Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Alice Gerrard, April 12, 2007

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

 

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00:00:01 - Exposure to music during her childhood

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Partial Transcript: I'm Penny Parsons and we're here with Alice Gerrard, one of the, uh, founding pioneers of, um, women in bluegrass and traditional music.

Segment Synopsis: Alice Gerrard is introduced. She talks about her experiences growing up in Washington and California. She talks about her parents' and other family members' connections to music and her exposure to classical music in her home as a child.

Keywords: Aunts; Bluegrass music; Brothers; California; Choirs; Churches; Classical musicians; Country music; England; Entertainment; Family; Farming; Fathers; Fun; Grandfathers; Mothers; Musical sensibility; Oakland (Calif.); Parents; Piano lessons; Radio shows; Seattle (Wash.); Singing; Symphony Sisters Quartet (Artist); Touring; Tours; Washington

Subjects: Childhood; Communities in music; Music--Instruction and study.; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical ability in children.; Musical families; Musical performance; Musicians

GPS: Oakland (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.804444, -122.270833
00:07:01 - Music scene at Antioch College and Washington, D.C. in the 1950s

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Partial Transcript: Uh, it wasn't really until I got to--well, when I was in--when we lived in Oakland, I went to Oakland Tech High School.

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about becoming interested in different types of music in high school. She talks about her experience at Antioch College and her introduction to bluegrass and folk music. She talks about how she became involved with the bluegrass music scene, her move to Washington, D.C. and her introduction to the music scene there. She talks about forming relationships with musicians and describes their parties. She talks about her marriage to Jeremy Foster.

Keywords: 1950s; Baltimore (Md.); Banjos; Bobby Osborne (Artist); Busby, Buzz (Artist); Buzz Busby (Artist); Clooney, Rosemary (Artist); Co-op jobs; Come On TO My House (Song); Concerts; Country Gentlemen, the (Artist); Country music parks; Davis, Ray (Artist); Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Duffey, John (Artist); Europe; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Foster, Jeremy (Artist); Gigs; Gladden, Texas (Artist); Gray, Tom (Artist); Guitars; Hazel Dickens (Artist); High schools; Hippies; Hobart Smith (Artist); Jeremy Foster (Artist); John Duffey (Artist); Kuykendall, Pete (Artist); Learning; Married; Meeting; Mike Seeger (Artist); Misfits; Music scene; Old time music; One Morning in May (Song); Osborne, Bobby (Artist); Parties; Pete Kuykendall (Artist); Playing music; Popular music; Radio shows; Ralph Rinzler (Artist); Ray Davis (Artist); Rinzler, Ralph (Artist); Rosemary Clooney (Artist); Seeger, Mike (Artist); Shows; Smith, Hobart (Artist); Texas Gladden (Artist); The Country Gentlemen (Artist); Tom Gray (Artist); Unitarian churches; Washington, D.C.; Youth groups

Subjects: Antioch College.; Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; College campuses.; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Conduct of life.; College students--Social conditions; College students--Social networks; Communities in music; Folk music.; Folk songs.; Music--Instruction and study.; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Musicians; Universities and colleges.; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Antioch College
Map Coordinates: 39.7999, -83.888
00:18:11 - Bluegrass bands beginning to play on college campuses

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Partial Transcript: And then, uh--so then Jeremy was drafted.

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about how bluegrass bands began playing at college campuses. She describes the crowds they played for, recording the shows, and their booking. She talks about continuing to build relationships with musicians. She talks about the death of her husband Jeremy Foster in a car accident.

Keywords: Audio recording; Bluegrass bands; Booking; Car accidents; Carnivals; Children; Concerts; Connections; Death; Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Family; Foster, Jeremy (Artist); Friendships; Gigs; Hazel Dickens (Artist); Houses; Jenkins, Kenny (Actor); Jeremy Foster (Artist); Jobs; Kenny Jenkins (Actor); Killed; Live recording; Mike Seeger (Artist); Military draft; Moving; Music recording; New Jersey; Oberlin College; Osborne Brothers (Artist); Osborne, Sonny (Artist); Picnics; Promoting; Relationships; Seeger, Mike (Artist); Shows; Sonny Osborne (Artist); Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, the (Artist); Sunset Park; Taping; The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys (Artist); WWVA (Radio station); Washington, D.C.

