The Lowertown Line

S4 E6 | FULL EPISODE

The Roe Family Singers

Old-time Hillbilly band The Roe Family Singers perform live at TPT studios in Lowertown St. Paul. The band recalls their origin story, their fondness for circus instruments, and the economics of being modern day musicians.

Filmed on February 9th, 2017.

AIRED: May 17, 2017 | 0:26:45
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TRANSCRIPT

(twangy fiddle music)

- We've been told there are festivals we can't play,

and organizations we can't join,

because we're not bluegrass.

And conversely, we've been told why doesn't

The Roe Family, why aren't we allowed

to play more square dances?

'Cause we're not old-timey enough.

(twangy music)

I guess the term I'm most comfortable with

is country music.

I just love Hank Williams, I love Johnny Cash,

but I also really love Frank Profit,

and Clarence Ashley, and Doc Watson,

and I also like Bill Monroe.

And I'm happy to play all of their songs.

That's just a folk tradition, is you just take

other people's stuff, and you bring it up to today.

♪ I aint got no use for your rifle,

♪ And I ain't got no use for your gun

♪ Well I ain't got no use for your aggression

♪ I just want peace when the morning comes

♪ I just want peace when the morning comes

♪ Well I ain't got no use for your hatred

♪ And I ain't got no use for racism

♪ Well I ain't got no use for your fear and lies

♪ I just want equal rights when the morning comes

♪ Equal rights when the morning comes

♪ Well I ain't got no use for your TV

♪ And I ain't got no use for your news

♪ And I ain't got no use for infotainment

♪ I just want truth when the mornin' comes

♪ I just want truth when the mornin' comes

♪ And I ain't got no use for politicians

♪ And I ain't got no use for corruption

♪ And I ain't got no use for your party line

♪ Just need justice when the morning comes

♪ Just need justice when the morning comes

♪ Yeah!

♪ Oh bring it home now

(audience applauding)

- Thank you!

- Thank you very much.

(twangy banjo music)

Kim and I, we both worked for the

Saint Louis Park School District.

And I ended up subbing in Kim's classroom.

- I asked Quillan out on a date.

I wrote a little note that said,

I'd like to make you dinner sometime.

And I put it into his car window.

His sunroof was open, and I threw it in there.

So a couple weeks went by, and I wrote him

another little note that said, hey,

I'd love to make dinner for you sometime.

(loud swishing)

Never called me.

- I think you even confronted me once.

Like, hey did you get those letters I wrote you?

- I don't remember that.

You probably went, uh.

Yeah but you finally came into my room

and asked me out.

But by then, the kids in my class

knew that I really liked you, and so when you left, ooh.

- And these re like five year olds.

These are little kids.

- And they started singing, Kim and Quillan

sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

(twangy music)

- We got married in the spring of 2003,

and pretty much like the next day,

Kim says, hey let's start a band together.

And I kept saying, ugh that's such a bad idea.

Such a bad idea.

But that summer, June Carter-Cash died,

and then that fall, Johnny Cash died.

And so Lee's Liquor Lounge, which is a great

country bar in town, they were putting together

a tribute to John and June.

And I really wanted to do it, so I asked her

while she was watching TV in the other room,

while I had the booker on the phone and said,

hey, do you still wanna start a band together?

And she said, yeah.

And that was it.

(audience cheering)

One, two, three, four.

(twangy music)

♪ Well this is the story of old Jack Malone

♪ Jack Malone lives alone in his trailer home

♪ He's got no friends to hold his hand

♪ No guitar to play in a band

♪ Now Jack Malone drives an old Chevy truck

♪ That Chevy truck never once did get stuck

♪ That truck is a metaphor for the man

♪ Don't you see it ain't takin him no sand

♪ And I said, Jack Malone, oh Jack Malone

♪ Jack Malone lives alone in his trailer home

♪ Who will bury you when you die

♪ It's not that bad I know you don't cry

♪ It's not that bad I know you don't cry

♪ Come on, Kurty

That's Kurt Froehlich, ladies and gentlemen.

Aww, that's the Reverend Doctor Smitty.

(audience cheering)

♪ Well Jack Malone he took LSD

♪ Took him further than Kesey, Morris, or Leary

♪ Now I don't agree his methods it's true

♪ He's more famous than me or you

♪ Yes that LSD took old Jackie boy far

♪ Took him to Hollywood to be a big northern star

♪ Then Jack found God, and God did say

♪ Jack you got to give it all away

♪ I said Jack Malone, oh Jack Malone

♪ Jack Malone lives alone in his trailer home

♪ Who will bury you when you die

♪ It's not that bad, I know you don't cry

♪ It's not that bad, I know you don't cry

♪ Come on, Adam!

That's Adam Wirtzfeld, ladies and gentlemen.

(audience cheering)

Oh, Mr Dan Gaarder.

(fast fiddle music)

That's Rick Lee on the fiddle there.

(crowd cheering)

(kazoo music)

And a big hand for The Roe family horns!

