?The roots of this music are lifesaving? 

Way back in the latter half of the last century, I spent quite a bit of my free time at a small, rustic listening room high in the Appalachian Mountains.

It was the kind of place where they served vegetarian-friendly food, but they stopped serving it before the live music began. The kind of place where they didn’t allow smoking while the bands played (long before this was fashionable). It was also the kind of place where young people could get in easily enough, and sit right alongside adults while everyone shut the hell up and listened to some serious music.

That place was called the Down Home, and it’s still there to this day. In fact, folks will soon celebrate the 30th anniversary of the existence of this little cubbyhole of culture (it holds probably 175 people tops). It’s where I saw the late Willie Dixon, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, John Hammond, Jr., and The Red Clay Ramblers – not to mention such inimitable talents as Webb Wilder & The Beatnecks and Brian & The Nightmares.

It’s also where I saw a laid back acoustic outfit called The Brother Boys, and I gotta say – those are some of the happiest memories of my youth.

Along with Eugene Wolf, Ed Snodderly fronted The Brother Boys. Hell, he was a part owner of the club – which made it a no-brainer for them to play there as often as they did – and together with a few other cats, those two dreamed up their own little brand of Old-Time music with a slightly modern edge. They called it “New Hillbilly,” an acoustic-driven sound that centered around traditional mountain instruments like guitars, dulcimers, mandolins and fiddles – but one not so exclusive that it can’t take a little snare drum every now and again. It’s a joyous type of country-tinged folk that finds the common ground between The Everly Brothers and Bill Monroe and celebrates the nexus where Patsy Cline meets The Louvins for a cold beer.

Not long after I moved here from Tennessee, The Brother Boys signed with Sugar Hill Records, and put out some tremendous albums that earned them a lot of praise, but Ed had been recording music long before that. Way back in 1977, he had a solo LP out on Philo called Sidewalk Shoes, and even if not too many people were paying close attention, this songwriter with the sweet, sweet voice and a way with stringed instruments was already one to watch.

Since then, The Brother Boys have disbanded – although in a welcome development, they’ll soon play their second series of reunion gigs in as many years at their old stomping ground the Down Home – and Ed has gone on to craft a few solo albums of simple, heartfelt tunes, many of which would be smash hits if the world were a much different place. He had a featured role in the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou (which helped jumpstart the resurgence of Old-Time American music), and saw one of his original verses etched in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Hall of Honor – the last thing one sees as one leaves the museum.

He’s got a new CD out now called Brier Visions, and – wonder of wonders – the cat who’s played with everyone from Norman Blake to Byron Berline to Tony Arata, and hardly tours anymore is coming to town for a one-off gig.

So how did Snodderly wind up “getting his feet wet” in Savannah?

“My friend Malcolm Holcombe told me he really liked doing shows there, so I figured I’d try it once and see how it goes. I’m coming down just for this, and then driving back to Tennessee,” he laughs.

“That’s how I work these days. I go where other musicians have a good time, and hope for the best. I don’t kill myself anymore livin’ on the road.”

The singer, who divides his time between music and acting, recently nabbed the role of a fiddle-playing Clinch Mountain Boy in a musical drama based on the life of The Stanley Brothers. In Savannah, he’ll play his own tunes on guitar, dobro and banjo.

“I’ll do everything off the new record,” he says. “I’ll also do some old Brother Boys stuff and a few unrecorded songs.”

However, regardless of which nooks and crannies of his back catalog he delves into, it’s highly likely at least some folks in the crowd will walk away as thrilled and mesmerized as I was all those years ago – knowing that they’ve caught up momentarily with a rare breed.

“I see myself as doing what the Carter Family was doing back in the 1930s,” Ed offers. “I’m trying to put my own special touch on this form.”

He’s still proud to call himself a hillbilly.

“The roots of this music are lifesaving. Sure, there are some negative stereotypes to it, but it’s based in a good philosophy.”

“I have a 14-year-old niece, and she’s under a lot of peer pressure, but she likes this music. Most people don’t know there’s a whole other world of beautiful sounds out there. They just know what they’re fed. But they can have this, too.”

Ed Snodderly plays an ALL-AGES show at The Sentient Bean Saturday at 8 pm.


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Jim Reed

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