Left to right: Kenny Baker, Butch Robins, Bill Monroe,
Randy Davis, Wayne Lewis.
Photo by Jim Moss
Stories, & Interviews
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A extended interview with Wayne Lewis
conducted by Jim Moss 6-21-03: Part 1
I met Wayne when he came to San Francisco in the 1970's
with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.
Although I spent most of my time with Kenny Baker in this period, Wayne and I had
a chance to get to know each other when Baker and I would take him with us
when we visited some of the local daytime establishments. There are a lot of stories that
one could tell after hanging out with these two for awhile.
Like the time in Berkeley that Bill wanted to play
"My Last Days On Earth".
Bill asked Wayne to go get the mandolin as I remember, but they were on stage in
the middle of a performance. Wayne said to Bill, you can't play without a guitar, why don't
you send Jim Moss to get the mandolin? This was his specially tuned mandolin, remember.
Bill said, "No, I don't want David (Grisman) to get the tuning". As if, right?
Or the time that Bill had just broken up with Julia and
I came up and asked Bill, "How's Julia?".
Both Baker and Wayne hustled me aside to say "DON'T EVEN MENTION HER NAME",
" He is just getting over her", "Now he is going to be depressed again", "We have to live with him".
Now, I could understand being depressed, Julia was a bombshell.
There are lots of stories with Wayne. I think
Wayne made life on the road for Baker more fun
back then, as they were always coming up with some project or another. As I saw it, the band
would break up into sub-groups and go hang out together. Kenny Baker and Wayne were one of these
sub-groups. I can hear Wayne's voice now, "Baker... What are we going to do about..." and so on.
These guys were on the road so much that they seem to have developed good a sense of humor
to keep from going stir crazy. They would have me sneak things onto the bus while the Bill
was back stage. Hiding whiskey under the bunks for example. I knew at that point that being
a Bluegrass musician meant that you never had to grow up. That was for me. Now, some people
might think that by playing Bluegrass with Frank Wakefield that I have taken this to an extreme, but
I don't care. Bluegrass musicians will always have friends, fun and never really grow old.
As you will see, Wayne can be both serious and
funny. He talks in a straight forward and
well mannered fashion, not unlike Jack Hicks. Well, on with the interview.
You can meet Wayne for yourself as he is at this time
touring and will be in
Australia in November 2003 14th to 26th at the Harrietville Festival,
A footnote: While Wayne and I talked, we were
laughing a lot. The stories made us us laugh
as we recalled them. So, to give some sense of the mood, I included some the laughs.
permission to reprint this is granted by owner, each part must presented
in its entirety with the "by line" and URL "www.candlewater.com"
JIM MOSS: Is this his ownself?
WAYNE LEWIS: Jim Moss, how are you doing.
JIM MOSS: Tell me about that time Frank came on stage with you guys, Monroe and all.
WAYNE LEWIS: You know that happened back in... in 1984.
JIM MOSS: 1984? Where was this at?
WAYNE LEWIS: It was at Mount Gilead Ohio.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, he was on the bus.
They were playing these tunes all back and forth
and uh, Bill... Bill told him... he said uh, and Frank was booked there at the festival.
On my show, you'll have to come up and do a number with us.
JIM MOSS: Did he do just one number?
WAYNE LEWIS: So they played something, I can't
remember what it was. Frank played more
than Bill did... and Bill told him, "That's really good", "That's really good pickin there".
and he was really bragging him up. Then the next tune, Bill played most of the tune and did
the star bit on it. And uh.. Frank said, "Man that's bad man, that's really bad".
So when Monroe hit that last lick on the tune, the crowd was just ripping and roaring.
Cause here was two great mandolin players. And uh.. Frank just stepped up to the microphone
and he said, "Man that's bad man, that's really bad"
And Monroe just kind of looked at him with that look like... "What are you saying?"
Bill says, "What do you mean bad? You don't know what you are saying".
Frank said, "Bill I'm just backing talkwards". Bill said, "You're talkin crazy what You're doing"
Man that is just one of those good stories, you know.
JIM MOSS: Did he ever talk to him again?