Subjects: Antioch College.; Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; College campuses.; College environment; College students--Attitudes.; College students--Conduct of life.; College students--Social conditions; Communities in music; Families.; Folk music.; Folk songs.; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Musicians; Universities and colleges.; Washington (D.C.)

GPS: Antioch College
Map Coordinates: 39.7999, -83.888
00:31:10 - Starting to perform with Hazel Dickens

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Partial Transcript: When did you actually start to perform together?

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about how she began performing as a duo with Hazel Dickens. She talks about their early shows and recordings. She talks about the other musicians who accompanied them on certain recordings, where they got their material, and the labels they recorded for.

Keywords: Audio recording; Baltimore (Md.); Bars; Bass players; Bassists; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass bands; Children; Chubby Wise (Artist); Concerts; David Grisman (Artist); Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Fairfax Bar and Grill (Venue); Folkways Records; Gigs; Greer, Lamar (Artist); Grisman, David (Artist); Hazel Dickens (Artist); Lamar Greer (Artist); Mike Seeger (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Morgan, Tom; Music recording; Old time music; Parties; Peter Siegel; Producers; Record labels; Recording sessions; Recording studios; Seeger, Mike (Artist); Shows; Siegel, Peter; Singing; Sporadic; The Famous (Venue); Tom Morgan; Unitarian churches; Venues; Verve Folkways Records; Wise, Chubby (Artist)

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Folk music.; Folk songs.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Old-time music.; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Women bluegrass musicians.

00:38:06 - Touring in the South and activism

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Partial Transcript: So, um--and somewhere during this time in the late sixties--mid to late sixties we met up with woman named Anne Romaine...

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about meeting civil rights activist Anne Romaine and how she and Hazel became involved with a musical tour through the southern states. She talks about the other acts on the tour, including many African American bands and women musicians. She talks more about their songwriting, and about playing at benefit shows and strikes.

Keywords: African American musicians; Anne Romaine; Atlanta (Ga.); Benefit shows; Bernice Reagon (Artist); Boggs, Moran Lee "Dock" (Artist); Coal mining; Community centers; Duets; Duos; Holcomb, Roscoe (Artist); Material; Money; Moran Lee "Dock" Boggs (Artist); Payment; Reagon, Bernice (Artist); Romaine, Anne; Roscoe Holcomb (Artist); Rounder Records; Salary; Songs; Songwriting; Strikes; Sweet Honey in the Rock (Artist); Touring; Tours; Traditional music; Travel; Venues; Wages; Whiskey; Women musicians

Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Civil rights movements--United States; Communities in music; Folk music.; Folk songs.; Integration; Music festivals.; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance; Musicians; Old-time music.; Politics and government; Race discrimination.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing; United States--Race relations.

00:46:14 - Songwriting and recording

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Partial Transcript: And w--but we started writing songs because our c, our consciousness was definitely getting raised, you know, by being and, and talking to people who were--

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about how she became more conscious of issues surrounding civil rights and women's issues while on the tour through the South. She talks about how this affected her own songwriting as well as Hazel Dickens'. She discusses where they got the material that they did not write themselves. She talks about their recording experiences, the albums they recorded, and the labels they recorded on.

Keywords: Albums; Arhoolie Records; Audio recording; Bluegrass bands; Blues; Carter Family (Artist); Coal mining; Consciousness; Cotton, Elizabeth (Artist); Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Duets; Duos; Elizabeth Cotton (Artist); Greer, Lamar (Artist); Harry Smith Anthology Of American Folk Music; Hazel & Alice (Album); Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard (Album); Hazel Dickens (Artist); Lamar Greer (Artist); Married; Material; Mike Seeger (Artist); Modified duets; Music recording; Musical development; Musical styles; Original songs; Recording sessions; Recording studios; Records; Rounder Records; Schwarz, Tracy (Artist); Seeger, Mike (Artist); Smith, Trixie (Artist); Song arrangements; Songs; Songwriters; Songwriting; Strange Creek Singers (Artist); Touring; Tours; Tracy Schwarz (Artist); Traditional music; Trixie Smith (Artist); Variety; Who's That Knocking? (Song); Won't You Come And Sing For Me? (Song)

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Folk music.; Folk songs.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance; Musicians; Old-time music.; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing

00:54:43 - Bands after splitting with Hazel

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Partial Transcript: And then after you and Mike got married you played music more with him--

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about her career after breaking up the duo she had formed with Hazel Dickens. She talks about working with her second husband Mike Seeger, the Harmony Sisters, and her current band Tom, Brad, and Alice.

