Red Allen, Frank Wakefield, Pete Kuykendall and Tom Morgan. These names epitomize all that is meaningful in the world of bluegrass music. The pedigrees of Harley "Red" Allen and Franklin Delano Wakefield have been well documented. Red is justly regarded as the quintessential bluegrass singer. Raw, emotive, tender when necessary; he ranks as one of the most powerful singers this music has produced. Frank Wakefield remains the true preserver of Bill Monroe's definitive understanding of how bluegrass mandolin ought to be played and has furthered his unequalled knowledge of the Monroe doctrine with an enriched vocabulary of Baroque and Classical explorations. But what has not been fully documented were the significant contributions of bandmates Pete Kuykendall and Tom Morgan. Collectively, this outstanding ensemble contributed some of the most lasting and memorable testaments within the bluegrass idiom. Theirs was a music of passion and conviction. The availability of only one commercial recording of this band has now been addressed and serves to illuminate the prominence of these gifted performers.
In 1963, Red, Frank, Pete and Tom gathered in Mr. Kuykendall's Falls Church, Virginia home studio for what turned out to be a successful relationship with radio station WDON - 1540 AM in Wheaton, Maryland. This station, founded by Everett Dillard and managed by his son, Don Dillard, embraced pure rock and roll and country. Mr. Dillard handled the former and DJ's such as Gary Henderson represented the latter. The station likewise made a commitment for the inclusion of live bluegrass on weekends. Red, Frank and the Kentuckians were provided with such a time-slot. Subsequent to securing sponsorship from Banner Glass, Cousin Nick's tavern and the Lone Pine Inn, both the station and band benefitted from this arrangement. Fortunately for us, the broadcast recordings archived by Mr. Kuykendall documenting this extraordinary group serve to remind us of the music's endurance in the hands of musicians of this stature.
The three surviving members of the Kentuckians, Kuykendall, Morgan and Wakefield graciously agreed to gather in the friendly confines of Tom Mindte's Patuxent Music studio on February 8, 2013 to reflect upon and provide insights into this period of the band's creativity. A video of this interview and discussion may be found on Patuxent Music’s youtube channel.
Transcript of a 2013 interview with Frank Wakefield, Pete Kuykendall & Tom Morgan by Mark Yacovone.
Mark Yacovone: Frank, I believe you and Kenny Haddock made the trip from Ohio to
the D.C. area in 1960.
Frank Wakefield: We first came to Baltimore and the man we ran into was Chasky.
We stayed with him a week and tried to find a place to play.
That's when we met Porter Church who played at a place called
Whitey's and he gave us a job. That's how it got started.
Mark Yacovone: When did Harley "Red"Allen make his way to the D.C. area?
Frank Wakefield: When we moved to D.C., Red followed me down there. He came down and we got Tom Morgan who started playing bass with us.
Pete Kuykendall: You came out to do a demo at our recording studio and, at the
time, you had Robbie Robinson playing banjo. He was from
the Columbus area.
Mark Yacovone: Let's talk about WDON. How did this come about?
Frank Wakefield: I got the show.
Pete Kuykendall: It was one of those things where you get the sponsor and
they become interested in the band. Frank was working
for the sponsor, Banner Glass. And I think it was Red or
Frank who contacted WDON. They had a number of local
bands on the station at that time. Red and Frank, as far as music
was concerned, were a step above most of the local bands
they had on. So, we started cutting half-hour radio programs
not unlike bands to promote their personal appearance
calendars. We would play fifteen minutes sponsored by
Banner Glass and tell them where we were playing. That was
one of the reasons Red got it - it was a way to promote the
appearances. And because I had a studio, it made it pretty
simple. The studio was in the basement of my house.
Mark Yacovone: The name Wynwood. Any back-history on that?
Pete Kuykendall: Not really. At the time, John Duffey was involved with it. John
was the one who came up with the name and I found out later
it was the name of a street over in Bethesda near where he lived.
So it wasn't any brilliant, deep meaning behind it, it was just a
name that had not been used at the time. We made the fatal
mistake of spelling it with a "y" rather that an "i," so we probably
lost some royalties down the road.
Mark Yacovone: So everyone gathered in your basement. The objective was to
come up with fifteen-minute radio programs.
