DRAKESBORO, Ky. (4/15/13) – Mention Mose Rager to any guitar thumbpicker worth his weight, and you'll likely get a smile and an acknowledgement that this obscure guitar genius created a whole new sound that lives on today.
Saturday, April 13th, 2013, local friends and fans, pickers from several states, and those who just love his totally unique style and sound, joined in to celebrate Mose Rager Day at the Drakesboro City Hall.
The man who created his own style of guitar thumb picking, went on to influence the likes of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, along with literally thousands of others. He was honored with a full day of thumb picking and story sharing about a guitar genius everyone seemed to love.
Mary Rainwater, a former neighbor of Rager, told Surfky News that "Mose lived across the street from our family when I was growing up. They were playing all the time, but I was little then, and Momma wouldn't let me go out of our yard. But I do remember there were always plenty of people over there, and they were always playing. It was wonderful to hear."
A monument to Rager sits across from the town courthouse, just a couple of miles from the TVA Paradise plant where Rager once worked at one of his many occupations.
One concert goer, Neil Litton, recalled that a man pulled up while Mose was walking down the street. The man asked Mose if he knew where Mose Rager lived. He asked the man what exactly he wanted to see Mose Rager for. 'Well, I just like his pickin', and I wanted to meet him,' the man said. Turns out that man worked for Standard Oil up in Indiana. Mose got that job with Standard Oil with his, guitar, and got a job with TVA with his guitar. He also ran the Drakesboro theatre for a while."
Another fan added that the most simple way to explain the Mose Rager sound is that "you don't need any one to back you up. You just play the melody and then on the offbeats you play your own bass line. It just creates a syncopation back and forth beat that is just beyond any other sound. I've played rock, country, every kind of music and there is nothing else like the Mose Rager sound."
Everyone agrees that Mose house was the place to be for guitar picking. But one reason there are few recordings of Mose, according to several who knew him, was the fact he was shy when it came to touring or recording.
One fan stated that, "He got lots of offers to tour with people like Grandpa Jones and others, but he was a home body, and a bit shy on stage. They got him to record once at Mach One Studio in Central City, and he was just fine practicing before recording. But the minute that "On Air" light went on, he would almost freeze up. Couldn't play a note. They finally distracted him while someone unscrewed the "On Air" light bulb. Then he played great. I think we all just wish there were more Mose recordings."
One younger session musician from Dawson Springs said "this whole area has such a rich history of great musicians. Merle Travis, the Everly Brothers, Mose, John Prine's family and Bill Monroe just down the road in Ohio County. It must be in the water. It's something. I have one of Mose' guitars right here. One of his grandkids was going to take it to Alaska, and I asked if I could have it, because I never knew Mose but I'm very close with his family. Surprisingly they agreed to let me have it. You can feel Mose coming through the guitar sometimes, you really can."
The Mose sound is definitely gaining a new generation of followers. One 12-year-old fan from Vincennes, asked for permission to play the Mose Rager guitar, as it leaned against the monument planted here to honor the legendary picker.
"This one's for you, Mose." the young boy said.
He then sang and played an old Mose Rager favorite, "I am a Pilgrim". This was a fitting song to dedicate to a true pilgrim in exploring and creating a whole new style and sound still inspiring those from 2 to 92.
You can view the original performance of this song by Mose himself on the video below.
Photos by Marilyn Kirtley
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