Five Points in Memory of Our Friend, Jody Rainwater
By Art Menius, December 27, 2011
Original publication on www.artmenius.com
Official obituary appended at end and updates at 2:20 PM eastern 12/27/2011, 9:15 AM 12/28/2011
You’ll find a link to the Richmond Times-Dispatch obituary here
Facebook has become an electronic commons of sorts for the roots music community. It is where we learn first information – often incorrect – first. Thus it was there that I saw on Boxing Day morning that Charlie Rainwater had posted Christmas night “Last night, just before Christmas Eve became Christmas Day, Dad quietly slipped away and went to celebrate his Savior’s birthday in heaven. There can be no greater Christmas than the one he’s experienced today. I would appreciate your prayers for my Mom and my family.” The visitation will be in Crewe, Virginia on Tuesday, December 27 and the funeral there on Wednesday, December 28, 2011.
Her dad, Jody Rainwater (Charles Johnson), 92, was the bass player, comedian, publicist, and booking agent for Flatt & Scruggs through their classic years 1949-1952, long time radio personality in on WSVS in Crewe, Virginia, and a truly fine person I considered a friend for nearly 30 years. If Facebook or even just the web had existed when Hank, Senior was still alive, Jody might have stayed with the Foggy Mountain Boys until they broke up.
You see, Jody’s original association with the band was as booking and advertising agent. Since he was funny, having three years on stage comic experience since getting home from WWII service in the Marines, Lester and Earl started using him as a comedian on the radio and on weekend shows. When original Foggy Mountain Boy bassman Cedric Rainwater (Howard Watts) joined Hank, Senior’s Drifting Cowboys, Jody took the gig.
And that is when Jody moved into the fast lane. Ultimately, the pace was more than he could maintain. Besides lining up venues himself or accepting offers from promoters and schools, Jody also had to do the advance promotion work. So besides playing their radio shows and gigs, Jody would go out ahead, postering for their upcoming gigs and using party line phones for promotion too.
Jody used to tell an amazing story about advancing shows in Harlan County, Kentucky and recalling a song warning not to get caught out in Harlan after dark. I wish I could remember it.
In any case, Jody was living what we would now call an unsustainable lifestyle. Eating “tube steaks” (hot dogs) and sleeping in the passenger seat takes a tremendous toll on a musicians’ body. Jody had substantial additional travel and work above the regular band member. It may have been one of the best gigs in country music fifty years ago, but the schedule was a killer.
If they had electronic media such as Facebook and Twitter back then, Jody would not have been driving to Harlan County, Kentucky to put up fliers than trying to make it back over Black Mountain and through the Holston and Clinch River valleys back to Bristol. The multifaceted job with Lester and Earl might have been manageable with today’s Internet-based tools. By the middle of 1952, however, it had all become too much for Jody. With the road seemingly stretching ahead forever and success just meaning doing more the same grueling routine, he had to make the sad choice so many bluegrass musicians have made in the half-century since – to leave the finest ensemble he would ever be a part of.
Thus the first thing on my mind with Jody’s passing is that he was a reminder of the sacrifices the first generation bluegrass musicians made. They accepted a hard, dangerous way of make a living to avoid others in the mines, farms, and cotton mills. While we think of them today as the giants upon whose shoulders we stand, sixty years ago they heard more frequently, as Mac Wiseman once reminded me, “Hey, boy, when are you going to get a real job?”
Jody, like the educated Tex Logan, was one of the first to get off the merry-go-round of radio, road, show, and road, three years before TV and Elvis would decimate it.
The second point is how I got to know Jody during the early 1980s when Foggy Mountain Boy reunion shows were a popular feature at festivals in North Carolina. Promoters, especially John Maness with and without Carlton Haney, would book Curly Sechler (one of the few first generation survivors now along with Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, Jesse McReynolds, Mac Martin, Jim Shumate, Mac Wiseman, Sonny & Bobby Osborne, Melvin Goins, Little Roy Lewis, and Les Woodie) with Willis Spears and the Nashville Grass, plus Shumate, Josh Graves, Chubby Wise, Jody Rainwater, Jake Tullock, Joe Stuart, or Jim Eanes and non-Foggy Mountain Boy veterans such as Kenny Baker, Eddy Adcock, or Goins Brothers. That would provide a pretty good package at a reasonable price especially with Kenny Ingram on banjo and Johnny Warren on fiddle for Curley.
