Patti Smith and the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
Last weekend the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame had its seventh ceremony to induct six West Virginia artists: Fred “Sonic” Smith, The Morris Brothers, Ann Magnuson, Frank Hutchinson, Hasil Adkins, and Michael W. Smith. The show was both streamed on the internet and broadcast on the state’s PBS stations.
There are two striking things about those folks. First is their diversity, from old-timey to performance art to Christian music to incendiary rock and roll. But the second is perhaps even more amazing: As this was the sixth induction ceremony, this group also demonstrates the depth of talent that had yet to be so honored.
The hosts were Mollie O’Brien and two-time Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris. The house band was comprised of Country Music Hall of Fame member and legend Charlie McCoy, Russ Hicks, Missy Raines, Steve Hill, Ammed Solomon, and WVHoF founder Michael Lipton, with Tim O’Brien and Mollie O’Brien sitting in from time to time.
Here’s a look at the inductees:
Fred “Sonic” Smith (1949-1994)
Smith, though born in the state, grew up in Detroit. He was the guitarist for the MC5, a groundbreaking, politically active band and one of the most influential precursors to punk. I was fortunate to have seen them when I was in college in Cincinnati, in 1969. I was also fortunate to have seen his future wife, Patti Smith, a few years later. She was already a New York legend from her poetry readings in St. Mark’s, music writings, and being part of that lower East Side scene. I would often see her at those readings, and in passing in hallways during my visits to the city when I lived in Philadelphia. This was long before Horses.
When Patti Smith, along with their children Jackson and Jesse, performed that night, it was only the second time she had done so in West Virginia. Their performances of “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power” brought the longest and loudest ovation I have ever heard in that hall, and I have seen many hundreds.
While Fred Smith’s family may have left the state, his grandparents remained. Patti Smith spoke of their many trips to West Virginia to visit his grandparents, who still lived in a very rural part of the state. It was on one such visit when she was digging potatoes with Fred’s grandmother the inspiration for “People Have the Power” came to her.
Patti, her two children, Jackson and Jesse, along with Lenny Kaye, Steve Hill, and Ammed Solomon performed that night. They also played Mountain Stage the following evening, which brought more standing ovations, including one as she walked onto the stage.
David Morris (1944-2016) and John Morris
My connection to David and John was not so tenuous. Our Clay County grandmothers were good friends, attending the same church. I got to know David after his stint in the service, and he would often call me, always at 2 a.m., it seems. He reminded me of the Ian Tyson lyric, “Just out of the service, looking for his fun.”
That fun also included Morris Family Old-Time Music Festival that I attended several times, and that, coincidentally, was the subject of my first article for ND. That festival, first held in 1969, morphed into the annual Vandalia Gathering of old-time music held on the grounds of the Cass Gilbert-designed State Capitol during Memorial Day weekend.
While I saw David and John play many times, together and separately, David was the most charismatic and outgoing. One favorite memory is when they played with John Prine at a former movie theater turned performance hall in 1973 in Charleston, the Capitol City Jamboree. Seven of us piled into my 1967 Plymouth Fury that winter night to see them. One of those passengers was also there during the induction ceremony.
David’s son, John Ballengee Morris, performed that night, as did John, with David’s widow, Christine Ballengee Morris, and former Governor Bob Wise clogging to a delighted audience.
Frank Hutchison (1897-1945)
Frank Hutchison, at age 7, learned the guitar from Henry Vaughn, a black railway worker, and later from Bill Hunt, a local black musician. It should come as no surprise that he was one of the first white musicians to record in the country blues idiom. Between 1926 and 1929 he recorded a repertoire of blues, pre-blues music, blues ballads, Civil War songs, and popular Tin Pan Alley songs, totaling more than 30 sides for OKeh Records. His songs, including “The Train that Carried My Girl from Town” and his version of “Stakalee,” have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, Buddy Miller, and many others.
His songs this night were performed by an All-Star West Virginia house band of Tim O’Brien, Charlie McCoy, Russ Hicks, Missy Raines, Michael Lipton, and Ammed Solomon.
Magnuson moved to New York City in 1978, where she became an integral part of the city’s music and performance art scene, managing the now-infamous Club 57 and performing regularly at other venues including Mudd Club, Danceteria, and CBGB. She also acted in Hollywood and indie films, off-Broadway plays, a Cinemax series, and TV sitcoms and fronted various bands, most notably Bongwater, the sardonic folk trio Bleecker Street Incident, and the heavy metal band Vulcan Death Grip. Her one-woman performance pieces, such as You Could be Home Now (that I was fortunate to have seen, as well as several others), are the stuff of legend.
Magnuson’s performance this night was as eclectic as you would think, songs then breaking out of character into performance art demonstrating that Laurie Anderson has nothing on her.
Hasil Adkins (1937-2005)
With a reckless and self-styled approach to his music and his life, Adkins began recording as a “one-man band” in the mid-’50s, most often singing and playing guitar and drums at the same time. With the roguish aura of a hillbilly James Dean, he pioneered a genre that would be dubbed “psychobilly.” When Billy Miller of Norton Records began re-releasing his early singles and issuing new recordings, Adkins became a cult figure with fans all over the world. Norton will release a box set of his recordings later this year.
Performing his songs this night were his longtime friends, for whom he opened on many tours, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Alan Griffith.
Michael W. Smith
Little did I know when I moved to rural Wayne County in the mid-1970s that Smith, whom I ran into a few times at a local music store, would become a three-time Grammy award winning singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. He later moved to Nashville and became becoming one of the best-selling and most influential artists in contemporary Christian music.
Smith has won 45 Dove awards, sold more than 15 million albums, and recorded 32 No. 1 songs. He has written and composed scores for film projects, authored 12 books, and has acted in assorted motion pictures. Keyboard magazine also named him one of the “Top Keyboardists in Rock.”
He performed his songs solo this night, save for one with Jackson and Jesse Smith, who had learned the song in school. That was extremely special.
Something else was special as well: Upon leaving the hall well after midnight, Patti, Jackson, and Jesse Smith were walking around the grounds of the state capitol in the rain. We exchanged pleasantries, and at a comfortable distance I turned and watched them as they wandered, huddled together under a single umbrella.
For more information on the 2018 inductees, the other members of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, and the Hall itself visit http://wvmusichalloffame.com.
Now, please share that journey by flipping through the photos of that night. As the Smith family and Kaye performed the next night on Mountain Stage, also included are a couple of photos from that performance. For more photos from the Hall of Fame, go here.