Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Rich Kirby, October 14, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:01 - History with June Appal Recordings

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Partial Transcript: Wonderful. Um, this is Jeff Keith and Rayna Gellert with Rich Kirby and it's now October 15th, 2015 and we're following up from an interview two months ago.

Segment Synopsis: After a brief introduction Kirby summarizes his history with June Appal Recordings during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Kirby describes June Appal Recordings as the result of a collaboration among young musicians who became record producers in addition to performing as musicians. Their goal was to establish a record label that would document the work of older musicians as well as their own work. Kirby both recorded and produced records with June Appal Recordings. Kirby states that his most important project with June Appal Recordings was the Addie Graham record that he produced in 1978. Kirby also mentions a band he was in called Wry Straw, along with John McCutcheon and Time Bledsoe, until 1980. Despite that Kirby continued to record, produce, and assistant produce various projects with or related to June Appal Recordings throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Some of the individuals Kirby worked with during this time were Cari Norris, Lily Mae Ledford, and Julia Mainer.

Keywords: Addie Graham; Bands; Discography; Hits from Home; John McCutcheon; June Appal Recordings; Lee Sexton; Lily Mae Ledford; Music performance; Performing music; Producing music; Production; Recording music; Tommy Bledsoe; Wade Mainer; Whoa Mule; Wry Straw

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Family--history; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians

00:05:15 - WMMT and South African music

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Partial Transcript: When you got involved in '89 with MMT, what was your title?

Segment Synopsis: Kirby shares how he began working with WMMT. Kirby describes how he started as a listener. After he made a trip to South Africa in 1986 he felt very inspired and intrigued by the prevalence of music in South African culture and activism, particularly in activism against apartheid. Kirby also mentions noticing how the structures of apartheid were highly prevalent in both the South African music industry as well as South African music itself. Shortly after, Kirby, with Marty Newell's permission as Newell was the station manager of WMMT at the time, began a weekly WMMT radio program featuring South African music. This built up into an eventual radio series on South African music that featured the knowledge and narration of South African ethnomusicologists. The radio series was funded by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. While Kirby did not manage to secure funding for the South African music radio series from Appalshop the recording took place in Appalshop. After participating in a radio production workshop set up by Marty Newell featuring a couple of National Public Radio producers, Kirby became interested in radio production. In 1990 Kirby applied to be a producer at WMMT after Nancy Adams, the station manager following Marty Newell, who Kirby describes very favorably, left. Kirby was a producer at WMMT until around 2000. While he no longer does production or managerial work for WMMT he continued to be involved with WMMT throughout the years following.

Keywords: Biscuits and Gravy (Radio program); D.J.; DJ; Debbie Bays; Disc jockeys.; FM radio; Management; Marty Newell; Maxine Kenny; Mimi Pickering; Nancy Adams; Production; Radio management; Radio production; Seedtime; South Africa--Music; South African music; Tom Hansell; WMMT (Radio station)

Subjects: Apartheid.; Appalshop, Inc.; Ethnomusicology.; Folklore.; Music.; National Public Radio (U.S.); Political activists.; Political campaigns; Radio.; Virginia Foundation for the Humanities; WMMT-FM (Radio station : Whitesburg, Ky.)

00:14:23 - Recording in the loft of the Appalshop building

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Partial Transcript: But first, let's revisit the June Appal--

Segment Synopsis: Kirby describes "the loft", the second floor in the Appalshop building where recording used to take place. At present recording takes place in a different space, with only a part of the original loft remaining. Kirby describes the various features of the loft during the 1970s in detail. The loft has a studio and control room. Most of the June Appal records were recorded in this space but, as Kirby notes, not all. Kirby adds that the loft doubled as both a recording space and a social space for musicians and those who worked with music.

Keywords: Appalshop building; Banjos; Dulcimers; Fiddles; Instruments; John McCutcheon; June Appal Recordings; Little Kings (beer); Mandolins; Music production; Music--20th century--Anecdotes.; Nimrod Workman; Recording music; Recording studios; The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Music--20th century.; Music--21st century.; Music--Acoustics and physics.; Music.

