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Pressing On

Pressing On: The Roni Stoneman Story

Roni Stoneman
AS TOLD TO Ellen Wright
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Pressing On
    Book Description:

    This book recounts the fascinating life of Roni Stoneman, the youngest daughter of the pioneering country music family and a woman who, in spite of poverty and abusive husbands, eventually became "The First Lady of Banjo," a fixture on the Nashville scene, and, as Hee Haw's Ironing Board Lady, a comedienne beloved by millions of Americans nationwide. _x000B_ _x000B_Drawn from more than seventy-five hours of recorded interviews, Pressing On reveals that Roni is also a master storyteller. In her own words and with characteristic spunk and candor, she describes her "pooristic" ("way beyond 'poverty-stricken'") Appalachian childhood, and how she learned from her brother Scott to play the challenging and innovative three-finger banjo picking style developed by Earl Scruggs. She also warmly recounts Hee Haw-era adventures with Minnie Pearl, Roy Clark, and Buck Owens; her encounters as a musician with country greats including Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, June Carter, and Patsy Cline; as well as her personal struggles with shiftless and violent husbands, her relationships with her children, and her musical life after Hee Haw._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09259-6
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. ONE Family
    (pp. 1-12)

    I think it would be nice to begin with the story of how Daddy and Mommy met. None of us kids knew about that until one day in the sixties when we were on the road—the Stoneman family band going from place to place, as we did, to play show after show. We were riding along, and, well, I was bored. I said, “Daddy, how’d you meet Momma?” I can remember it like it was yesterday.

    “I heard her give her first cry, that’s how.”

    “You did what?”

    “I heard her give her first cry.”

    “How was that?” I...

  6. TWO A Classy Person: Aunt Jack
    (pp. 13-14)

    Granny Frost had three children, my mother Hattie, her sister Irma Lee, who for some reason we called Aunt Jack, and Aunt Jack’s twin, Bolen. Aunt Jack was a classy lady. She was childless. And we were always impressed with her because she didn’t have kids. Instead she had lots of things.

    She was beautiful like Mommy and she dressed in elegant dresses and hats. She was neat and tidy. Even when hard times set upon her, she would sew every button just right. She had the Frost sense of humor, and she was independent acting, a liberated woman. Of...

  7. THREE My Childhood
    (pp. 15-24)

    My brothers and sisters: Eddie was born in 1920, Grace in 1921, John in 1923, Patsy in 1925, Billy in 1926, Nita in 1927 (Nita died when she was five), Jack in 1929, Gene and Dean in 1930, Scotty in 1932, Donna in 1934, Jimmy and Rita in 1937 (Rita died when she was a baby), me in 1938 (May 5), and finally Van in 1940. So I was the second to youngest. My birth certificate said “seventeenth Stoneman, female.” It was a while before they got around to naming me. And then it was Veronica Loretta, after two sisters...

  8. FOUR Music
    (pp. 25-33)

    More than the invented games, more than the television, the main thing we had instead of toys was music. Like most of the people from around Galax, Daddy would make his own instruments. And here’s one of those times him being good at psychology came in. He wanted us kids to learn to play, so he’d put an instrument on the bed and warn us, “Now, I’m not finished with that one yet. I don’t want you picking it up when I’m at work. And it better not be out of tune when I get home.” Well, soon as he...

  9. FIVE Learning the Banjo
    (pp. 34-43)

    I described how Grandpa Frost helped Scott with the fiddle, but he also was the one that taught Momma to play the banjo in all those tunings. Like the other mountain banjo players, Grandpa used to make his banjos with the animals he would kill. He would get the hairs off the skin and stretch it on the drum of the banjo to make the head. Daddy, when he made instruments, would just go to the store and buy a skin head. Nowadays of course people use plastic.

    My Grandpa Frost is maybe why I ended up being a banjo...

  10. SIX Education
    (pp. 44-46)

    I wasn’t the most “scholaristic” child in the world. I just didn’t take to school for a lot of reasons. First of all, and maybe most important, there was my eye. I couldn’t see the blackboard because my eye was crooked. And when I would read, sometimes the lines would blur into a big straight line and make me sick to my stomach.