For example, and if the exact lineup did not happen, it came pretty close at Carlton’s old Blue Grass Park in Camp Springs during its last gasps at faded glory in the 1980s:
Noon – Chubby Wise
1:15 PM: Josh & Kenny
2:00 PM: Jim Eanes
2:45 PM Goins Brothers
3:30 PM Curley, Willis, and Nashville Grass
4:15 PM: Adcock
5:00 PM Supper Break – Kathaleen’s (sic) Kitchen
6:00 PM: Chubby Wise
6:45 PM: Josh & Kenny with Hylo Brown and Jake Tullock
7:30 PM Goins Brothers
8:15 PM: Foggy Mountain Boys Reunion – Curley, Willis & Nashville Grass with Jody, Shumate, Josh, Chubby, Hylo, and Jim
9:45 PM: Adcock
To have been on the stage where “Blue Grass Music, Country Soul” was filmed, to be at the eventual home of the “original” Labor Day weekend festival meant a tremendous amount to me even at thirty. The Camp Springs revival featured a couple of successful festivals and some very special memories for me learning from Carlton and less loquacious pioneers. During the best of the Camp Springs revivals Marty Stuart – on the cusp of country stardom – came with Curly and the Saturday crowd reached 1500 to maybe as much as 2000. I recall sitting with Charlie Rainwater and Little Marney drinking beers and watching Josh and Kenny on stage and listening to stories of life on the road with Lester best not repeated here.
For a couple of Labor Days the old Blue Grass Park, neglect and all, at least presented an approximation of the when it was The Bluegrass Festival 15 years before. The campgrounds offered enough picking and sufficient occupancy rate to resemble the last of how it used to be.
By the end of the 1980s the Camp Springs revival came apart and with it Carlton’s last substantial efforts at promoting festivals. First, MerleFest displaced the spring Camp Springs (always the weak sister to Labor Day) as the season opening event and quickly established itself as the new standard for the 1990s rather than a poignant memory of 1970. Then, with far better facilities into which he had invested heavily, Carlton’s latter-day partner John Maness wanted to produce the Labor Day event at Bass Mountain Music Park 30 miles to the south.
Another day I’ll tell you all about the Addams Family house like clutter of Carlton’s house at Blue Grass Park and Carlton’s Festival of Electronic Reproduction. This story is about Jody Rainwater.
Despite his relatively short tenure, Jody participated in five different recording dates for Flatt & Scruggs. October 20, 1950 in Tampa produced 12 sides including “Doin’ My Time,” “Pike County Breakdown,” “Preachin’, Prayin’, Singin’,” “Rollin’ in my Sweet Baby’s Arms,” “Salty Dog Blues,” and “Take Me In Your Lifeboat.” A month later the same band, assembled at the Castle Studio in Nashville’s Tulane Hotel to cut another half dozen, among them “Head Over Heels in Love With You,” “The Old Hometown,” “We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore,” and “I’ll Stay Around.” All of Jody’s remaining Flatt & Scruggs sessions would take place there beginning with May 9, 1951 when Ev Lilly joined them to wax “Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy” and “Don’t Get Above You’re Raisin’.” Howdy Forrester replaced Wise on fiddle for an October 24, 1951 session that produced “”Tis Sweet to be Remembered,” “Earl’s Breakdown,” “I’m Lonesome and Blue,” and “Get in Line, Brother.” Sechler returned and Benny Martin fiddled on Jody’s final sessions from November 9, 1952 when the band’s efforts included “If I Should Wander Back Tonight,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” and “Dear Old Dixie.”
Look at all the classics that we still play today. Jody Rainwater participated in a remarkable slice of bluegrass music’s recorded heritage. That is the third thing I want to remember. The fourth is how important Jody was in the development of bluegrass comedy. Far too little attention is paid these days to this once vital component of the bluegrass stage show. Again, I count myself lucky to have witnessed Jody, Jake, Josh, Slim Mims, Whitey & Hogan, and Melvin Goins’ Shedhouse Trio recreating it. We’ll not see its like in the future.
