Music was always around. Not just on the radio but family playing and singing.
Following is a snapshot in time of my Mother’s family from the late 50’s until the mid 60’s. These recordings are from a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder that they used at that time. I still have that machine but it is full of dirt-dobber nests and decades of crud. The tapes were in similarly poor condition and several broke during transfer, some more than once. It is clear that some had been used repeatedly for years. After my grandparents passed away and things were being “dealt” with, fortunately these tapes came my way. I held on to them thinking I would get the original tape machine back online but that surpassed both my technical and attention abilities. I finally bought a “newer” tape machine off the “Bay” and then set about transferring the tapes to digital in my home studio.
These are presented as a look into my family’s history. I recognize that this will not be of particular interest to most, but it occurred to me that other family members and friends might also be curious about these tapes, and the best way to share would be to post online. So, I came up with the creative domain name “TheRyeTapes” and set to work. Some of the audio is hard to hear through the noise and degradation but it presents a look into the world that I came from.
The combination of singing and faith that my family and others had during this time, created a unique atmosphere. There was little else to compete for time and attention compared to today. Work, faith and music were the pillars of life.
Some of my earliest memories are of family, music and church. At the time, I just thought everyone grew up like that. I remember long drives from far away on holidays to Maw maw’s and Pap paw’s house at Mill Creek in Russellville, AR. The big landmark was the giant Razorback sign hanging on the bluff near Atkins along Interstate 40. That meant we were almost there.
Soon everyone would be sitting around talking, singing and laughing with the smell of good food in the air, feeling safe and excited about being there.
While I was immersed in the moment and lived it fully, I regret not fully taking advantage of all the knowledge, talent and culture. I don’t think I was mature enough to understand it in those terms. What I took away was absorbed into my thoughts, feelings, perceptions…me.
I admit I was surprised to hear songs by Hank Williams and others that I never thought of as “Church-Like” artists, although the songs are clearly songs of faith and hope.
I also didn’t appreciate the contemporary nature of the music I was hearing. While I think of my parents and their siblings as being of the “Beatles” era, they were not. That was more of their early adulthood years. Similar to me growing up listening to music from the 70’s and 80’s and then as a young parent in the 90’s. Completely different sound in the 90’s than from the arena rock of the 70’s.
While the musical instruments are not always clear in these recordings, I had to smile at some of the playing. I was hearing some twang with double-stops as well as some fancy piano playing. I even recognized some boogie-woogie in some of the songs.
I also recognized some harmonies that could have come from any classic black & white movie of the times.
Not only did my family sing and play, they were good.
The other thing that fascinates me is the concept of “singings”. These were held periodically, sometimes twice a month on the first and third Sundays. Folks came and sang. Everyone got up and sang. Some were rehearsed and others just did it because they felt it. While I remember some of these first-hand from my youth, they didn’t persist in general and by the time I was in Jr. High and High school, these were things of ancient history. However, in listening to the singings on the tapes, they remind me a little of the blues jams I’ve attended in my later life.
It is clear that all of these experiences have influenced not only me but my sister and cousins as well. Now their children are singing and playing and the tradition continues. I see the occasional post on social media of them gathered in someone’s home singing and enjoying family. My two kids are musical and have played in times past and I encourage them to resurrect those skills and keep them alive. Now that there are grandchildren (well one right now) around, it is my hope and desire that laughter, music and the smell of good food are memories from time spent with my wife (Ju Ju) and me (Dude).
Photos of the Rye Family from 1950 and 1998 both at the Church in Flat Rock, AR that was pioneered by Rev. AC Rye. Click photos for larger images.