(crowd cheering)

♪ Well Lord at this youngish age of just 43

♪ Can I tell you that at 80 Jack already hasn't seen?

♪ Drugs gave him the answers to Wu Li's dancing masters

♪ And he's keeps it to himself happily

♪ And I said Jack Malone, oh Jack Malone

♪ Jack Malone lives alone in his trailer home

♪ Who will bury you when you die

♪ It's not that bad, I know you don't cry

♪ It's not that bad, I know you don't cry

♪ Bring it home, boys!

(audience cheering)

- Thank you so much, everybody

Thank you.

Some White Horse?

Okay.

We'll do it.

We'll do it.

(slow twangy music)

The 331 club used to be a really scary

meth biker bar.

And we got a phone call from Rob Rule.

I remember him calling and saying,

hey I know you've got this new band,

would you guys wanna come down and play--

- Quillan said, I'm not bringin' my wife there

- Yeah.

He told me where it was, I said, I'm not bringin' her there.

That's not safe.

That's a terrible place.

He says, no, no, no, no.

I know what you're thinking.

They've got new owners.

And so we went down there, and we played it.

And we left, and Kim said, we should do a

weekly show there.

(slow twangy music)

- [Kim] We just had an open door policy.

Just hey, bring your instrument, come on down.

Come play with us. - We had a lot of people

sit in with us over the years. - We've had a vibraphone,

and a recorder. - Harmonium,

the keyboard that you squeeze.

We had a broom player.

(imitates broom swishing)

♪ Leavin' behind those bright city lights

♪ The country is where I go

- Quillan and I met at the Saint Paul Art Crawl.

I wandered in, and he said hey, and I said hey,

and he said come down to the gig.

And that's how he's been collecting band members.

He just tells people come down to the gig,

and they become band members.

- Quillan and Kim came by once to borrow

some microphones for a show, and I was out

in the garage building a mandolin.

Quillan said, when you get done building that thing,

bring it down and pick with us.

And I said, oh I couldn't, and he said, oh you could.

I said, okay, I did.

And so I've been doing it with 'em for about 12 years now.

- We were just at a party in a back yard,

and they said they needed a fiddle player,

and I said okay, I'll show up.

And I sat in that chair now, for about 438 Mondays.

- [Quillan] So we started playing the 331 in 2005.

- And we've missed-- - Three.

- Three?

- The band as a whole, has missed three Mondays

in 12 years.

Both pregnancies, Kim played right up until we had the kid.

I mean, it wasn't a stage birth or anything,

but it was, we were playing, (Kim laughing),

every Monday at the 331 club.

And Elle was born on Tuesday.

Two years ago now, Kim and I were gonna quit.

We were done with it.

But the rest of the band did not agree.

We never rehearse, so they said, this is rehearsal.

And we're getting paid to rehearse,

why would we ever give this up?

- I think there is something magical about the 331.

It's where we were born as a band.

Everybody makes Monday nights.

Unless there's something really big

going on with the family.

Everybody makes Monday nights, 'cause it's church.

- [Quillan] One, two, three, four.

(upbeat twangy music)

♪ My old hen is a pretty good hen

♪ Feedin' that chick for the railroad man

♪ Sometimes one, sometimes 10

♪ That's enough for the railroad man

♪ My old hen, she won't do

♪ She lays eggs and taters too

♪ First time to cackle, to cackling a lot

♪ Can't stop the cackle to cackle in the pot ♪

(crowd cheering)

- Rick Lee on the fiddle.

Kim Roe, dancing for you there, friends.

(crowd cheering)

(metallic wavering)

I consider the saw to be the icing on the cake.

It's not an instrument that is contributing

to the structure of the tune, so much as

an instrument that is just adding a little

embellishment, and a little emphasis here and there.

First of all, to play, you need to have the saw

bent in an S-shape, which I'll kind of

exaggerate a little bit.

And what you're doing there, is you're kind of

constricting a portion of the saw blade that's vibrating.

And then as you bend more, you get higher notes,

and as you bend less, you get lower notes.

(metallic wavering)

(deep vibrating)

- It's really, it's not unlike a tuba or trombone.

It's all about embouchure.

So if you were gonna play a bottle,

you would blow over it like this.

(light airy whistle)

But you only get one note.

Unless you fill the bottle with different

amounts of water.

In order to get two, or three octaves out of a jug,

you tighten or loosen your lips.

(deep vibrating)

I won't follow the bass, but we will

definitely play off of one another.

I'm primarily rhythm I guess, but Quillan

likes to throw a jug solo in every now and then,

just to keep my life interesting.

Some of our songs are a little more traditionally

jug songs, jug music, than others.

So they have big spaces for jug solos.

- If you don't want jug players to be around,

you don't hire a saw player I guess.

Yeah, that's the lesson.

- [Interviewer] If you don't want jug players

around you, don't hire a saw player?

- Don't hire a saw player. - Yeah, 'cause Adam

was the one who hired both saw players.

- Our saw player brought in all of our jug players.