The fifth, final and most important point about Jody Rainwater is the kind of person he was. Jody radiated joy and good spirits. He was open and welcoming at times when bluegrass music badly needed those assets, especially during the inward focused retrenchment of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Jody Rainwater was always glad to see you with a genuine version of the smile that sold so many comedy routines on stage. His voice could convey those feelings as well, which is why he succeeded as a radio personality for so long. Mac was the “Voice with a Heart,” but Jody was the heart with a voice. Jody knew that the most effective way for him to witness for Christ was just to be the positive person he was, to demonstrate his bliss for all to see.
Jody Rainwater was my friend. He was your friend, too, even if you never met him.
Official Obituary thanks to Penny Parsons
JODY RAINWATER – April 13, 1919 – December 24, 2011
Charles Edward Johnson, a.k.a. Jody Rainwater, passed away in his sleep on the evening of Saturday, December 24, 2011, following a lengthy illness. He was 92.
Jody was born on April 13, 1919 near Mount Airy, North Carolina. He began his musical career in 1936, on WMFR radio in High Point. After serving in the Marines during World War II, Jody teamed with Woody Hauser in the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys, at WTOB in Winston Salem. There, Jody began to hone his skills as a comedian, adapting the stage name, “Little Jody.” He also played mandolin and did all of the booking for the band. In 1948, he joined Smokey Graves & the Blue Star Boys at WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia.
In the fall of 1949, Jody joined Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in Lexington, Kentucky, as their booking agent. He soon began doing comedy routines with the band, and when Cedric Rainwater left the Foggy Mountain Boys in the summer of 1950, Jody took over as bass player and bass singer. Jody made his first recordings with the Foggy Mountain Boys in October of 1950. Just a month later they were in Nashville for their first Columbia session, which included Jody’s original song, “I’m Waiting to Hear You Call Me Darling.” Their two sessions in 1951 produced fourteen songs. Jody sang the bass vocal part on the three gospel quartets: “I’m Working on a Road,” “Get in Line Brother,” and “Brother, I’m Getting Ready to Go.”
Jody remained with Flatt & Scruggs until June of 1952. His communication and business skills made him a natural for radio work, and he settled at WSVS-AM in Crewe, Virginia, near Richmond. Jody was the station’s morning disc jockey for almost 20 years, playing country and bluegrass music. He was one of the station’s most popular air personalities ever. Jody also continued to play music on the side for many years with his band, The Jamboree Gang.
During his time at WSVS, Jody often brought bands into the station to perform live, and was responsible for Flatt & Scruggs spending about five months based at WSVS in 1954. Jody also promoted concerts, and he served as emcee for these and for other concerts in the Richmond area, and later at bluegrass festivals around the southeast. After leaving WSVS in 1971, Jody worked at various radio stations around Virginia and North Carolina until his retirement in 1984.
In recent years, Jody again became involved at WSVS radio, as a consultant, mentor, and elder statesman. He was inducted into the Virginia Folk Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000, and was honored by the IBMA with a Distinguished Achievement Award in 2009.
Jody is survived by his wife, Emma, daughters Pat Johnson and Charlie Rainwater, son Ronald L. Gallagher, eleven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by sons Jerry M. Johnson and Robert T. Gallagher, both in 2004.
Visitation will be on Tuesday, December 27 at 6:00 PM and funeral will be on Wednesday, December 28 at 1:00 PM, both at Jennings-McMillian Funeral Home, 200 W. Carolina Avenue, Crewe, VA. Following the service, burial will be at Trinity Memorial Gardens in Rice, VA.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorial donations be made to: The Virginia Museum of Radio Entertainment (VMRE), PO Box 47, Crewe, VA 23930. A special fund has been set up in Jody’s memory to support the Museum’s educational programs in area schools. The VMRE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Very nice work Art. Thanks for the tribute & the information.
Corrections and updates posted at 2:20 PM Eastern on Tuesday. Thanks to Penny Parsons for the info