Category Archives: KSON’s Bluegrass Special
Today my old friend Dan McKinnon was laid to rest at Miramar National Cemetery after a very Christ-centered funeral service at Clairemont Emmanual Baptist Church. He died on Thanksgiving Day, having lived a fruitful life of 78 years. You can read an article about Dan’s life in the UT newspaper by clicking here.
Before he died, Dan meticulously planned his own funeral service, which is exactly what took place today. Congressman Duncan Hunter and his former pastor Tim LaHaye spoke, as did several other friends and relatives. Dan asked for specific songs to be sung: I Saw the Light, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Daddy Sang Bass, Angel Band and the old spiritual Amen. It was my honor to play banjo and sing those songs for Dan today along with my old Brush Arbor band mates Ken Munds and Dave Rose.
I first met Dan around 1966 when he was serving on the board of San Diego Youth For Christ. He was a young man, in his early 30′s as I recall and he owned a radio station in town, KSON. A few years later KSON sponsored a talent competition called “Country Star” (an early version of “American Idol”) and by that time I had formed a band called Brush Arbor. We decided to enter the contest. There were more than 100 entries and we managed to make the cut to the finals, a show that was broadcast live on the radio. Contest judges included a producer from Capitol Records, a Billboard magazine executive, and several other people who I don’t remember. We won the contest that night and the producer from Capitol (Steve Stone) asked us if we would be interested in a record deal with Capitol. Needless to say, we were very happy to sign a record contract that would put us on the same label with Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and the Beatles.
After we were signed by Capitol, Dan offered to be our manager, and so we entered into an agreement with him which turned out to be very beneficial to us. Not only did he own KSON, but he had connections with the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Association and many other country music industry leaders. With Dan as our manager, our very brief career as country music stars really took off. We got Nudie Suits, started playing Vegas, making appearances on the Opry, touring with Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, the Everly Brothers, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings and the list goes on and on. I stayed on with the band for a couple of years before departing to continue my calling in youth ministry.
About the time I left Brush Arbor in 1974, we won the Academy of Country Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year. We received a nice trophy (presented to us by Kenny Rogers) and so we gave it to Dan to keep in his trophy case. Thirty years later, Dan organized a reunion of the band at his Wildcat Canyon Ranch where he presented each one of us with our own Academy of Country Music Award which he made possible. Mine is prominently displayed in my home.
In 1975 I had a conversation with Dan regarding bluegrass music. I mentioned that there were quite a few bluegrass music fans living in San Diego (me, for one) and I suggested that it might be a good idea to feature some bluegrass now and then on his radio station. He thought it was a great idea and he asked me if I would like to do it. I was completely surprised by the offer because I had no radio experience at all. (I thought radios worked because there were little tiny people inside.) Dan just grinned and said “Oh, anybody can be a DJ. We’ll show you how.” Ha. I have since learned that professional radio personalities are incredibly talented people. I still haven’t got the hang of it and I’ve been doing a weekly show on KSON now for almost four decades.
Dan sold KSON back in the eighties to Jefferson-Pilot Communications, who then sold the station to Lincoln Financial Media. I’ve had lots of bosses and program directors at KSON over the past four decades. But each year on the anniversary of my show, I like to give credit to Dan for its success and longevity. He made it all possible. In 2001, on our 25th anniversary extravaganza at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon, I honored Dan by presenting him with a commemorative Deering Banjo. He always wanted to learn how to play one but I don’t think he ever found the time to work on his banjo licks.
So goodbye old friend, and thank you. Thank you for believing in me and providing me with some of the most memorable and significant moments of my life. You will always be remembered with great fondness and respect.
In case you aren’t familiar with Bill Monroe, you are most certainly familiar with the music he created. He was a singer and mandolin player from Kentucky who in 1939 formed an ensemble called the Blue Grass Boys (named to honor his home state) and after experimenting with various combinations of instruments and vocal styles, he found success with his legendary 1945 combo which included Lester Flatt on guitar, Earl Scruggs on the banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Cedric Rainwater playing bass. The early recordings and performances by that band took the world of country music by storm and spawned dozens, then hundreds, and today thousands of bluegrass bands all over the world.
