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Local musicians, community rally around bluegrass legend in time of need

Feb. 14, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

HURRICANE -- The air might have been icy and forbidding on the outside of the Barnyard Barbecue in Hurricane on Friday, Jan. 24, but inside, the atmosphere was electric with the sounds of great bluegrass music as nearly 100 people came together for a benefit show for their friend and fellow musician, John "Buckwheat" Green, who had heart bypass surgery in early November and hadn't yet been able to return to work.

On this night, people could enjoy fresh barbecue while they listened to three local bluegrass groups: "Jim and Valerie Gabehart," "The Grass Stains," and "Southridge."

Green, who sings and plays electric bass for the Gabeharts, even sang a couple of his own compositions, "The Old Man in the Shanty," and "A Shoulder to Cry On," which was the first time he had performed with them since the surgery on Nov. 1, 2013.

Known as Buckwheat or Buck to his friends and family, Green said he had ignored warning signs that something in his body was amiss. He had experienced an odd sensation in his chest sometimes while mowing the lawn over the summer, but didn't pay attention to it. In late October his mother, with whom he had made his home, passed away. A few days later he awakened with what felt like indigestion, which lasted about 10 minutes and then stopped. Three days later, however, when the pain hit, he knew he needed to get help fast. He said a "real close friend," Linda Cochran, took him to the hospital.

"On Friday, it started hurting really really bad. If it wasn't for her I probably wouldn't be here," Green said.

After a heart catheterization at Thomas Memorial, three blockages were found that were so severe physicians determined he would need more than a stent, and sent him to Charleston Area Medical Center-Memorial Division, where another test was done and he was told he would need three bypasses. On the following Tuesday, surgery was performed and instead of three, four bypasses were done.

One of the most difficult parts of the surgery for him was the breathing tube, which has left him with throat problems. Being a singer, this has made the healing process even more important.

"It was hard. My throat hasn't been the same. I sang some there (at the benefit), but not like I used to. I haven't overdone it," he said.

Lincoln County Prosecutor and musician, Jim Gabehart, said he had approached Green earlier about the benefit because he knew Green would not be able to work for awhile.

"The music community is very good about responding when the call goes out," he said.

Gabehart said the benefit performance went on from 7 to 10:15 p.m., when he had to finally close the show.

"It was three hours of solid music (no intermissions). It was a great evening," he said.

On his Facebook page, Green said he was filled with emotion and gratitude for the love and support shown to him by those who came to the benefit.

"I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart." He also expressed appreciation to Jim and Valerie Gabehart for organizing the event.

Green, who also plays regular guitar and mandolin, said he comes from a musical family who always sang together. As a matter of fact, he was singing before he could talk.

"Mom said I used to stand in the crib and hold onto the rail and try to sing along with what was on the TV, and I used to try to sing with the radio," he said.

When he was 4, his dad took him along one Saturday night while his country band performed. The younger Green was allowed to get up and sing, too. The next morning his mother took him to church where he sang "Jesus Loves Me" in front of the congregation. He was such a hit; the pastor asked him if he knew any other songs. He looked over at the church pianist and asked, "Do you know 'You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog?"

"Dad got an earful when we got home," he said, laughing.

Green is the son of the late John and Virginia Green, who lived most of their lives in Hurricane. John passed away in 1972 and Virginia joined him just this past fall. Green said he learned to play music from his father.

"My dad always played. I'd listen to him and his friends play. He bought me a guitar when I was in the first grade or so," he said.

Later he sang in the choir at Hurricane High School, which he credits for refining his singing skills.

"I was taught how to sing formally. That helped a lot," he said.

If you want to make records, it is good to live near a recording studio, which Green did. Called Midway Studios, the building was located where Bogey's is today. Green said he walked in one day when he was about 13 or 14 and said. "I want to be a singer and songwriter." The owner, Bill Browning, listened to his song and recorded it for free. Later he recorded an album and a single for Green's first group, The West Virginia Gentlemen.

While in high school, Green said he listened to rock 'n roll and country, but then began listening to the Country Gentlemen, a bluegrass group.

"It grew from there -- I never looked back," he said.

He formed the West Virginia Gentlemen with Jerry and Joe Vance and Tim Johnson. Johnson was killed in a car accident in 1974 and the band broke up. He was in "The Laurel Mountain Boys" from 1976-78, then formed a group with Jerry Vance called "The High Time Pickin' Band." Later he recorded in Michigan on the Old Homestead Records, and then played in "Groundspeed" which included Kevin Coll and Rob Ward of Saint Albans and Richard Byrd of Huntington.

In 1990, he went to work for "Lonesome River Band" who had recorded three of his songs in the 1980s -- one of which was "The Old Man in the Shanty" about an old man who was a night watchman for his dad's rock crushing business.

"It's a classic in bluegrass music," he said. "It was recorded by the Chapmans and did well. Lonesome River Band re-recorded it on "Chronology I-First Ten Years." When he joined the Lonesome River Band, his band mates included Tim Austin, Dale Perry, and future bluegrass star Dan Tyminski, who plays for Allison Krause, and is also the voice coming out of George Clooney on the song "Man of Constant Sorrow" from the movie, "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?"

Could he predict Tyminski's bright future at that time?

"Oh yeah, I knew he was going to be something. We still play golf together if I go to Nashville," he said. The other two are still close to the music business.

Over the years, he has met a lot of big music stars. It didn't hurt that the late country music musician Merle Kilgore was his cousin.

"I met a lot through Merle Kilgore -- I had back stage passes no matter where," he said.

For those who aren't familiar with Merle Kilgore, he was a singer/songwriter/agent in Nashville back in the '60s and '70s. You might be familiar with a song he co-wrote with Claude King in 1962 called "Wolverton Mountain" that became a tremendous hit on both the country and pop stations.

In the song, the singer says not to go on Wolverton Mountain if you're looking for a wife because Clifton Clowers, who lives there, has a pretty young daughter and is mighty handy with a gun and knife. The singer (Claude King) finally says he's not afraid of Clifton Clowers; he's going to climb that mountain. As a matter of fact, that mountain really exists and it is located in a small town in Arkansas. Clifton Clowers was a real man who lived on that mountain and he was Merle Kilgore's uncle and Buck Green's grandfather. Green says that mountain became a big tourist attraction.

"People flooded to Woolverton (actual spelling) Mountain. Grandpa started whittling turkey calls and trinkets, selling them to people," he said.

Although he didn't see him often, he has good memories of staying with his grandparents when he was little and later as a teenager.

"We'd go fishing, and in the evenings, he'd sit under an old tree and play fiddle. He was quite a man," Green said.

Was the song true? Although the song only mentions one daughter, there were two, Burlene and Green's mother, Virginia. Green said although his grandfather did use a gun and knife, he didn't use them on anyone.

"Dad said the story was true; mom said it wasn't," he said, laughing.

In 2007, Green moved back to West Virginia permanently from Virginia to help his mother who had been injured in an accident. In 2011, Jim Gabehart called and asked him to play bass for the group.

Today, along with playing bass for the Gabeharts, Green is writing songs with some songwriters called, "The Morris Group," who write for Dale Morris Publishing in Nashville.

"I go up there a couple times a month," he said.

He is also an endorser for Schecter Guitar Research who supplies him with his guitars.

He feels pretty fortunate to be alive. He credits his neighbors, Mark and Marty for helping him since the surgery.

"I feel blessed that I am still here. Blessed to have friends who checked on me. It's a humbling experience," he said.

"I've always prayed a lot. Lots of people prayed for me. I've always been a believer. I know the Lord's probably teaching me something," he said.

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