'The First 55 Years': Opry veteran preserves a piece of musical history

May 29, 2010 9:14:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Fiddling has been a way of life for Jim Brock of Pickens County, Alabama. From the radio and TV show circuits of the 1950s and ''60s, to the revered Grand Old Opry stage, he''s been there. As fiddler with Carl Sauceman and the Green Valley Boys, Bill Monroe and Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Brock helped score an era of authentic country music. 


Now the 75-year-old preserves what he calls "The First 55 Years" in a CD by that title. With the help of Dennis McKay of Columbus, Brock compiled vintage radio and television show recordings made with those industry legends, and added tracks with some of his more current co-performers -- his protégé Ruby Jane Smith, and longtime regional mainstay Gene Robertson, both of Columbus. 


"This means a lot," Brock shared. "I''ve talked about doing this for 10 or 15 years; I just thought it should be done. I''ve been asked for years if I had anything from Carl Sauceman, Jim and Jesse and Bill. There are a lot of people my age and younger who would remember this." 




Memory vault  


Many of the tracks were gleaned from recordings Sauceman passed down to Brock years ago. 


"I hadn''t heard them for 30 or 40 years when I first got them; we had a hard job picking," the fiddler conceded.  


"One of the things that touches me the most with Jim and Jesse is we''ve got two tunes with Bobby Thompson and myself on here, and Bobby is dead and gone ... all these people are dead and gone now, but me and Jesse." 


Thompson, on banjo, later became known for the "Hee Haw" television show theme and as a sought-after session player in Nashville, Tenn. 


Also included are tracks recorded when Brock and Ruby Jane Smith, then 11, entertained at a 4-County annual gathering. Smith, 15, has gone on to record with Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel. 


More recently-captured tracks with Robertson are on the disc, too. With the Echoes, the two industry veterans still enjoy performing together at dances and festivals. They each have musical sons who perform in the band. The Echoes'' "Orange Blossom Special" capped off a toe-tapping Market Street Festival set May 8. 




Not your daddy''s country music 


Brock has witnessed elemental changes to the genre of music he loves. 


"There''s a vast difference in the music in those days and now," he said ruefully. "They''ve taken country music and put it to rock and roll ... If they want to call it country, they can -- and I''ll call mine country." 


He continued, "Ray Price is country music to me. And Alan Jackson is one of the modern people that has stayed country, and George Strait. Now, Gene Watson is a man that is one of my favorite singers of all time. Gene has really stayed true country." 


To their delight, Brock and Jesse McReynolds still take a stage together from time to time. Jesse recently celebrated his 81st birthday. There''s satisfaction in knowing they were among those who helped continue country''s legacy. 


"Jesse and I were playin'' the same festival in the last couple of years, and we were sittin'' around watching the show. The musicians were really great. I mean a really great fiddle player and mandolin player. I told Jesse, ''These young people really got something goin''. They just play everything, seems like." 


"Yeah," answered Jesse, "But do you know where they got it? They got it all from you and me and all these others." 




Passing it on 


Brock sees an appreciation for country music in students of various ages he works with in Columbus at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, in Brooksville and in Alabama.  


The 2008 Aliceville Area Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year is doing his part to "pass it on" to younger generations, as those before him did.  


As a boy, he taught himself to play by learning the region''s old time tunes, including those of master fiddler Charlie Stripling. 


The late Stripling wrote the ''Kennedy Rag,'' about Kennedy, Ala. A rendition of that song is on the compilation. 


"A funny thing," Brock smiled, "his (Charlie''s) daughter, who''s 85, called me up and ordered a CD about a month ago. I was sittin'' here Saturday, and the phone rang, and it was her. She said ''I''m playing your CD. You hear it in the background? I''m so proud of it. I just put it on and play it to do my housework.''" 


"The First 55 Years" is available in Columbus at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St., in Aliceville at the Aliceville Museum, Gentry Drugs and Gates Restaurant, and in Gordo at Joe Brown''s Barber Shop.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.