Bill Monroe wrote hundreds of songs and instrumentals which form the canon of bluegrass music today. He single-handedly established the mandolin as a solo instrument in American popular music. He was one of the early inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was the first inductee into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many of the early rockabilly stars of the 1950’s like Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley were huge Bill Monroe fans. Presley’s first single was Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
Well, I could go on and on about Bill Monroe (“On and On” is the title of a Monroe song, by the way), but I’ll let you look him up on Wikipedia or something. I’m just honored that I had a chance to meet him and work with him on a few occasions. One of my prized possessions is a photo of him that he signed for me which hangs on my wall at home.
When I was in the band Brush Arbor, I’ll never forget the night in 1973 when we opened for Monroe at the world famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood. The room was packed with celebrities and many of my musical heroes at the time who had come to hear Monroe, not us. I remember seeing Clarence White of the Byrds sitting up close and Carl Jackson, who was playing banjo with Glen Campbell at the time. Backstage I chatted with Del Shannon who had hit songs like “Runaway” and “Hats Off to Larry.” Of course, the biggest thrill was hanging out with Big Mon himself, who was bluegrass music royalty. I remember just how kind he was to us despite the fact that we had drums and steel guitar in the band (a no-no to most bluegrass fans). He gave us an open invitation to play at any of his bluegrass festivals around the country. We did get to play at one of them.
When we took the stage at the Palomino, we kicked off with our version of “Proud Mary” which is really really fast. I kicked it off on the banjo and about four bars into the song, my thumb pick just popped off my thumb and flew out somewhere in the audience. I was stunned. Everyone looked at me like “what are you going to do now?” and I really didn’t know. My brother Jim grabbed a thumb pick out of his stash on stage and I was back in business right away and the song went on. But I broke into a flop sweat that just soaked my rhinestone-covered Nudie suit. Sooo embarrassing. I never got my thumb pick back.
Happy birthday Bill Monroe! Thank you for the amazing music you created which absolutely swept me off my feet almost 50 years ago as a teenager and which continues to bless my life in so many ways today. I thank God for you and remember you with deep appreciation on your centennial year.
If you would like to hear my radio show which I did Sunday night (9/11) to celebrate Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday, go to www.kson.com/bluegrass. It will be there for about a month so if you are reading this after October 15, you probably won’t be able to hear it.
Each month I try to feature a live bluegrass band on my radio program–usually whoever is appearing at the local San Diego Bluegrass Society’s 4th Tuesday event at the Boll Weevil Restaurant. I heard that a group from Orange County called the Wimberly Bluegrass Band was going to be appearing at the June SDBS event, so I wasn’t real sure if they would be coming down to appear on my radio show or not. I wasn’t familiar with them and I hadn’t heard anything directly from them (or the SDBS) to confirm their appearance on my radio show. So when I arrived at the radio station Sunday night, I wasn’t absolutely sure if anyone was going to show up.
But there they were! What a surprise to find this young, good looking group at the front door of the radio station ready to play! The Wimberly’s are a family group, three brothers and a sister ranging in age from 13 to 19 who are self-taught and have already recorded two CD’s. Mom and Dad accompanied the group to the studio and unlike many “stage parents” I’ve been around, they were extremely calm and content to let the youngsters speak for themselves and do their own thing. I was very impressed with them and wasn’t surprised at all to hear that they were home schooled. That certainly explained why they were so articulate and comfortable around an old codger like me, and how they developed a fondness for bluegrass and country music rather than what’s being marketed to the teen population these days.
If you would like to hear them on my show, visit the kson.com/bluegrass web site … it will be there for a month. They will also be appearing at many Southern California bluegrass events, so keep an eye and ear out for them. This is a group with a lot of appeal and I think they will have lots of success coming their way.
Last week a family band performed live on my radio show called The Anderson Family. They are from Grass Valley, California and had come to the San Diego area to perform at Summergrass and also the monthly San Diego Bluegrass Society “Boll Weevil” gig on the fourth Tuesday of the month. The Anderson Family features dad on the banjo, mom on the bass and their four kids, ages 8 to 16 on the fiddle, guitar, mandolin and Dobro. The youngest plays the Dobro and I’m certain she is the youngest Dobro player I’ve ever seen.
I’ve written before about kids in bluegrass and how they provide an example (for me, anyway) that today’s kids are fully capable of choosing a path other than the one that today’s pop culture and a billion-dollar marketing industry is offering them. I was very impressed by the Anderson Family and I applaud Mark and Christy Anderson for their willingness to set aside the time and make the effort to encourage their children to use their talents and to help them to achieve their goals. In my conversation with them (you can listen to it here) the children told about their daily schedule of practicing and working hard to get better as musicians. They also were given the opportunity to hear and learn from some of their musical heroes who were accessible and willing to encourage and teach them some things. Neither Mark nor Christy are professional musicians.
There’s much here for Christian parents to learn from. I’ve always believed that if we take the time and make the effort to teach and encourage our children to use their talents and gifts to serve Jesus, and if we expose them to enough real-live heroes of the faith who will encourage them also, they may just choose a different path from the one that the world is offering them.
I’ve watched quite a few kids grow up playing bluegrass music in a family band and then abandon it when they became adults, but I’ve also watched many who went on to become some of the most accomplished musicians in the world. In fact, most of our biggest stars in bluegrass and country music today started playing in kid bands or family bands. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Anderson’s as they get older and I’ll be cheering them on. They have a lot of talent and most importantly the environment where their talent can flourish.
Friday night I came home from a middle school event at College Avenue Baptist Church called Dye Wars (200 kids in a colored-water fight) to find that my face felt funny. I know my face looks funny a good deal of the time, but on this night it felt funny too. The left side of my face felt numb and my mouth felt like I had just come from the dentist after having received a shot of Novocaine. My eyes also felt strange. My right eye seemed heavy lidded and even droopier than normal. Earlier that week I had experienced headaches and soreness in my left ear which continued to persist but a few doses of Ibuprofen usually kept the pain under control. I expected those symptoms to go away soon.
But when Marci heard me complain about these new symptoms in my face, she was alarmed and while I didn’t want to admit it at the time, so was I. The numbing sensations and droopy eye were symptoms commonly associated with a stroke. Strokes are serious. They can lead to paralysis, permanent brain damage, even death. Marci insisted that we go immediately to Urgent Care or to the Emergency Room at the hospital. I really didn’t want to do that, knowing how busy an ER can be on a weeknight, let alone a Friday night. But I knew she was right. This really should be evaluated by a doctor. Self-diagnosis only goes so far.
Urgent Care was closed that time of night so we headed for the ER at Grossmont Hospital. When I told the person at the admissions counter that I had symptoms of a stroke, I was immediately ushered in, even though there was a waiting room full of people with other ailments. They quickly snapped a hospital identifying bracelet on my wrist, drew blood, took my blood pressure, did a couple of quick tests to see whether I could talk and walk, checked all my other vitals and took me in for CT scan of my brain. I spoke with a neurologist who agreed that my symptoms required immediate attention. They could be very serious. He told me that I was going to be admitted to the hospital that night so that further tests could be made and my symptoms monitored by their staff. I would need to wait for a room to become available, however.
Around 3:00 in the morning I was rolled into a room on the fifth floor of the hospital, their “stoke unit,” where all the patients were being treated for strokes of one kind or another. I shared a room with a man who was sound asleep at the time, snoring like a freight train. After they hooked me up to an IV drip and attached all kinds of monitoring devices to my body, they put me through a few drills to test my mental condition. For a moment I felt like that Jack Nicholson character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The nurse was asking me obviously simple questions like “what’s your name.” I answered, “Wayne.” She looked at me like I was an idiot because her chart clearly had “John” on it. My legal name is John Wayne Rice. “Well, I go by Wayne,” I told her. She asked me what I did and when I told her I was a pastor, an author, a musician and a DJ on a country music radio station, I’m certain she thought I really was crazy.
By the time they left me alone in bed, it was 4 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep at all. Between the snoring of my roommate and all the other hospital noises (unbelievable), I was suffering more from sleep deprivation than anything else. Every four hours they put me through the same drills, asking me simple questions and testing my motor skills. Everything seemed to be normal. I was hoping they would be able to tell me what I had and let me go home on Saturday but they told me I needed to stay until they had time to run more tests and rule out the possibility of a stroke.
I was getting real depressed. It was becoming clear that my weekend plans were now going to have to be cancelled. I was going to a barbecue at the home of one of our church board members early Saturday afternoon. That evening I had set up an interview with country star Dierks Bentley who was in Temecula for a concert appearance. I’ve been playing his new bluegrass-tinged CD on my radio show and wanted to get some recorded sound-bites from him that I could use on my radio program. Then Sunday morning I had my church responsibilities. And what about my radio show? I realized I didn’t have a backup plan for that at all.
I called Mark Goeglein, one of the pastors at CABC and informed him of the situation. He graciously came to the hospital to pray with Marci and me. I really didn’t want to tell too many other people what was going on because I didn’t know what was going on myself. Mark assured me not to worry about Sunday at church. My class would be covered for me.
It seemed a lot longer, but I was only in the hospital for about 36 hours. I came home on Sunday afternoon. The attending neurologists looked at all the tests they had done on me, the MRI, the MRA, CT Scans, ultra-sounds on my heart and arteries, etc. and concluded that I didn’t have a stroke, nor did I seem to be a likely candidate for a stroke.
So what caused the numbness in my face?
What I have, they said, is a mild case of “Bell’s Palsy.” It is caused by an inflammation or irritation of the 7th facial nerve which controls the muscles of the face. Some cases of Bell’s Palsy result in complete paralysis of one side of the face. My symptoms were not that severe. All I had was a little bit of numbness and a crooked smile.
Bells Palsy, they said, is often the result of ear pain and headaches (bingo), a change in pressure in the ear canal (bingo again, since I had been making weekly speaking trips to Forest Home, elevation 5280 feet), and can often be caused by an unusual amount of anxiety or stress (double bingo.)
The good news in all this is that the condition is usually temporary. The doctor told me that all these symptoms should go away in about two weeks. Meanwhile, with the numbness in my mouth, I’ll just have be careful not to drool on myself.
I was discharged from the hospital about 2:30 Sunday afternoon. On the way home we picked up some rolled tacos at Sombrero’s in Lakeside (hospital food is absolutely horrible) and after taking a shower, I also took a nap before heading off to do my radio show. I can still talk, although I have a hard time with my F’s and P’s. My lips on the left side of my face don’t hold as much pressure as needed to get those sounds right. But I think my program went OK anyway. You can listen to it here.
At the end of the day, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, not just for the good outcome of my diagnosis but for the entire experience itself. Being in that hospital bed for a couple days gave me a chance to stop, think, pray and put my trust in God to the test. It has been a long time since I’ve done that and it was good for me.
One of KSON’s listeners made this sticker for his car, e-mailed it to the radio station and it was then forwarded to me. I really don’t know this person so I’m not sure what led him to do this. He either likes my radio show … or likes guitarist Tony Rice … or maybe he just likes to eat rice while listening to bluegrass? Whatever the reason, I think it’s pretty cool.
UPDATE: I received an e-mail from the 16-year-old girl who e-mailed the photo and she explains: ”My dad listens to your show every Sunday really loud. lol. He had that sticker made at a store down the street and wanted it to be an inside joke that only fans of the show would get. “
March 7, 1976. Gerald Ford was President. The Pittsburgh Steelers were Super Bowl champs. Rocky received the Oscar for best picture. A peanut farmer from Georgia was beginning his campaign for the presidency.
That’s also when a very nervous banjo player went on the air for the first time to play bluegrass music on San Diego’s #1 country radio station KSON.
Who would have believed I’d still be there 33 years later?
We’ve done some big anniversary celebrations over the years (like a big show at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon on our 25th) but this year I’ll celebrate on the air with some old songs from the past 33 years. A lot of great bluegrass has been recorded during that time. Alison Krauss was only 4 years old when I started my radio show.
Thanks to all the folks at Lincoln Financial Media (who owns KSON now) for keeping me on all these years and to all the bluegrass music fans who have been so loyal for so long. It has been a lot of fun (and it still is!)
You can listen to my show online when it’s being broadcast (10 p.m. on Sunday night) or you can listen “on demand” at kson.com/bluegrass.