Echoes of Dutchess’ legacy
To say that the late Alan Dutchess was a music lover is an understatement.
When he moved to Pocahontas County, Dutchess immersed himself in the music community. It wasn’t difficult for him to find musicians to join in jam sessions, shows and open mic nights.
Dutchess, while chef at Elk River Restaurant in Slaty Fork, began playing music with Pam Lund and Terry Richardson during breaks from the kitchen.
“I played a job up there with Doug VanGundy and when Doug left the county, I had the job myself,” Lund remembers. “Alan was chefin’ there at the time. Terry Richardson started coming up and playing with me and then, every once in a while, Alan would sneak out from the back. He’d grab his mandolin and play one or two turns with us.”
“He came out, and played a few songs with us,” Richardson said. “He [still] had his apron on. From there, we just started playing.”
Dutchess could never get enough of music. He played with Lund and Richardson at Elk River, with the Brown Baggers (Richardson, Norris Long, Jay Lockman, Mike Bing, Doug VanGundy and Larry Combs), the Viney Mountain Boys, the Stony Bottom Bluegrass Boys, Elk River Ramblers and anyone else that he could find.
“He played all the time,” Stony Bottom Bluegrass Boys’ Homer Hunter said. “He kind of broke up with the Viney Mountain Boys and he, Paul Marganian and Terry Richardson had a group named Elk River Ramblers. They didn’t play so much and neither did we. We didn’t play every weekend. We played the dinner trains and different things. We did the thing for Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. He played with us all the time.”
When he wasn’t preparing for or playing a gig, Dutchess was satisfied with just hanging out and playing music with his friends, sometimes into the wee hours of the night.
“He was a wonderful jammer,” Hunter said. “We were over at John Casto’s just before Christmas. It was a great jam session - Mud Hole Control, Mike Bing and a bunch of people from Allegheny Echoes. It was one of the best jams I ever had with him.”
“We loved to go out on Williams River,” Richardson recalled. “Mike Bing would go out there and some of those guys would go out to the camp out there and Alan loved to go out and play with whoever was there. Mike Bing, Tim Bing, Charlie Loudermilk, Junior Spencer, Junior Loudermilk. All those guys that would go out there every once in a while. That was for the fun of it – no pressure, just to go out and have fun.
“Alan was the kind of guy, even when we weren’t playing somewhere, during the week, he would call me up,” Richardson continued. “He called me T-Dog. He’d call me on the phone and say, ‘T-Dog, I want to play music, come on up.’ I’d be down with work and I was usually like, ‘I don’t want to go up there, I’m tired.’ He’d say, ‘Naw, come on up.’ So we’d play ‘til one. I was always ready to grab the guitar and go.”
“He started coming to the shack; I live up on Woodrow and he started coming when he would get off work at night,” Lund said. “He was so super talented and he could play anything. He wanted to learn some of the old stuff that I played, some of the stuff I got off the Hammons family. We would just play and the hours would go by. He left at four in the morning sometimes. Those are really my best recollections of Alan.”
Along with his thirst for learning music, Dutchess shared his knowledge with eager students, young and old alike.
“Because he played different instruments, I said ‘Alan, you’re so talented, why don’t you do some teaching?’” Lund said. “I was getting older and not wanting to teach as much. At one time, he taught three or four days. He taught at the libraries.”
One of Dutchess’ students was Pocahontas County High School graduate and award-winning picker Jake Ryder.
“I remember the first time I walked in the Marlinton [McClintic] Library for my first guitar lesson from Alan Dutchess,” Ryder posted on Facebook. “I didn’t know the names of strings [or] names of chords. Didn’t know much of anything about the instrument except how to make sounds on it. But he showed me everything in the beginning, from putting string on it to making actual music. I remember the day that he told me that he wouldn’t continue to take payment for his lessons because he had taught me as much as he could. I was so proud and really respected him for that.
“We continued to play together, and when I started to progress in bigger things musically, he would always tell me how proud he was of my accomplishments,” Ryder continued. “It’s kind of funny to think that all I have done with music started with him helping me.”
Dutchess also taught at Allegheny Echoes, a week of music workshops held each summer at the Marlinton Motor Inn.
“That’s pretty much how we met, through music and at Allegheny Echoes,” David Kershner said. “He was teaching there a lot. I was taking bass classes and we’d just hang out, and play a lot. He was an outstanding musician and an even better person.”
What made Dutchess so unique in the music world was, not only did he play multiple instruments – mandolin, banjo, guitar and fiddle – he also played multiple genres of music.
“What struck me about our musical relationship was, I think a lot of people think of him as part of the local old-time and bluegrass scene, but in our band I was trying to bring in a lot of different influences and he was really, really open to that,” Marganian said. “That was one of the things that I really liked about it. He would be fine playing some old-time banjo song and then the next song, playing some Beatles.”
Dutchess introduced several band-mates to music they wouldn’t have explored without his gentle push.
“Alan liked everything, so you never knew what he would play,” Lund said. “He would give me CDs, I remember, I’ve got a thing of CDs at home of things that he recorded for me so I could learn them.”
“I started out as a rock ‘n roller, but when I started playing with Alan, I was playing old-time, Richardson said. “The music that he introduced to me, and Paul’s introduced to me, also, isn’t really something that I wasn’t familiar with, I just hadn’t considered wanting to play it. We were playing old-time and then all of a sudden, we were playing Beatles and Pink Floyd and Cajun, all kinds of stuff.”
Marganian said Dutchess was interested in doing more Cajun songs and enjoyed singing those tunes.
“We wanted to do a lot more Cajun. In the end we only ended up doing these two Cajun tunes. He would rip out with this stuff in French, or I guess Creole really and nobody knew what the hell he was saying,” Marganian said, laughing. “Occasionally, he would ask the audience, ‘does anybody here speak French?’ That was one of the great things I liked about being in a band with him. He was in for doing whatever.”
Dutchess touched countless lives, especially his fellow artists, with his music.
“Music meant everything to him and he’d rather play music than do anything,” Lund said.
“He was my friend,” Richardson said. “I was just playing music with my friend. He was always a really good friend to anybody he ever met or played music with. It was nothing for him to pick up somebody who played some music and play with them. He liked to play with anybody. He just liked to play music.”
Unexpectedly, Dutchess passed away at his home February 6 at the age of 40.
The Pocahontas County Opera House Opry Night on February 23 was dedicated to Dutchess’ memory. Proceeds from the event went to an Allegheny Echoes scholarship in his memory. The Elk River Ramblers also sold CDs, 50 in total, with all proceeds going to the scholarship, as well.
Donations for the scholarship may be sent to Allegheny Echoes, Rt. 2, Box 128M, Marlinton, WV, 24954.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org