Keywords: Albums; Audio recording; Booking; Brad Leftwich (Artist); Copper Creek Records; Current band; Harmonies; Harmonizing; Harmony Sisters (Artist); Herman, Irene (Artist); Irene Herman (Artist); Japan; Jeannie McCleary (Artist); Leftwich, Brad (Artist); Married; McCleary, Jeannie (Artist); Mike Seeger (Artist); Music recording; Ola Belle Reed (Artist); Old time music; Pitch; Recipes; Recording sessions; Reed, Ola Belle (Artist); Sauber, Tom (Artist); Seeger, Mike (Artist); Singing; Song arrangements; Tom Sauber (Artist); Tom, Brad, and Alice (Artist); Touring; Tours; Vocal range; Vocals; West Coast; Women musicians

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance; Old-time music.; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Travel.

01:03:29 - National Endowment for the Arts grants

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Partial Transcript: Um, but the other thing too is that, you know, all through this whole time when I was playing music it was not just bluegrass music that I was interested in...

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about applying for NEA grants, including one for an apprenticeship with fiddle player Kenny Baker as well as one to make a documentary about traditional musician Tommy Jarrell.

Keywords: Apprenticeships; Baker, Kenny (Artist); Blank, Les (Cinematographer); Bluegrass music; Cece Conway (Director); Conway, Cece (Director); Fathers; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Film; Folklorists; Galax (Va.); Grants; Jarrell, Tommy (Artist); Kenny Baker (Artist); Learning; Les Blank (Cinematographer); Old time music; Sprout Wings and Fly (Documentary); Tommy Jarrell (Artist); Traditional music; Traditional musicians

Subjects: Bluegrass musicians; Documentary films--Production and direction.; Documentary films.; Ethnographic films.; Filmed interviews.; Musicians; National Endowment for the Arts.; Old-time music.

GPS: Galax (Va.)
Map Coordinates: 36.664675, -80.920275
01:07:54 - "Old Time Herald" and other bluegrass and old time music newsletters

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Partial Transcript: And then I moved to Galax.

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about playing music and the community surrounding bluegrass and old time music. She talks about the development of the idea to create a newsletter for the old time music community, and the later development of the Old Time Herald, inspired by the Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. She talks about learning how to create and distribute the magazine as she went through the process. She talks about the funding and other administrative aspects of the Old Time Herald. She talks about the Herald's connection to MerleFest, why she quit working for the Old Time Herald, and briefly talks about her grandchildren's interest in music.

Keywords: 1987; Administration; Advertisements; Advisory boards; Andy Cahan (Artist); Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson (Artist); Arts Council; Assistants; Audio recording; B. Townes (Artist); Blue Ridge Music Association; Bluegrass Unlimited (Magazine); Bluegrass music; Booking; Business; Cahan, Andy (Artist); Charles Wolf (Artist); Children; Computers; Concerts; Conferences; Dances; Dave Freeman (Artist); Death; Diane Simms (Artist); Discussions; Eldridge Montgomery (Artist); Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Finances; Freeman, Dave (Artist); Friends; Future; Galax (Va.); Generations; Gigs; Grandchildren; Grandkids; Grants; Harmony Sisters (Artist); James Lindsey (Artist); Kuykendall, Pete (Artist); Learning; Lindsey, James (Artist); Magazines; MerleFest; Money; Montgomery, Eldridge (Artist); Moore, Roddy (Artist); Moving; Music recording; Newsletters; Non-profit organizations; Offices; Old Time Herald (Magazine); Old time music; Organization; Osborne, Sonny (Artist); Otis Burris & Fortune (Artist); Pete Kuykendall (Artist); Playing; Playing music; Publishing; Quarterly magazines; Quitting; Rec

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Communities in music; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance; Old-time music.; Publishers and publishing.; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing

GPS: Galax (Va.)
Map Coordinates: 36.664675, -80.920275
01:34:27 - Recent projects

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Partial Transcript: So you--what, what are some of the projects you've worked on musically since you--

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about working on a solo recording. She talks about some of the other artists she has been working with recently, talks more about songwriting, and discusses an author friend who was inspired by one of her songs.