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh yeah yeah. Bill
talked to him later, you know. Maybe not at
the same festival! ha ha I kinda explained it to Bill later. I told him, "That's Frank's way
of saying, it's good," I said, "do you notice that when he comes up and shakes hands with you
he says Good Bye?" ha ha ha (Monroe) That's crazy too!
JIM MOSS: So who was in your band at the time?
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh, Tater Tate was with us,
and I am not sure who was... I am not sure
if Tater was playing fiddle or if he was playing bass. Blake was in the band.
JIM MOSS: So you guys were laughing?
WAYNE LEWIS: You better believe we were laughing hah hah
JIM MOSS: So did Monroe understand he was joking?
WAYNE LEWIS: I don't think he ever did. Monroe finally quit talking to him on the stage.
JIM MOSS: Did he really?
WAYNE LEWIS: Ohhhh yeahhh ha ha ha
All the musicians who knew Frank and knew how he was...
Oh they were dying of laughter... you know. Cause Monroe was ready to hang him.
Cause Monroe had bragged on him, how good he was pickin and... he was telling Bill
"Man that's bad, that's really bad" ha ha ha ha
One of the great moments, you know? And both class acts, I mean quality musicians.
JIM MOSS: You know, talk about a funny
story. Do you remember the time you came
to San Francisco. And you found your bus driver in one of the gay bars near the Music Hall?
They found him sitting next to someone in drag. I guess he didn't know....
WAYNE LEWIS: ahhh yeah (laughs.. ) Yeah, that... that was...
JIM MOSS: So your banjo player got the idea that
we should find a girl for the bus driver. ha ha
So we went to another bar down the street where there were a lot of these girls. you know, those girls? ha ha
The music hall was in that kind of district, you will remember.
In fact, there was nothing but girls here, except for one guy off at the other end of the bar.
And he was watching us like...
Well, your banjo player, who will remain anonymous for now, had on a black silk or nylon
service jacket with an bright eagle on it. They all thought he was from the vice squad or something.
I mean, no one would talk to us. It was clear to the most casual observer what this place
was about. All for this bus driver...
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, I remember one time when
we were out there. We had Bill Holden
on the banjo.
JIM MOSS: I have a tape of that show.
WAYNE LEWIS: do ya? there was a
friend of Bill's that uh came down. Course Baker and
I wanted to go get a drink. And the guy said, "well there's a bar just around the corner down there".
JIM MOSS: ohh yeah. ha ha ha
WAYNE LEWIS: So we on and went down there
and got us a table. Of course as soon as we
walked in... I saw that... right away that it...
JIM MOSS: Yeah, it was not your conventional...
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah right, not your average, everyday hillbilly bar.
JIM MOSS: uh yeah.. ha ha
JIM MOSS: You know where you guys would play was
right down in
kind of a rough district, you know.
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh I know..
JIM MOSS: That was right next door to the Mitchell Brothers Theater.
WAYNE LEWIS: We couldn't get Baker to go
out and loaf much after that.
Just kept our own drinks, kept them on the bus.
JIM MOSS: Do you remember Baker would have me go
get whiskey, and hide it on the bus.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah.. ha ha ha
Oh.. we had some great times.
I guess they were good times. Some of them I can't remember.
WAYNE LEWIS: You know Monroe was always
talking about Baker
and Joe... Joe Stuart. For awhile Joe traveled with us and we had twin fiddles.
He would say, "Now I will tell you what, that stuff ruins a lot of good fiddle players,
you look at Kenny Baker and Joe Stuart" ha ha
JIM MOSS: Great fiddlers.
WAYNE LEWIS: But Monroe he never admitted
that I drank. The only thing
that he would admit that I did, was "take a sip of whiskey".
JIM MOSS: Right... Well Monroe hated anything that was fermented.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, and he hated beer.
JIM MOSS: and butter.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah. See he told
me. Bill told me one time..
he said "you know, if I would let myself... my dad" His dad use to take a dram
of whiskey... it was either every night or every morning. and he would give Bill just
a little taste after his dad would have a drink out of the dram of whiskey... and he let
Bill taste the glass? Bill said, "I love the taste of whiskey, good Kentucky whiskey
better than anything in this world". He said, "I love the taste of it", but he said, "I won't
drink it because I would become an alcoholic" He said, "I would be the biggest drunk
that ever lived". And uh.. he told me that on numerous occasions.
