Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Herschel Sizemore, November 7, 2010

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


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00:00:00 - Early musical life and influences

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Partial Transcript: Hello, I'm John Rossbach, and I made my living as a full time bluegrass and old time musician for about 30 years.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore discusses his family background and upbringing in Alabama. One of his musical influences was his mother, who was a guitarist. Another musical influence was the Grand Ole Opry. He describes playing in a square dancing band as a child. He identifies Bill Monroe as his influence for learning bluegrass music. He describes meeting and interacting with Flatt and Scruggs.

Keywords: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Flatt, Lester (Artist); Hillbilly music; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Scruggs, Earl; Scruggs, Earl (Artist)

Subjects: Banjo; Banjo music (Bluegrass); Banjoists; Bluegrass music; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Dixie Gentlemen; Double bass; Double bass music (Bluegrass); Foggy Mountain Boys; Grand ole opry (Radio program); Guitar; Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.); Mandolin; Mandolin music (Bluegrass); Mandolinists; Musical meter and rhythm; Old-time music; Square dancing; Tone color (Music); Violin; Yarbrough, Rual

00:14:34 - Dixie Gentlemen

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about, uh, your work with Rual Yarbrough.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore recalls forming a band with Rual Yarbrough called Dixie Gentlemen and discusses some of his experiences with the band.

Keywords: Banjo players; Banjos; Clements, Vassar (Artist); Country Gentlemen, the (Artist); Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Hillbilly music; Record labels; Rual Yarbrough (Artist); The Country Gentlemen (Artist); Vassar Clements (Artist); Yarbrough, Rual (Artist)

Subjects: Banjo; Banjo music (Bluegrass); Banjoists; Bluegrass music; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Dixie Gentlemen; Music--Performance.; Old-time music; Violin; Yarbrough, Rual

00:19:44 - Playing with Jimmy Martin, the Shenandoah Cut-Ups, Country Grass, Del McCoury, and more

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Partial Transcript: After the Dixie Gentlemen, you went with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, is that right?

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore describes his musical career after the Dixie Gentlemen, in which he first collaborated with Bobby Smith. He describes his experience with Smith until he met and spent two years with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys. The band over the years included Rual Yarbrough, Vassar Clements, Chris Warner, and Bill Yates. After Martin, he worked with John Palmer. Sizemore also mentions some well-known bluegrass players associated with Palmer. They played at the Wheeling Jamboree and other local places under the name Shenandoah Cut-Ups. After he left the band, he formed a group called Country Grass with Wesley Golding, Golding's father, and Tom McKinney. Sizemore wanted to make music that would actually sell. After this group, he went to work with Del McCoury's Dixie Pals. He discusses his role in the Dixie Pals' tour in Japan. In the early 1980s, the Shenandoah Cut-Ups got back together and in the late 1980s, Country Grass was put back together. Next, Sizemore joined the Bluegrass Cardinals. Sizemore also discusses the various group members in the band.

Keywords: Bobby Smith (Artist); Clements, Vassar (Artist); Del McCoury (Artist); Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Jerry McCoury (Artist); Jimmy Martin (Artist); Martin, Jimmy (Artist); McCoury, Del (Artist); Red Smiley (Artist); Ricky Skaggs (Artist); Robert Tanaka; Rual Yarbrough (Artist); Skaggs, Ricky (Artist); Smiley, Red (Artist); Smith, Bobby (Artist); Vassar Clements (Artist); Wes Golding (Artist); Wheeling Jamboree (Radio program); Yarbrough, Rual (Artist)

Subjects: Banjo; Banjo music (Bluegrass); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Boone Creek (Musical group); Boys from Shiloh (Musical group); Concerts; Country Grass (Musical group); Dixie Pals (Musical group); Double bass; Double bass music (Bluegrass); Edwards, Billy (Banjoist); Folk musicians; Guitar; Guitar music (Bluegrass); Hall, Larry; Mandolin; Mandolin music (Bluegrass); McCoury, Del, 1939-; McKinney, Tom; Miller, Sonny (Fiddler); Music--Performance; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Musicians; Old-time music; Palmer, John; Shenandoah Cut-Ups (Musical group); Sunny Mountain Boys; Tate, Fiddling "Tater"'; Violin; Warner, Chris (Banjoist); Yarbrough, Rual; Yates, Bill

