Special Holiday 2017 issue!

The Music Shines On... Remembering
Tom Paley

   I first met Tom Paley at a jam session during an old-time fiddle festival in Brooklyn. I didn’t recognize him until he started playing. That was about 1990, and I had just started performing in the NYC area with a terrific fiddler named Bill Christophersen. I was so blown away that I had just gotten to jam with one of my long-time idols from the New Lost City Ramblers, that I almost let the opportunity to talk with him slip through my fingers. Somehow I got up the courage to ask him if he wanted to grab a bite to eat (little knowing that curry was this super hero’s Kryptonite!). He must have seen my passion for this music as we talked over plates of great Indian food because that’s the only explanation I have for why he agreed to record some songs with two young old-time bluegrass musicians from Brooklyn.
   Even though Tom was living in England by then, he did make regular trips back to the States and we were able to gather enough songs over a six-year period to put together an album and “The Mysterious Redbirds” was released by Copper Creek Records in 2000. The recording sessions were definitely not up to the standards for a legend like Tom Paley. We recorded live with minimal manipulation. Our first recording session took place in the basement of an old brownstone. During winter months, the radiators would kick on with clanks and bangs causing us to have to stop recording until they went off again. The next two sessions were at Hank Bones’ studio on the 6th floor of a walkup (the elevator was permanently broken!). There was no A/C or fan in the studio and it was hot! We had this tube going between the engineering room and the recording room and during breaks in recording the engineer would hold up a desk fan to the tube to blow fresh air into our area. But Tom never complained and, in fact, kept us all laughing with his incredible talent for puns.
   When Tom would come to NY, he would often stay at my house in Brooklyn. He wasn’t much for taking in the culture, preferring to stay “home” and play his music. I learned so much from those daily sessions. He would sit me down and teach me some of his favorite Swedish fiddle tunes. These polskas featured ¾ time, non-tempered intervals that made accompaniment on the guitar particularly difficult. I think those practices gave me a love for the crooked tunes of old-time music.
   Tom’s three-finger style banjo picking was a rarity among old-time musicians and a nod to his inspiration, Uncle Dave Macon. Like Uncle Dave, Tom had some quirky habits too, like using a bungee cord for his banjo strap, stuffing his banjo head with undergarments, and carrying around extra picks in an old banged up tin box. But when he picked up that banjo and started playing, you knew you were in the presence of greatness. Tom’s rhythmatic picking had a snap to it – it was always clean and crisp. Although his first love was definitely the banjo, not many folks know that Tom also sold fiddles. In fact, Bill Christophersen, my long-time friend and collaborator on “The Mysterious Redbirds,” bought one of Tom’s fiddles and still uses it today.
   Although I kept in touch with Tom, I haven’t had the pleasure of getting to sit down with him personally since I moved to the southwest. The last time I saw Tom was in 2008 when he flew to NYC for a special concert that I had organized as part of the Park Slope Bluegrass and Old-time Music Jamboree. It just so happened that the Jamboree was scheduled for the exact date that the New Lost City Ramblers had performed together for the very first time, 50 years ago. Tom was joined by fellow bandmate, John Cohen and accompanied by Bill Christophersen on fiddle for this special 50th Anniversary Reunion. The concert was pure magic and transported all of us back to that wonderful heydey of folk music.
   It was truly an honor to be able to perform and record with this legendary folk hero. He taught me so much and I am grateful for the blessing of his friendship. One of the things that Tom continually pressed upon me was that performers should use themselves to present the music and not the other way around. I’ve tried to live by that creed throughout my 25-year career as a bluegrass musician. I hope I’ve done Tom proud.

   This article recently appeared in Bluegrass Today.




   The IBMA World of Bluegrass Conference brought a lot of food for thought for me this year. The theme for the conference was “Diversity” and that has long been a topic of interest for me, personally and professionally.
   Since it’s inception in 1998, the Jamboree that I promote in Brooklyn has embraced diversity. I’m thrilled to see the number of young folks that are interested in playing bluegrass and old-time music. I love to see the rainbow of culturally diverse musicians jamming together on the lawn. It supports my belief that music unites us all. It crosses racial, socio-economic, and gender barriers with ease and diplomacy. And yet, we still have a long way to go to be fully integrated.
   This year’s awards certainly indicated a step in the right direction. For the first time, a female shattered the glass ceiling as Molly Tuttle took home the best guitarist award! And, my dear friend, Anni Beach was nominated for the Mentor Award for her work with ethnically diverse children in the Phoenix-metro area of Arizona. Of course, I was overjoyed that Patrick McAvinue finally won best fiddler. After performing with him at WAMU, I can attest that he definitely deserved this win. And it was a proud moment when John Lawless of Bluegrass Today won the Distinguished Achievement Award that recognizes those involved in bluegrass music who have been forerunners in their field. This is the highest honor outside of induction into the hall of fame. Congratulations John!
   With a nod to our bluegrass roots, Sonny and Bobby Osborne were reunited to offer the grand finale for the Award Show. But it was obvious that the torch has now been passed to a younger generation. It appears that this new generation is embracing the new found diversity in bluegrass that just didn’t exist back in the early days. While younger bluegrassers remain interested in the legends that helped form bluegrass as we know it, they aren’t limiting bluegrass to any particular approach or band composition. I, for one, think that is a good thing. Bluegrass must grow and expand or risk becoming stagnant and passé. I’d love to hear what you think. Send your comments to me at james@jamesreams.com.  Ø



R&R Productions is proud to bring you a terrific, one night only performance from Special Consensus coming in January, 2018. More details to follow!


e-Shop and Save!