JIM MOSS: I remember being on the bus with Julia
and Bill. Julia was feeding
Bill dinner and she poured him some red wine. Now he would pretend to be
drinking it, but he wouldn't actually drink any of it. He would hold the glass up
to his mouth and then put it down, but he wouldn't drink it. I think he was just
kidding with Julia.
WAYNE LEWIS: Very seldom did he drink any
wine. Once in awhile someone
would make him some real good home made wine and bring it to him. and he would
have it there at his house. He would keep it in the refrigerator and he would sip on it
a little bit.
JIM MOSS: He said that anything fermented... he called it slop
WAYNE LEWIS: He hated beer. He called beer slop.
JIM MOSS: He wouldn't eat butter, that is what he called butter too, slop.
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh, I know, he wouldn't drink milk.
He would say, "you don't drink that old beer, do you?"
I'd say "No sir, I don't drink beer"
He said, "that looks just like where a horse has been".
JIM MOSS: Do you remember when Kenny quit
the band. You were on the
way to Japan. You were in San Francisco and I got this call from the music hall
saying that you needed a fiddle. I though, well Baker can use my fiddle. They said,
no, I mean a fiddle player. What? I think you had them phone ahead as I heard it.
Someone from the band had made a call to the music hall and I got a call from them.
You, Baker and Monroe were the only ones I knew at that time in that band.
WAYNE LEWIS: Right...
JIM MOSS: I got my bass player to play bass for
him that night as I was not
really up on all the songs. Plus, I didn't want to be the first fiddle player after Baker
when everyone was coming to see Baker.
However, I did go back stage where Bill auditioned me
on the fiddle. They were
auditioning me to go to Japan.
WAYNE LEWIS: Right...
JIM MOSS: Tater said he couldn't play because of
his collar bone. He had hurt his
collar bone and it bothered him. He said, "Go ahead" and handed me his fiddle.
I don't know what happened to him later on, did he have it numbed up or something?
WAYNE LEWIS: I don't know. We
ended up taking Gerry Rivers, the guy who plays
with Hank Williams. We took Gerry Rivers and couldn't cut the music. So we finally
hired a bass player in Japan and made Tater play.
JIM MOSS: Well, I played a bunch of tunes..
I remember Wheel Hoss, then Katy Hill,
then some tunes from the Uncle Pen album. Monroe had his back to me, chomping rhythm
on the mandolin.
WAYNE LEWIS: It would have been a heck of a job. It would have been a good one.
JIM MOSS: The only thing is, those things happen
in the most inconvenient times. I had
flown Bob Black out to record my album "Through The Windshield" and blocked out
time at the studio. Bob said, he would be willing to come back when I had more time if
I wanted to go. He was pretty positive about the whole thing. but... listen to this..
I mean talking about Monroe and Baker, and at that point in time.. ha ha.
Well, I was back stage playing for Bill and you know
that Baker plays a different version
of Paddy on the Turnpike from Bill.
WAYNE LEWIS: Right.
JIM MOSS: And I play Baker's version. In
fact, I had learned it when I was out at Baker's house
one winter in the 1970's. I had heard him play it on stage at Bean Blossom in 1973 with
James Monroe. I wanted to learn that particular version. I had Baker play the tune
as we searched for the variation that I remembered. Well, Baker played and played... each time
a totally new version of Paddy on the Turnpike. I was astounded that he knew so many
versions. I had my tape recorder going and... somewhere around the 19th version, he played
what I wanted to learn. So there I was, sitting there with the tape recorder catching every
version that Baker would put out, and it seemed like he would never run out of variations.
So I thought to myself, "Why tell him? I mean he has played 19 versions of the tune, lets see
how many versions he knows!"
So I just let him keep playing.
He would ask me, "Is that it?".. no no.. keep going. then "Is that it?".
Ha ha ha
Finally, about version 30 or so... I think maybe 31 or so. Then he got mad at me. "I don't know
what you are looking for", he said and walked into his kitchen.
