By the early 1990ís I had been performing Bluegrass music for 15 years. For most of that time I had been collecting LPs, books, magazines and articles on the genre and had read most everything readily available to me. I was particularly interested in the early practitioners and innovators of bluegrass. I believe that on some level I was looking for something useful that I could contribute to the community.
As the result of several unrelated events during this period I decided that I would set about locating and documenting the burial sites of those 1st generation Bluegrass musicians who had "gone on to glory."
While I now know that to some this endeavor is odd or even macabre, for me it was a natural response to my desire to honor those musicians to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I believed then, and still do today, that there are others out there who have a similar interest and for whom this information will appreciated and useful.
On a couple of occasions in the 1980's I visited the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. and there I saw family and friends of those whose names were on the wall taking small bits of paper and a pencil and producing ìrubbingsî of the names as keepsakes. I didn't think much about it at the time.
In 1991 Ben Fong Torres published a book entitled HICKORY WIND, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRAM PARSONS. As I had been fascinated with the Parsons story since my teenage years in the sixties I read the book and for the first time learned that after the strange circumstances surrounding his death he had been buried in New Orleans, Louisiana. Somewhat later I had reason to visit New Orleans and made an opportunity to seek out the Garden Of Memories Cemetery on Airline Highway. As an after thought I drove to a nearby store where I purchased some typing paper and a pack of crayons. Because Gramís marker is small I was able to do the ìrubbingî successfully with these tools.
Keith Whitley died in 1989 and I had been an avid fan of his bluegrass and country music career. In 1991 I learned from his family that he was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery near Nashville. A short while later I visited the gravesite and on a second visit I was determined to attempt do a rubbing.I knew the typing paper and crayon would not work on a larger marker and had brought along several sheets from a flip chart I had liberated from my office. Before heading to the cemetery I stopped by an Art Supply store on Hillsborough Road in Nashville for advice. The clerk suggested that I try a 'lumber crayon' and for some strange reason had one and only one in stock. Iíve learned since that these crayons are used to mark cut lumber and are usually found only in Building Supply stores.
Currently the Collection consists of documentation of 49 gravesites that I have personally visited. These are distributed over 8 states with 26 being in Tennessee, 8 in Kentucky, 6 in Georgia, 3 in Virginia, 2 in Ohio and 1 each in Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana and California. I have photographs of all but 3 and ìrubbingsî of the majority.
In addition to those I have visited, I have information on more than 50 others. This information varies from detailed directions to a gravesite in a pasture to only a vague memory of a community by some acquaintance or fan.
I began the project using only word of mouth to obtain information but later a visit to the Country Music Foundation was arranged by my friend Wayne Daniel thru his friend Ronnie Pugh. In addition, letters to the Editors of Bluegrass Unlimited and The Journal of Country Music brought responses from as far away as London and offering information on musicians as well known as Vernon Dalhart and Roscoe Holcomb and as obscure as Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan who were apparently better known as "Wiley and Gene".
Tools and Techniques
My official grave rubbing tool kit consists of the following:
1. Flip chart paper (or something similar)
2. Several Lumber Crayons (black in color)
3. Soft Bristle Brush
4. Clean cloth
5. Mailing type cardboard tubes
1. Use the flat side of the crayon in long smooth strokes
2. Hold the paper perfectly still to avoid double images
3. Donít attempt to do rubbings in cold weather. If you have to do so keep the crayons as warm as possible
4. Donít attempt to do rubbing in hot weather. Perspiration will stain the paper as you do the work
5. Donít attempt to do rubbings in windy weather for obvious reasons.
6. While youíre there, make multiples.
7. Donít leave anything behind or do any damage to the grave or the marker.
Highlights of My Collection
This project has provided some wonderful experiences. Iíve met some great people, discovered many interesting places and Iíve heard some heart-warming stories. A few of those experiences are categorized below.
The Easiest to locate was Roy Acuff. When you enter Spring Hill Cemetery you cant miss it. On separate visits there I met a long time fan who periodically comes by to check on Roy and tend the grave and also two women who told stories of touring with the Acuff band in the early years. Sadly, I did not get their names.
