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Ron Whitehead

Ron's bio

Excerpts | Companion CD | Marathon Tour

My grand-dad on my mother's side was jack of all trades. He was a traveling musician as a young man, performed on radio stations across the country, played the banjo and the guitar. My mom and her sister, who were the two oldest of thirteen kids, sang wit h him on the radio many times. He had a couple restaurants he would set up in old buses he would fix up. He had a barber shop. He cut hair. He was a construction worker. His name was Dick Render. Some people called him the "Dixie Yodeller". He was a hell of a yodeller. He played just kind of a combination of Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers- a real mixture of country and blues.

"What was all that noise about?"

He bought some ground down in western Kentucky and would go down there on weekends and clear the ground and try to fix it up. Also, the South End of Louisville was just growing at that time-- Valley Station, that area. This was in the '50's. He worked co nstruction: he drove a grader and he could drive a bulldozer. He was the kind of person who just decided he could do whatever he set his mind to. So he worked a barbershop up here and did construction. He'd get off his construction job and go cut hair for two or three hours. Then he'd go down to western Kentucky on the weekends to work on the farm a couple of hours, then go into Centertown and cut hair. Then he'd get out and play basketball. He was kind of a wild man. He seemed to have some Gypsy blood in him. He was going all the time.

We'd come up and visit Dick Render and his wife, Mamaw Lou Render. There were thirteen kids. Two had died when they were little, so there were eleven still living. The house was always packed. We'd sleep five or six in a bed. We'd get in a car-- t here would sometimes be fifteen in a car. I'll never forget, at least twice, going around a curve and somebody would fall out. The door would pop open cause it was so packed. We were going probably 30 around a curve and my uncle, Stevie, who was a year ol der than me, rolled out in a ditch. Luckily, there were leaves in the ditch. He rolled over in the ditch and jumped up. I looked back and we were yelling, "Stevie fell out! Stevie fell out!" We looked back, and he was up, jumping, yelling, "Hey, wait for me! wait for me!"-- running back to get in the car. And my grand-dad said, "Somebody hold on to that boy." And we took off again. There was always something like that happening. It was a lot of fun.

Then, when I was nine years old, my grand-dad was working on the first Watterson Expressway in 1959. And being the dare-devil that he was- he always thought he could do anything-- he had his grader on a slope that was too steep and he thought he c ould make it just fine, but it flipped over and landed on him. He lasted a week, but then he died. I've never seen, other than some celebrity on TV, a funeral where more people came. There were way over a thousand people in the church. And we came out of the church and there were people lined up both sides of the road.

That energy and excitement was part of what brought me to Louisville. I just remember lying awake at night upstairs in their house and hearing the traffic on Dixie Highway-- the big trucks rumbling down the road all night long. On the road we live d on, there might be five or six cars come by all day. It was the kind of place where you could hear birds singing, a hawk high up the sky. The sounds of the city kind of drew me in. I knew that the city was the place for me. It was the sound of movement all night long. I mean, what was going on out there? What was all that noise about? Who would be up at that hour? I would wake up constantly in the night just imagining what might be happening. What are all those people doing out there still up?

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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