Martha White Bakes Up Right

I had never heard of bluegrass music until 1974 when my brother Andy took me to Kings Row, a neighborhood bar featuring nightly performances by ‘The Appalachian Grass’.   Andy was taking banjo lessons at the time and wanted me to convert my classical violin training to bluegrass fiddling.  I listened to Paul Warren kick-off the Martha White Theme on Flatt and Scruggs Carnegie Hall album. I listened and listened.  I didn’t get it.  It wasn’t written in music notation; I couldn’t play it if it wasn’t written down.  Andy slowed the record down to half speed and I listened and listened again. I still didn’t get it.  So much for my career as a bluegrass fiddler.

Vernon McIntyre played banjo with the Appalachian Grass.  He was excellent.  As ignorant as I was about bluegrass, Vernon’s fierce concentration and almost frantic attack on his banjo captivated me.  I was too shy at the time to speak to him or any other band members; in my eyes, they were ‘bigger-than-life stars’.

I moved away from Cincinnati and lost track of Vernon McIntyre and of the Appalachian Grass for several years. During this time, Vernon started playing guitar instead of banjo and became lead singer in the band. He kept picking and singing for nightclubs, festivals, colleges, fairs, and private parties all across the U.S. and Canada. He built a good reputation as a banjoist, guitarist, singer, and all-round entertainer. I still hadn’t met the man and I still couldn’t play the Martha White Theme.

In 1981, I settled back in Cincinnati and Andy finally introduced me to Vernon and the rest of the band. Vernon asked Andy for my phone number, but Andy said, ‘Lord, no, you’re not going out with my sister!’ Andy was then called out of town on business, so I grabbed the opportunity and I gave Vernon the number.

We spent a lot of time together that summer, and finally, I started learning some bluegrass fiddle. Vernon can’t play a fiddle; anyone who has heard him will testify to that. But, he can hear how it should be played. He spent hours singing melodies for me, showing me notes on the guitar and helping me find them on the fiddle. He encouraged me and told me I could get really good someday. I thought he was nuts. But, I had already made up my mind I wanted to be with him and wanted to be part of the band and the travelling. So I kept plugging away learning the play the fiddle.

My first show with the Appalachian Grass was in 1983. I was terrified. My knees were knocking and my fingers started shaking; I could barely play what little stuff I did know. All the guys in the band were very patient and supportive and for that I thank them all.

Vernon’s lifelong love and my new-found love of bluegrass have totally changed the course of my life. Through bluegrass music, I found Vernon who is now my husband; I have been encouraged to try things and think about things I never tried or thought about before; I have met people who have welcomed me into their homes and fed me like one of their own even though I had never met them before. After a childhood in the suburbs, I finally discovered the joy of biscuits and gravy, fried ‘taters, and Martha White cornbread.