Drink deep from the cup of old-time music, and appreciate a rich life in the mountains

Larry Webster
Larry Webster

The great richness of life in the Eastern Kentucky mountains keeps people here, draws them in, and makes regretful those who must leave.

That richness is fueled by people like Robin Holbrook, who was taken from us a few days ago by a car wreck. Unless you drink deep of the cup of old time music, or unless you were a desperately poor sick person going up Mud Creek for a dose of medicine and kindness, you may never have heard of Robin Holbrook.

But you may well regret his passing. There is almost an underground culture of old time music in Kentucky, a welcoming but relatively closed bunch of us who love and play and celebrate the acoustic music of the rural south, and its best branch, Kentucky music, before evolution turned it into a mere component of bluegrass. Mac Benford calls it ‘unpopular music’ and thank God it is and has thus not been, as we would pronounce it, rern’t yet.

Robin Holbrook, his older brother Scotty, Jamie Wells (from whose loins sprang the master mountain musician, Jesse Wells), a true gentleman named Roy Conley and Aaron Meadows had an old time string band called the Bottom of the Barrel Bunch, which shouted, hollered, fiddled and banjoed at schools, festivals, picnics, and in that old log cabin just outside of Salyersville which is said to have once been the cabin of legendary fiddler John Morgan Salyers. Those old chestnut logs have absorbed music whose beauty is beyond the telling.

You may have caught a glimpse on KET of those autumn square dances in that cabin, and there was Robin, with a broad grin on that broad face, a half pint of Early Times secluded in the back pocket of his Liberty bibbs, joyfully singing out over top of those dancers, “Fortune I had it, Fortune I lost it, Fortune I lost it, One night when I was drunk.”

When not bringing music to us, Robin served the legendary Mud Creek Clinic as one of those Physician’s Assistants or whatever they call these new almost-doctors. I used to tease Robin about being a GED doctor. But Robin and others there served long hours at low pay to provide those poor mountain people he was singing about medical treatment and hope, whether they could afford it or not, and for many, whether they needed it or not.

They got that care rendered unto them with respect. Such places as the Mud Creek Clinic are the last bastion of the poor in this age where they are considered by the government as being unworthy of good health.

The old mountain music features on the banjo something called ‘drop-thumb.’ Because Sen. John McCain dropped his thumb in the Senate two things happened: Obama care was spared and secondly, they have to hide ships named after him from the Commander in Chief. If and when Obama care is abolished there will be a line all the way to Winchester trying to get into the Mud Creek Clinic, but Robin will not be there, and no one can really replace him.

Life can be abruptly ended, even for those in the process of making a masterpiece of theirs. R.I.P, Robin, Magoffin County’s finest and best. If they do let people who once took a nip of Early Times into heaven, Robin, try to remember not to start a line dance up there.

Reach Larry Webster, a Pikeville attorney, at websterlawrencer@bellsouth.net.