In 1978, Senator Byrd’s
Capitol Hill offices were temporarily transformed into a recording studio. There, he played fiddle, while Doyle Lawson
played guitar, James Bailey played banjo, and Spider Gilliam played bass.
Doyle Lawson was living in Washington DC and playing with the band The Country Gentlemen, when
he was called to record with the Senator. Lawson described the recording
"So, we went
over to the Capitol Building, and was introduced to Senator Byrd. I was really surprised with how well he played
fiddle. He played with drive and
intensity, and he sang those old songs – Turkey in the Straw, Rye Whiskey, and all those old ones. He’d
sing with the same gusto and energy that he played.
"I was really surprised. I knew who Senator Byrd was, but I was not
really, you wouldn’t say I was into politics, where I paid much of attention.
As it turns out, at the time, he was Senator Majority Leader. We hit it off. He was open, and really
friendly, and open to suggestions."
"The group recorded 14 songs
for the album, “Mountain Fiddler.” In
addition to singing and playing, Senator Byrd introduced several of the songs
with stories of where he learned them.
“Mountain Fiddler” had been
out of print for years. County Records president Mark Freeman says there has been a
continuing interest in having it available on compact disc. According to Freeman, “a lot of people, a lot
of our customers, still have the vinyl, and they’ve asked us from time to time,
why don’t you release it on CD?”
Work to re-release the album
started last year and the CDs were ready for their scheduled September release. Following the Senator’s passing last
week, County Records responded to the many calls they were receiving by
releasing the album early.
Freeman is “delighted
that the album is out,” but he says, “we would have wished to release it while
he was still with us, and that was the original plan.”
Freeman hopes that through
this album, more people will gain an appreciation for the style of music the
“Hopefully it’s drawing a little more attention to bluegrass
and old-time communities. Maybe folks
who loved the Senator, but didn’t know much about the music he played. Maybe
they’ll be getting into for the first time, maybe say, “Hey, yeah, I like this
stuff, I can see why he likes it.”
The CD version of “Mountain Fiddler” was released last week on County Records and is available online.