September 2007 - "Blackberry Jam"

Rocky Alvey at the Dyer Observatory, Nashville, TN

This month's tune is an arrangement of a song called "Blackberry Jam", which was written by a friend of David's named Rocky Alvey. Rocky is the superintendent at Vanderbilt's Dyer Observatory in Nashville. Since David was an astronomy enthusiast, he spent lots of time on the observatory grounds, an idyllic oasis-like hilltop in the middle of downtown Nashville, and quickly struck up a friendship with Rocky. David used to say you "can't swing a cat in Nashville without hitting half a dozen song writers", and as it turned out, Rocky is also a talented songwriter. One of Rocky’s original songs was “Blackberry Jam” (click on this link to download the complete set of lyrics in PDF format). I'll let Rocky tell the rest of this story in his own words:

“The song Blackberry Jam is truly a snapshot of my tender years. I’m from farm folk and coal miners. Every year with kin and friends, we picked and put up dozens of gallons of blackberries, processing the delectable fruit in a wide variety of fashions, from jam to that elixir of the gods, blackberry wine. I have fond memories of my granny, Edith Reynolds, hard at work filling Ball jars with Blackberry jam and making cobblers with the “cast-iron” pan. The story in Blackberry Jam is simply how I remember those wonderful days.

Oh yes, Bag balm salve is a cream we used on the udders of dairy cows. Farmers found that it was good for their hands as well. The old folks caught on to it and the salve became a cure-all. Grandpa said it would cure chiggers, which always attacked your delicate parts while pickin’ blackberries. You can still buy it today if you have chiggers or raw cow udders!

The encouragement from our dear brother Schnaufer meant the world to me. Were it not for David, my songs may never have seen the light of day.  I knew David through Vanderbilt and had asked him if he would give me some advice on what to do with some songs I had written. We sat down in his office, instruments scattered about, and I sang through two or three--one of the songs was Blackberry Jam... Now, that was really something for me to sing in front of him as I hadn’t sang in front of another soul since a church solo gone bad when I was twelve, but I trusted David. When I finished singing, David sat back and said “I’m stunned.  “You’ve got to get with a friend of mine, T.J. Larkin and cut these songs.”

On the day of the Blackberry Jam session, David came in to lay banjomer and Jaw Harp. Having him in the studio are some of my treasured memories. The sessions with him were always joyful times. David’s humorous running commentary and anecdotes kept us chuckling. His mastery and intuitive skill while playing was mesmerizing. I remember grinning a lot that day.

At the end of the last chorus and without a word, he looked down at the banjomer on his lap and began playing the tune faster. His dive into the instrumental at the end was completely impromptu. It was as though he was saying “O.K., boys, stand back cause now it is time to get down to business!” T.J. was engineering and just let it roll. David was on it like a madman and just got caught up in the moment, we all did. When he finished I was nearly jumping it was so incredible. If you listen to the track closely at the very end as the guitar stops you can hear David chuckling. I’m so glad we captured his laughter on that recording. It is as though a snapshot of that moment is frozen in my mind. He had this great exuberant smile on his face, and with that smile my friends, is how I will always remember the great David Schnaufer."  - Rocky Alvey, Sept. 2007

The original cut from the recording session of this tune that Rocky mentions is available on a wonderful compilation CD called "Dulcimers for David" that was the brain child of Debbie Porter.  Her idea is to continue David's legacy in the dulcimer world by putting dulcimers into the hands of children.  100% of the proceeds from the sale of both this recording and a subsequent project called “Dulcimers for David, Too” go to purchase dulcimers for school-aged children. The tracks on both CDs include contributions by many of David's closest friends, as well as a number of previously un-released tracks that David had recorded himself. 

I'm indebted to Rocky Alvey for his permission in making this tab available. Enjoy the tune, and as David would say, keep on pickin'!

Tull Glazener