- [Interviewer] Because he's like, I'm naked

here with the saw, I need a jug behind me?

- Yeah, we need more circus instruments.

(twangy music) (Kim laughing)

♪ Bill Reuben is a wee little man

♪ The doctors'll catch him if they can

♪ When they do, they'll give him a tan,

♪ Run little Billy, run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben,

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben,

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run Billy run ♪

- How 'bout that Autoharp?

♪ Bill Reuben saw a fine little lad

♪ Decided to be his dad

♪ One long hug drove the poor boy mad

♪ Run Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, Billy run ♪

Are you ready, Kurty?

♪ Bill Reuben saw a sweet little girl

♪ Sweetest little girl in the whole round world

♪ Stopped her ear, with silent swirls

♪ Run Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, Billy run ♪

Oh let's get the Doctor on this one.

(deep jug vibrating)

♪ You might think I'm being unfair

♪ That I'm biased beyond compare

♪ Well you can call me jaundiced, I don't care

♪ Run Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run Billy run

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run, little Billy Reuben

♪ Run little Billy Reuben, run Billy run ♪

(crowd cheering)

- [Kim] Thank you.

- Thank you very much.

She always would hold onto your ears,

and she still does it to this day, at eight.

(Quillan laughing)

We had friends, musician friends,

who would always refer to her as Momma Roe,

because it was just so much of who we were,

and who Kim was.

Being a mom on stage.

- I'd put 'em in the Baby Bjorn first, right?

And so Oni would be in front, and then Elle

still wanted mama to hang on to her.

And that was-- - So Elle would

be in the backpack. - Yep.

- She would have both kids-- - It was, it was fun.

I really liked that.

She'd probably still be back there

if I wouldn't have kicked her out.

- [Quillan] You ready?

(twangy music)

- We do a lot of kid shows, a lot of family shows.

And I think we learn something new every time.

Just looking out in the crowd, and you see these

little tiny kids just movin' around, squirrely,

all right, let's get up and stretch, let's do this.

Let's sing a song together.

- We thought, well that's something we can do,

and it's kind of an underserved market,

and there's not a lot of good kids music

that parent like to listen to.

As we discovered as new parents.

But, we don't wanna be labeled as kids' musicians either.

There's more to who we are and what we do,

than just being kids' musicians.

(twangy slow music)

Kim and I have been doing this full-time now,

for five years, so it has become sadly,

about the economics of, this gig pays this much,

that guarantees this many people, this much money.

Every time we limit the number of people

that are on a gig, because of how much we can pay,

I feel like I just sold out a little bit.

I feel like I'm letting commerce dictate to art.

And I don't like that.

I mean, it's real.

I've got two kids, we've got a house,

we've got cars, we've got payments.

We have to do it, but I don't like it.

- [Kim] Oni, do you have red?

- A whole bunch of people kept telling us,

you guys should really apply for a McKnight Fellowship.

The McKnight Foundation is a group that

gives out fellowships to artist. to me, like, real disciplines.

I literally had the feeling like, man we just

play old time music.

I mean, I believe in it, but it didn't seem

like something that would be worthy

of this massive fellowship.

And so then we got the call that we had won that,

and it was unbelievable.

For me, it made me feel like a real artist.

I felt like, wow, this is a legitimate thing,

and we're not just, this wasn't a fluke.

These people appreciate it.

And taking the award money, that's when we decided

to leave our day jobs.

- I've never held a check for that amount before.

- The funny thing, of course, is how quickly

that money goes away.

Especially-- - A family of four.

- We didn't have insurance for that first year,

and the vast majority of that money went to health care.

I don't think we could do what we do now,

full time like we still do it, if it wasn't

for the help of my parents, who live with us,

and the Affordable Care Act.

Those two things are what make us,

keep us able to do what we do.

(twangy music)

(cheering)

Here we go now!

♪ This land is your land this land is my land

♪ From California, to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream water

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ As I went walking

♪ Down the river of highway

♪ I saw before me an endless skyway

♪ I saw below me that golden valley

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ This land is your land, this land is my land

♪ From California to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps

♪ To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts

♪ And all around me a voice was calling

♪ This land was made for you and me.

♪ Sing along

♪ This land is your land, this land is my land

♪ From California to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,

♪ And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,

♪ As the fog was lifting a voice came chanting

♪ This land was made for you and me.

♪ This land is your land, this land is my land

♪ From California to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ As I was walking that ribbon of highway

♪ I saw before me an endless highway

♪ And all around me, a voice was callin'

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ This land is your land, this land is my land

♪ From California to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ You guys now

♪ This land is your land this land is my land

♪ From California to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ Keep going

♪ This land is your land this land is my land

♪ From California to the New York island

♪ From the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters

♪ This land was made for you and me

♪ This land was made for you and me ♪

(audience cheering)

- [Kim] Thanks for singing along, you guys!

- Thank you very much!

Thank you, friends.

- [Announcer] This program was made possible by

the state's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,

and Citizens of Minnesota.


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