conducted by Jim Moss 2-7-99: Part 4
For Reference I have listed the earlier parts:
extended interview with Jesse
McReynolds Part 1
An extended interview with Jesse
McReynolds Part 2
An extended interview with Jesse
McReynolds Part 3
If permission to reprint this is granted by owner, each part must presented
in its entirety with the "by line" and URL "www.candlewater.com"
Continued from Part 3
Jim Moss: Going back to your TV shows. Were your Martha White shows only on TV?
Jesse McReynolds: No, we did both Radio and TV. The television shows we did were
like Flatt & Scruggs after we started recording them on video tape, but nobody thought about,
back then, reserving some copies of these tapes. They would never have been... We would
tape our shows in Jackson Mississippi and they'd run them... ship them to about four other TV stations.
And uh... They'd play them... and when the last TV station played the show, they would ship
it (the tape) back to Jackson Mississippi. They would take the show and erase it, then put another
show on top of it. We used the same tapes over and over again. As long as the tape wouldn't
fall apart or anything we just kept using them. And when we quit doing the shows they erased them
and put something else on them. None of them was ever kept. Now the radio shows we did, we did
them the same way. We'd ship them around to different radio stations.
Jim Moss: Was this on WSM?
Jesse McReynolds: No, well yeah we was for almost a year there. We didn't keep any of those shows
because that belonged to WSM. The only shows I kept any copies of was the last time they were shipped
around, I kept a copy of some of them. They came back to us because we was doing a lot in Georgia
at that time.
Jim Moss: And so this is what you made your record from? These tapes?
Jesse McReynolds: Yes, that is what I made the records from.
Jim Moss: So they are great quality.
Jesse McReynolds: Yeah, pretty good quality.
Jim Moss: Now, when did Flatt & Scruggs have their show. I have some from 1954.
When did they stop having their radio show?
Jesse McReynolds: I am not sure when they stopped doing their morning radio show. We started doing
it in about 1963 or 1964.
Jim Moss: It was the same time slot right?
Jesse McReynolds: Well, they were doing the shows on WSM. The other shows we were doing, our shows
were in Alabama. The the radio shows. They would play on different stations. They were sort of syndicated.
The ones they were doing on WSM were strictly for WSM.
And then they uh.. What they did, Martha White... they changed everything. They gave Flatt & Scruggs all the
television shows. We were moved to Nashville at that time and they gave us the morning radio shows.
They gave Flatt & Scruggs all the other territory we were doing. They made a switch there someway...
Anyway, they got us to do the morning shows at WSM and they put Flatt & Scruggs on all
the syndicated TV shows at that time.
Jim Moss: When you were doing your TV shows, what made one different from the rest? Was there
any story line or...
Jesse McReynolds: No, we just did em.. It was like the Porter Wagoner shows we just a
did a thirty minute show... We had a guy who did the commercials along and he opened
the show and closed it. He was a local DJ. He worked for the TV station in Jackson Mississippi.
Actually, I think Martha White, they hired him to do the commercials. He was sort of a AM Country
Jim Moss: Kind of a front man personality guy. So you would do... similar to what you do at
a festival now?
Jesse McReynolds: Yeah.
Jim Moss: And what time of the day would this run?
Jesse McReynolds: The TV, it would run at different times at different stations. We would make
I think about ten shows at a time. We would go down every two weeks, make ten shows and they
would ship them to... I am not sure how many stations carried them at that time. Maybe five or six
stations I guess.
Jim Moss: They were not shooting for the 5:15 time slot. I guess Flatt & Scruggs ran at 5:15 or 5:45 in
Jesse McReynolds: No, ours was run at different times. I guess some of them did run at that time, or
whatever time they could buy, I guess.
Jim Moss: I was just trying to think about what market you were targeting. Who was listening.
I think Porter Wagoner was in the evenings or afternoons.
Jesse McReynolds: Yep. I think most of ours were run in the evening too.
Jim Moss: So back then if you did a radio show or TV show, the band... I remember Kenny Baker
telling me about his experiences on radio shows. That the sponsor would pay the station and then
station would pay the musicians. I know that in the Advertising world, even today, the sponsor will pay
the station AND the station will pay the Advertising Agency. Not the other way around. I think this
tells you something about the Advertising business. There must have been some shenanigans that went
on at some point to cause them to adopt that principal.
