By Joe Collier
Ron Short is a staple for local mountain music in Southwest Virginia. Not only does he perform with his band Ron Short and the Possum Playboys, but he also helps cultivate local artists with both his support and wisdom. Ron sat down with Yeti to discuss his musical work, his love for his wife Joan, and Southwest Virginia’s Mountain Music scene.
Yeti: Thank you Ron for agreeing to sit down for a Q and A with Yeti Music Review on Monsters of Geek.
First of all please introduce yourself to our readers.
Ron Short: My name is Ron Short and I currently live in Duffield VA with my wife Joan and a crazy cat called “Hey Boo”!
Officially I am “retired” but in many ways I am more active than I’ve ever been, because instead of pursuing one line of work I’m pursuing many lines of interest. And, mostly that pursuit leads me to playing as much music as I can [both] solo and with my band The Possum Playboys!
Y: How long have you been performing?
RS: Thirty -five years or more. So long I don’t think about it anymore and know very little else that I have done.
Y: What are some accomplishments you’ve had in your music career?
RS: Firstly, the fact that I have been able to actually earn a living with my music, songs and dramatic-musical scripts which were produced by Roadside Theater. I have been able to have a “JOB” which I love. Very few people on Earth can say that.
In terms of things that other people might find important, I have performed on stages all over the World— England, Wales, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Ireland—at Lincoln Center, off Broadway in NYC, San Francisco, Smithsonian—Lord, too many places to even remember.
I have had the great good fortune to play with wonderful musicians from all over the World—Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Zuni Pueblo, Kentucky!
I once recorded at Abbey Row Studio in London, but prefer Maggard’s Studio in Big Stone Gap!
Y: Many songs say they have love or want love like Johnny and June or Romeo and Juliet. I was writing a song the other night and the line “ a love like Ron and Joan” came out of the pen. Your wife taught at a local high school and is still loved by all of her former students. Every time I see you all together I smile because I can feel the happiness and the love radiate off of you two. How much of an inspiration is she to you in your song writing and storytelling?
RS: I can’t begin to even come close to answering that question. She has never wavered in her love and support for me and my headstrong pursuit of music. Instead of seeing it as a curse, she sees it as my gift and is never jealous that she cannot enter into the relationship that I have with music. Well, maybe every now and then, for she is after all human.
She also taught that way. She always saw the best in students even if their “gifts” might not be in academia. She never left one behind who was willing to get up and follow their dreams.
Y: One of my favorite things about your music is the fact you paint such a vivid picture of a story in your songs. Have you always written songs that paint a picture for the listener to imagine?
RS: Yes, I guess so. I believe that a song has the ability to become a novel in three minutes time or less, if I do my job as a songwriter and musician. I think that one of the strongest attributes of Appalachian Culture is that we still maintain a strong oral tradition. We tell stories rather than just exchange information and I believe that draws the listener and the speaker into a more personal relationship. I try to do that with my songs, share rather than dictate. I want a very close personal relationship with my audience when I play. A band can sometimes withdraw into itself and leave the audience to fend for themselves. I try not to leave them behind if they show the least bit of interest in coming along for a musical adventure together with the band or if I’m solo.
Y: You wear many hats around our little music community in Southwest Virginia, but what I see as the most important hat you wear is the one for keeping the tradition of Mountain Music alive. I have taken classes for banjo at the summer Mountain Music School program and plan to hopefully take fiddle this year. It has produced some great musicians over the years as well as helping give people the confidence they need to perform. In your words, explain to the readers why it is so important to keep the tradition of Mountain Music alive?
RS: Because it may be the only thing we truly own—our own voices, the voices of our ancestors, [and] the music that tells our story. If you want to know someone, ask them to tell you a story. If you want to look inside their heart ask them to sing you a song!
There’s a great difference between imitation and creation. The music of tradition does not demand a certain style or certain interpretation by the artist. We care less about the performer than we do the music and that’s the way it should be I think!
When you care more about the music than you do the “STAR” [then] color doesn’t matter, age doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter, sexual preference doesn’t matter. [The] music matters!
Yes, I love Stevie Ray Vaughn, but I don’t want to spend my life trying to learn to play the way that Stevie Ray Vaughn has already played and have the best review that I can get be “You sound like Stevie Ray Vaughn!” That doesn’t mean that I won’t play his songs or the songs of others, but I have given up on trying to imitate the artist and focus more on telling that story of the song the best that I can!
Y: If they want to help support the cause what can they do?
RS: Come to music school, learn to play your instrument, [and] dedicate yourself to helping preserve the unique music that is our rightful heritage. Then teach someone else.
Y: If they are interested in coming to the Mountain Music School, when and where is it?
