I'll Fly Away

The pressley girls I'll Fly Away

The old standard I'll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley aka gospel song writer extraordinaire. According to the Brumley website, I'll Fly Away was the first song Brumley actually sold and one of the songs he is most famous for. The song's steady popularity over the years since it was written, has to be a source of pride for his family.

The girls have been singing the song for years, it's become one of their most requested songs at performances. Chitter first learned to play it on the piano and it was the first song they learned to sing harmony on. 

Harmony is a must for the type of music we perform, but harmony isn't an easy thing to master. Pap and Paul were old pros, but trying to explain what they were so good at to two silly girls was a different story.

One day Chitter and Chatter surprised us all when we overheard them singing harmony on I'll Fly Away. Almost in unison we said "When did you learn to do that?" To which Chatter replied "Oh I've been able to do that for a while now." Of course we asked her why in the world haven't you been doing it?

For today's pickin' and grinnin' session I'm sharing a video of the girls doing I'll Fly Away in the greenhouse. If you listen close you can hear the pit-pat of rain hitting the plastic. Just after they finished the song a frog strangler came down and we were stranded in the greenhouse with our instruments until it was over. 

I hope you enjoyed the song!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing on Saturday June 10, 2017 @ 8:00 p.m. at Vogel State Park - Blarisville GA.

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Remembering on Memorial Day

Memorial Day was created to honor fallen soldiers of the Civil War and was originally called Decoration Day. John L. Logan is largely responsible for organizing the day, and in 1868 declared:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

As time, and wars, went by people began honoring all fallen soldiers on the day no matter when or how they had served their country. In 1971 Congress declared Memorial Day to be an official holiday occurring on the last Monday in May to honor all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving in the Armed Forces of The United States of America.


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Crying Holy Unto the Lord

On the rock where moses stood
The girls have been doing the old gospel song Crying Holy Unto the Lord for more than a few years. If you've been around the Blind Pig and The Acorn for a long time you may even remember them performing the song in the historic Lufty Baptist Church

I knew the song was old, but when I first went looking for information about its history I had a hard time finding anything solid. The song is sometimes called On the Rock where Moses Stood or simply Crying Holy

I finally stumbled upon the following information about the song on the Bluegrass Messengers website

NOTES: "Crying Holy Unto The Lord" is a traditional spiritual from Norfolk Jubilee Quartet in 1924, the first recording made of this gospel song. This spiritual was popularized in early country music by the Carter Family who recorded the song twice (1930 and 1935) under the title, "On the Rock Where Moses Stood." The Carters collected and learned spirituals from several African-American sources including Pauline Gary and Leslie Riddle.

The first closely related versions were recorded by African-American groups like the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet in 1924- "Crying To The Lord." The Birmingham Jubilee Singers' first record in 1926 was He Took My Sins Away and Crying To The Lord and it sold almost 5000 copies.

Recently we changed up our arrangement to the song Crying Holy Unto the Lord and its become one of our favorite songs to play.

Hope you enjoyed the history and the song!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing TODAY Sunday May 28 at 12:00 p.m. in Blairsville GA at the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival.

*Source:  Bluegrass Messengers website

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Sing that one about that Ole Boy that went and got in Trouble

The Pressley Girls If it hadn't been for Love

The Pressley Girls - Fall 2016 Marble, NC

We've been learning the Steeldrivers song If it hadn't been for Love for the last two years. It's an awesome song and man did the Steeldrivers do an amazing job on it. Their version is just wow.

The girls and I thought we'd never get the hang of the song, but Paul kept encouraging us and Pap said Paul and the girls' three part harmony really made the song come alive so we kept at it.

We didn't even know Granny had noticed the song until one day she said "Sing that one about that o'le boy that went and got hisself in all that trouble in Birmingham and Louisiana." 

Every time we practice Granny makes us sing If it hadn't been for Love before we quit. 

