Friday, July 22, 2022

Bobtail Brown was a Third Generation Miller

"All good things must come to an end," wrote my friend Mary Ellis in the Wayne Weekly, regarding the passing of Billy "Bobtail" Brown on July 12th, a day after his 54th birthday. That was such a sad day for his family and friends, and for his co-workers at Mill Springs mill, where Billy had been an essential worker for two decades, a third generation miller, beginning with his grandfather, H.C. Brown, who had a grist mill, blacksmith shop and sawmill in Clinton County. Bobtail's father, Billy Brown, Sr., learned the miller trade from his dad and had operated the Mill Springs mill for several years before turning the family trade over to Bobtail.

Bobtail was once asked what he liked best about his job. "People, people, people," he had said. Mary wrote that Billy loved introducing visitors to the granddaddy of all mills in this area. "He would educate them about the springs that powered the giant wheel, turning the stones used for grinding the kernels of corn," she said. "Special corn was needed," he would say, referring to an old time, non-hybrid variety of corn that had eight rows of kernels on the cob. According to Billy, the millstones could not handle hybrid corn, or corn with high moisture content, because of it being waxy and sticking onto the stones, which, he said, prevented the corn from feeding through.

Bobtail dedicated himself to keeping the mill running and producing meal with unique taste, texture and appearance for the many guests who came back year after year to eat hoecakes and take some cornmeal home with them. Jonathan Friedman, Resource Manager of Lake Cumberland, told Mary that the Corps had lost a true partner. "Billy didn't simply operate a mill and grind corn. He brought to life a historically significant icon to thousands of visitors and locals every year." Ranger Cody Hensley said Bobtail loved his job. "He was always happy to give tours at Mill Springs Mill, and made friends with everyone who visited," he said. While grinding cornmeal on the weekends, Bobtail would keep the crowds entertained by telling jokes and then sharing the history of the mill.

Billy Brown, Jr. was 26 years old when first began operating the mill, and in twenty eight years never missed a day's work, according to one of his co-workers, Judy Daulton. "That showed his true character," she said, adding that Bobtail took much pride in knowing that he knew a trade that very, very few people knew. Billy would deliver his corn to the Monticello Woman's Club, who would package and sell it. He loved to whittle and would carve roses and give them to visitors. Daulton said he was one contractor that never had to be inspected, nor did you have to worry about him not performing his job well.

The funeral service for Billy "Bobtail" Brown was held last Sunday at Talbott Funeral Home. Lake Cumberland Corps of Engineers is currently reaching out to various avenues for training, so the mill can remain open on Saturday's, Sunday's and holidays.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Artist Fred Thrasher Was Renowned and Respected

As I writer, I know that no one is going to promote my writings more than me. There is a lot of work to building up your own product. Fred Thrasher understood that concept. In a Commonwealth Journal interview following his retirement in 2014, he attributed his aptitude for self-promotion and the marketing skills he had learned as an artist to his father, Jack. "He would drive his old pickup truck filled with firewood downtown," Fred recalled. "He kept this old banjo behind the seat and [to draw a crowd] he would start picking and singing bluegrass music. After a couple of tunes, he would say 'I've got the best firewood in town; you can cut it with a pocketknife.'" Before long, Jack would have the entire truck load sold after playing a few more tunes.

Fred, like a lot of people here, grew up poor. When he was old enough to work, he did whatever it took to help his family get by, from helping his dad cut wood to shining shoes. Even as an adult he worked at several different jobs, things like operating a service station and selling insurance. While he was successful in what he did, nothing would compare to the success he found after leaving the insurance business in 1977 to become one of Kentucky's most renowned and respected artists.

Fred really didn't work in a 'real job' setting after 1977, because painting was something he passionately loved doing, They say it's not really a job if you love doing it, and Fred loved doing it. Don't get me wrong, he hustled every step of his way to the top. The most fascinating part of his story is that Fred was self-taught.

When did it all began? According to Fred, he developed an obsession for his craft after being inspired to draw and paint by his fourth grade teacher, and while he had the desire and inspiration, he also had a topic. Growing up in a modest environment, he said, had provided him memories for which his paintings are famous. Success came quick after Fred went full-time doing what he loved. His first print, the one of the old Clinton County High School building,sold well. Today, it is one of his most sought-after prints.

Fred's most popular print, Snowflakes, was released in 1988. In what seems like hundreds of prints later, some of his other popular prints that come to my mind include The Country Doctor, The Good Harvest, Footprints in the Snow, Mill Springs Mill, and The Crossing of the Cumberland, a scene depicting the old Cumberland Ferry Company crossing the Cumberland River with a stage coach carrying the U.S. Mail. While it is hard for me to pick a favorite Fred Thrasher print, because they are all so wonderful, I am partial to one, the Albany Drive-in Theatre print, known as "The Last Picture Show," because I grew up there. Fred's last commercial print, released in 2014, was "Family Heritage," which features a serene snow-blanketed farm landscape. It was part of a series that he had collaborated on with his son, Dennis, and his grandson, Colby, who each contributed to the original painting.

The story of how Fred Thrasher began his career as an artist inspired me to want to be a writer, and it was his son, Danny, who inspired me to want to keep on writing. Danny was Fred's oldest son, who passed away in 2008. We were classmates. Saddened after hearing about his illness got me to thinking about some of the things we had done growing up. The day he, our friend, Mike Beaty, and myself decided to leave the school ground for lunch and got caught inspired me to write about it in a story I titled,An RC Cola and a Moonpie. You can read about it on my blog. Danny read the story before he died. His family related how it made him smile and laugh. I thought, if I can give him one happy moment, perhaps I can do the same for others, and that's why I do what I do.