The most difficult to find was, without a doubt, Fiddlin' John Carson. It should have been a piece of cake as it is located in Atlanta approx five miles from my office. My friend Wayne Daniel didnít know but referred me to Carsonís biographer Gene Wiggins who had been there and remembered that it was the Sylvester Cemetery but didnít remember the location. I did get the phone number of Carsonís grandson Johnny but he wasnít returning my calls. Out of desperation I called the City of Atlanta Public Library Answer Line. They didnít know but referred me to the Atlanta History Center. They didnít know but put me through to the private line of Atlantaís Official Historian. Franklin Garrett. Garrett had catalogued every gravesite in Atlanta in the 1930's for his Necrology and knew where the Sylvester Cemetery was located and that Carson was resting there. He gave me warnings about the neighborhood and against going there alone. On my first visit I found a primitive sign saying SYLVESTER and an overgrown, inaccessible cemetery covering more than a city block. When I went back later in the company of the grandson I was shown Fiddlerís grave on the backside of the cemetery in the only small area which was still being maintained.
The site nearest my home was Riley Puckett. He is buried in the Enon Church Cemetery near College Park, Georgia which is no more than 15 miles from my home. Wayne Daniel provided the location but my first trip was unsuccessful. I then called the church and was put in touch with an old gentleman in the church who had known Puckett and who met me at the church and showed me the grave.
The furthest from home was Clarence White who is buried in Joshua Memorial Park in Lancaster California. White was a member of the bluegrass groups the Country Boys and Muleskinner and also played with the Country Rock group the Byrds. A chance conversation with his brother Roland at the Station Inn in Nashville produced information not only on Clarenceís resting place but also on Lester Flattís whereabouts in Sparta Tennessee. That same conversation yielded info from Rolandís wife Diane Boushka regarding the burial places of Fred Rose and Mom and Pop Stoneman in Mt. Olivet Cemetery nears Nashville. I visited this grave with my friend Alex McCullough who is now the bassist and bandleader of The Wrights who are making a mark on the Nashville scene. The lady at the Cemetery knew exactly where to find Clarenceís grave because Marty Stuart had been there the week before asking for the same info.
The most ornate marker was most likely Deford Bailey. This marker was placed some years after his death and is quite striking. It is in the Greenwood Cemetery on Elm Hill Pike in Nashville.
The simplest marker may be that of Gram Parsonís which is a small brass circle which fits easily on a piece of printer paper and reads GOD'S OWN SINGER.
The largest concentration of markers is in the Forest lawn Cemetery in Goodlettsville Tennessee. There lie Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Lefty Frizzell, Stringbean, and Cousin Jody (Clell Summey). I met David Frizzell one Saturday afternoon when he was visiting Lefty and his parents who are interred nearby.
The most inaccessible gravesite is in the Clear Creek Community of West Virginia. Everett Lilly of the Lilly Brothers pointed up an overgrown hillside with no visible road and allowed as to how banjoist Don Stover was buried "about a half a mile up that hill".
An honorable mention for most inaccessible is the grave of Roy Lee Centers,
formerly lead singer with Ralph Stanley. Roy Leeís childhood friend
and now husband of Roy Leeís widow Lee Allen made arrangements for
us to visit the cemetery on a hillside near Van Cleve Kentucky in Jackson
County. We were hosted by Roy Leeís widow his children and grandchildren.
They had been out earlier in the day to clean the grave and put up a little
plastic fence and some plastic flowers in preparation for our visit.
The best little known non-country musician represented in the collection is Sun Ra whose real name was Sonny Blount. He claimed to be from Saturn and was an exponent of free jazz. He is included only because a friend, Steve Stanley, issued a challenge to me to locate his gravesite. He is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama.
The best Blues musician represented is Blind Willie McTell, a native of Thompson Georgia and the author of the Statesboro Blues. He is buried at the Jones Grove Church near Thompson Georgia.
The gravesite that was eventually discovered the farthest from where I was searching, would be that of Ira Louvin. I took advantage of a trip to northeastern Alabama to drop my mother off with relatives and went in search of Iraís grave. After non-productive stops in Crossville, Rainsville and Henegar I was referred to the Heneger City Hall where after a series of phone calls by the City Clerk I was told that Ira's sister had advised that he was buried in Nashville. He is, in fact, buried in the Harpeth Hills Cemetery outside Nashville.
The best all around story surrounding a graverubbing in my collection would have to be the well known Gram Parsons story. After dying of an overdose in the Joshua Tree Inn in the town of the same name in the desert outside Los Angeles, Parsonís friends stole the corpse from the L.A. airport freight terminal before it could be shipped to New Orleans for burial by Gram's stepfather. The friends drove the body back into the Joshua Tree National Memorial, doused it with gasoline and set it afire. Partially burned, the body was eventually salvaged and buried in New Orleans where Gram had no connection whatsoever. In addition to documenting this grave I have also visited and documented the site of the burning and spent the night in the room in which he died.