Paul put up the video below a couple weeks back. It's full of mistakes-Chitter swaps two of the lines and Chatter says the wrong word at some point, but the video still ended up with a good feel to it. We filmed it just before Christmas and if you watch the bloopers at the end you can see it was a stormy day with the lights trying their best to go off. 

I hope you enjoyed Granny's favorite song. 


p.s. Today is the last day to enter the book giveaway-go here if you missed it. 

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Blackberry Blossom

Blackberry blossom - blind pig gang

With the blackberries blooming behind the chicken house and Blackberry Winter making me wish I hadn't put up all my winter clothes I was reminded of the old tune Blackberry Blossom. The tune is upbeat and does indeed make you think of spring dotted with blackberry blooms after a long tough winter.

We haven't done the song in years, but Paul and Mark used to have fun playing around with the tune back in the day. I went back and found the video we uploaded in 2009. Hard to believe how young my nephew Mark was.

Chitter hadn't even picked up the fiddle when the video was filmed. I'm thinking she needs to give the old tune a try and see what is sounds like when a pretty fiddling girl plays it. 


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In That Morning

Quay Smathers singing school

Quay Smathers

Excerpt from the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School Website:

"Quay Smathers was born in Dutch Cove south of Canton, NC, in 1913 and lived his entire life in the community. He was a master carpenter, having built homes and churches throughout Western North Carolina that are still recognized for their craftsmanship and beauty.

Born into a musical family, Quay grew up singing shaped-notes with his family as well as playing old-time string band music with his cousins. His father, Gaston Smathers, led the historic Christian Harmony shaped-note singing at Morning Star Methodist Church in Dutch Cove until his death in 1944. Quay assumed the leadership role of the singing at only 35 years of age.

His mother, Lizzie Bracken Smathers, learned shaped-note singing from Rev. Benjamin Clark, a student of William Walker, compiler of The Christian Harmony. Quay often told the story of being awakened one night as a young boy by his mother singing "Angel Band" at the top of her lungs in her sleep.  

Quay's brother Vaughn Smathers and sister Crystal Smathers Medford also participated in the Christian Harmony singings at Morning Star, and his uncle, George "Bruz" Smathers, sang until his death at age 101.

Quay played tenor banjo and guitar in a string band with his cousins as a young man, and with his daughters and sons-in-law later in life in the popular Dutch Cove Old Time String Band. But perhaps Quay was known on an even broader scale for his tireless efforts to teach the Blue Ridge style of shaped-note singing and officiate one of the oldest continuous shaped-note singings in the entire world.

Featured in documentaries, magazines, books, and even doctoral dissertations, Quay was the recipient of the prestigious North Carolina Heritage Award in 1990. He was honored in the NC Legislature and performed at the induction ceremony for dignitaries from throughout the state. Other accolades include the Bascomb Lamar Lunsford Award from Mars Hill College as well as inclusion in the 1974 Personalities of the South for "distinguished and outstanding service and achievements in the community and state."  

Quay was in high demand to teach workshops for novice shaped-note singers at folk festivals as well as speaking at seminars for folklorists, ethno-musicologists and foreign academicians researching Early American music. He led numerous shaped-note singing schools at universities and churches, always caring more about mentoring new singers than any honors afforded to him by others.

Quay died in 1997 at age 84, and at the time many tributes were written about him in area newspapers that are still found online. Many of the  singers he taught drove from out-of-state to sing some of his favorite shaped-note hymns at his funeral.

Today, his daughter June Smathers-Jolley continues to lead the historic shaped-note singing at Morning Star United Methodist Church in Canton in her father’s place, and Elizabeth Smathers-Shaw continues to teach folk music passed down to her by her father, including shaped-note singing, in Ohio."

The girls and I attended the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School for the second time a few weeks ago. None of us are proficient at shape-note singing, but all of us have fallen in love with the folks who do know what they're doing-namely Liz and June who are Quay Smathers' daughters.

