Join us for The Floyd Radio Show on Saturday, April 6, 2019 at 7:30 pm for a night of music by three different groups, interviews, comedy skits, jokes, wacky sound effects and more! Guests for our April episode include Bill & The Belles, Whitetop Mountain Band and Bertram Levy. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show.
Bill and the Belles have captured the freewheeling, lighthearted approach to music that has endeared them to listeners of every generation. With a spirited sound that falls somewhere between old-time country and vaudeville, the group puts its own spin on a golden era of music, specifically the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
“We like old music and some of us are consumed by it,” says lead singer and guitarist Kris Truelsen with a knowing laugh. “But we don’t have a desire to copy it. We want to sound like ourselves and tell our story.”
The band takes its name from Bill and Belle Reed, performers from the 1920s who recorded the songs “Old Lady and the Devil” and “You Shall Be Free” in Johnson City, Tennessee. Truelsen says, “That was the first time I heard ‘Old Lady and the Devil,’ and since then it’s become clear to me why it’s stood the test of time. Simple, plaintive, stripped-down but incredibly expressive, tough as nails and funny as hell. I first heard that side on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, a collection that continues to inspire. Our band’s name is a way to honor their music, the music of this place, and this region in general that we’ve come to call home. “
Prior to forming Bill and the Belles, Truelsen sang in a honky-tonk band with Kalia Yeagle, an Alaska-grown fiddler and singer. Moving beyond the realm of early country, they started working up a few songs with friend and banjo player Grace Van’t Hof. With the addition of bass player Karl Zerfas, Bill and the Belles stepped into the role of house band upon the launch of a live radio show, Farm and Fun Time, presented by Radio Bristol. Truelsen recalls, “We quickly discovered our mutual love for rich vocal harmonies and simple catchy melodies. We picked out a few songs we’d been throwing around in various settings that were from the early commercial recording era and it clicked.”
In 2015 Bill and the Belles stepped into the role of house band upon the launch of a live radio show, Farm and Fun Time, presented by Radio Bristol. Truelsen launched that community radio station, housed within the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee. Along with sharing the stage with the nation’s top roots artists (Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives and Earls of Leicester), the band writes and performs the snappy, comical jingles for the show’s monthly sponsors.
“Singing and playing music in front of audiences is great but when you add in the platform of live radio it’s even better,” Truelsen believes. “Especially when the audience is a community of folks who come day in and day out to support you. What a feeling, and boy, the stakes seem higher with live radio – like it’s bigger than just us playing music. It keeps us on our toes and makes us want to deliver not only good music but a good show.”
Whitetop Mountain Band
The Whitetop Mountain Band is a family-based band from the highest mountains of Virginia. Whitetop, Virginia is an area rich in the old time music tradition; this band has deep roots in mountain music. The members have done much to preserve the Whitetop region’s style of old time fiddling and banjo picking and are legendary musicians and teachers of the style.
At the same time, Whitetop Mountain Band shows are very versatile and entertaining containing everything from fiddle/banjo instrumentals to powerful solos and harmony vocals on blues, classic country, honky tonk, traditional bluegrass numbers, old timey ballads, originals, and four part mountain gospel songs. Shows also include flat foot dancing. The band is well known for their high energy and charisma on stage.
The band originated with Albert Hash in the 1940s, a well-known and beloved fiddler and luthier. When he was a teenager, Albert played fiddle with Henry Whitter of “Grayson & Whitter” which recorded during the 1920’s. Albert had a tremendous impact on the old time and bluegrass scene. The tune, “Hangman’s Reel” that Albert recorded is the version played by so many old time musicians today. He also helped teach such luthiers as Wayne Henderson, Audrey Ham, and many others to build instruments.
In the 1970s, Albert’s brother-in-law, Thornton Spencer (twin fiddle), and his wife, Emily Spencer (banjo, vocals), joined Albert in the Whitetop Mountain Band. The three also started an old time music program at Mt. Rogers School, a small k-12 public school, in Whitetop. The students learn fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, etc. and dancing. Emily Spencer carries on the Albert Hash Memorial Band program and it has received a lot of regional and national attention for its uniqueness (Grammy in the Schools nomination, included on CMT documentary, numerous articles and radio shows).
