Wednesday, November 20, 2013

RIP Czech singing legend Pavel Bobek

Pavel Bobek at the gala Prague concert in 2012 celebrating his 75th birthday

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Sad news in the Czech music world....the singing legend Pavel Bobek died in Prague today (Nov. 20). He was 76, and had been in declining health for some time.

I got to know his music -- and him, a little -- in recent years as he performed frequently with Druha Trava and with Lubos Malina, who also produced Bobek's last CDs. Last year, he was inducted into the Czech popular music award "Andel"'s hall of fame.

Bobek got his start in the late 50s/early 60s as  the Communist era's "Mister Rock and Roll," and also became a star in the Czech country scene. He had big hits with covers of American songs by Kris Kristofferson, Jon Denver, Bruce Springsteen and more -- like this Buddy Holly cover, very early on.

Another early clip -- a Czech version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down"

And here he sings another of his big hits -- a Czech version of Springsteen's "My Home Town." The video sets it against the bleakness of a Czech Communist-era "panel house" apartment complex...

Bobek's duet with DT's Robert Krestan of "Jeste Neni Tma," Robert's Czech version of Bob Dylan's "It's Not Dark Yet"  from the 2007 Dylanovky CD, is one of my favorites. Here they are, performing it in 2010 during a concert  in Prague.

As I wrote at the time, the concert was very poignant, as his health problems were evident even then, three years ago -- but the packed audience gave him thunderous applause.

Last year, I attended a gala concert marking his 75th birthday. Again, it was a very poignant, very moving experience, as he appeared very frail onstage. Again, he performed for a full, enthusiastic audience.

Another Czech singing legend, Karel Gott, joined Bobek on stage at the birthday concert.

I have to close with Bobek's Czech version of "Country Roads"....

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bulgaria's Lilly Drumeva reports on her Fulbright work researching bluegrass in the US

I've posted several times about Lilly Drumeva, the Bulgarian singer and instrumentalist who founded and anchors the Bulgarian country/bluegrass group Lilly of the West, and who is in the United States for five months on a Fulbright scholarship to study bluegrass music and the bluegrass music industry. (The video above shows here on the Viva! NashVegas® Radio Show.

Lilly has just posted her own report of her recent research and activities -- and with her permission I am reposting it here. She's been busy!

Her research is to result in a book on the history, industry and social contexts of bluegrass music.

Here's her report (updated from Nov. 3)

Since August 2013 I have been working in the US as a Fulbright scholar, researching the history and industry of country and bluegrass music. I have read a number of books and conducted around 50 interviews with music professionals, asking questions such as: Why do you like country/bluegrass music? What is so special/exciting about it? What are the songs about? How did you get involved? What is the future of these genres in a digital world? When I return to Bulgaria I am going to write a book on the subject in Bulgarian language. A summary of it and a survey in English will be published in several European magazines and internet blogs.

August: I spent it mainly in Bowling Green, KY at Western Kentucky University (WKU), where I researched the history of bluegrass music. I worked closely with Prof. Erika Brady, at the Department of Folk Studies. I studied many books from the extensive library collection and had informal conversations with faculty professors and fellow students.

My research also involved traveling to Owensboro, KY, visiting the International Bluegrass Museum and of course the birthplace of Bill Monroe. I had memorable meetings with Gabrielle Gray (museum director) and RaShe Jennings (curator of collections). Gabrielle offered me an amazing hospitality and we discussed future collaborations.

I attended a small bluegrass festival in the town of Annetta, near Leitchfield as well as several jam sessions around Bowling Green. I was humbled by the attention I received by the local press and media including Radio TV and Newspaper. Here are some links to the interviews:

Live on WKU radio, hosted by Kevin Willis:
Article at the “Messenger Inquirer”:,

Article in the WKU Herald:
September and October were two busy months for me, spent mostly in Nashville!, TN It included many interesting meetings, conferences, music festivals and concerts while absorbing interesting material from books and magazines to further my research. I visited two States where I had not been before: North Carolina and Colorado.
Early September I moved from Bowling Green, KY to Nashville, TN where I established contact with my host institution, the International Bluegrass Music Association. At my hotel, the “Scarritt Bennett Center” I attended part of Darrell Scott’s songwriting seminar. Later in the same month, I watched his show together with Tim O’Brian at “3rd and Lindsley”, a renowned Nashville live music venue. I enjoyed an Italian lunch with my friend, singer/songwriter and teacher at Belmont University, Kathy Chiavola.

