DRAKESBORO, Ky. (4/15/14) — Mose Rager is a name still unknown to many people outside the world of guitar pickers.
But for thumb picking guitar fans of the reclusive Muhlenberg County legend, Saturday April 12 was a day to celebrate.
The 14th Annual Mose Rager Day included free music, a potluck meal, and stories to share about a man known as much for his humor as he is for his intense passion to share his favorite style of picking.
The Muhlenberg Thumbpicking guitar style is something that Rager indeed loved to share with the likes of Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers and their father, Ike Everly, and a young Merle Travis, who grew up just down the road from Rager in Ebenezer.
The Mose Rager event was held at the Drakesboro City Hall, where pickers joined together for the annual tradition of picking and sharing stories about this reclusive, often overlooked name in the history of guitar stylists. The event attracted people from throughout western Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.
Joe Hudson, Executive Director of the National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame, told SurfKY News that the celebration started back in 2000.
"For those unfamiliar with Mose's thumbpicking sound, the easiest way to explain it is to listen to any Chet Atkins album," Hudson said. "Basically, the Mose sound is a sort of boom-chick, boom-chick type of rhythm. The bass line is played with the thumb and that frees your other four fingers for the melody and chords. Mose played a lot with Kennedy Jones, who was also from Muhlenberg County. The story goes that Jones went to a dry goods store in Central City back in the early 1900s and saw a Hawaiian banjo or guitar pick, which had a loop that holds the pick securely on the right thumb. He was told that it was not supposed to be used on a regular guitar. But Jones tried out the pick and liked what he heard. Mose soon picked up the then unheard of picking style and passed it on to Merle Travis, who lived just down the road from him in Ebenezer. Travis passed it on to Chet Atkins and the rest is history."
The Drakesboro City Hall sits in the shadow of the Four Legends Water Fountain, which honors the music of Rager, Jones, Travis and Ike Everly, the father of the Everly Brothers.
"This event is much like the Thumbpickers Hall of Fame induction in September, but on a smaller scale," Hudson said. "Last September's Hall of Fame event had about 5 percent of attendees from Kentucky and the rest from others states throughout the nation and a few from Canada."
Rager worked as a barber, at the Paradise TVA plant, and now and then would go on the road with other artists before he passed away in 1986. Unfortunately, the recluse mostly played on his front porch in Drakesboro, happy to share the style with anyone who approached him. However, Rager rarely recorded.
"There may be an album's worth of actual recordings out there now," Hudson said. "I don't think he ever actually recorded an album per se."
Danny Rich, of Central City, knew Rager, and helped to record the studio shy guitar genius at Cardinal Studios.
"The only way to get Rager to play with the microphones around was to take the light bulb out of the 'On Air' sign in the studio or cover it up," Rich said. "Once he got to talking and sharing stories, he'd start picking and we'd record him that way."
Hudson said that performers for the Mose Rager event included Paul Moseley of Beaver Dam, Freddy Russell from Todd County, Scott Taylor of Lexington, who is originally from Muhlenberg County and Eddie Pennington from Princeton.
"Once again this year we also had a phenomenal young 14-year-old named Evan Tweedy from Vincennes, Ind.," Hudson said. "This is still such a growing style around the world. This is something that Muhlenberg County, and the state of Kentucky can be proud of. This day is to honor Mose, to say 'Thank you' to him, and to carry on the awareness right here at home, to let people here know what we have here that should be cherished."
Hudson said that the 2014 National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame Induction will be the last weekend in September, adding that next year, the organization may need to change its name to the International Thumbpickers Hall of Fame, thanks to the musicians like Mose Rager, who helped create that Muhlenberg music the world seems to love.
Photos courtesy Marilyn Kirtley
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