Acuff, Roy Spring Hill Cemetery, Gallatin Rd, Nashville Tennessee
Allen, Red Highland Cemetery, Miamisburg, Ohio
Akeman, David Forest Lawn Cemetery, Dickerson Rd., Goodlettsville, Tenessee (Stringbean)
Bailey, Deford Greenwood Cemetery, Elm Hill Pike, Nashville Tennessee
Blount, Sonny Elmwood Cemetery, Birmingham Alabama (Sun Ra)
Carson, Fiddliní John Sylvester Cemetery, Clifton Road, Atlanta, Ga.
Carter, A.P. Mt. Vernon Methodist Church, Maces Springs Virginia
Carter, Sara Mt. Vernon Methodist Church, Maces Springs, Virginia
Cassell, Pete Mount Bethel Methodist Church, 4385 Lower Roswell Rd, S.E. Marietta, Georgia
Centers, Roy Lee Unmarked Cemetery, Strong Fork Road, near Van Cleve, Kentucky
Copas, Cowboy Forest Lawn Cemetery, Dickerson Rd., Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Ferris, Ed Otterbein Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio
Flatt, Lester Oak Hill Cemetery, Sparta, Tennessee
Fox, Curley Pleasant View Cemetery, Graysville, Tennessee (Arnim L. Fox)
Lefty Frizzell Forest Lawn, Cemetery, Dickerson Rd., Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Hawkins, Hawkshaw Forest Lawn Cemetery, Dickerson Rd., Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Lair, John Elmwood Cemetery, Mt. Vernon, Kentucky
Ira Louvin Harpeth Hills Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee(?)
Massengill, Perry Rhea Memory Gardens, Dayton, Tennessee
Macon, Uncle Dave Coleman Cemetery, Old Woodbury Rd., Kittrell, Tennessee
McTell, Blind Willie Jones Grove Church Cemetery, Thompson, Ga
Monroe, Bill Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Kentucky
Monroe, Charlie Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Kentucky
Monroe, Birch Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Kentucky
Morgan, Mary Unmarked cemetery, Walker Rd., Dayton, Tennessee
Parsons, Gram Garden of Memories, Airline Hiway, New Orleans, La
Pierce, Webb Woodlawn Cemetery, Thompson Lane, Nashville, Tennessee
Presley, Elvis Aron Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
Puckett, Riley Enon Church Cemetery, Stonewall-Tell Rd., College Park, (George R. Puckett) Ga.
Rector, Red Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee
Rose, Fred Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Lebanon Pike, Nashville, Tennessee
Robbins, Marty Woodlawn Cemetery, Thompson Lane, Nashville, Tennessee
Schultz, Arnold Memorial marker, Bell Street, Morgantown, Kentucky
Stanley, Carter Hills of Home Cemetery, near Nora, Virginia
Stoneman, Pop Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Lebanon Pike, Nashville, Tennessee (Ernest V.)
Stoneman, Mom Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Lebanon Pike, Nashville, Tennessee (Hattie)
Stoneman, Calvin Scott Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee (Scottie)
Stoneman, Van Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee
Stover, Don Unmarked Cemetery, Clear Fork Rd, Bleckley W. Va.
Stuart, Joe Forest Lawn Cemetery, Dickerson Rd. Goodlettsville, Tennessee
Summey, James Clell Forest Lawn Cemetery, Dickerson Rd. Goodlettsville, (Cousin Jody) Tennessee
Tanner, Gid Hebron Church, Dacula, Ga.
Tanner, Gordon Hebron Church, Dacula, Ga
Tullock, English P. McMinn Memory Gardens, Athens, Tennessee (Jake)
Vandiver, Pendleton Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Kentucky
Warren, Paul Forest Lawn Cemetery, Goodlettsville, Tennessee
White, Clarence Joshua Memorial Park, Lancaster, California
Whitley, Keith Spring Hill Cemetery, Gallatin Rd., Nashville, Tennessee
Gravesites with Partial Location
Adkins, Ray "Duck"
Bates, Dr. Humphrey
Cline, Curly Ray
Delmore, Alton and Rabon
Hay, George D.
Huskey, Roy Jr (III?)
Reinhart, Cowboy Slim
Smith, Fiddliní Arthur
Thompson, Uncle Jimmy
Yates, Doyle "Red"