We are saddened to learn of the death of bluegrass legend Dave Evans on Sunday, June 25, 2017. He was sixty-five. Revisit Lee Johnson’s story about Evans from our Fall 2013 issue.
Not long after my friend Pete and I met, he asked if I wanted to go with him to East Kentucky for Dave Evans’s sixtieth birthday party. I didn’t recognize the name at first, but from what Pete told me about the man, it sounded like it would be a great opportunity to play music and really learn from a master.
Every state in the South has contributed to the grand narrative of American music, but few can match Tennessee’s deep roots in the blues and jazz, gospel, soul and r&b, rockabilly, rock & roll, and country—or its tremendous concentration of historic record labels and music industry visionaries.
Maybe the least expected of the factors that went into making ska in those years, and the one many would argue that most nearly approached it in sound, leading most directly to its birth, came not from Jamaica at all, or even from the Caribbean, but from West Tennessee, and more specifically from South Memphis, and more specifically than that, from the band called the Beale Streeters, and most specifically of all from the right hand of their pianist and sometime singer-songwriter, a Memphis native named Rosco Gordon.
I was twenty-three and had been working at WDIA for one year, as long as the station had been on the air. Unexpectedly, Bert asked me to move a little closer to him on the seat. I edged over and waited but he didn’t speak. After a long moment he whispered, just loud enough for me to hear, “What do you think of programming for Negro people?”