I've known about shape-note singing for many years, but never realized there are differing styles until we attended the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School. They have a wonderful website with tons of information about shape-note singing. The site also offers many opportunities to listen to the Blue Ridge Style of shape-note singing. You can visit the website here

For this week's picking and grinning in the kitchen spot I'm sharing my favorite song from the shape-note schools that I've attended In That Morning

The Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School shares this information about the video:

"This video features a recording of Richard Moss leading "In That Morning" at Etowah, NC - circa 1973. (Richard is in the first photograph.) The recording was made by Dr. Edith Card for her dissertation research on the performance style of Christian Harmony shaped-note singing in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the time. Moss was a master of all leaders, casting a spell on the singers and bringing out, in his words, "a sad weeping sound" to the numerous minor songs found in the book. Photographs include other old-time leaders - Quay Smathers, Lyman Clark and Leonard Westmoreland, all from the Canton, NC, area. Singings depicted are from Mountain Heritage Day at Western Carolina University and Old Folks Day at Morning Star United Methodist Church in the Dutch Cove area of Canton, birthplace of Quay Smathers and scores of other Blue Ridge style shaped-note singers. Tucked among some of the singers in these photographs are several of the QSMSS teachers - Laura Boosinger, Elizabeth Smathers-Shaw, Lynn Shaw and Zack Allen, all of whom learned at the knees of the old-timers."

Although its doubtful that I will ever become proficient at shape-note singing, there is something about the hauntingly beautiful sound that speaks to my heart.

I hope you enjoyed the video, be on the look out for more Smathers history coming later this week. And be sure to jump over to the Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School website and poke around-I know you'll enjoy your visit!


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing TODAY - Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

*Source: Video, photo, and all quoted text: Quay Smathers Memorial Singing School website

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Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill

Walking my Lord up Calvary's Hill
Photo by Trevis Hicks

We learned a new song for Easter, but didn't get it put up on youtube in time for me to share it with you last Sunday. Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper had a super hit with Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill back in the day. Over the years a lot of other folks have performed the song too, including bluegrass star Rhonda Vincent. 

Ruby Mae Barber Moody penned Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill along with many other gospel songs including the very popular southern gospel song My Real Home.

We've taken to playing on Granny's back porch lately. She likes it because she can hear us from her chair where she sits crotcheting. If we get to talking or stop playing for some other reason she'll come to the door and say "I'm coming out here to see what the hold up is."

Hope you enjoyed the late Easter song!


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I Twice Belong to Thee

Wade Wilson and Marie Wilson

Wade and Marie Wilson - Pap's parents - My Papaw and Mamaw

 I've been thinking a lot about Papaw Wade over the last few weeks. Back when those first big camcorders came out-you know the kind that recorded on VHS tapes? My cousin's husband interviewed Papaw Wade about his life and filmed it.

As Paul was looking for old film footage and recordings of Pap he came across his copy of the interview and converted it to a DVD for me.

It had been 10 years or more since I watched the interview. I so enjoyed hearing Papaw Wade's voice again and I was impressed with how eloquently he spoke of his life.

Way back in 2008, the year I started blogging, I shared a song Pap wrote that was inspired by Papaw Wade. I thought I'd share it again today.

Papaw Wade was an old time Baptist Preacher. Pap once heard him tell a story about a lad who made a small boat during one of his sermons.

The lad placed the boat in a rushing stream to see if it would float. As the wind began to blow, the boat was taken from his reach. He frantically tried to rescue the boat, but to no avail.

The lad searched from shore to shore but never found the little boat. He grieved for the boat he had made. As time went swiftly by, he happened to see the boat in a store window. Oh how great the joy he felt. He would own the boat once more-no matter what the cost.

The lad and his boat stuck with Pap. He discussed it with his father and gathered all the details surrounding the story. The image of the lad losing what he made only to have to buy it back again inspired Pap to write the song I Twice Belong To Thee.

