could make a convincing argument that country music can trace its
roots to the Southern Civil War tunes, which in turn influenced
the early revival songs of the Christian camp and tent meetings
of the late nineteenth century. The spirit of this Deep South gospel
music inspired the melodies of everyday folks, and the genre we
now know as "Country Music" was born. Of course, country
music, in time, would play a role in the birth of another closely
related genre known as "Rock n' Roll."
So what does this history lesson have to do with Sterling
Fletcher? Just hang on to see how this CD unraveled. Walt Fletcher
is a native of Alabama as a direct result of his great-grandfather
relocating from the hills of east Tennessee to Birmingham. It's
there where Walt grew up exploring the Appalachian foothills singing
hymns and folk songs, eventually veering out into the world of Rock
As a professional musician he was captivated by the
passionate, richly textured voice of Aimee Graham. With their mutual
love for music and adventure, they began touring the South, performing
wherever they could. Marrying each other within the first year of
their tour, the stage was set for Walt and Aimee to start collaborating
on songs based on their recent experiences and spiritual journey.
While passing time on the road in east Tennessee,
they began to retrace the steps of six generations of musical ancestors.
What they found served to solidify their own pursuit of music. Searching
through graveyards, churches and old books in the east Tennessee
hill country in towns such as Athens, Cleveland, Morristown, Bristol
and Jonesboro, they quickly found deep roots of preachers and musicians.
Figures like David Sullins, who was a singing Chaplain during
the Civil War, and "Uncle Am" Stuart, the fiddlin' champion
who performed on one of the earliest country music recordings in
June of 1924, began to emerge from the past.
While en route from east Tennessee back to their home
base in Florida, Walt and Aimee literally reached a fork in the road.
One street sign pointed towards Nashville, and at the last possible
moment, their vehicle seemed to have a mind of its own, making one
last detour. Upon arriving in the "Music City" they parked
on Broadway just around the corner from the legendary Ryman Auditorium.
Walt phoned another Birmingham native, singer-songwriter-producer
Anthony Crawford, who had been in the Nashville area for quite some
time. Anthony's credits and achievements are too numerous to list
here, but it's worth mentioning that he is one of only a few Rock
artists listed not only once, but several times in the Country Music
Hall of Fame's Encyclopedia of Country Music.
After hearing the revelations of the road trip and
listening to Aimee's sterling voice, Anthony decided to play on and
produce what would eventually become this CD.
Meeting at the cozy Deep Field Studios, many songs began to come
to life and were captured on tape. The following year or so, more
trips were made to Nashville where this high energy, creative relationship
continued to gel.
Knowing that some of their ancestors
had preached somewhere in the Nashville area, Sterling Fletcher
was not aware of what they were about to discover next. A look at
old records showed that Walt's great-grandfather, George R. Stuart,
the one who had relocated from east Tennessee to Birmingham in 1916,
had held many revivals in Nashville in the 1890's and early 1900's
with the legendary Sam P. Jones. It was at one of these early revivals
that Captain Thomas Ryman was converted, and Ryman proceeded to
help establish a building where Sam Jones and George Stuart would
preach to thousands.
According to an 1890's The Nashville American, "Rev.
George R. Stuart the evangelist accompanies Mr. Jones in all his
meetings." And pressed in an 1890's Nashville Banner, Sam Jones
is quoted from a service in the Union Gospel Tabernacle: "George
Stuart is the best preacher I ever heard, and he is a good man.
If there is any town in the world that ought to hear him, that town
When Thomas Ryman died in 1904 printed in the Nashville
American was this article:
Nashville American December 26, 1904
Captain T.G Ryman
Funeral Service Is Held For Him At Tabernacle
With 4,000 Persons Present Rev. Sam P. Jones and George Stuart
Come Here To Pay Their Last Tributes To His Memory- Most Affecting
Scenes are Witnessed. The funeral procession entered the
Tabernacle. Next were Rev. Sam P. Jones and George Stuart, the
two world-famous evangelists, whose lives had been closely linked
with that of Capt. Ryman, and who came to offer by their words
a departing tribute to his worth and his memory. Mr.
Jones words went straight to the hearts of his hearers. 'Occasions
like this are rare in Nashville. They are rare everywhere. A more
representative audience never gathered in Nashville than fills
this Tabernacle this afternoon. There is not a life in this city
from the highest to the lowest that the life of Capt. Ryman did
not touch.' Mr. Jones then spoke of the presence of Rev. George
R. Stuart, who loved and was loved by Capt. Ryman, stating that
Mr. Stuart would be heard. "Beautifully and eloquently did Mr.
Stuart pay his tribute to the life of Capt. Ryman. 'We are here
to pay our tribute of love to one whom so many loved. He was a
Christian as were few men I have ever known.' Mr. Stuart then
referred to incidents in the life of Capt. Ryman. 'A city never
gets over the fact of a great man living so humbly, one whose
great spirit has been exalted to that blessed home. I say with
Brother Jones that I lay the sweetest and the rarest flowers of
my heart upon this man's grave.'
It was during this service that, at Sam Jones' suggestion,
the decision was made unanimously to change the name of the Tabernacle
to the Ryman Auditorium, which was to become the home of The Grand
Ole Opry! For decades America's real folk music has been performed
on the same stage where some of America's greatest preachers spoke,
another reminder of just where country music can trace its roots.
Interestingly, the years that George Stuart was preaching
to thousands, his brother, "Uncle Am" Stuart, was entertaining
crowds with his fiddle. His fame as a master fiddler had been spreading
throughout Tennessee and the South, winning numerous contests and
respect with his musical ability. Uncle Am also toured with the
Hill Billies, a group whose name is used to describe a genre of
country music. As cited in "A Century of Country" by Robert
K. Oermann, Uncle Am Stuart was a "star long before there was
such a thing as commercial country music in the 1900's." Once
recording did come into the big picture, Uncle Am was "one
of the fiddlers who became country's pioneering recording artists."
According to Dr. Charles Wolfe,
through conversations and in his book "The Devil's Box,"
Uncle Am Stuart is the first Tennessean to commercially record country
music, being signed by Vocalion Records. His music was advertised
and broadcast as far west as San Francisco, and radio listeners
from coast to coast voted him fiddle champion. The coveted Loving
Cup award was presented to "Uncle Am" by Vice President
Dawes in Washington, DC, where he also performed and was broadcast
over the air. Only a couple of blocks away from the Ryman, Walt
and Aimee discovered nine two-sided 78's of Uncle Am's recordings
from 1924 in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The two brothers, George R. Stuart and Uncle Am Stuart,
though on different sides of the coin, ultimately had a huge effect
on the roots of what Nashville would become. And little did Walt
and Aimee (Sterling Fletcher) know, when they made the one last detour,
that they were about to come Full Circle, linking three centuries
of the Gospel, music, Nashville, records, and family together.