    Then there was the clothes thing. I talked about having to fight if I was wearing some other kid’s clothes, but shoes were also a big problem. I remember one time in particular. Now, the teacher’d have...

  11. SEVEN Sex Education
    (pp. 47-50)

    My sex education wasn’t any better than my other education. I was about fourteen or fifteen years old when I “became a lady.” I remember getting really angry that day, and my back hurting, and I’m sitting in the school desk, wiggling around even worse than usual.

    After school I was pitching horseshoes, and I suddenly said, “God, I got to go to the outhouse.” I went to the outhouse and I found something was radically wrong. Oh, Lord, I was dying! So I took off running. I jumped a creek, I jumped over a ditch, hurrying to get to...

  12. EIGHT First Love
    (pp. 51-52)

    My first love, it was really just a crush, was Chuck Davis. He was from the Washington, D.C., area, but because he was running with a bad crowd, his mom and dad brought him into Maryland. Two sisters, him, and his mom and dad. It was a nice house, two or three bedrooms, even though it was right next door to us hillbillies.

    One day, I was about twelve, I was looking through the fence and he was playing horseshoes. He had rubber horseshoes, two were black and two red. At first I didn’t know they were rubber. But I...

  13. NINE My Brothers and Sisters
    (pp. 53-60)

    Now as I was getting on in my teenage years, growing up, so of course were my brothers and sisters. I wasn’t that close to my much older brothers, John, Billy, and Jack. Or to Eddie, the oldest—he seemed to be always bossing everybody—though later I was grateful to him because he would stick up for me. Iwasclose to his wife. Katherine wasn’t beautiful in face, but she had one of the most beautiful souls that God ever created. Katherine became my second mother, although, unlike Momma, she’d always hum out of tune. It would get...

  14. TEN The Performing Stonemans
    (pp. 61-64)

    I keep mentioning about the family all performing together, so I want to focus for a little on how that went and how we worked with each other. At first when we were young, we’d be going out with Daddy, playing around the Washington area (after I had learned the banjo well enough to avoid those whuppings!). We were called Pop Stoneman and the Little Pebbles. There were other Stoneman family bands, and later we Pebbles would be in different groupings, because practically everyone played at least one instrument, and the makeup of the bands would change depending on who...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. ELEVEN First Marriage
    (pp. 65-77)

    Now to my marriage, my first marriage, and my little babies. When I met Gene Cox, I was sixteen and playing with the family band at a club called Armstrong’s. A guy named Aubrey used to come to hear us a lot, and one day I went over to his table and started talking to him.

    “I have a brother that plays the banjo,” he said. “He’s in the navy.”

    “In the navy?”

    “And he’s got a new Gibson.”

    “A Gibson Mastertone?!”


    My God, I thought, I never saw one in person, except on the stage and that one...

  17. TWELVE The Stoneman Family Band Comes Together
    (pp. 78-80)

    During the time I was playing with the Johnny Hopkins band at Sam Bomstein’s Famous Bar and Grill, Scott had formed a new band. He called it the Blue Grass Champs because all the musicians had won contests. At first the band consisted of Scott, Donna, Jimmy, Porter Church on banjo, and Jimmy Case on guitar, but after awhile Jimmy Case left and Scott hired Van. “I want Van,” he said. “He’s my brother and he plays good enough to play with us.” They were also playing the Famous. (Sam Bomstein really loved the Stonemans.)

    I remember one night when...

  18. THIRTEEN Opry
    (pp. 81-83)

    So we Stonemans were in Washington, playing regularly at the Famous Bar and Grill and around town. And in 1962 a man named Billy Barton, who was always trying to help us, managed to get us a guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry. Wow, were we excited! This was our big chance. We practiced and practiced.

    Don Dixon, the man who married Patsy and was killed a year later in a car accident, drove us down in a bus. When we got to the parking lot, we were supposed to pay for the parking, but we didn’t have any...