Jesse McReynolds: Well... I know the way we done it. Martha White paid us so much for doing the shows.
I am not sure what it was now, but we were paid by Martha White.
Jim Moss: So at that time in the early 50s did you group yourself with any particular style of music?
Jesse McReynolds: No not really. We just called it Country Music, really. Back then, the word Bluegrass
was only used in Bill Monroe's music. So what we were doing was Country. That's what they called it.
I know I listened to some of the radio shows we did and uh... we never mentioned Bluegrass on it.
It was called... it was just part of Country music.
Jim Moss: Of course, you have... You like an electric bass in your band.
Jesse McReynolds: At that time we had an acoustic bass. Well, it was on and off. I think uh... but
when we did all the Martha White television shows we had a boy who did comedy and played
the acoustic bass then.
Jim Moss: The form of your band has been pretty constant though, but you did say you had
a steel guitar at one point.
Jesse McReynolds: That was later after we came to Nashville. That was after Martha White paid us only.
We come into Nashville and Martha White they changed their program. They hired Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Jim Moss: So Tennessee Ernie Ford came into town?
Jesse McReynolds: Well, they just hired him to do their commercials for them, Martha White did.
They dropped a lot of the live shows. They kept Flatt & Scruggs on some, of course, it wasn't long
after that when Flatt & Scruggs went their separate ways. I am not sure exactly when that happened, but
they started getting into a different type of advertising rather relying on live shows. Anyway, as far as
our part we uh... All we had was the radio show... at that time on WSM. Then they dropped it and started
playing records on it. So, that left us without a sponsor at all. We was on the Opry, but we didn't have
Martha White as our sponsor anymore. So we was on our own pretty much. We had to sink or swim,
like those who were really doing things, as far as working road shows. Cause that is where you make
your living anyway. We had to have a record in the charts before we'd get on those shows. Like it is now. (laughs)
But it wasn't as complicated then as it is now. In order to get air play back then... There was nobody playing
Bluegrass on the air either. So we decided that we were going to stay in the business. So to survive
we were going to have to do something that we could get some airplay on... get some chart action on. So...
We did "Diesel On My Tail" was the first song we did Country. It got in the top 10 I think. We got quite a bit
of work out of it. We could get on the road shows then... and uh... Get back in the business sort to speak.
Jim Moss: So, the Nashville Sound. There is a certain point where County Music starts to be so processed
sounding. During the 50s it is very raw and really pretty cool. Then in the 60s something happens and
it just all starts to sound like a Country version of Disco. I mean, it all sounds like different tracks off of
the same guy's record.
Jesse McReynolds: Oh, I know. It got commercialized a lot.
Jim Moss: Yeah, how did you see that? How did that effect you? You must have seen that happening?
Jesse McReynolds: Well, that was the only thing, work, that was going for us. There was no such thing as a
Bluegrass festival back then. And Bill Monroe wasn't working all that much. Flatt & Scruggs, they were working
the universities, not the Country scene. They were doing the colleges, concerts, and things like that. They had
the Beverly Hillbillies thing which really put them in demand at that time. They had good management. They were
doing fine, but Bill Monroe wasn't playing that many dates at that time. And we weren't either. So...
When we started doing the Country thing, we got on more shows. Then later, not long after that then they
started the Bluegrass festivals. Bill started Bean Blossom. Of course, they started the one in Fincastle Virginia
and... So we got to play in them and uh... Actually, most of the festivals that I can remember... the first
festival at Bean Blossom there probably wasn't 500 people there the whole weekend. None of them was
doing all that well. So we sort of had to play both sides of the field there, seeing just what we had to do
to survive. Because to do Bluegrass festivals we had to do pretty much Bluegrass. We did take
Doug Jernigan, he played steel guitar with us at that time. He played a few festivals with us, he'd do
Orange Blossom Special and things like that. He went over OK... Only slack we got was from some
of the real devoted Bluegrass fans. They didn't appreciate us bringing anything electric you know.
The Stonemans they was working best at that time. They was using electric mandolin. It was sort
of a mixture of things going on at that time. We was waiting... Nobody knew if the festivals were
going to continue. If it was going to be a short term thing or what. Thank God it started picking up
and so we got back into the Bluegrass thing. Had to start doing our own recordings, you know.
Because no record company would touch a Bluegrass band cause the couldn't get no airplay.