So somewhere I have these 30 or so versions of Paddy on
the Turnpike. And now when
anyone asks him about me, he always says "that boy, he just ain't happy with anything I do,
you can't please him." ha ha ha
Anyway, so here I was with Bill and I got to Paddy on
the Turnpike. The minute Bill heard that, he
turned to me and said quite loudly, "That ain't the way that tunes goes!", "where did you learn that?".
I said, 'Well, I learned it from Kenny Baker". Man, that was the wrong thing to say.
Baker had just quit the band a few days earlier and Monroe was still upset.
"That ain't the way that tunes goes!", he said, "That is the way a drunk plays it!".
"The things that person can say, only a drunk would say that. A man should be ashamed... "
I sensed I was on thin ice there, so I quickly moved on to another tune... and Bill cooled down.
WAYNE LEWIS: I'll tell you, I was glad when
they finally made up. It took too long for
it to happen, but I was glad that it did. I am glad that they made peace with each other.
JIM MOSS: Yeah, well it was sort of like the Beatles fighting. Those two guys... were pretty tight.
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh yeah.
JIM MOSS: I think they were involved in farm stuff too together...
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah. Yeah, at one time they was.
JIM MOSS: They raised chickens or something.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, they raised those chickens and fought em.
JIM MOSS: Yeah right, fighting cocks. Cause
I remember, the first experience I ever had
anything like fighting cocks, cause of course, I'm from California... you know... although my
family is from Tennessee... around Oakridge... And actually, my cousins had a chicken ranch.
I had seen some pretty gross things done to chickens as they butchered them, but not that.
I have to say that I never actually saw a fighting cock fight, ever... I did see some cocks
at one time though. So I guess it could have been just a story to impress the city kid.
I mean, a red chicken to me is a red chicken.
WAYNE LEWIS: They just strap those spurs to
their legs. Those spurs are two, three
JIM MOSS: I remember that they were pretty
close. And.. hoo... I have a picture...
It was in 1974. I don't think you were in the band yet. Dwight Dillman was in the band.
It was at the festival in Denver, and Baker wanted to go somewhere. Monroe wanted
him to stay there... to stick around. Randy Davis was in the band. Monroe said "Kenny,
I need you to stay here right now." Baker was set on going somewhere... go somewhere,
play around, or something, you know.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah...
JIM MOSS: And so Monroe said, "no
Kenny, I need you to stay here". And Kenny turned
and you could hear him say, "Ahh, Man!". ha ha And I am out there with a camera, right?
and I said... course these are my heroes.. I said, "Hey let me take a picture". Baker looked
at me and said, "I'll give you a picture!". And he takes and holds his hand down with his fiddle
by his side of his waist... his hip... and he flips Monroe off. Kind of on the sly you know.
So I have this picture with Randy Davis, Kenny and Bill in it, Bill is walking away and Kenny
has his hand and fiddle down by his side, flipping Monroe the bird. I gave Baker a copy of
this picture. I asked him if I should post it on the web and he said, "Well go ahead!, you should!"
ha ha ha. Well, I think that is one for the archives.
WAYNE LEWIS: Baker definitely didn't care.
JIM MOSS: I know! ha ha
WAYNE LEWIS: Baker's a pretty rugged old dude.
JIM MOSS: He's pretty cool though.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah he is.
JIM MOSS: Yeah, he is difficult sometimes.. but he's pretty cool.
WAYNE LEWIS: Baker and I, we were together
all those years. Course, I met Baker back
in.. about 1960... maybe before that. And he and I were friends all those years. And we never
argued. We would get drunk and party and get out there and sworp around them festival grounds.
And never once did we argue.
JIM MOSS: I had a different situation, I mean, I
was always there to learn... and would follow him
around. But, you know, a lot of times, being that I was raised in California, that you could say things
that would get you in trouble... that you never even imagined would get you in trouble. Things that
were just pleasantries or maybe a little joke or something... and they take it the wrong way and uh...
It was just what happened to Frank you know.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah...
JIM MOSS: And you could just say something and he
(Baker) would just turn purple! you know?
And it would be... like I would have to stop and say, "I didn't say anything that should have made
you mad, not where I come from..." and he would calm down. It would take him a while! He might
have to go for a walk or something... but.. but.. The cultures were so different in just their jargon
that you could end up... I mean, when I was in Bean Blossom in 1973, I was lucky I didn't get killed!
