Cast King And Johnny Cash. Click For Infos.
Recently I went and saw the new Johnny Cash movie, Walk the Line, and it really got me thinking as to how lucky I am to be working for a record label that puts out records by Cast King. If you haven’t heard me talk about Cast, well then you’re probably just not listening.
79 year old C&W enigma Cast King hails from a small spot in the hills of Alabama between Heaven and hard luck called Old Sand Mountain. Though he has been distilling and refining original country music tunes there for the last 65 years Saw Mill Man on Locust Music is his debut album and it’s a revelation of self-penned murder ballads, heartbreak songs and some of the finest drinking numbers you’ll ever hear.
We’ve already sent this out to a number of press outlets, but if you’re interested, drop me a line and we’ll get something in the works.
Saw Mill Man features Cast King on vocals and acoustic guitar, Matt Downer on electric guitar and drummer Bill Kent on one track. The recording was done in a little shack beside Cast’s house at weekly informal picking sessions that he and Downer shared. They used a cassette 4-track and a minidisc recorder with whatever microphones were functioning at the time or that they could borrow — Cast is a fine hand at improvising needed cords or adapters from bits of old solder, line and tape! King would sit on the corner of a piano bench and Matt’d sit in an old folding chair. The pair would pick and sing while the roosters crowed and black walnuts fell on the tin roof…
Born February 16, 1926, Cast showed musical interest at a young age, forming his first band, the Alabama Pals, at age 14. Nearly a decade later, he put together Cast King and the Country Drifters, a band that played everything from country to bluegrass to Cast’s own compositions and arrangements. With this band, he toured extensively, traveling what seemed like “a million miles”. Cast, being the smallest of the group, “rode about 3/4 of it underneath a bass fiddle”. The band made a demo of one of Cast’s songs, ‘No Time to Pray’, and it found it’s way into the hands of Sam Phillips in Memphis. One day when the band came in from the road, there was a message waiting for them: Sam Phillips wanted them in Memphis to record at Sun Studio. The eight original sides that resulted from the Sun sessions reveal a touring band in fine form and a glimpse into the musical genius of Cast King. When the band made no more recordings and eventually broke up, Cast continued to write songs and play his music for family and friends.
Matt Downer started making field recordings of the old Sand Mountain musicians around the middle of 1998. Stanley “Preacher” Baker had taken to coming by Matt’s grandfather’s house to pick and sing with him. Downer would stick a little tape recorder in there and catch the music that passed between the two men, both well into their 70’s. Preacher Baker passed on shortly thereafter and that kindled a fire under Matt to find more of the elder Sand Mountain musicians and document heir music and memories. He would always ask about other musicians and one would invariably lead to another and another. One name that kept popping up was “Cast King.” Most folks, when asked about Cast, would mention his talent for songwriting and what a great “sackful of songs” he had written.
He finally tracked down a phone number for Cast and called. “Yeah, I’m about too old now, but I’ve been thinkin’ I’d like one more shot at it” he said when Matt brought up doing some recordings. He asked him to call back in 30 days. When Downer called he was told “I’ve been covered up here workin’ in the garden, give me 30 more days.” 30 more days passed and Cast was still busy. After waiting three months, Downer called and asked to come by and pick guitar and was given an open invitation. Downer got some approximate directions: no road numbers, just a few landmarks and reference to “that cut-through road.” That was in Spring of ’03 and Downer became a regular weekend visitor. Saw Mill Man is the result.
from the wall street journal
“At the age of 79, Cast King is releasing his debut album.
The singer and guitarist, who disappeared from the music scene in the early 1960s, was rediscovered by Matt Downer, a country-music aficionado who was traveling around Alabama documenting the songs of aging musicians. Together they recorded “Saw Mill Man,” a collection of ballads with names like “Cheap Motel” and “Wino.”
Mr. King’s album is coming out at a time when old-school country and folk music are enjoying a revival everywhere from hipster dive bars to Hollywood films. (Two years after the death of Johnny Cash, he’s being memorialized in the upcoming movie “Walk the Line.”)”
“A seamless collection of 3-minute stompers, what we have before us is in fact legendary”
“a transmission from the old weird America like a lost fragment of the Harry Smith or Lomax brothers collections. At 79, King’s voice is soft and tremulous, underscoring the fragility and plaintiveness of the songs he has written, every one of which is about drinking, death, heartbreak, or the futility of living on another day.” (full review)
“possibly the most authentic sounding country album to come out this decade.
King’s vocal and guitar style have obvious similarities to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but they can’t be considered influences so much as contemporaries.” (full review)
“the style he plays in is both recognizable and unique. Jimmie Rodger’s yodel pops up, Johnny Cash’ monologues can be heard, a rockabilly twang rears it’s high pitch and the Carter Family’s soft touch is present too but what comes through with the most strength is the character of Cast King himself and it is as strong and unmovable as an old mountain oak.
I can only hope now that the standing ovation Dock Boggs received at his first Newport Folk Festival appearance, the successful years of touring that Mississippi John Hurt had and the world-wide acclaim given to John Jackson are laid gently at the feet of Cast King in the recognition of the talent and treasure that he is. Of course, he’d probably just kick them aside and keep playing.” (full review)
“King’s vocal and guitar style have obvious similarities to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but they can’t be considered influences so much as contemporaries. Lyrically, this is classic country at its finest. Songs deal with depression, cheating lovers, drugs and alcohol, and of course the sawmill.” (full review)
from enigma magazine
“From the first few scratchy seconds of the album the listener is weighed down with the hard times and hard descriptions of all things poor and lonesome. The opening track “Sawmill Man” is a heartbroken look at the fruits of labor and recants the old idea if you don’t work hard, you will die or be disowned. “I went to the banker and the banker was sore/ He said if you want any money/ I ain’t got any more/ Cause there’s two things in this world I just can’t understand/ A two-timing woman and a sawmill man.
“Wino” and “Wrong Time” round out the album as solid country gold. How many throw back artists do you encounter every year? How many do you like? Well add Cast to your stacks of classic country and western. And most importantly, see him perform live. The difference in his version of the stories versus those of his contemporaries, is that he actually lived it.”
Alabama Arts Radio Series
*scroll down to 3-29-2005 show*
Anne Kimzey interviews musicians Cast King and Matt Downer from Sand Mountain. Guitarist and songwriter Cast King and his former band The Country Drifters recorded with Sun Records of Memphis in the 1950s. Matt Downer, a young musician, has been working with Mr. King for a few years to learn his guitar style and to record his music and life history. During the program Mr. King performs three of the approximately 500 songs he has written in his lifetime.
Alabama Folk Life
A short bio on Cast, including how he got his nickname.
Cast King – Saw Mill Man//Tetuzi Akiyama – Pre Existence//Espers – The Weed Tree
Ramon Sender – desert ambulance limited vinyl lp featuring Pauline Oliveiros & art by Tony Martin(!)//Ethan Rose – Ceiling Songs limited lp//
David & Tina Meltzer//Serpent Power//Dominique Grimaud (Video-Aventures!)//Alan Licht’s Digger Choir//Enkidu (featuring Chie Mukai from the Taj Mahal Travelers!)//Function Ensemble//Sir Richard Bishop//Yvonne Rainer//Bascom Lamar Lunsford//Garland
Mutumbajoy: Shamanism in the Putamayo Basin recorded by Mick Taussig
on Jib Door
Yea Big – the wind that blows the robot’s arms//Soma retrospect//Pitch 12″
The Pyramids//Brother AH//Max Roach//