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Episode 18 – High on a Mountain
[Ollabelle "Elijah Rock" excerpt - from TTRH "Bible"]
Ollabelle is Byron Isaacs, Tony Leone, Fiona McBain, Glenn Patscha and, as Dylan notes, Amy Helm, daughter of The Band's Levon Helm. The group originally grew out of an informal gathering of musicians who came together to play traditional gospel songs at a weekly jam at the East Village bar, 9C.
Ollabelle recorded their debut album in 2004 on spec at a local studio, and the project caught the ear of T Bone Burnett, a man was excellent musical taste, as Dylan says, and who released Ollabelle's self-titled album on his Sony-distributed DMZ label.
Ollabelle now has a second album out, Riverside Battle Songs, as pretty as the first, "a collection of songs of hard times, loss, compassion and hope," as Ollabelle member Fiona McBain describes. Riverside Battle Songs was produced by longtime Dylan sideman, Larry Campbell, and includes a cover of the bluegrass standard "High On A Mountain"—a song written by the band's namesake, Ola Belle Reed, a key inspiration in their formative days.
["High on a Mountain" excerpt]
The research for these podcasts always takes me down unexpected paths, this time from New York City to Grassy Creek, North Carolina. One of thirteen children, Ola Wave Campbell was born on August 17, 1916 in Grassy Creek. In 1936, Ola Belle began performing professionally as a member of the North Carolina Ridge Runners. In the mid `30s, music parks and picnic grounds were popular venues for bluegrass and country music each with a sizable audience and concession money to pay and feed the house band.
"Back home in the summertime we had carnivals - they were the main thing - and little parks," Ola Belle said in an interview. "They were so little that the few times the Ridge Runners played down there, we would be the only show there. I remember one time we came back on a Monday after playing one of these parks.... We played every half-hour all day till the park closed…"
In 1948, Ola Belle and her brother, Alex, teamed up and formed their own country music band, The New River Boys, and became a staple on the radio in the Pennsylvania and Maryland area. In addition to performing, the group sponsored many musical programs at a country music park called New River Ranch, near Rising Sun, Maryland. In 1960, the band transferred to Sunset Park, in West Grove, Pennsylvania, where the group built quite a reputation as one of the quintessential Country Music performance parks. and performed there for the 26 years, broadcasting their own Sunday radio program live from the park.
Ola Belle and Alex operated Campbell’s Corner, a general store in Oxford, Pennsylvania which, in addition to general merchandise and groceries, sold country and gospel records and was home base for their own radio show. And in 1949, Ola Belle married Ralph “Bud” Reed, another accomplished local area musical performer.
In 1978, the University of Maryland awarded her with an honorary doctorate of letters for her contributions to the arts and culture of Maryland and the United States. She was also recognized for her historical and musical contributions by The Smithsonian Institute, The Library of Congress and The Country Music Association.
Ola Belle suffered a stroke in 1987 and she was bed-ridden until her death on August 16, 2002. She passed away one day before her 86th birthday. Here's a short excerpt of an interview with Olla Belle, which includes a snippet from her signature song, "High on a Mountain."
[Ola Belle Reed - "High on a Mountain" excerpt]
And from Maryland to Woodstock. Hearing Amy Helm naturally made me wonder what's up with her father, Levon, and a quick search on the Web brought be to levonhelm.com and his Midnight Rambles, bimonthly concerts based on old-time Southern medicine shows held at Helm's barn and recording studio in Woodstock. A ticket to the show – if you can get one, the rest of 2006 is already sold out – is $100 bucks, includes chips, salsa and homemade cookies, and you'll hear anything from bluegrass to Springsteen covers from Levon and friends, which in the past have included Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, and Donald Fagen, among any others.
"Dress comfortably and bring a sweater just in case the Catskill air gets chilly, reads the Ramble invitation. We have seating, but if you have a favorite pillow for the floor, that's okay too. Guests are encouraged to bring snack and/or finger foods for the community snack table."
"Every show is a celebration," Helm notes on his web site. And it's a celebration I plan to go to as soon as I can. Expect Dreamtime to be remote podcasting from Woodstock in 2007.
This has been Fred Bals with occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. And to close out, we have a song from The January 06 Midnight Ramble, a freebie posted on levonhelm.com, if you want to go download your own copy. I wish more bands would do something that.
Sources: Ollabelle.net; Remembering Ola Belle Reed; The Women of Southern Songbirds; Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble