Rounder Records has recently begun a weekly series of remembrances on their official blog from the early days of their 40 years in bluegrass, old time and roots music.
They are calling the feature Way Back Wednesday, and post a new one each Wednesday (or thereabouts) from one of the three founders of the company (Ken Irwin, Marian Levy and Bill Nowlin).
The past two weeks have centered on New England bluegrass icon Joe Val, who many see as a progenitor for Del McCoury. His soaring tenor was remarkable, and his influence on the bluegrass scene such that he is immortalized by the annual festival near Boston that bears his name.
Levy, writing on May 18, describes her first encounter with Joe on stage.
“No musician has ever been more beloved than Joe Val, and no musician has influenced Rounder more happily and more deeply than he did. We loved him just like everyone did who had the great good fortune to hear him play and sing, as well as spend any time talking with him offstage. I still remember the first time I heard Joe at the Club 47 in Harvard Square at the same location where Club Passim still resides today. Ken had played some Joe Val for me on a tape, and I don’t remember if it was with the Charles River Valley Boys, the group of which he was a member when I first heard him live, or whether the tape Ken had made was from Hillbilly at Harvard of Joe performing in another context. Hearing him live made all the difference; clearly he was the most serious guy in the band, and while the others loved the music, they liked having fun with it, whereas Joe was concentrated on the music first and foremost.”
The full blog entry – and her next from May 26 – also include audio from early Rounder recordings by Joe Val.
Here’s a video of Joe with his New England Bluegrass Boys not long before he died in 1985. He was a good’n.