00:36:03 - Solo projects

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Partial Transcript: Now, having gone through all these bands, this litany of greats and, uh, future greats that you played music with and influenced along the way, that set you up to where you had a respect and a loyalty from the greatest of the pickers and the musicians in a generation younger than you, uh, a number of recordings started coming out.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore discusses his first solo recording project. Sizemore also describes his second solo project, which occurred while he was with the Bluegrass Cardinals, called "Back in Business" and his third solo project called "My Style." Sizemore describes a song that was named after his mother, a song called "Train 45."

Keywords: Baucom, Terry (Artist); Bluegrass music; Bobby Hicks (Artist); Craig Smith (Artist); Dale Perry (Artist); David Parmley (Artist); Dynamics; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Hicks, Bobby (Artist); Jimmy Haley; John Palmer (Artist); Phrasing; Ron Stewart (Artist); Sonny Miller (Artist); Stewart, Ron (Artist); Terry Baucom (Artist); Tom McKinney (Artist); Tune

Subjects: Banjo; Banjo music (Bluegrass); Baucom, Terry; Bluegrass music; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Composition (Music); Double bass; Double bass music (Bluegrass); Guitar; Guitar music (Bluegrass); Haley, Jimmy; Hicks, Bobby; Instrumentation and orchestration; Mandolin; Mandolin music (Bluegrass); McKinney, Tom; Miller, Sonny (Fiddler); Music--Interpretation (Phrasing, dynamics, etc.); Music--Performance.; Musical meter and rhythm; Musical performance; Palmer, John; Parmley, David; Songs; Stewart, Ron (Musician); Violin

00:44:29 - "Tacoma" song / Musical influences

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Partial Transcript: You have a tune called "Tacoma" that comes to my mind, tell me about that.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore discusses a tune he wrote called "Tacoma." Sizemore considers some of the major influences on his music style.

Keywords: Admirable; Beginning; Benefits; Bluegrass music; Blues guitar; Bus; Colleges; Connected; Couch; Country boy; Creativity; Determined; End; Experimenting; Feelings; Finished; Fit; Generations; Hand-eye coordination; Hands; Hometown; Important; Impression; Intuition; Liked; Middle; Movies; Moving; Musical message; Musical notes; Natural; Places; Playing; Position; Precise; Reach; Sign; Solos; Style; Subconscious; Talent; Tunes; Upbringing; West Coast; Window

Subjects: Age; Big bands; Bluegrass Cardinals; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Discipline; Fingers; Guitars; Listening; Mandolin; Medford (Or.); Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Musicals; Musicians; Radio; Respect; Riggs, Don; Street musicians; Syncopation; Tacoma (Wash.); Technique; Texas Playboys; Thinking; Tour; Violinists; Winter; Wood

00:50:13 - Greatest musicians / Three quarter time in bluegrass

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Partial Transcript: Who are some great players of-of any genre that inspired you to play in that kind of manner?

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore considers some of the greatest musicians in bluegrass music. Sizemore emphasizes the importance of 3/4 time (also known as waltz time) in bluegrass music.

Keywords: 3/4 time; Assumptions; Bluegrass music; Dancing; Different; Drops; Emphasis; Family; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Fields; Forrester, Howdy (Artist); Guitars; Joyce's Waltz; Kenny Baker (Artist); Lesson; Lifts; Mandolin players; Mandolins; Martin, Benny (Artist); Martin, Jimmy (Artist); Monotone; Movement; Musical instruments; Musical notes; Playing; Rhythm; Simplistic; Timing; Tunes; Unprepared; Waiting; Waltz time; Wife; Words

Subjects: Atlanta Braves (Baseball team); Baseball; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Dynamics; Listening; Melody; Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Musicians; Sims, Benny; Singing; Speed; Students; Technique; Volume; Waltz

00:54:47 - Great fiddlers / Impact of horn players on bluegrass music

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Partial Transcript: Who are some of the, uh, the great fiddle players in your mind?

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore provides his opinion on the best fiddle players in bluegrass music. Sizemore considers the influence of horn players on bluegrass.