Keywords: Agate Hill (Song); Albums; Audio recording; Authors; Ballads; Bluegrass music; Bob Carlin (Artist); Books; Calling Me Home: Songs of Love and Loss (Album); Carlin, Bob (Artist); Copper Creek Records; Country music; Country western; Gail Gillespie (Artist); Gillespie, Gail (Artist); Goldsmith, Tommy (Artist); Herald Angels (Artist); Influences; Lee Smith (Author); Material; Music recording; Musical styles; Old Time Herald (Magazine); Old time music; On Agate Hill (Book); Original material; Original songs; Pieces of My Heart (Album); Readings; Recording sessions; Sandomirsky, Sharon (Artist); Sharon Sandomirsky (Artist); Smith, Lee (Author); Solo recording; Songs; Songwriting; The Road to Agate Hill: Music from Southwest Virginia and Beyond (Album); Tommy Goldsmith (Artist); Writers

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Old-time music.; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing

01:43:32 - Inspiration for songwriting

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Partial Transcript: Well let's talk some more about some of your other songs that you've written.

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks more about songwriting, talking specifically about where she found the inspiration for some of her songs. She talks about the origins of the songs "Jeweled Heart," "Quiero Decir Gracias," Calling Me Home," and "Sky Over Michigan."

Keywords: Agate Hill (Song); Audio recording; Bill Monroe (Artist); Break ups; Calling Me Home (Song); Childhood; Craft, Paul (Artist); Death; Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Expectations; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Galax (Va.); Grandmothers; Greeting cards; Hazel Dickens (Artist); Horses; Immigration; Influences; Inspiration; Jeweled Heart (Song); Lines; Memories; Methods; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Mothers; Moving; Music recording; Nashville (Tenn.); Paul Craft (Artist); Personal experiences; Quiero Decir Gracias (Song); Ranches; Recording sessions; Relationships; Resonating; Sky Over Michigan (Song); Songs; Songwriters; Songwriting; Television; Universal experiences

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing

GPS: Nashville (Tenn.)
Map Coordinates: 36.166667, -86.783333
01:55:03 - Experiences as a female musician

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Partial Transcript: Well Alice, talk some about, um, what it was like as a woman in this bluegrass and traditional music scene as you came up and how things have changed over the years.

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard discusses her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field. She talks about the treatment she and Hazel Dickens received and why she believes they were treated differently than other women like Gloria Belle. She talks about her experience of being a single mother and the difficulty of finding people to watch her children while she toured. She talks about how she became aware of the women's liberation movement, and women's interest when she and Hazel Dickens performed.

Keywords: Accents; Assertive; Atmosphere; Attitudes; Awareness; Babysitters; Baltimore (Md.); Band members; Bill Monroe (Artist); Childcare; Children; Consciousness-raising; Country people; Crowds; Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Don't Put Her Down You Helped Put Her There (Song); Employment; Encouraging; Family; Finding Her Voice (Book); Flickinger, Gloria Belle (Artist); Gloria Belle Flickinger (Artist); Hazel Dickens (Artist); Hippies; Issues; Kids; Kuykendall, Pete (Artist); Male-dominated; Mama's Gonna Stay (Song); Man's world; Men; Mike Seeger (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Mothers; Moving; Obstacles; Pete Kuykendall (Artist); Pioneers; Problems; Professional; Pushy; Reactions; Responsibilities; Seeger, Mike (Artist); Single moms; Single mothers; Single parents; Songs; Songwriting; Standing ovations; Sunset Park; The Custom-Made Woman Blues (Song); Treatment; Unconscious; Women musicians; Women's liberation; Working

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music audiences; Music fans.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Old-time music.; Sex discrimination against women; Women bluegrass musicians.

02:11:44 - Comparisons between bluegrass and old time music

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Partial Transcript: Well Alice let's talk some about, um, the distinction between bluegrass music and old time music and the similarities and differences...

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard discusses the similarities and differences between bluegrass and old time music. She talks about the instruments as well as vocals. She discusses how each genre has changed over time due to technology and experimentation. She talks about the differences between each genre's fans, and the commercialization of each genre.

