• 1966 Red Rector Field Recording Discovered

    Red Rector

    The story of the music that appears at the end of this page starts circa 1966. A young Chicago based banjo player named Richard (Rick) Riman ventured with tape recorder in hand to Knoxville, Tenn. with a mission: to gather a collection of music played by Red Rector.

    That collection recently surfaced at Mandolin Cafe headquarters as part of a different project we were working on.

    There's a a story behind all of this worth telling. It's complicated.

    Jazz mandolin great Paul Glasse got in touch with us awhile back, excited about finding a copy of cassette tape with music and conversation with the late bluegrass legend Herschel Sizemore — also the recording work of Riman. Better than the cassette, which had degraded over the years, Paul had the master — or so he thought — a Scotch 1/4" reel to reel tape marked: "Herschel Sizemore, Red Rector and Larry McNeely."

    The Herschel Sizemore recording may yet surface, but was not on the reel to reel tape. That fact was confirmed by a company in Kansas City with expertise in working with this type of media and converting it for digital use. One listen to the Red Rector material and we decided it should be shared.

    Back to Riman, who we connected with after a bit of a search, finding him on Facebook, now living in Colorado. He told us, "57 years after it happened, I recall I drove to Knoxville, found Red Rector in the phone directory, called and asked if I could make some tapes of him, in hopes of publicizing him to a larger bluegrass community. He said sure, come on down to the radio station where he and Fred Smith were performing on the Cas Walker Show (where Dolly Parton first performed on TV, in 1967; she commented later that she performed on TV, but her family was too poor to afford a TV of their own, so they never saw her). I taped some parts of the Cas Walker radio show as they performed it (clearly recall them performing Lester and Earl's 'I Don't Care Anymore'), and then sat down with Red in front of my Ampeg tape recorder and asked him to play his favorite tunes (which included 'Moon River' and a host of - his words - 'them old-time fiddle breakdowns'.

    "My foggy memory is that Fred (of the duo Red and Fred) was playing guitar with Red that day. However, Bud Brewster, who played banjo on the radio show that day, is also a fine guitarist, so it might have been Bud. For what it's worth, Bud Brewster is the uncle (not the father, as sometimes reported) of Paul Brewster, who played guitar with both the Osborne Brothers and Rickey Skaggs.

    "All the Knoxville musicians were open and friendly; no pretense or arrogance, even to a Yankee banjo picker. That's one of the many things I have always loved about bluegrass music and the people involved in it, as players and fans; the openness and accessibility they (almost) all share. Sure, there are a few soreheads who have an inflated sense of their own grandeur, but they usually wind up in rock 'n' roll, or in rehab (or both)."

    We sent Riman a photo of the front and back of the reel to reel master and he confirmed: "that isn't my handwriting." So possibly a copy of the original, or a copy of a copy. Its the way it used to be.

    Caveat: time has not been kind to the quality of the recording and it varies throughout with occasional bleed through from other tracks. So while not the best quality, we think it's worth sharing, and someone might appreciate it. It deserves to be saved and heard.

    Red Rector circa 1966

    The last part of the tape contains some banjo playing. We won't attempt to identify who it is but we'll go with it might be Larry McNeely whose name was on the master. Or not.

    Back to Rector, there's a lot to listen to and his playing is decidedly brilliant for the time. A look back at a legendary figure through a different lens.

    Take it away, Red.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Russ Jordan's Avatar
      Russ Jordan -
      Thanks to all involved!!
    1. Bob Buckingham's Avatar
      Bob Buckingham -
      This is great!
    1. Andy B's Avatar
      Andy B -
      Thanks for finding and making available this undiscovered gem. You donít hear much about Red these days but this recording amply demonstrates that he was among the greats on mandolin. Wow!
    1. Russ Jordan's Avatar
      Russ Jordan -
      Those first 3 songs donít sound like Red to me
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Quote Originally Posted by Russ Jordan View Post
      Those first 3 songs don’t sound like Red to me
      The guy that sat on the recording side of the tape recorder that day just emailed me and respectfully disagrees.
    1. Russ Jordan's Avatar
      Russ Jordan -
      He should know! Thanks, Scott.
    1. Skip Kelley's Avatar
      Skip Kelley -
      Thanks for sharing.
    1. jnikora's Avatar
      jnikora -
      I found about about Red from Jethro back in the mid 70s. Jethro had the utmost respect for Red as a player and they were close friends. At the time I was star struck by Jethro and didn't fully appreciate Red's artistry. He was technically brilliant and his takes were uniquely his own. His music was very more accessible. I wish I had had a chance to meet him and hear him in person - maybe with Jethro.
    1. rnjl's Avatar
      rnjl -
      Hi all, so glad that Red's getting some love on the Cafe. One of the most memorable musical experiences I ever had was hosting Red at the University of Chicago Folk Festival in the late 80's. We put on the last show Red and Jethro ever played together, and I got to hear them jamming backstage and just hang out with them as a college student folk fest organizer. I remember Red playing his F-5 with "Red Rector" across the fretboard in the kitchen of a big house where I rented a room, and the little child of the house manager was just star struck by Red and his playing. So of course Red played all kinds of funny tunes to keep this toddler entertained and smiling and I don't know who had the better time.

      Red invited me to come visit him in Knoxville after college but just a year or so after he played in Chicago, he passed away suddenly, and I regret that I didn't take him up on it earlier. I do have a cassette tape of the Red and Jethro show somewhere, plus another show Red played at the U of C, and a mandolin workshop featuring Red, Jethro, Yank Rachell, and the mando player from a band called Patent Pending- forget his name. Maybe those shows should be posted somewhere but I am not sure how to do it.

      Last story for tonight: Red got me good by talking about his family, then saying, want to see a picture of my pride and joy? Of course it was a picture of Pride furniture wax next to a bottle of Joy dish soap. I'm guessing he pulled that one thousands of time. He was a funny, joyful man and I feel privileged to have met him.
    1. Jim Rohrer's Avatar
      Jim Rohrer -
      This is fantastic… Red has been one of my favorites for a long time. Thank you!