I attended two interesting jam sessions, at Andy Wyatt’s house (bluegrass) and Brian Christiansen’s “Fiddle house” shop (old time). I interviewed legendary fiddle player Buddy Speicher, who performed with some of the major country music stars in the 60s/70s. I attended also the “Grandmasters fiddle championship”, held at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where I spoke to the event manager Harold Harries.

Twice I watched shows at the Grand Old Opry, featuring Thompson Square, Craig Morgan, Love and Theft, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jim Lauderdale, The Whites and others. I had an interesting conversation/interview with Sharon, Sheryl and Buck White backstage, which was made possible through my friend Mike DeVillez.

My interview program continued with feedback from Don Cusic (professor at “Mike Curb College of Music”, writer of many country music books), Bart Herbison (Nashville Songwriter’s Association), Craig Havighurst (radio DJ “Music city roots” and IBMA board member), Jeff Walker (music industry professional, head of “Aristomedia”, CMA board member).

A real highlight in my career was when I was called to perform on stage with the Time Jumpers, a fantastic western-swing band, that featured Kenny Sears (fiddle), Paul Franklin (pedal steel guitar), Vince Gill (electric guitar and vocals) and other top notch musicians.

My live performances continued with a slot on the Viva Nash Vegas show, hosted by George Hamilton V at Handy Hardware Store in Franklin, TN.
Middle of September I attended the Americana Music Conference, which was held at the Sheraton hotel, Nashville with gigs in the famous music venues downtown. I was at the Ryman during the Americana awards ceremony and enjoyed performances by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Duane Eddy, John Fulbright, Holly Williams, Liza Marie Presley and others. I made friends with Texas singer/songwriter Kim Townsend and “Music row”, “Nashville Sports and Entertainment” journalist Steve Morley. I discovered a very talented singer/songwriter named Nora Jane Struthers, whose acoustic music really impressed me. Her voice reminds me of Natalie Mains’ of the Dixie Chicks.

Right after “Americana” I flew to Raleigh, North Carolina in order to attend the International Bluegrass Music Awards. I performed my original song “Turn away”, which was selected for the songwriters’ showcase; I teamed up with Japanese mandolin virtuoso Akira Otzuka for couple of showcases in the pubs. A memorable event was to meet the mayor of Raleigh, Nancy McFarlane. I conducted also several interviews with leading bluegrass music professionals: Ken Irwin (Rounder records), Fred Bartenstein (award winning author), Tom Gray (bass player of legendary band “Seldom scene”), Chris Jones (musician, songwriter and radio presenter) and many others.

I returned to Nashville early October and continued to meet and interview interesting people. Among them were: Paul Kingsbury (writer of the “Country Music Encyclopedia”, Country Music Hall of Fame), John Lomax III (music writer and music distributer, grandson of America’s first musicologist. John Lomax I), Don Light (legendary music agent, worked with Keith Whitley, Jimmy Buffett, Dailey & Vincent). I had interesting conversations with John Pannell (musician, writer, author of Alison Krauss’ early hits), and Russ Barenberg (acoustic guitarist and composer, part of the “Transatlantic sessions”).

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert of Irish singer Maura O’Connell at the Franklin Theatre, Franklin, TN in the company of my friend, Dobro player Al Goll. We attended also the famous “Music city roots show” at the Loveless barn, hosted by Jim Lauderdale, who also contributed to my research.