Keywords: "Hillbilly"; Albums; Appeal; Attitudes; Bluegrass festivals; Bluegrass music; Breaks; CDs; Clawhammer banjo style; Commercialized; Connections; Dances; Definitions; Differences; Distinctions; Earl Scruggs (Artist); Experimentation; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Highwood String Band (Artist); Hotmud Family (Artist); Instrumentals; International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA); Learning; Macon, Uncle Dave (Artist); Making a living; Mothers; Musical styles; Old Time Herald (Magazine); Old time music; Participants; Perceptions; Personal influences; Reviews; Scruggs style (banjo); Scruggs, Earl (Artist); Similarities; Singing; Stereotypes; Technology; Traditional music; Uncle Dave Macon (Artist); Urban; Vocals; Women musicians; market

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music audiences; Music business; Music fans.; Music--Economic aspects.; Music--Instruction and study.; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance; Old-time music.

02:26:59 - Younger versus older generations in old time music

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Partial Transcript: Well you know it seems like some of these old time--or similar to old time music-playing bands are becoming popular with younger people.

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard talks about the recent trend of younger people becoming interested in old time music. She talks about the differences between the older generation's traditionalists and the younger musicians' experimentation. She talks about the media's impact on the genre.

Keywords: Appalachian String Band Music Festival; Attitudes; Bluegrass music; Bob Dylan (Artist); Boggs, Moran Lee "Dock" (Artist); Changes; Classics; Clifftop (W. Va.); Competition; Cycles; Dylan, Bob (Artist); Experimentation; Future; Generations; Impact; Interest; Lasting effects; Media; MerleFest; Modern; Moran Lee "Dock" Boggs (Artist); Movements; Music festivals; New; Newport Folk Festival; O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Motion picture); Old Time Herald (Magazine); Old time music; Older generations; Older people; Original material; Original music; Portland (Ore.); Punk bands; Representation; Songcatcher (Motion picture); Technology; The Wilders (Artist); Traditionalists; Young musicians; Young people

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music audiences; Music fans.; Music--Performance.; Music--Social aspects.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Old-time music.

GPS: Appalachian String Band Music Festival, Clifftop (W. Va.)
Map Coordinates: 38.004167, -80.943889
02:36:30 - Future plans

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Partial Transcript: So what's next for you Alice?

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard discusses her immediate upcoming plans in regard to her music career. She talks about why she has not been touring lately.

Keywords: Audio recording; Bluegrass music; Book readings; Brad Leftwich (Artist); England; Future; Grandchildren; Grandsons; Ireland; Laurie Lewis (Artist); Lee Smith (Author); Leftwich, Brad (Artist); Lewis, Laurie (Artist); Music camps; Music festivals; Music recording; Recording sessions; Sauber, Tom (Artist); Smith, Lee (Author); Summers; Teaching; Tom Sauber (Artist); Tom, Brad, and Alice (Artist); Touring; Tours

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Instruction and study.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Records.; Sound recordings.; Sound--Recording and reproducing

02:40:28 - Advice for young female musicians / co-writing songs / her influence on other musicians

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, what advice would you give young women entering into this music?

Segment Synopsis: Gerrard gives advice for future women musicians in the bluegrass and old time music genres. She talks about the difficulty of making a living as an old time musician. She talks about the songs she co-wrote with Hazel Dickens. She discuses her influence on The Judds. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Advice; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Bruce Phillips (Artist); Co-writing; Collaboration; Commercialism; Concerts; Connections; Credit; Day jobs; Dickens, Hazel (Artist); Emmylou Harris (Artist); Gabriel's Call (Song); Harris, Emmylou (Artist); Hazel & Alice (Album); Hazel Dickens (Artist); Home-based music; Influences; Judd, Naomi (Artist); Laurie Lewis (Artist); Lewis, Laurie (Artist); Making a living; Markets; Mindsets; Money; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Naomi Judd (Artist); Old time music; Payment; Phillips, Bruce (Artist); Playing music; Professional; Records; Salary; Songwriting; The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia (Song); The Judds (Artist); The One I Love Is Gone (Song); Verses; Wages; Women musicians; Young musicians; Young women

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music business; Music--Economic aspects.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Musicians; Old-time music.; Women bluegrass musicians.