Tom Morgan: This man to my left, Pete Kuykendall, gave me the challenging
task to go in cold turkey after Frank had got through ringing the
mandolin on every break. Pete challenged me. And I don't mind
telling I've played with several banjo players in this world, the way
he handled that will be fully evidenced in what came about.
Mark Yacovone: Let's talk about the venues. The Lone Pine Inn and Cousin' Nick's.
Pete Kuykendall: I was playing a little on the side and if memory serves me I
was playing with a group with Van and June Helms. Van was
selling candy bars and Cousin' Nick's was right across the street
from one of D.C.'s bus barns (14th St. and Colorado Ave., N.W.)
Van told the guy we played a little music, so we got hired on
Tuesday's and Thursday's. There was a lot of cross-pollination of
musicians. Cousin' Nick's was one and became a second
sponsor in addition to Banner Glass. And that made the radio
station happy having half-hour sponsors.
Tom Morgan: Let me go back to Cousin' Nick's. Carter Stanley needed some
financial uplifting. We went to Cousin' Nick's for a fundraiser and
I'll never forget, Patsy Stoneman came in and said "this place sure
is dead," and challenged us.
Mark Yacovone: The Lone Pine Inn, Germantown, Maryland, had an interesting
aspect to its demographic.
Pete Kuykendall: I had played there for almost a month before I realized it was
a bi-racial situation. We would come into the bar and usually
get dinner there and I never realized the place had an
African-American segment. And you'd never know it because
the way the hedges were. The parking was on one side - the
white was on one side and the black was on the other.
Mark Yacovone: Let's talk about the material. I assume you're working from
song books, memory, a combination of the two?
Frank Wakefield: Memory only.
Pete Kuykendall: Memory. The Bill Clifton Song Book. That's where the
material released on Folkways came from. I don't think
we rehearsed. If it didn't make it the first time, we may go
back an do it again.
Tom Morgan: That's my recollection also. But I made a contribution. I'd sneak
in a Bailes Brothers thing like "I Guess I'll Just Go On Dreaming," and add a little flavor in there. A different direction.
Frank Wakefield: Sometimes me and Red would write a song before we'd go
to the studio. We'd be in the car and sing, when we'd get
to the studio we'd get there and do it. Like that song "Don't Lie To Me," remember that? Me and Red wrote that
mostly in the car going to the studio. Tom was already there
and we'd just get in there and play it one time.
Mark Yacovone: Frank, you were playing the 1922 Pee Wee Lambert F-5?
Frank Wakefield: Yeah, that was the one Tom sold for me to Harry West. And
he sold it for $650.00 and I gave Tom $150.00 to make me
a mandolin. So Harry got the mandolin to start with. So I
went to Columbus, Ohio (196?) and bought the one I have
now. A 1923. It had a spoon and fork to hold it together. Tom
put that back together for Harry West. I didn't even recognize it.
Harry West wouldn't give it to me and he sold it. And (?) bought
it for $200.00 and Grisman bought it. Now Grisman just got
rid of it. He played it for me over the telephone to let me know
what it sounded like. I don't know who's got it now. Do you
Pete Kuykendall: If it's the Pee Wee Lambert mandolin, Ricky Skaggs has it
now. Ricky calls it "Pee Wee."
Frank Wakefield: When I first got it when I got a job with the Stanley Brothers
in Kentucky and the first thing Ralph and Carter said "what
are you doing with Pee Wee's mandolin?" I didn't know it was
his mandolin. That was really amazing because the guy in
Springfield, Ohio, he broke it in a trash can (Pee Wee did).
This guy picked it up and brought it and showed it to Red. Red
said come down the next day, Frank will be with me. I was
mad with Red. That was in the early '50's. I wouldn't play
with him. So when Red told me a guy was coming down with
a mandolin, an old F-5, I didn't know about Lloyd Loar, I just
knew it was an old mandolin. He brought it down. I had an
F-12 and I said "how much you take for it?" He said, well, I'll
trade mandolins with you because mine's neck had been
broken. So I said, "why don't you give me $30.00 to boot?" So that's exactly what he done. I always wanted an F-5 model
like Bill Monroe's. And when I got the one I have now, I got
it in Columbus, Ohio for $150.00. I showed it to Bill and Bill
said to me, "boy you better hold on to that mandolin."