


Jesse McReynolds:  In Nashville.  There use to be Castle, called Castle Studio.

It was in a Tulane Hotel at Eighth and Church. I think that was one of the only

studios in Nashville.  One of the first ones. 


Jim Moss:  And this was in the 50s


Jesse McReynolds:  Yes, 52. 


Jim Moss:  Compared to a studio nowadays, what would it look like?


Jesse McReynolds:  Well, it was ah... pretty much like a radio station, more or less...

and ah... they had the control room and one room for the studio.  And that was about

all there was too it.  Its been so long I don't remember too much. I still remember how

it looked, it was more or less like a radio station you know.  Just a studio and a

control room was all. 


Jim Moss:  So probably these were used as radio stations...


Jesse McReynolds:  If not then, one time, yeah. 


Jim Moss:  So you would get the band to stand around one mic and play the whole

thing except for...  and what about the bass? 


Jesse McReynolds:  No, they had another station mic for the bass.


Jim Moss:  Uh huh... in another room somewhere?


Jesse McReynolds:  No, everything was done in the same room. We was pretty

close together. 


Jim Moss:  Wow... It would seem that the bass would go into everything.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah... they would cause trouble someway.  He might

have been behind a baffle or something I'm not sure.  I can't remember.


Jim Moss:  Yeah, cause I have that recording, it is real clear. 


Jesse McReynolds:  Tommy Jackson played fiddle on that I think, Sonny James

played on some of it also.   I think they had a separate mic for the fiddle too.

What we done was Jim's guitar and the mandolin and the other guitar we had

Curly Seckler played another guitar on it.   And the banjo, I think, pretty much

just used the same microphone sorta worked into it.  I could be wrong, it has been

so long.  I know all the radio shows they did back then... we did them... we used

two mics... I don't know if you had a copy of the radio shows we did for

the Martha White shows and all.


Jim Moss:  No, I don't think I have that. 


Jesse McReynolds:  Down in Alabama, we did them through one mic...

one instrument/singing mic and one mic for the bass.  And this did, we worked

into it, everything came out clear.  I mean the background was right.  We just

worked...  had a routine were we would move in and out of them and....

everything came out just as clear on those radio shows as the recordings. 


Jim Moss:  You know, that pretty much removes the possibility of the station engineer

goofing things up.  Because if you work in and out of the mics then...


Jesse McReynolds:  All the engineer had to do was just get the whole thing justified.

and ah...   Just make sure he didn't over ride the bass mic.   Two mics is all we used though.

We would have one of those nondirectional mics and we would sing through both sides of it.

One of those big...


Jim Moss:  RCA mics?


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah.


Jim Moss:  Yeah I got a couple of those here.


Jesse McReynolds:  You could sing all around it... sing on the side of it.


Jim Moss:  How did you feel about those mics?  I guess you didn't have

a chance to hear the output of them though. 


Jesse McReynolds:  No not really.  Where we'd go, you can see those mics... and

I really didn't study them that much back in those days. Go in and play and music

was what I was interested in and I didn't really kept to much on the...


Jim Moss:  I would imagine you would work on your sound... at home... or somewhere

and try to bring it to the public.. and the effectiveness of how you could bring it to the public.

You know, if you could hear your voices or hear your mandolin?


Jesse McReynolds:  Well, it... we seem to not have any problem with anything like that.  I know

all the recording we done, the radio shows, we'd just go in get the mics set up and we would go

through the program.  We would do two programs the theme song and all without stopping. 

Go straight through it.  We would do a 15 minute program, just like it was implied.  We would

never stop unless something real drastic happened. Then when we got through with the singing,

we could put two 15 minute shows on each tape.  So we'd pause for 30 seconds or something

and go back into the other again.


Jim Moss:  Boy!


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, we'd only stop when he stopped to change tapes.


Jim Moss:  That is amazing.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah.  I cannot imagine how we did things back then, like when we did

recordings, we ah, direct to the disk, ah...  take a mandolin break and come right back in

and sing.  Actually, I never thought back then that there wasn't no other way to do it!

We actually didn't worry about it much.


Jim Moss:  But you can see now how complicated it was...


Jesse McReynolds:  Yes it was.


Jim Moss:  It was really asking a lot to keep track of so many things and just go in and

do two shows in a row.  


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, that's the way...  that's the way Porter Wagner use to do his TV shows

you know, he did them that way.  He would turn the machine on and do these 30 minute shows

and unless something real drastic happened, they would never stop.  And it was a very popular show

course it was live, it wasn't spliced in no where. 


Jim Moss:  I saw that show out here in California.  That was with Dolly Parton.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah.  We worked that a few times and it amazed me how

they did that.  They didn't stop for anything.  Well, we use to do TV shows that

way ourselves.  But the ones we did were mostly actually live.  That was before they

had the video tape.  We'd have to do'em direct straight through. 


Jim Moss:  Now when you did your Martha White shows.  Was this at the same time

that Flatt & Scruggs had a Martha White show? 


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah.  Flatt & Scruggs were doing ah...  They had different areas

that Martha White did then.  Flatt & Scruggs did the Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia area.

Then you had the Beavers, the gospel group, well Georgia, North Georgia and up to

Atlanta I think as far as...  in that area. 


Jim Moss:  They could direct to where...