Keywords: Artie Shaw (Artist); Artie Shaw ending; Beautiful; Benny Goodman (Artist); Bluegrass music; Bobby Hicks (Artist); Busy; Chubby Wise (Artist); Clarinet players; Different; Double stops; Family; Feelings; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Form; Freestyle; Guitar players; Hand-eye coordination; Influence; Interesting; Kenny Baker (Artist); Learning device; Liked; Magazines; Mandolin players; Martin, Benny (Artist); Open-minded; Playing; Pretty; Progressive Jazz; Realization; Reasons; Rifts; Ron Stewart (Artist); Scruggs, Earl (Artist); Style; Subconscious; Tunes; Unaware; Variety

Subjects: Analysis; Artie Shaw Orchestra; Big bands; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Books; Creative; Friend; Good; Gordon, Terry; Horn players; Jazz; Lines; Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Musicians; Names; Reading; Sims, Benny; Teaching; Technique; Tone; Unique; Work

01:00:35 - Influence of rock 'n' roll on bluegrass / Stories of friends in the bluegrass scene

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Partial Transcript: Herschel, when you were in your prime and you had developed your technique, I'd say between 1950 and '54, where you were really woodshedding and coming up with a style of your own that was technically surpassing most of your peers at that point.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore discusses the influence of rock music on bluegrass. Sizemore recalls that Bill Monroe began to have trouble booking performances, despite Elvis Presley idolizing him. Sizemore helped Monroe book performance dates. He tells a story of interacting with Flatt and Scruggs.

Keywords: Banjos; Bluegrass music; Concerts; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Foggy Mountain Boys (Artist); Lester Flatt (Artist); Mandolin players; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Musical skills; Scruggs, Earl (Artist)

Subjects: Banjo music (Bluegrass); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Guitar; Guitar music (Bluegrass); Mandolin; Mandolin music (Bluegrass); Music--Performance; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Rock groups; Rock music; Rock music--1961-1970; Rock musicians; Technique; Tuning; Violin

01:07:04 - Musical influences and musical values

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, I admire anybody who plays in good tune.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore says he was influenced musically by Sonny Osborne, Benny Martin, Ron Stewart, Aubrey Haynie, and Stuart Duncan. He states that music should influence someone emotionally and not be played to show off musical technique. He discusses various opinions about his musical career, including how he tried to balance work and family life. Sizemore also explains how he developed business acumen and his musical values.

Keywords: Aubrey Haynie (Artist); Banjos; Bluegrass music; Concerts; Duncan, Stuart (Artist); Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Mandolin players; Martin, Benny (Artist); Musical skills; Ron Stewart (Artist); Scruggs, Earl (Artist); Sonny Osborne (Artist)

Subjects: Banjo music (Bluegrass); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Business; Critique; Families; God; Mandolin; Mandolin music (Bluegrass); Music--Performance; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Technique; Tuning; Values; Violin

01:24:10 - Advice for young musicians

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Partial Transcript: Do you have any advice for young musicians?

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore's advice for young musicians is to take it seriously and be respectful of the music. Sizemore also encourages young bluegrass musicians to dress professionally at performances.

Keywords: Audience; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Blues; Clothing; Decent; Dress; Effort; Guitar players; Jeans; Jimmy Martin (Artist); Lighthearted; Mandolin players; Mandolins; Musical styles; Presentable; Purchase; Rhythm; Serious; Talen; Tennis shoes; Timbre; Traditional; Watching

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Composers.; Guitar; Guitar music (Bluegrass); Guitarists; Haley, Jimmy; Landers, Jake; Legacy; Lyricists; Mandolin; Mandolin music (Bluegrass); Music--Interpretation (Phrasing, dynamics, etc.); Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Musicians; Respect; Rubato; Singers; Thinking; Tickets; Tone color (Music); Tremolo

01:26:03 - Favorite bluegrass songwriters / Favorite bluegrass vocalists

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Partial Transcript: Writing material is a really essential part of good bluegrass music. Who are your favorite songwriters in bluegrass?

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore lists some of his favorite bluegrass songwriters and vocalists.