Although Thornton Spencer passed last year, the Whitetop Mountain Band is still carried on by Emily Spencer on banjo and vocals and their daughter Martha Spencer. Martha plays with the band as a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, vocals) and dancer. She has taken part in many Master flatfoot dancing workshops and performances also. Debbie Bramer, originally from Michigan, moved to Fancy Gap, Virginia in the early 90s. Debbie plays bass and dances in the band. Debbie has been a member of several clogging teams and been active in many dance workshops and competitions. Ersel Fletcher, from Glade Spring, VA is the newest member of the band and plays guitar and provides vocals. Ersel is a retired coal-miner from Buchanan County, VA and is steeped in the mountain music traditions.
Bertram Levy was born in New York in 1941 into a family of classical, swing and klezmer musicians. He started playing classical music on the piano from an early age however his destiny was to be in a different direction. At age 14 he embraced the 5-string banjo and immersed himself in Southern folk music. As a result he chose to attend college in Atlanta, Georgia where he played bluegrass banjo for six years. In l965 he moved to Durham, North Carolina to study medicine. There, he met a fellow graduate student, Alan Jabbour who had had been searching out fiddle tunes from old-time fiddlers in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, including the extraordinary Western Virginia fiddler Henry Reed. Bertram learned this repertoire from Alan and, together with Tommy and Bobbie Thompson, formed the legendary Hollow Rock String Band. The Hollow Rock was the first young urban band to play the repertoire collected directly from the old timers. Their 1968 album, “Traditional Dance Tunes”, continues to sell all over the world and is credited with launching the traditional American fiddle music revival of the 60’s and 70’s. One of the cuts from the album (“Over the Waterfall”) is included in the Smithsonian’s CD, “The History of American Folk Music”.
In the late 1960s, Bertram Levy moved to California and imbued with the mission to keep the music alive, spread the Southern fiddle revival to an entire generation of West Coast musicians. It was during these years that Bertram developed his unique banjo style, a crossover of bluegrass and old-time claw-hammer styles played on nylon strings. He eventually debuted this unique banjo style in his now classic recording, “That Old Gut Feeling.” He was awarded banjo player of the year by Frets magazine in 1974.
Bertram spent 1974 -75 in Dublin, Ireland, studying Irish music�and its relationship to the roots of American folk music. He then settled in Port Townsend, Washington, where he played music and� practiced medicine for 30 years. He has been described by Victory magazine as ” a Washington Landmark.” In 1977 he created the prestigious Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend The festival has become the model for traditional music festivals throughout the United States. The festival now in its 34th year has produced 2 generations of traditional musicians. Along with fiddle styles of the United States, the festival has introduced many international figures such as the 90 year old Mexican virtuoso Juan Reynosa to American audiences.
In addition to the banjo, Bertram has enjoyed an international �reputation as an Anglo concertina virtuoso. Described by Concertina�Magazine as ” the Maestro,” he has a expanded the concertina repertoire�to include the compositions of Klezmer clarinetist David Tarras,� Brazilian mandolinist Jacob Bittencourt, and the Argentine Bandoneon �innovator Astor Piazzolla. Bertram recorded several concertina albums including the “Sageflower Suite” with Frank Ferrell and “First Generation” with Peter Ostroushko in which he arranged Southern fiddle tunes into suites. His definitive instructional tutor for the instrument, “The Anglo Concertina Demystified,” continues to be the most widely used instructional method in the concertina world.
In 1989 Bertram met Astor Piazzolla and was so moved by Piazzolla’s� music that he traveled to Buenos Aires, acquired a bandoneon, and� began his bandoneon studies. For four years, he studied� in Paris with bandoneon maestro Cesar Stroscio and in 1999 he founded the sexteto typico, Tangoheart that specializes in both traditional tango and tango nuevo. In 2005 he retired from his medical career and moved to Buenos Aires to study bandoneon with Rodolfo Daluisio at the Conservatory de Manuel de Falla.
Bertram Levy is a great repository of the repertoire and history of the Southern Fiddle music. He has visited and collected from some of the greatest fiddle luminaries of the early 20th century including Tommy Jarrell, Henry Reed, Fred Cockerham Oscar Wright, Lee Triplett and Burl Hammonds. In the last few years he has toured with Alan Jabbour as a fiddle banjo duo and together with James Reed, the son�of the late Henry Reed, recorded the CD “A Henry Reed Reunion,” which celebrates the extraordinary repertoire of the late Henry Reed This year Bertram published a second concertina tutor , “American Fiddle Styles for the Anglo Concertina” which has been described as “the Microkosmos of the Anglo concertina.”
He presently splits his time between performing teaching and writing from his home in Port Townsend, Washington and studying bandoneon with Rodolfo Daluisio in Buenos Aires.