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, they were all doing direct to live TV shows.  Then they moved on

to South Georgia and that is where they found us.  We was in Valdosta(?) Georgia almost

in Florida.  They kept moving south and they needed another band that work that area... so...

Luckily we was in the right place at the right time the lady found us down there.  And we started

working South Georgia and North Florida, Mississippi, and the southern part of Alabama.


Jim Moss:  That must have increased your popularity in those areas. 


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh yeah.  We was on three or four different TV stations every week.


Jim Moss:  At that time, how often were you on the road?


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh we didn't work too much on the long tour.  We had to stay in

that area cause the shows we had to do, until the video tape came out, we had to do them

all live.   Brought the color video tape out then we started recording them.  We would go to

Jackson Mississippi and do ten shows at a time.  Within one day we would do ten shows.

And then they started shipping them to different stations.


Jim Moss:  So tell me a horror story about...  Everyone seems to have a horror story about

going somewhere... getting in at 9:00 am and doing a radio show and going back out.


Jesse McReynolds:  We had a lot of them.  (laughs..)  We had a lot of fast shows we had to do.

We had a TV show over in North Georgia Baldaston(?), do a show on Friday night on the television

at 6:00 and then drive 50 to 100 mile out to do a live show at 8:00 am at a school somewhere.

We were the hottest band going cause we were the first band they ever saw on television. 

We would go out and play a lot of local small schools and things... auditoriums.


Jim Moss:  How did that work, you would be at a school?  It would be in the auditorium though.


Jesse McReynolds:  yes


Jim Moss:  Did you ever play any theaters?


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh yeah, we played some. Well most of the theater down in that area

were pretty small theaters. 


Jim Moss:  Josh Graves said something about when Flatt & Scruggs would go into an area

they would rent a drive in theater and rent a movie and put the whole thing on themselves.


Jesse McReynolds:  Well, some of them would do that.  We never did.  We just let em run

a movie and we'd play a live show between the movies.


Jim Moss:  Where would you stand?


Jesse McReynolds:  Well, this was small theaters.  The indoor theaters I'm talking about.

If we'd play a drive in theater then we would play on top of the concession stand, but it was

the same deal, they would run a movie and we would play when the movie was over, and

then run the movie again.


Jim Moss:  How did that work?  It seems like the scale of the drive in movie screen against

the scale of a band sitting on top of a stage? 


Jesse McReynolds:  Well, it worked pretty good cause they ah...  a lot of people were doing

them.  Flatt & Scruggs were doing them, Stanley Brothers were doing them.  About everybody

who was playing music was playing drive in theaters that time... and they would just put

a microphone up there and run it through the speakers system.. through the.. into the cars.


Jim Moss:  So would there be lights on you up there?


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh yeah. 


Jim Moss:  So people wouldn't get out of their cars?


Jesse McReynolds:  Well yeah, we would also put a small sound system out on top of

the concession stand... couple of speakers... We'd play it both ways.  We'd tie one

microphone to their system into the cars, you know, but half.. I'd say most the people

would get out of the cars and come up and just stand there around the concession stand.

And we would get over... over towards the edge and use it like a stage.


Jim Moss:  So it looked pretty much like a high stage.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, uh huh. 


Jim Moss:  They could see you.


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah.  We had played some where they had the stage built right in front

of the screen. They would leave their cars and walk down.


Jim Moss:  Did they like honk their horns at you?


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh Yeah.  They would honk their horns just like clapping their hands.


Jim Moss:  ha ha ha...  It seems wild by today's standards.  I mean, can you see doing that today?


Jesse McReynolds:  Naw, it would be a little different really.


Jim Moss:  So let me get this straight, they would pay how much fifty cents or something?


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah, well whatever the admission was to the theater.  Thinking about it

they might have up the admission for the live show a little bit. We would get like fifty percent

of what was taken in...  if they'd run a movie.  If they didn't run a movie...  Sometimes

we would play one if they didn't run a movie and we would get seventy percent.  If they

did run a movie we would get fifty.


Jim Moss:  Now if they didn't run a movie, would they still listen to you through the little speakers?


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh yeah.  We would do it both ways we would run it through the speakers

in the cars and also for the ones going to stand out we would have another set of speakers.


Jim Moss:  I bet the indoor theaters were much more fun, huh?


Jesse McReynolds:  Oh yeah...  Sounds better inside.


Jim Moss:  Was that pretty popular?


Jesse McReynolds:  It was.  Because that and ah...  One thing about the top of those concession

stands that you had to set up and got over the restaurant part and ah...  you'd have all those

where they make the popcorn and all the heat that's coming out of the kitchen was coming

right up where your playing. 


Jim Moss:  It just seems like the people wanted to see you and they would do about...


Jesse McReynolds:  The facilities back then we would just made up some places were we'd play.

Like we'd do some shows for the farm bureau or ah... the places where they had annual meetings

you know.  We'd go to a warehouse stand out on a flat bed truck or something, in front of

the warehouse or something. 


Jim Moss:  Oh, flat bed trucks!


Jesse McReynolds:  Yeah we played a lot of them.  Before Martha White came along (?) Trailers

 a mobile home company...  we would work open houses for their different lots that they had.

He started out with one lot he put us on television and ah...   a year and a half later he had

thirty dealerships. 


Jim Moss:  I do actually have tapes of a couple of those shows.


Jesse McReynolds:  We'd play...  we would have to play on flat bed trucks back then in

the whole towns and various trailer lots.


To be continued
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