The Pocahontas County Opera House Story Sessions series returned Sunday with the first of five videos of its second season.
Opening the season was mandolin player and Allegheny Echoes co-founder Mike Bing.
Mike has traveled the world with his brothers, Tim and Dave, playing old-time and bluegrass tunes in the aptly named band, The Bing Brothers.
During his session, Mike shared a few of his favorite tunes and the memories that are tied to the music.
His first tune was “Arkansas Traveller,” which sounds familiar to anyone who grew up watching classic Bugs Bunny cartoons.
“If you remember old Bugs Bunny cartoons, that was part of the theme music for the cartoons,” Mike said. “I think I chose that one because my brother, Tim, played it at a big fiddlers’ convention in Fort Townsend, Washington.
“Well, my brother was sitting there playing banjo, and a girl from Japan stepped up behind him and said, ‘that’s one of those Bugs Bunny tunes, right?’” he continued. “So, we’ve never gotten over that. We’ve always said ‘Here comes Bugs Bunny for ya.’”
Like most old-time and bluegrass musicians in Pocahontas County, Mike has learned a lot of Hammons family tunes through the years. After playing “Big Scioty,” he explained that while musicians take liberties with the time signature, he said he prefers to play the tune slow, the way he learned it.
“When you hear it today, it’s got a little more speed to it, which I don’t like,” he said. “I like the lilt of it. It’s got that old Irish lilt because a lot of us here have Irish, English and everything else in us. Particularly the Irish and Scottish in us is what made this music stick around, because they came here and hid for a couple centuries and the music didn’t change.
“It wasn’t affected by radio or television, or anything else,” he added. “The world kind of passed us by for a little bit.”
Mike played an Irish waltz next, called “Margaret’s Waltz.”
Along with the cultural aspect of the music, Mike said there are several musicians who have influenced his musical career through the years. One of those musicians was Byron Berline who played with Bill Monroe.
Mike played a Byron Berline tune called “Goldrush.”
“Bluegrass had an early influence on us,” he said. “My mother – when we first started playing – she’d say, ‘oh my favorite thing was the radio.’ They had this battery-operated radio on Beech Fork, and she said they’d listen to Bill Monroe and the Opry. That was the highlight of their week, waiting until he came on Saturday night.”
Other influences included Franklin George, who served in World War II and was stationed in Scotland, where he picked up Scottish tunes that he shared with his band, Big Possum String Band.
“He picked up on every little Scottish lilt and little twist,” Mike said. “It was really neat. We got this from him. It’s called ‘Maid Behind the Bar.’ He played in a band with Larry Rader and Clem Crum – but he called him Captain Easy – and Charlie Winter. They were the Big Possum String Band – and you talk about fun to watch. They were neat.”
Mike concluded his story session with the Scottish tune “Maid Behind the Bar.”
The next story session video will be uploaded Sunday, July 10, at 7 p.m. and will feature Dave Bing. The videos are available on the Pocahontas County Opera House Facebook page and Youtube page.