February 16, 2013

Down in the Bottom

On a late Autumn day in 1941, my grandmother, Hallie Mae Underwood, took her two children, Ray and Virginia, to look for pecans "down in the bottom” near the Mississippi River. Hallie Mae’s friend, Lynn Dennie, had come along with his rifle to hunt squirrels. Lynn had also brought a camera and at some point decided to take a picture of Mae and her children. In the photograph reproduced above, nine-and-a-half-year-old Ray stands to the left, wearing his aviator’s cap with goggles and possibly one of Virginia’s hand-me-down sweaters. Mae obligingly propped the rifle up on her shoulder while Lynn snapped the photo. Virginia stands to the right, her eleven-year-old face peaceful in the dappled afternoon sunlight and wearing what appear to be Mae’s dungarees that waft about her ankles like bellbottoms.

Within months of this idyllic Americana moment, Lynn was drafted into service after the attack on Pearl Harbor and our world changed. Virginia eventually met and married John "Jack" Andrew Boyd, and bore her first son, Mark Cameron. Two years later, Virginia and Jack had another son, Scott Clayton, my brother, best friend and loyal partner in many a musical adventure since our teenage years. Two younger brothers, Craig Sheldon and Emmet Jett, who came along a few years later, completed the Boyd family.

I always admired this photograph and when it came time to design an album cover for a collection of new songs Scott and I recorded last year, I asked my mother for permission to use it. The combination of rural Southern life, with squirrel hunting and pecan gathering, coupled with the innocence of childhood joys, suggest the ancestral past that Scott and I come from and those Tennessee and Arkansas roots we share as Boyd Bros. “Growing up Southern” in our formative years was at times stifling, with racial tensions bubbling just under the everyday surface reality, but also exhilarating, having discovered our emergent passion for rock ‘n' roll, R&B and country. We survived those years of slogging through late night gigs, cobbling this and that band of like-minded musicians together, later watching them and us drift apart to new chapters in our respective lives.

Scott and I now live on separate coasts, the vast continent of the United States between us, but we still manage to get together physically two or three times a year to play music, and continue to craft our songs "virtually" in this Brave New Digital World. 

Today, Scott and I are releasing our fifth “record” together; seven original songs recorded last year and available as digital download through iTunes, Amazon and other music streaming sites. We call this new album “Down in the Bottom” and it's a family affair; our youngest brother, Jett, a luthier, plays guitar on one song and brother Craig did the graphic design for the cover and limited edition booklet.  

The Boyd Bros dedicate this album to Mae, Virginia and Jack. It was and is a labor of love that bespeaks the humility and honesty of country folks, the empowerment and celebration of family that kept our passion for music alive and kicking these many years. 

Mark Cameron Boyd
Beltsville, MD

IMAGE: “Down in the Bottom” EP cover; original photograph by Lynn Dennie; graphic design by Craig Boyd; © Copyright 2013.

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