The first time I shared the video a Blind Pig Reader shared this comment:

"Maybe you know that story is called "Little Boat Twice Owned." I think the book by that name is still in print. I know it is available. It was a story often used to explain the gospel to children. And it's a sweet story too."

Papaw Wade died the year before The Deer Hunter and I were married. He had great wisdom to share like the story of the lad and his boat, but he was also a real Appalachian character-you never knew what he was going to say or do next.
He wore overalls every day except Sunday and was famous for wearing his hat with the bill turned straight up. I'm planning on sharing part of his interview with you in the coming months so be on the lookout for that.

I hope you enjoyed Pap's song, the wonderful 2-part harmony, and Paul's flat-top picking.


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Blues Stay Away From Me

Blues stay away from me the pressley girls

The Delmore Brothers were a great influence on Pap's harmony style of singing. Pap was a fan of the Delmores from an early age and he passed along his love for them to his children.

The Delmore Brothers had so many great songs! There's the ones like Browns Ferry Blues that make you smile and the ones like Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar that'll almost make you cry. Then there's all the ones that make you tap your toes and hum along.

Take a listen to The Pressley Girls singing Blues Stay Away from Me - a Delmore Brothers classic. 


The Pressley Girls think the Delmore Brothers are pretty cool. I guess you could say Pap's love for the Delmores has reached the next generation of harmony singers. 


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Oh Why Not Tonight

Oh Why Not Tonight - an altar call song in Appalachia

Gospel music plays a major role in the culture of Appalachia. I'm not talking about music in relation to monetary terms nor successful performers, although more than a few country and bluegrass stars got their start singing in church. 

My thoughts and beliefs come directly from my own personal experiences, but I feel strongly that my statements about the relationship between gospel music and Appalachia would be shared by most who grew up attending church in these mountains.

Even as a young child I remember being astounded by the power of songs of faith. There's a palatable feeling that occurs when folks gather to lift their voice in worship. If you've never felt it, slip in the door of one of those little old churches scattered through out and listen as the choir sings and see if you don't feel it too.

One of my closest childhood friends is named Sharon. We were in the same classroom at school and we went to the same church.

We liked the singing more than the preaching-as most kids are likely to do. We knew the page number of all our favorite songs and we'd anxiously wait to see if the song leader called out one that we loved to sing. 

Down On My Knees written by Mosie Lister, The Prettiest Flowers Will Be Blooming by Albert E. Brumley, I Want To Know More About My Lord by Lee Roy Abernathy, and Are You Washed In The Blood by Rev. E.A. Hoffman were a few of the upbeat songs we liked.

We had a love for the more lonesome gospel songs too. Songs like- Lord I'm Coming Home by William J. Kirkpatrick, Almost Persuaded by P.P. Bliss, Oh Why Not Tonight by Elizabeth H. Reed and J. Calvin Bushey, and Take My Hand Precious Lord by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey.

The lyrics of those old gospel songs I grew up with lend themselves to the culture of Appalachia. I'm not suggesting that they were all written here, most were not. But the strong recurring themes of God, Jesus, love, the cross, faith, death, blood, hell, rivers, long roads, toiling, snares, mountains, shining lights, rejoicing, happiness, joy, better times to come, dark valleys, and loved ones calling come fit perfectly in the mindset of most folks born and raised in Appalachia. I would go so far as to say the manner in which they were written, the words used, strike a chord with the language of Appalachia. Maybe in the same way the isolated nature of the region played a role in the continuity of our dialect it also helped folks hold on to the sacred songs of our past.

Paul has been uploading some of Pap's older music to the Blind Pig and The Acorn youtube channel. He recently put up a few videos made from the first recording of The Wilson Brothers - Words of Life way back in the 70s. Take a listen to their version of Oh Why Not Tonight

Hope you enjoyed the song! My favorite part is the way they say poor and of course Pap's high tenor. 


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