RS: Easiest way is to go to www.mountainmusicschool.org at MECC (Editor’s Note: Mountain Empire Community College) and you can learn about the schedule and sign up online. The school can lend you an instrument if you need one.
Y: You have been in the music scene of Southwest Virginia for a while. We have a lot of talent in these hills. In your opinion, what needs to happen to build up a music scene and get these musicians the attention they need?
RS: There is more public exposure for musicians now than I have ever seen in my lifetime. This is probably due to the great influence that the WWW has had on musicians. Technology has made it possible to have contact with large numbers of people–music on line, pictures, video, contacts. Your music blog is a perfect example of what needs to happen. Musicians need a local forum to exchange music, learn about each other, and we need to help each other find jobs, I never turn down a job without suggesting someone to fill that gig I can’t take.
Love the music you play, but be prepared to find out that everyone will not love it.
Criticism should not create anger, but cause an artist to examine what they are doing. Realize that “stardom” may never happen, but music can last you a lifetime, and longer, because it exists sometimes long after the musician is gone.
I listen to and play a lot of music. I bet I bought a CD or download every 2 weeks last year, but out of all [of them] my favorite was by a LOCAL ARTIST! It was the freshest [and] most fun, made me move my ass and sing along CD that I listened to all year [and] the one I carry in my car and still play almost very time I drive, “For Cryin’ Out Loud” by We Killed Vegas.
Y: You are in a band called Ron Short and the Possum Playboys and I love the music you play. I have always wanted to know the story behind the name. Can you tell us the story?
RS: Well, partly. It goes back to that traditional history of local music. There have always been “Playboy” bands –“Texas Playboys”, “Pine Tree Playboys”, “Opalousa Playboys”, “KY Playboys” etc. Musicians were once called “playboys” which has a very different meaning than what we think of today. I wanted a name that captured the traditional spirit, combined with a regional identity and something that caught people’s attention. And I don’t know any critter to better represent the “hillbilly” spirit than the possum. He’s a survivor from the ice age and tough enough to keep on trying to cross the road no matter how many cars are trying to run over him.
Y: Tell us who all is in the Possum Playboys? How did you meet?
RS: I am very fortunate to play music with my friends. Aaron Davis plays guitar and sings. Lisa Davis is our percussionist playing washboard, triangle, you name it she bangs on it and she sings. I am very lucky to have two bass players who swap out gigs, Ben Mays and Dwight Bishop. Gary McGonagill plays drums and sings and carries on a running commentary behind my back!
I have known them all for many years. Aaron was one of Joan’s students; Ben was my road manager, tech guy for many years; Lisa and Aaron are married and we are so lucky to have her here in our region. She teaches school in Dickenson County and is a great artist. She does our posters and CD covers. Dwight is a regional fixture [and] he was a session player in Memphis, ran a music shop in Scott County, [and] performs with another partner, Cyndee Gray Harr. And Gary has played in bands from Fla. to Canada since he was barely a teenager and he used to hang out with Little Feat in their heyday. As you can see we are a pretty experienced well rounded group!
Here’s our attempt to explain what we do , but really we are a band that loves to play live, that’s where the music comes alive:
The Possum Playboys are keeping alive and vibrant the tradition of bands that once traveled the two-lane highways of America, playing music that pleases and satisfies the eternal human longing for companionship, dance and fun!
Featuring fiddle, slide guitar and “hillbilly/cajun” accordion, the Playboys play a lively mix of “possum bebop” —- musical styles that range from “swamp to swing”, “rockabilly to be-bop”—- music that sets feet tapping, hips swinging, and people singing!
The Possum Playboys are a hard working band that prides themselves on their ability to weave seamlessly in and out of musical genres while staying firmly rooted in the earthy tones of traditional Appalachian music. And, though the musical traditions may be familiar, the songs and interpretations are fresh and new and the musicianship is superb!
Y: “Rooster Name Jack” came out in 2012. When can we expect a new album?
RS: Working on getting to studio about the time school lets out in June.
Y: Anything exciting happing in 2014 for the Possum Playboys?
Unlike my previous life, the one downer for regional musicians is that hardly anyone pays what the music is worth. There is no scale and if we didn’t love to play it would be impossible to do it! That said, if I wasn’t playing at a gig, I’d still be playing somewhere!
Y: Let the readers know how they can keep up with Ron Short and the Possum Playboys and get your music?
RS: Best way is to come see us when we play in the area, like the Hangar or Magnolia or Big Glades*. Hearing music live is always best. And, I usually have CDs at every gig. Also, you can find us at:
www.cdbaby.com/cd/ronshortandthepossumplayboys and itunes and Amazon.
On the web we are at: www.facebook.com/possumbebop and
*Editor’s Note: For the ones that may not be familiar with the area, The Hanger and Big Glades are located in Wise, VA and the Magnolia in Norton, VA.