Jim Moss: Huh... Isn't it amazing how airplay sort of directs the development of a culture.
Jesse McReynolds: The Osborne Brothers did that, they got on the Country circuit because they
had that big hit with Rocky Top. They were playing shows with Merle Haggard at that time. In order
for them to survive on the Country scene they had to plug in. Go electric. And they tried that on
the Bluegrass festivals for a while too... Everywhere you'd go there was a little conflict there.
Jim Moss: When was the first time you ever met the Osborne Brothers?
Jesse McReynolds: I knew Sonny when he was 14 years old up in Dayton, Ohio. He use to work
on a station, on a jamboree show we played there every Saturday night.
Jim Moss: When did you meet Frank... Frank Wakefield?
Jesse McReynolds: Frank Wakefield... I am not sure the first time I met him. I guess it was back
20 years. Probably California I guess.
Jim Moss: And say... Jimmy Martin?
Jesse McReynolds: Well, Jimmy Martin sort of came on the scene the same time we did. He was
recording for MCA at that time with the Osborne Brothers. I guess we knew Jimmy going way back
to where he first started.
Jim Moss: It is interesting, the people who read this will look back and see the world the way you saw it.
Not having had the opportunity to have lived that with their lives starting a lot later.
I first hitch hiked to Bean Blossom in 1973. This year, 1996, I went back and met a lot of people
who said that they had been attending the festival "forever" since 1982. I mean, 1982 was the last
time I went to Bean Blossom. So, there are a lot of people who learned about this music way after
anything you have been talking about. It will be a great insight for them to read these interviews.
Jesse McReynolds: Yeah, it was... It is quite a bit different now than what it was back then. It is so much
easier to get records played. There are a lot of stations playing Bluegrass now.
Jim Moss: The college stations and the internet.
Jesse McReynolds: There are so many bands really, so many good Bluegrass bands coming up...
A lot of super pickers. Young kids come up and learn so fast. Its an enjoyable thing... They ask me
what I advise young people to do. I tell them if you like playing this music, do it for the enjoyment
of it. Don't expect to get out there and make a big pot of money on it. It's a... culture type thing.
Compared to what people in the Country music field does... I mean, they can... with the first record
they put out, can get out and book $20,000 a day. They can book an auditorium for $15,000 to
$20,000 a show. Heck, one Bluegrass band... it would take a long time to make that much.
Jim Moss: There must be some competition there, with that kind of band drawing sidemen from the Bluegrass bands.
Jesse McReynolds: Yeah, you take a good musician.... A lot of Country people they know Bluegrass is popular
so I guess the management of the Country groups, they will hire say a fiddler who can play both... both Country
and Bluegrass. So, it is tempting for them to leave the Bluegrass and go where the money is.
Jim Moss: Yeah, if that is all you are doing to make a living, it can be pretty tough I guess. It does seem that
you have to be a little more of a Bluegrass fan to want to play Bluegrass. If the band is out there touring
300 days a year or something... and the band has a bus that they can live on, then it might make it a little
more profitable for a band. It seems that the Bluegrass musicians often find that they need to be a little
more capable of making money on the side, some other way than just the music.
Jesse McReynolds: Your right there. It's hard to live. Say I'm a good band and get together and want to
go out and make a living at it, because you have at least four or five musicians you have to take with you
and you have to pay for them. On person could probably do it ok, but you have got to have a band
around you. There is a lot of responsibility there.
Jim Moss: Yeah, and you can't have a bad band around you otherwise it won't support you.
In Country Western, you live close to that, do you find people hire your bands away for Country bands?
Jesse McReynolds: Well a few, they have yeah. There have been some great musicians come up in Bluegrass
and went into Country. Well Marty Stuart went into Country, he was a devoted Bluegrass picker. He seen
what was going on in the Country field. Then what Ricky did, Ricky did good in the Country field for
a while there. So they... It is tempting to go over there you know if you got management, you get into
big money... and the personal end of it. The thing of it is, Bluegrass is not in the commercial end of the
music itself. I wish it was different, but that's the way it is.
Jim Moss: Did you see this sort of thing in the 1960s. Did you loose band members to Country then?
Jesse McReynolds: No... well I am sure some of then did, but...
Jim Moss: So it is more of a modern issue.
Jesse McReynolds: Yeah.
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