My work continued in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I stayed with my friends Carl Hammerdorfer and Kathy Lynch, who lead international programs at the Fort Collins State University. I focused on reading during the days. In the evenings I played music and enjoyed the company of local singers and musicians such as Barbara Clark (singer/songwriter) and Chat Fisher (mandolin). One of the musical evenings was dedicated to John Denver, one of Colorado’s most significant artists, writer of “Take me home country roads”. I performed live on the radio with Colorado bluegrass band “Lineage”, a program hosted by Vincent Burkhart.
I had a glimpse of the nightlife in Fort Collins, visiting the “Swing house” and watching local band “Bluegrama”. A highlight of my time in Colorado was the concert of Boston singer/songwriter Katie Curtis at Avo’s, Fort Collins.

Exhausted, but happy I returned to Nashville where I resumed my meetings and interviews. It was a real honor to meet Robert K. Oermann, a renowned music journalist (“Country Music Journal”), author of several books and documentaries. At lunch I talked to Kari Estin, an artist manager and consultant, who worked for many years with Tony Rice. I had an informative conversation with Mike Drudge, one of the leading bluegrass music agents, who shared some interesting inside stories. At dinner with IBMA’s director Nancy Cardwell I learned everything about the organization and preoperational work for its annual conference. A memorable day was my visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the meeting with its chief historian John Rumble. I interviewed Douglas Green (“Ranger Doug”, of the legendary western band “Riders in the sky”), who is also a renounced writer and scholar, lovely singer/songwriter Irene Kelly, who had a brand new album out.

I was invited back to perform on the Viva Nash Vegas show in Franklin, TN, where I interviewed George Hamilton IV (legendary country singer from the 60s/70s) and Kayton Roberts (steel player of country legend Hank Snow)

The Bulgarian community around Nashville organized a party in my honor on which I performed a mix of Bulgarian folk songs. Stella Antony, a moving spirit among the Bulgarian group, had prepared a delicious Bulgarian dinner. The night before, Stella treated me to a wonderful performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of being Ernest” at the Johnson Theater and to a memorable visit of President Andrew Jackson’s residence at the Hermitage. I spent also wonderful evenings with my friends Emmanuel & Suzan Lozanov and Alex & Susannah Petrunov who live around Nashville.

At the end of October I had lunch with Nashville musicians/songwriters Barry and Holly Tashian (The Remains, Emmylou Harris) and Nashville cat Scott Newbert (Hal Ketchum, Trace Adkins). I interviewed also Jeremy Garrett (top fiddle player and founder of the “Stringdusters”), Becky Buller (top fiddle player, singer and songwriter).

In November I had interesting meetings with award winning sound engineer Bill VornDick, renowned music journalists David Ross (Music Row), Peter Cooper (The Tennessean), IBMA board member Jon Weissberger, well known bluegrass festival MC Sam Jackson (Bean Blossom), editor of CMA’s trade magazine “Close up” Bob Dorschuk, legendary country music TV host and writer Hazel Smith and many others. I had the opportunity to visit legendary recording studios such as RCA Studio B (Elvis, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton), Ocean Ways (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw), Studio 19 (Tony Rice) as well as world famous music venues: The Ryman, The Station In, Robert’s, Tootsie’s and many others.

I watched the Country Music Association Awards live on ABC television in the company of my friend Maya Campbell. I attended also the CMA Christmas party, live at Bridgestone Arena, featuring top country music acts. Before the show I could network at the CMA International reception, meeting music country music professionals from around the world. I was delighted to talk to Bobbi Boyce (CMA’s international director), Bob Harris (BBC Radio 2), George Lang (RTL, France).

A Fulbright alumni meeting took place in Nashville as well, thanks to the efforts of Fulbright alumni Molly Chatterjee and Kathryn Skinner. I met interesting scholars from Finland, Germany, China, India and Bangladesh.
The second week in November I spent in Baltimore, Maryland where I continued with my research and worked closely with music promoters and close friends of mine: Archie & Priscilla Warnock (Delaware Valley Bluegrass Music Festival). I met and interviewed also award winning journalist Stephanie Ledgin and banjo player of the year Mike Munford.

All in all, a most memorable time. More on