  19. FOURTEEN My First Love Affair: Glen Roquevort/Tony Lake
    (pp. 84-89)

    Only one guy here. I gotta say that before you get the wrong impression. His name was Glen Roquevort, though he called himself Tony Lake for his career, which he planned to be acting and singing.

    Now, I basically considered myself separated from Gene, although he would occasionally be staying with us. But the children were still very small, really like stair steps. And I had nobody to care about me. Then Tony Lake walked into my life. He was a gentleman, had been trained right. His father and mother were Spanish and French, from New Orleans. Tony was a...

  20. FIFTEEN Out West
    (pp. 90-95)

    The people managing the family band, Bob Bean and a new promoteragent, Jack Clement, decided that we needed to perform in the West to get better known. So in 1964 we went out there. First stop, for some shows and some recording, was Beaumont, Texas, George Jones territory. In fact once George came around to borrow our bus. It was raining and he took it over to his house and got it bogged down in the ground, just ran it up to the axle in mud. It never did work right after that—every time we’d get in a rainstorm,...

  21. SIXTEEN Nashville
    (pp. 96-112)

    After we were so successful in the West, it was decided that we should go to Nashville. Again it was decided by our manager Bob Bean and by Jack Clement, who was establishing himself as a producer in Nashville. And we agreed.

    We got a job down at Printer’s Alley, at the Black Poodle in late 1965. Incredible as it may seem, we Stonemans were the first ones to bring country music to the bars of Printer’s Alley. There was an article inRecord Worldtalking all about it. Before us, the bars just had pop and rock. Actually, even...

  22. SEVENTEEN George
    (pp. 113-122)

    The reason I finally quit the family band at the time I did was because I had gotten a second husband, and he was telling me to. He thought I could do better on my own. This is how that second marriage went.

    Well, Gene and I were living in the same house in Donelson, but I had made it clear I wouldn’t be a wife to him. He was taking care of the kids when I was out working with the family. Then the school authorities got into the picture. They called and said they wanted to come and...

  23. EIGHTEEN Scotty
    (pp. 123-127)

    Every time anyone in the family is asked about Scott, it’s just like an awful flashback, like a Vietnam flashback. It was so sad. He was so talented. Lots of people say he was one of the greatest fiddlers ever—he just had a genius for it. I remember a time when he was a teenager. He had been out to watch some fiddle players in Washington, and he came back, and he was practicing those rolls on the fiddle bow. Momma said, “Lord God, Scott, where’ve you been? I was worried to death!” And Scott said, “I’ve been downtown,...

  24. NINETEEN Hee Haw
    (pp. 128-150)

    Before I left the family band, I had an interesting talk with Ernest Tubb. We were doing a lot of shows with him, Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours. Well, I remember one time going on the bus—that same bus that’s now on exhibit at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville. We were playing at Sunset Park or someplace like that. I had just about crawled into that bus because I was so hot and tired. I’m sitting there, and Ernest Tubb was sitting across from me.

    I sighed.

    “What’s the matter, Roni?”

    I looked to the window,...

  25. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  26. TWENTY George after Hee Haw
    (pp. 151-152)

    The best George ever treated me was after I gotHee Haw. We had more money, of course. We bought a big fine house in Smyrna and leather furniture and all the brand new things that we could get. We had Frigidaire appliances which we thought was high dollar. Of course I paid for the house and everything that went in it.

    George became a gourmet cook. We would have little groups of people come over. I had a swimming pool and I’d put candles in it and let them float. George would mix frozen tequila sunrises. He would be...

  27. TWENTY-ONE The Kids
    (pp. 153-159)

    The kids were growing up real nicely. My kids were all-important to me. If I knew ahead of time that I would have to go through all that stress that I had with Gene not supporting me, and the abuse I had with George, I still would have married them to get the children that I have today. I would do it all over three or four times. I want to tell you now a little more about my life with them, and how even though I wasn’t educated, I tried to do things to be a good mother.