 Did you know that there's a whole line of items from T-shirts and flipflops to embroidered baseball caps to chambray workshirts featuring the logo of your favorite bluegrass band! And what bluegrass lover doesn't enjoy waking up in the morning to a nice hot cup of coffee? Well, now that coffee can be served in a mug or travel mug that lets everyone know you're into bluegrass and especially James Reams & The Barnstormers brand of bluegrass!
  In fact, we challenge you to buy several travel mugs, fill them with gift cards to a local coffee shop and pass them out to those who are homeless. There are over 400 items to choose from at the James Reams Market (powered by CafePress). Skip the crowded malls and let your imagination and your generosity run wild at the James Reams Market! Ø

We've Got Your Stocking Stuffers Right Here!

 Halloween is barely cold in its grave and the holiday shopping frenzy is already in full force. If you're budget is tight this year, don't forget that James has made his out-of-print CD, "Barnstormin" available as a FREE download from NoiseTrade. We encourage you to share the link with your friends and family when you send out holiday greetings - the gift is on us! The DVD documentary "Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass" would be a welcome addition to any school or bluegrass historian's library and can be ordered easily from our website or CDBaby. Check out the website for more information about the DVD and other CDs from James Reams. And remember those who might be forgotten with the gift of music to local nursing homes, veteran's hospitals, and teachers! Ø



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In this issue:

Tom Paley Tribute
25th Anniversary in 2018

World of Bluegrass
R&R Productions "Special C"

Jamboree Brown Jug Winner
Rhyme & Season
Reviewers Comments
Holiday Shopping Tips

Association Memberships
Join Yahoo Bluegrass Groups



Happy Holidays


from James Reams
& The Barnstormers


Big News for 2018!


James will be celebrating 25 years as a bluegrass bandleader in 2018. We're excited about booking the "SilverGrass" Tour and hope that you can catch a performance by this iconic bluegrass band at a town near you!


Book NOW for 2018!


Contact 718-374-1086 OR info@jamesreams.com to book James Reams & The Barnstormers for your festival, venue, concert series, or event.




   Rhyme & Season, the newest album from James Reams & The Barnstormers, ranked in three Top Ten Albums of 2016. It features band members from both coasts as well as guest fiddler, the legendary Kenny Kosek. This album has received high-acclaim from reviewers, music critics, and listeners like you!
   When James decided to make this album, he wanted to focus on life's journey...not only his own, but also the journey of those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised. It is his hope that this album will help raise awareness about, and support for, the plight of many who are homeless in our nation.



Reviewer's Comments


David Morris, award winning songwriter and journalist – Bluegrass Today
James Reams has walked the walk of those who have been cast aside. Now, in Rhyme & Season, he talks the talk. Actually, he sings it…with conviction. There is an authentic, gritty feel to the music that can’t be faked. This fine record will become an important part of the dialog about those who are down and out, left behind and marginalized.

Kevin Slick – Pow'r Pickin'
There's a lot to like about this album by James Reams & The Barnstormers. One listen and you can hear these are some great pickers, there's brilliant solos but it never sounds like showing off or just playing fast for the sake of speed. [And] this album proves that you can write bluegrass songs about this day and age...songs that might come from the front page instead of a history book.



Jamboree Honors Kenny Kosek

   The Park Slope Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Jamboree’s Brown Jug Award is the brainchild of James Reams, a bluegrass musician and bandleader for over 20 years, who conceived of it as a way to recognize people in the Northeast whose impact on the music deserved to be honored but who might be less likely to be recognized by national organizations since for some of them, their impact was regional in nature.
   This year the Jamboree is pleased to honor homegrown hero and legendary fiddler, Kenny Kosek for his extensive contributions to bluegrass. One of the most recorded fiddlers today, Kenny has been the feature soloist on countless albums, soundtracks, and jingles. He can be heard on recordings by James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, David Byrne, Chaka Kahn, Willie Nelson, John Denver and was a frequent guest player with the Late Night Band on Late Night with David Letterman. His original compositions have been used in everything from major documentaries to Broadway musicals, soap operas, and network TV kid’s shows.
   We’d be hard-pressed to find a more diversely talented and under-recognized candidate for the Brown Jug Award. Congratulations Kenny!



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