How did The Oriskany Strings get started?
Music has been a part of my life since I can remember. I
love to sing and play musical instruments. I always sang
in the church and school choirs when I was a kid and teenager,
and my family always sang and played together. When I attended
Mary Washington College during the 1960s, I sang and played
in a folk group with two other women..
The idea for The Oriskany Strings came when in 1997 my
husband and I moved from San Diego, California to my father's
homeplace in Surber, Virginia, in the Allegheny Mountains.
I started attending a beautiful little white country church
in nearby Oriskany, which my father and grandfather attended
way back when. That's the church in the background of my
photo. So I started asking around to find out if there were
any others who wanted to get together and play music. I
first discovered that our neighbor Gene Guilliams
could sing and play guitar, but he told me he never played
in public. After lots of pestering, I finally got him to
start playing and singing with me. I also sang with another
neighbor, Rita Parady, who has such a wonderful voice.
I found out her husband Dick Parady played the banjo,
old-time clawhammer style. So we all started playing together,
at first just around the campfire, and then we began to
sing at church some. Dick happened to have an old Appalachian
autoharp, and Rita decided to learn to play it. She has
so much musical talent, she picked it up quickly and now
plays beautifully. Then word spread and others started asking
us to play at their churches.
How did you arrive at the idea
of recording the Live at the Rex Theater albums?
We performed live at the historic
Rex Theater in Galax, Virginia on January 7, 2005. It was
quite a thrill for us because it was our first major gig
in that we performed for two-hours to not only a very large
theater audience, but to a very large radio audience (WBRF
98.1 FM). Our show was a musical history of Oriskany and
we played some original songs written by Rita Parady
and James Christian. The audience was very warm and
enthusiastic. We asked the sound engineer to create CD for
us so we could critique our performance. My husband, Jack
Lewis, thought the CDs sounded great and came up with
the idea that we could use them to create CD masters. Jack
is very good at reworking digital audio and has all the
necessary computer tools. So he applied his magic touch
and created two CD albums - one for each hour of our show.
He has the entire show divided into tracks, but he removed
the normal 2 second delay between tracks so when an album
is played, it sounds just like we did when we were on stage.
We came up with the title "Live at the Rex Theater"
to honor this wonderful little historic theater in Galax,
How did your husband get involved with the band?
Well, that is a very fascinating story. Jack is a scientist
and engineer who always said he had no musical talent and
didn't particularly care for our kind of music. So when
we would practice, he would close the doors and go back
to his den and work on his computer. Then one day I sang
him the song "Rose Of My Heart" (which is on all
of our albums) and it made him cry. Jack always loved my
sixties folk music and he said this song made him realize
just how good our band had become. I told Jack we needed
a bass player, but he just shook his head and said he could
add a virtual bass player to our sound tracks with his computer.
He found out that meant he had to learn music theory and
practice notes on some instrument. After experimenting a
while with a guitar (which he said killed his fingers) he
got on the web and started searching for a bass fiddle.
His search led him to a washtub bass that could actually
make musical notes. So in March of 2004 Jack, who does everything
with a fever, practiced, practiced and practiced until he
felt he could play with us. (I'm still in shock.)
How did you arrive at the idea of recording the Mostly
When we first got started, every time we would perform,
people kept asking us if we had a CD or tape of our music
for sale. When Jack got involved with the band, he started
recording our music and made us CDs for our families and
friends. But when Jack started playing in the band, it was
difficult for him to also record our music and play at the
same time. So we decided to record some of our music in
a studio. Gene thought we should create a CD that emphasized
our country gospel music. Everyone agreed, but Jack felt
we just had to add "Rose Of My Heart" since it
is such a favorite (especially of his). So we came up with
the title "Mostly Gospel" for our first album.
I understand many of your fans have said you sound like
The Chuck Wagon Gang. Was that intentional?
No it was not intentional. In fact, when we were first
told this, I really didn't know who The Chuck Wagon Gang
was and had to look them up on the internet. Of course it
was great to find out that they got started back in the
1930s. And it feels good to know that there is another band
out there trying to keep the old-time country gospel music
alive. It's music for your soul.
Can we expect other albums from The Oriskany Strings?
Oh yes! Now that James Christian is playing and
singing regularly with us and is such a great song writer,
we are planning on creating an album that features all of
James' songs. Many people have asked us for copies of songs
James wrote, so we think the album will be a big hit.