Our whole community here was happy that Fred Thrasher enjoyed the success he did during his 37 years as a professional. He sure earned that. His paintings are everywhere. Thankfully, his prints will still be sold and bought. Fred taught and encouraged many in his family to follow in his footsteps, and many have, so hopefully his legacy will live on through them. I think it will.

Fred Thrasher enjoyed remarkable success during his 37 years as a professional. His paintings are everywhere. Thankfully, all is not lost. His prints will still be sold and bought. He taught and encouraged many in his family to follow in his footsteps, and many have, so his legacy will live on through them. Watch this page for updates.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Under the Influence of Vinyl Records

Music has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. My dad was a singer and a musician and I was heavily influenced by his profession, which was two-fold: the music he performed and what he mainly did for a living, which was being a disc jockey on our family-owned radio station. Because of that medium, dad was always bringing home extra copies of 45 r.p.m. records from the radio station. I loved them all, no matter what genre.

I don't remember the first record I ever played on the record player in my bedroom, but I wish I could. I do remember the records by the Beatles, Elton John, Ray Charles Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and so many others. I especially wore out records by the Beatles and Ray Charles, mostly the latter. I taught myself how to play seventh chords and inverted chords by listening to "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles and "Let it Be," by the Fab Four. I wore out two rock and roll albums; "Psychotic Reaction," a 1966 album by Count Five, a garage band from California, and "Progressions," a 1967 release by The Five Americans, who were based in Texas. That one is my all-time favorite album. I not only loved the music I listened to, I also loved dissecting the songs; picking out the musical instruments that were being played, and listening to the vocals. That is where I learned to sing harmony.
There was one instrument in particular that I would always listen for. It was in the fall of 1970, or possibly a bit later, when dad brought home a 45 rpm record that would change my life, and set me on a course that i still follow to this day. Side A of that record by Jerry Corbetta and Sugarloaf was called "Green Eyed Lady," (#3 in 1970) and the reason it impacted me so was the organ solo that Corbetta played in the middle of the song.

Dad was a master guitar player, and he tried to teach me to play, but what I really wanted to do was play the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. It didn't help any that dad's friend, Cecil Pryor, played the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis.

I was almost 11-years-old when dad brought Jerry Corbetta's record home. Thirty eight years later, in 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Corbetta backstage at a concert by his Classic Rock All-Stars group, which consisted of Corbetta on piano and Mike Pinera of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly on guitar. He wrote Ride, Captain, Ride," one of the biggest pop Rick songs ever. On bass guitar was Dennis Noda, formerly of Cannibal and the Headhunters, and on drums was the great Peter Rivera from the Motown Records group, Rare Earth.

When I heard they were going to be in the area, I knew it was Tim to meet my hero, and that is what I did. When the big moment came backstage, I shook his hand and said, "Nice to meet you. You changed my life." We talked for several minutes before I asked for his autograph. It was a big moment for me, and it all began with that 45 r.p.m. record.
Later on, we spoke to each other via email, and I was able to tell him the story of how he inspired me to want to be a piano player/musician. He responded by saying, "I grew up in a house of music. We had a piano and an organ. I would listen to the TV and play along with the music that I heard there. I loved music from the time I was 3 years old. I was 6 years old when I saw Elvis on the television .Something clicked inside me. I asked my father to buy me a piano and get me piano lessons, and he did both. I often think about the time I saw Elvis and how he inspired me to be a musician."

Over the years, I have had many great moments during my musical journey. I was Motown legend Percy Sledge's organ player for one night back in the 90's, but my biggest thrill, by far, was the night I met my inspiration, Jerry Corbetta.

Singer-songwriter, keyboardist, organist, and record producer, Jerry Corbetta died on Sept. 16, 2016 in the city where he was born, Denver, Colorado. Besides "Green Eyed Lady," Sugarloaf also had success with “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” (#9 in 1974). Today, you can still find both songs being played in classic rock formats on radio and other mediums. Other than his groups, Sugarloaf and Classic Rock All-Stars , Corbetta also toured for nearly five years with Frankie Valli and the four seasons as the “fifth season,” nicknamed “Guido” by Frankie Valli.

Monday, July 4, 2022

I'm Mighty Proud of that Ragged Old Flag

"This ragged old flag is something to cherish," said Debra Brown Craig of Albany. It made me think of that song Johnny Cash wrote in 1974 during a time of political turbulence in the United States that had forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Although Cash had publicly supported Nixon's candidacy, he had started to question the wisdom of Nixon-era policies concerning the Vietnam War. He wrote "Ragged Old Flag" to "reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people.

Debra's father, J.O.Brown, flew the flag (see photo) outside the family store, Brown’s Food Mart in Albany, for many years. "Daddy was definitely a patriot," she says of her father who served as a Tech 4 specialist in the U.S. Army during WWII. He passed away in 1976. For as long as she can remember, this flag waved proudly at the store, which was where the Garden Spot is now. As you can see, the flag is old, tattered, ripped and worn, but praise God it still perseveres, despite the obstacles it has endured. "Just like our country," says Debra, who added, "May God continue to bless America. Happy Independence Day, everyone." My sentiment as well, Debra!

"And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in
'Cause she's been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more"

- Johnny Cash (Ragged Old Flag)

My 78 RPM Disks (1905-1924)

1. Albert Campbell - Dreaming (3701). Steve Porter - Flanagan At The Vocal Teacher's (3705). Standard Talking Machine Company 1907. 2. ...