"Oh Be Joyful"

© 1973 and 1978 Lee Ruth

MP3
Pete Szkolka &
Lee Ruth

Pete Szkolka - Piano & Acoustic Guitar
Lee Ruth - Mandolin

  MP3 Sample of Lee's Original

 

Song Lyrics:
Lee's Lyrics:
Instrumental Instrumental
Artist on the Song:
Lee on the Song:
The song "Oh Be Joyful"…to be quite honest, at the time of this writing, is a song I haven't had time to finish yet. It will no doubt be the last song we mix, after all the other work is finished. Focusing hard on one's work can create a situation in which we sometimes are challenged to look up and fully experience those who are working right next to us. Maybe someday I'll get a chance to sit down and jam with Lee when I actually have time to fully savor the experience. Anyway, "Oh Be Joyful" is a delightful little folk fugue that just might make you want to leave work and escape to some wonderfully irresponsible escapade. Oh Be Joyful is a drop-dead beautiful expanse of land just north of Crested Butte, Colorado--a broad, steep valley that opens between Mt Emmons to the south and other mountains and ridges to the north--a back door, in a way, into Ruby Anthracite country. Oh Be Joyful Creek tumbles down from high snowfields in a spectacular series of waterfalls, and at the foot of the valley, where it meets the Slate River, there is a campground that was used as musicians' camp for the 1972 and 1973 summer festivals. During the 1973 summer Festival of the Arts in Crested Butte, early on a Friday or Saturday evening, I found myself playing guitar in the middle of Elk Avenue (unpaved until about 1975), right in the middle of a hot bluegrass jam session. In between tunes, someone handed me a mandolin and relieved me of my guitar. I had not previously played mandolin, but it had strings and frets, and I proceeded to play a brand-new tune on it, and the rest of the musicians fell right in behind me. The tune came to an end, and one of the other pickers asked, "What's the name of that tune?" Without hesitation I replied, "Oh Be Joyful." I carried the tune around in my head for four years, and in the fall of 1977, when someone gave me an old mandolin, "Oh Be Joyful" was one of the first tunes that I relearned how to play.
Artist on Lee Ruth:
Lee on the Artist:
I never really knew Lee Ruth that well, frankly. I'd seen him around town for the past 25 years or so, walking or hanging out or just playing folk music on his old guitar. He did seem to bear a remarkable resemblance to the R. Crumb character Mr. Natural, but then again, now that I know him a little better, that was probably not accurate. I remember Lee had this crazy thing he'd do during Christmas time involving a string of small colored lights wired to a hand-held on-off switch. He'd arrange the strung lights in his long beard like a Christmas tree, and when he passed you on the street, he'd suddenly switch on the lights and kinda catch you by surprise.
Recording this project has given me the opportunity to discover what a genuinely down-to-earth, intelligent, articulate, and talented man he is. It has become evident to me that, aside from everything else, Lee Ruth can play his ass off. The fact that everyone on this project unanimously jumped up and offered their services without expectation of anything in return speaks volumes about Lee. He is a kind, humble, wise, highly cherished asset to the music community.
It was probably in the late 1970s when I first saw Pete. Jerome Wheeler had recruited him to play keyboards as part of the band for one of Jerome's plays, which were being presented on makeshift stages in local bars. Pete was a young college student, immensely talented, and within the next several years his role expanded to music director/bandleader for the continuing series of plays. Pete, it seemed, could play most anything on keyboard or electric guitar. I remember taking the elevator up to the top of the Tiger Hotel in the fall of 1984 to see local jazz guitar great Lyle Harris play with Claude Williams, the legendary jazz fiddler, 80+ years old, from Kansas City. There was Pete, playing piano and more than holding his own with these remarkable players who were two to four times his age. Over the years Pete has been one of the most in-demand players in central Missouri, somehow finding the time and energy to play in a number of bands concurrently--blues, jazz, latino, etc., while he also ran a small recording studio in the basement of his home. The first sessions for this project were the first sessions for Pete's new studio, finally in a building of its own. Over the quarter of a century that I have known Pete, we never really found an occasion to sit down and play music together. We made a point of tackling "Oh Be Joyful" cold, unrehearsed and unplanned, until we met at the studio to record it. A couple practice runs, a couple takes, and we had a keeper. Oh Be Joyful.
Producer's Notes:
Recording Credits:
I first met Pete when he was the music director for Jerome Wheeler's "B-Movies from Outer Space." Over the years I have had many occasions to marvel at Pete's musical talents. This project would never had gotten legs without his wonderful new studio, his keen musical ear and commitment to the concept. Pete sort of inherited "Oh Be Joyful" from Jerome Wheeler, who had originally claimed the song and was planning on using Pete as one of the musicians to record this sweet instrumental. Some things changed and Jerome opted to record "Scorpio Love Song," instead."Oh Be Joyful" was never really orphaned, though, since both Jerome and I decided for Pete that he should record the tune. Pete already up to his extraordinary musical ears agreed, but only if he could play with Lee. So that is what we set up. Pete and Lee in the studio playing the heck out of the song. At one point Jerome, who was on hand for the session, turned to me and said "It's like having Woody Guthrie and Mozart playing together!" Having never been to the area outside Crested Butte that inspired the song, I can only imagine that the version Pete and Lee laid down is just as beautiful as Lee describes it!

Recorded at Pete Szkolka's Studio

Record Date: 11/5/03

Mix Date: 2/20/04

Mixed by Pete Szkolka and Steve Donofrio