GPS: Whitesburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.117778, -82.821111
00:20:50 - Early June Appal recordings

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Partial Transcript: Well, I wanna, uh, talk a bit more about some of these early June Appal recordings.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby shares his memories about the recording of June Appal 6, a record created by the Mountains Musicians Cooperative as a benefit for the Brown Lung Association, then known as the Carolina Brown Lung Association. The album focused on pro-union sentiments, particularly in relation to textile workers and textile unions. Kirby describes the recording of this album in Appalshop's loft during the 1970s as tumultuous simply because Kirby and his colleagues were learning how to record essentially as they were recording. Kirby remarks that they were not being paid as professional musicians, which likely contributed to this. June Appal 6 ended up being remastered so many, but not all, mistakes within the original recording were fixed. In addition, Kirby discusses how the loft was both a recording space and a social space. He mentions that there are many cassettes of recordings they created during this time period that never made it into finished albums.

Keywords: Activists; Dorsey Dixon; Duets; Guy Carawan; J. P. Fraley; June Appal 6: Mountain Musicians’ Cooperative; June Appal Recordings; Music production; Music--20th century--Anecdotes.; Political activism; Si Kahn; Textile--United States.; Textiles.; Tommy Bledsoe; Unions; Unions, Labor; Workers' unions; “Babies in the Mills"

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--20th century.; Music--21st century.; Music--Acoustics and physics.; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians; Political activists.; Textile workers.

00:29:27 - Working with Lee Sexton and John Cohen / archiving music

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Partial Transcript: I think of, in that category of people who, who've really benefited from being recorded is Lee Sexton.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby discusses his relationship with Lee Sexton and John Cohen. Kirby talks about how Lee Sexton learned to play from Morgan Sexton, his uncle, who hadn't played live until 1987. Morgan Sexton went on to win a National Heritage Award. Kirby emphasizes the importance of transparency, trust, and commitment to community and people over money and describes this as part of the Appalshop ethos. Kirby also talks about how until recent computer technology it was difficult to record and archive music. Kirby states that prior to the advent of more advanced recording technology they only archived '1/10th of 1%' of what they should have.

Keywords: Archiving; Banjos; Buck Maggard; Cultural appropriation; Doug Dorsig; Fiddles; John Cohen; June Appal Recordings; Lee Sexton; Lee Sexton Band; Loyalty; Morgan Sexton; Music archiving; National Heritage Award; Producing music; Production; Recording music; Seedtime; WMMT (Radio station)

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Music.; Musicians

00:37:46 - South Africa

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Partial Transcript: Let's step away from the June Appal stuff and now talk a little more about MMT.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby details how he was able to visit South Africa. He describes how several of his friends helped him to make musical connections in Johannesburg, South Africa during 1986. At the time there were a wave of Apartheid-related protests and South African music was becoming increasingly political. Kirby compares the political climate in South Africa at that time to Mississippi during 1963. Kirby talks about how he was fascinated by the street art, street music, and choral music in Johannesburg as well as their political dimensions. After sharing some stories about his time in South Africa, Kirby discusses how his visits there affected his politics. He mentions a volume of essays on colonialism in Appalachia he contributed to titled 'Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case'.

Keywords: Activism; Activist music; Botswana; Choral music; Civil rights--Africa, Southern.; Graceland; Helen Lewis; Johannesburg, South Africa; Michael Appleby; Monica Appleby; Music industry; Paul Simon; Political activism; River Farm; Street art; Street music

Subjects: Apartheid.; Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Civil rights--America.; Civil rights.; Music.; Political activists.; South Africa.

00:47:11 - Nans'impi / Jim Webb and WMMT

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Partial Transcript: I was asking you a question about your South African show. I just think that's so great. And I'm wondering what the name of the show was and how long it ran on MMT.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby shares more details about his South African radio show. The show ran for six years. Kirby named the show after Nans'impi, a song by the South African band Juluka. Kirby discusses his listeners as well as politics taking place during the airing of Nans'impi. Kirby discusses how WMMT had a habit of airing many different genres of music, thanks to Jim Webb's commitment to play 'a little of everything'. Kirby elaborates on some of WMMT's other programming including Jim Webb's new age music program. Kirby also elaborates on the parallel he found between early Appalshop and post-Apartheid radio stations in South Africa.