Because things were not all that open back then... not as much as they are today... and I think I
said something like... There was this guy who played fiddle there that hung around with Bill a lot.
I was at this jam outside of Peva's tent... camper... and I like I had hitch hiked to Bean Blossom
from Northern California.. all this way with a sleeping bag and my fiddle. Just to meet Monroe and
Baker... So there was this jam all night long, they were recording the Dry & Dusty album that week
in the daytime. I didn't sleep for 3 days, I remember I was high on coffee and biscuits and gravy..
SO I said something like, "that is far out man" and everyone shut up all of a sudden... Then I said
something else and someone started chanting "Shoot that turkey buzzard". I was totally clue less.
WAYNE LEWIS: Well, you know, I was born and
raised in Eastern Kentucky. I was born
and raised about I guess, 75 miles from Baker... a little town called Sandy Hook. Keith Whitly,
I lived next door to his mom and dad. Of course I moved to Ohio before Keith was born. We moved
to Ohio in 1948.
JIM MOSS: How old are you?
WAYNE LEWIS: 62. So uh.. We
lived in Ohio from 48 on and I met Baker while I was living
in Ohio. I was working a club circuit... but I .. I was still a hillbilly at heart, you know.
JIM MOSS: Well, what kind of music were you playing?
WAYNE LEWIS: Bluegrass. Yeah, I was
working all those big clubs in Columbus Ohio, Cincinnati...
I worked all those good clubs like Ken Mill, Aunt Maudie's, and I worked a place up over the hill
there called Jim's. Then I worked the Astro Inn, and WW Holdbrooks Country Palace... and I
worked The Bluegrass Palace. All those big clubs... you know, pretty good size clubs that had
Bluegrass music, I worked all those. Then.. at the Astro Inn, in Columbus Ohio, I worked that 6 years.
I worked a 3 year stretch, then I took and worked another club, then I came back and worked 3 more.
JIM MOSS: So you would play one club all the time.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, I would play 6 nights in one club.
JIM MOSS: Wow!
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, we would play 6 nights
in one club and uh...
If we booked dates.. school.. We called them School House Shows... you know it
was before the festivals. It was before the festivals came along so we would book
school auditorium... Maybe uh.. Maybe Monroe would be coming through.
They would hire us for an opening act. Then I would hire Monroe to work the clubs
on the weekends. Because just about every weekend we had a big name in, Reno..
or Stanley's, Monroe, Martin.
JIM MOSS: Uh huh.. How did that work by the
way? As far as pay goes?
I mean, what was the arrangement. I remember Baker telling me all about the
radio shows worked, and Jesse telling me about that. Did you guys have guarantee's
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, Yeah, I got paid a certain amount every night.
JIM MOSS: And when you hired Monroe...
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh yeah, he would uh..
Monroe knew he would... the guy would charge
at the door and that is what he would pay Monroe, is a percentage of what came through the door.
I got my regular nights salary. We were making, when I first went to work at the Astro Inn, in 61,
I think I was... might have been 60 when I was working there... Anyway, when I first went to work
there I made $30 a night and my band members made $20.
JIM MOSS: That was probably pretty good back then.
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh it was. That was good money.
JIM MOSS: Yeah...
WAYNE LEWIS: You take 6 nights a week that's $120 bucks, that's a pretty good chunk of change.
JIM MOSS: And what did rent cost? I mean
that is really the determinant of expenses. What would
you pay for a house to rent?
WAYNE LEWIS: Oh... $75 $75 a month. For maybe a big nice, real nice home would be $100. $105.
JIM MOSS: So you were making 4 to 5 times your rent.
WAYNE LEWIS: yeah,
JIM MOSS: That's good!
WAYNE LEWIS: oh ...yeah. And of course I worked in a steel mill too during the day.
JIM MOSS: That's right, you use to do air conditioning when you were in the Bluegrass Boys.
WAYNE LEWIS: Yeah, when we moved to
Nashville we did heating and air. Then in the 80's
I bought a dump truck and bulldozer and played music on the road and still have a construction company.
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