Keywords: Alan O'Bryant (Artist); Appealing; Appreciative; Authentic; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Boundaries; Dressing room; Effort; Great; Influences; Jimmy Martin (Artist); Lester Flatt (Artist); Limits; Mandolin players; Mandolins; Meaning; Never satisfied; Playing; Pretty; Real; Ronnie Bowman (Artist); Songwriters; Stories; Substance; Talent; Tim O'Brien (Artist); Visit; Vocalists (Singers)

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Confidence; Fiction; Landers, Jake; Melody; Mountains; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Osborne, Bobby; People; Pitch; Sincerity; Songs; Williams, Paul

01:29:50 - Timing in bluegrass music

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Partial Transcript: An essential element of bluegrass music is timing.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore considers the importance of timing in bluegrass music.

Keywords: Abilities; Accents; Adjustment; Angle; Approaches; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Chop; Dale Perry (Artist); Different; Emulate; Feeling; Great; Guitar players; Lester Flatt (Artist); Mandolin players; Mandolins; Metronymic; Playing; Same; Strengths; Style; Talent; Tasteful; Timing; Versatile

Subjects: Best; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; People; Snare drum; Travel

01:34:28 - Bill Monroe

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Partial Transcript: And I've heard you off-stage or off the mic play a lot of stuff that shows you really knew his music. You understood what made it tick.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore explains how influential Bill Monroe was on the development of his mandolin playing style.

Keywords: Appreciative; Approach; Approaches; Basics; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Blues; Confusing; Dedication; Deserving; Different; Early work; Efficient; Emulate; Enjoyed; Erratic; Evident; Faster; First; Gospel music; Guitar players; Instinct; Knew; Mandolin players; Mandolins; Mind; Outros; Pace; Practice; Rational; Rhythm; Right hand; Slow; Straight; Stroke; Style; Tasteful; Today; Tool; Tune; Tunes; Unaware; Uncomfortable; Useful

Subjects: Art; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Credit; Hearing; Introductions; Life; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Respect; Role models; Students; Thinking; Young

01:39:50 - Pitch in bluegrass / Starting to play mandolin

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Partial Transcript: Talk about different keys.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore illustrates the importance of musical keys and pitch in bluegrass music. Sizemore also recalls how he began to play the mandolin and develop his skills as a mandolin player.

Keywords: Acoustic instruments; Advantage; Adventurous; Arrangers; Bad; Baseball pitcher; Beautiful; Better; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Charlie Waller (Artist); Clean; Clear; Different; Distinct; Early; Effective; Effort; Emphasis; Family; Flashy; High; Improvements; Mandolin makers; Mandolin pick; Mandolin players; Mandolins; Misconceptions; Musical key; Natural; No distractions; No help; Pick angle; Playing; Practice; Price increase; Quality; Range; Realization; Results; Rhythm; Sets; Similar; Singer; Slow; Sound; Start; Strings; Talent; Teenager; Thin tone; Timing; Unaffordable; Unnatural; Untrue; Versatile; Violins; Vocals; Voice level

Subjects: Ability; Aging; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Career; Change; Cost; Discipline; Emotions; Expression; Hearing; Light; Listening; Money; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Mythology; Notes; Old-time music; Pitch; Play; Prices; Recognition; Role models; Singing; Taste; Technique; Time; Tone; Tools; Voice; Work; Work ethic; Young

01:48:09 - Best bluegrass entertainers

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Partial Transcript: In your, uh, observation of the musical greats along the years, who was the--who are the best entertainers? The ones who could take their music and really get it across to people.

Segment Synopsis: Sizemore highlights some of the bluegrass musicians with the best stage presence.

Keywords: Appearance; At ease; Audience; Bluegrass bands; Bluegrass music; Comfortable; Confusing; Control; Corny; Different; Enjoyed; Entertaining; Fast; Fun; Funny; Hum; Lessons; Lester Flatt (Artist); Mac Wiseman (Artist); Mistake; Natural; Performers; Playing; Reactions; Slow; Stage approach; Stage presence; Teenager; Tunes; Watching; Whistle; Young people

Subjects: Atmosphere; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Change; Dynamics; Entertainers; Example; Learning; Memory; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Old-time music; People; Smile; Society; Songs; Tempo; Tennessee