Keywords: Bluegrass; Bluegrass Express Live; Class; Community radio; Eula Hall; Gary Ricks; Jim Webb; Juluka; Management; Maxine Kenny; Mud Creek Clinic; Nans’impi; Nelson Mandela; Radio production; Radio recording; Sharing music; Social class; Socioeconomic class; Soweto (South Africa); Vernon Sanders; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Bluegrass music.; Ethnomusicology.; Music.; New Age music.; Radio.; Regional music; South Africa.; WMMT-FM (Radio station : Whitesburg, Ky.); World music.

01:05:25 - WMMT's mission during the 1980s / war on coal during 2010

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Partial Transcript: Y, you talk about Jim Webb's mission to like, uh--about programming. Um, how, how mission-driven did, uh--was MMT, and how common, uh, was that mission among the, you know, sometimes up sixty or so volunteers who were working there?

Segment Synopsis: Kirby discusses how mission-driven WMMT was during the 1980s. According to Kirby it was casual and not codified. During the 1980s local people felt wary of dealing with local issues, such as coal, on radio or television broadcasts. Kirby describes he and others at WMMT as simply responding to that relative lack of conversation and the tension that lack of conversation created. Kirby also discusses the 'War on Coal' years later during 2010 and local reactions to that.

Keywords: Appalachian Mountains--Social conditions.; Censorship; Coal miners--Appalachian Region.; Haven King; Herb E. Smith; Jim Webb; King Daddy (Radio personality); Labor unions; Local news media; Political activism; Political demonstration; Protest; Publicity; Radio production; Recording; Sylvia Ryerson; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Unions; Worker’s unions

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Coal miners.; Coal.; Miners.; Political activists.; Radio.; WMMT-FM (Radio station : Whitesburg, Ky.); West Virginia.

01:24:42 - Kirby's work at WMMT outside of Nans'impi

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Partial Transcript: Um, I, I wanna know, uh, some of the shows you worked on over the years. Um, and uh, of course we were talking about your South African show but there have been many, and then, um, independent from news shows what, what what other music programming did you host over the, over years? What shows come, uh, to mind?

Segment Synopsis: Kirby details his managerial duties at WMMT during the 1980s and beyond. Kirby discusses radio management and grant writing, as well as other duties he attended to over the years for WMMT.

Keywords: Anne Lewis; Buck Maggard; Community; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Grants; Jim Webb; Maxine Kenny; Mountains; Tom Hansell; Transistors; Volunteers

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Radio--Equipment and supplies; Radio.; WMMT-FM (Radio station : Whitesburg, Ky.)

01:32:04 - WMMT and local news

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Partial Transcript: I wanna think about news a little bit with you, cause that, like to me that's one of those most intriguing roles of MMT.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby explains the frustration and lack of resources WMMT faced in reporting on local news. He describes some of the local news topics they covered over the years, including issues and abuses surrounding forestry and coal mining.

Keywords: Camp Branch (Letcher Co.); Chip mills; Forestry; Frustration; Horse logging; Lack of resources; Logging; Management; Maxine Kenny; Mills; Neutrality; News; Office of Surface Mining; Politics.; Radio management; Radio production; Radio programming; Station managing

Subjects: Appalachian Mountains--Social conditions.; Appalshop, Inc.; Coal miners--Appalachian Region.; Coal miners.; Coal.; Miners.; Political activists.; Radio.; WMMT-FM (Radio station : Whitesburg, Ky.)

01:37:08 - Challenges faced by Appalshop during the 1980s and 1990s / Appalshop’s role in culture

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Partial Transcript: I'm curious to hear you reflect on major trends you saw in Appalshop as a place over that time.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby explains that Appalshop has grown quite a bit over the years. He compares Appalshop's growth to that of a person. He notes that compromises were made that did not satisfy everybody. Kirby also reflects on the changes Appalshop has undergone in terms of community and Appalshop’s role in the divide between Appalachian culture and mainstream culture.

Keywords: Board meetings; Collective; Collectivism; Community; Compromise; Culture; Democratic process; Growth; Lee Sexton; Mainstream culture; Unanimous voting; Voting

Subjects: Appalachian Mountains--Social conditions.; Appalshop, Inc.; Political activists.