Blue Collar Broadcast

American Poets
Interview Series

Beaver Dam Rocking Chair Marathon

Tapping My Own Phone

Blue Collar Boom


Ron Whitehead

Ron's bio

Excerpts | Companion CD | Marathon Tour

Your grandfather was a fundamentalist Baptist preacher or Pentecostal?

Holy roller. "Pentecostal" is kind of a formal way of stating it. Holy roller. "Holy" and "roller"-- both important words. They like to be called "holy roller" because that's what they did. They entered into this holy state of being, this communion with the holy spirit. They rolled on the floor. They spoke in tongues, some of them had seizures. They had visions. They had ecstatic experiences. Altered states of consciousness.

"Give me that church of the holy spook"
--Shane McGowan

Do you relate that to rock and roll?

Oh, I think so. People would dance on chairs with music playing loud: guitars, banjos, tambourines, pianos, people singing at the top of their voices. It's a way to vent all that sublimated energy-- sexual, spiritual, whatever-- to hopefully-- if you bel ieve it-- to communicated it with, unite it with, consummate a relationship with your god. My God! That's like having some kind of sacred pleasure with God.

Did you get swept up in it when you were younger?

I got swept up in it from the point-of-view of the observer. I wasn't able to release that kind of energy until much later. The first inkling of that energy was when I saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show and my parents said, "Turn it off." That ene rgy scared middle class America. But truly, when I saw and heard the Beatles is when that electric energy-- just like a cattle prod-- you turn that thing on a stick a cow in the ass, they don't stand there; they jump. By God, that's what I did. I got up. I wanted to move. I had goose bumps all over me. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I was able to experience then, as a teenager, what the holy rollers experienced--what I witnessed as a child. We'd play ball at night down at the baseball park at Centertown (pop. 323) and they'd start singing up on the hill at the Holy Roller Church. Some of us boys would slip off and we'd walk up there and look in the windows. Within an hour they'd be in their fits. I'll never forget the night my dad pulled up an d told my brother and me, "Don't say anything." And we watched.

Was there some kind of break in your family when your dad rejected the Holy Rollers?

I don't know. My parents felt like the Holy Rollers were just too radical. They went to the other extreme in our community which was-- and most people'd laugh at this-- the Baptist Church. Some people think automatically-- Baptists, Holy Rollers, Penteco stal-- they're pretty similar, right? Well no, they're not. Baptists are kind of liberal compared to the Holy Rollers. And the other thing was, they went to the other extreme with their energy level. If anyone let out so much as a peep during the church s ervice, fifty people turned around and stared you down. So I was shocked as a boy when finally-- this was when I was nine or ten-- I hadn't heard anything like this before- Matthew Tichner brought his gospel quartet to our church. And Mrs. Duncan played o n the piano like I'd never heard her before. She banged the hell out of that piano! I thought she was gonna tear it up. She was my third grade English teacher and I'd never seen her behave like this in the classroom. She was raising her arms up and slammi ng down on that piano. These guys sang their hearts out and I was excited about that gospel music.

1. Intro
2. Church of the holy spook
3. What was all that noise about?
4. Western Kentucky: late 1960's

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