  28. TWENTY-TWO The Real Thing
    (pp. 160-169)

    I was at a bookstore recently and I went “Whoa, wow!” ‘Cause there was a book calledBig Stone Gap, a novel about a small town in Virginia, by a woman named Adriana Trigiani. And I read some in it and I kept saying “Wow.” ‘Cause I know those people in the book. I don’t mean I know those people like I know how it is to be from the mountains and all. I mean I know those actual people! And they turned out to be a big part of my life.

    Well, there I was, married to George, and...

  29. TWENTY-THREE My Bronze Uterus
    (pp. 170-171)

    Well I loved having the children, as I said, but years passed and the pain of my monthly periods was getting to be too much. I hated every bit of that part of being a girl. I never saw anything joyous in it. I had a bronze sculpture of my uterus made from a picture of the real thing—after I got it out, of course!—because I was so glad to get rid of that son of a gun! In fact I was thinking of putting a photo of it on the cover of this book. It looked like...

  30. TWENTY-FOUR On the Road
    (pp. 172-193)

    Well, what with the popularity ofHee Haw, I had an easy time getting work, and I was out on the road a lot, traveling from show to show, all over the country. That’s a whole new ballgame, being out on the road, and it’s a real big part of any country musician’s life. So here’s a little about what it’s like.

    At times it can almost be dizzying. Sometimes you’re traveling so much that you would sort of lose track of where you were. I remember one time back when I was with the family and we were playing...

  31. TWENTY-FIVE Husbands 3, 4, and 5
    (pp. 194-215)

    Or, as I said to a country musician who made a snippety remark, “Well, at least I married them.” And they were all totally different, so how was I supposed to know?

    Anyway, getting back to my family life, it was real clear that George and I had no future together. The final straw was when I came in one day, exhausted from doing three shows in 103–degree heat, and he was laying on the bed so drunk he couldn’t even talk. I got a divorce.

    My third husband, Richard Adams, I met when I was playing a fair...

  32. TWENTY-SIX Losing Hee Haw
    (pp. 216-224)

    At the same time Barry left me for the last time, took my RV and all my money, I lostHee Haw, which was why his taking the money was such a disaster. According to the newspapers,Hee Hawwas ranked number four or five in the country. But the higher-ups had been thinking for several years they had to “update” it. They started doing things like putting blue jeans on Grandpa Jones. They also fired Buck Owens. I was stunned. Buck Owens was one of the stars. Sam’s face was blood red when he told me the head office...

  33. TWENTY-SEVEN My Religion
    (pp. 225-231)

    Throughout all the bad times, and the good times, and the middling times, there was one steady thing in my life—my religion. When I was little, I went to the Baptist Church on Sundays. During the summer I went to Vacation Bible School every day for six weeks. I really loved Vacation Bible School. I remember how we would make a tray out of a big oak leaf. You lay the clay out flat and then you can make an imprint of the leaf. You paint it and you have it fired and it comes out glazed. Funny, that...

    (pp. 232-236)

    Well, it’s about fifteen years since the end ofHee Haw, and eight years since I got my last divorce. So what’s going on now in my life? Where am I now? Well, things are good.

    On the personal side, in spite of my horrendous track record with marriage, I’m still dating. Optimistic, huh? Why do I date so much? Well, I’m friendly. And with my personality, and the comedy that I naturally can’t help . . .

    Well, dating’s only fun and games, but the really important part of my personal life has turned out terrific. My kids and...

    (pp. 237-240)
    Ellen Wright

    I met Roni Stoneman on a February evening in 2001, in Evanston, Illinois, when a musician friend, Gus Friedlander, invited my husband and me to one of his gigs at a local bar. Roni was to be the guest star. My husband, John Wright, had written a highly acclaimed book on Ralph Stanley, and Gus hoped to interest him in writing the story of Roni’s life. During a break between sets, Roni and I started talking. We immediately clicked. It was clear that I should be the one taking on the project.

    But at first I was leery. Although I...

  36. INDEX
    (pp. 241-248)
  37. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-261)