James Reams, Walter Hensley & The Barons of Bluegrass
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Walter Hensley is a cult figure in bluegrass. Born in Virginia, in 1936, he grew up as did James in eastern Kentucky (Pike County) when his father moved the family there for work in the coal camps. He learned to play along with his brother and by 1952 was playing on the radio in Pikesville. A few years later Walter moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and became a central figure in the bluegrass scene there, a place and time that was the epicenter of the bluegrass world from the mid 50s through the 60s. Along with Walter, such luminaries as Earl Taylor, Red Allen, Buzz Busby and Del McCoury frequented the clubs and informal jams throughout the city.Read More...
Walter went on to play with Earl Taylor and the Stony Mountain Boys along with Charlie Waller as lead vocalist. The band recorded on the seminal Folkways recording Mountain Music Bluegrass Style (FA2318, released 1959). That recording became the mother lode for urban folkies smitten with the genre. It also led to folklorist Alan Lomax’s well-known pronouncement of bluegrass as “folk music with overdrive.” The famous 1959 Carnegie Hall appearance (a first for bluegrass) followed. Walter also performed with another important band of the period, Vernon McIntyre’s Appalachian Grass, and later formed and recorded with his own fine band, The Dukes of Bluegrass. Appropriately, author and music historian Richard Smith called Walter “one of the underrated greats of the 5-string.”
James Reams is writing a similar legacy by using his commanding yet unaffected rich baritone voice to spread the power of the music of his native Kentucky to wider audiences, first in the northeast U.S. and now beyond. James was raised on a farm in London, Kentucky. His father’s band played at square dances, and he in turn encouraged James’ musical talents. James has a broad knowledge of both bluegrass and old time music and can play both with authority. This familiarity with old time and bluegrass gives James’ music a depth and feel not found in many other musicians. With his bluegrass band the Barnstormers, James is building an impressive repertoire and following. Moreover his respect for history and tradition is clear not only in his performing and material but even more dramatically by reaching out to people like Walter Hensley and giving him an audience again after a couple decades of relative silence.