The Rich History of Bluegrass in the Miami Valley, At WYSO
Between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s, about three and a half million people migrated from Appalachia to the urban manufacturing centers of the Midwest. Over 40,000 came to the Dayton area from West Virginia, Tennessee, and especially Eastern Kentucky, seeking work at companies like National Cash Register, Frigidaire, and General Motors. They brought their culture and their music along with them. Archives Fellow Jocelyn Robinson brings us the rich mountain heritage in the WYSO audio collection, preserved through the efforts of three local brothers.
Saturday night has been Bluegrass night at WYSO for over 40 years. In the early 1970s, the station’s music programming was all-volunteer, and anyone with the interest and a third class license could have a show on the air. Tom Duffe was one of those volunteers. He was joined in studio by his older brothers Dan and Jim. Tom was still in high school back then, and Jim was a student at Antioch College when the three took their passion for folk and old time music to the airwaves.
"We invited people to give us a call and request, and they started requesting more and more bluegrass," says Dan Duffee. "We had been playing some Stanley Brothers, some Flatt & Scruggs, some Bill Monroe, and we started getting a lot of requests. They loved what we were doing, and they started coming up to the radio station, and inviting us to their homes, and it was a great time; it was just a great time."
"Dayton had been a hotbed of bluegrass with Red Allen, the Osborne Brothers, Frank Wakefield; these are big names in the bluegrass arena," says Tom Duffee. "But with big names, there’s also this thrust in country and bluegrass music is that it’s music made by regular folks, regular people."
Not only did the Duffee Brothers spin the records requested, but they performed the music themselves, along with local amateurs and professional bands, like the Hotmud Family. WYSO’s Archive has hours of bluegrass recordings, many made at the country music jamborees that started at Dayton’s Living Arts Center on Linden Avenue, back in 1974. These concerts aired live every Wednesday night for years, and featured many of those regular folks.
"One of my favorites was Bill Lowe, who worked at GM, spent a career there, retired from there, one of the best vocalists in bluegrass music, if you ask me," says Tom Duffee.
The friendships and fellowship of that era formed an enduring legacy. Tom Duffee’s own band, The Corndrinkers emerged during this heady time, and it includes his wife Linda Scutt. They’re still making music together nearly four decades later.
"To be reminded of the astonishing performances that we captured, now can we admit that some of them are out of tune? Yes! But still, the spirit is striking and remarkable and still worth listening to," says Tom Duffee.
That’s just a little taste of the live bluegrass recordings in the WYSO Archives. You might catch more on Midnight Ramble, Tom Duffee’s current show. It’s on Saturdays from 10 PM to midnight, right after Down Home Bluegrass, which airs from 8 to 10. Then there’s WYSO’s long running morning bluegrass show, Rise When the Rooster Crows, airing Sundays from 6 to 8 AM. Dan Duffee was one of its first programmers, all those years ago.
Give a listen to bluegrass on WYSO…and be sure to call in with your request.
Major funding for Rediscovered Radio is provided by the Ohio Humanities Council and the Greene County Public Library. The WYSO digital audio archives will open for public listening in 2015.