Joseph Franklyn McElroy’s family has been in the Smokies for over two hundred years. Joseph is interviewing Mike Ogletree, best known for his work in new wave bands such as Fiction Factory and Simple Minds. He currently living in the Smoky Mountains exploring the Scottish roots of Appalachian music. Joseph recommends that any interested viewer should read Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, which has a forward by Dolly Parton who is a cousin of his. Joseph explains the geographic and cultural connection of Scotland to the Appalachian Trail. Early Scotch-Irish immigrants brought their musical traditions, mostly folk musical instruments like fiddles and rudimentary guitars. With the added influence of West Africans and the Cherokee and new subgenre became prominent in Appalachia known as bluegrass. In the McElroy family’s establishment, the Meadowlark Motel, Mike is the artist in residence and has introduced a music program. As a self taught musician was influenced by the Cajun style band called The Meters. He was also interested in traditional Scottish music as well as popular rock.
For Mike it was a challenge not to migrate due to his adventurous nature and he welcomed the challenge. Mike first came to California and worked at a film studio then moved to New York. While successful, his biggest challenge was moving from a small town environment to the city which is sustainable but the life of a musician can bring you down. Mike was still looking forward to a change. Mike and Joseph met at the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of The City Of New York. They were instrumental in moving the Alexander Hamilton house to a national park. While in New York he became friends with many Scottish people and discovered that there was a strong interest in his culture and history. He was asked to perform at the Burns Supper. As a fan of Robert Burns, setting his poetry to music was not a challenge. While doing so, Mike discovered Scottish Reggae. Mike performed the famous love poem A Red Red Rose by Robert Burns. He explains that the beat is what makes it reggae.
After losing his wife, Mike decided to stay in the Rockies because to him it is like a fantasy Scotland. He’d go off by himself in the woods after school and have dreams of his freedom and liberty. When Mike came to the mountains he discovered the place he dreamed of in the woods. In the mountains he enjoys hiking to waterfalls, enjoying the scenery and visiting the Maggie Valley Bird Sanctuaries. Mike’s musical education began with the music of the south so he was familiar with the heritage. He learned about the African American influence then began listening to Scottish music so he could understand the influence. He discovered that many musicians brought jigs and Scottish music to the mountains, which would later evolve into the fiddling style you hear in Bluegrass. Mike plays another song, Man of Sorrow by Bob Dylan. Mike and Joseph reflect on the sense of community held in both the Rockies and Scotland as well as the straightforwardness of the people. Joseph recalls that while growing in the Smoky Mountains he people would gather with instruments and make music. It was a spontaneous environment where anyone could play
Every Saturday night Mike does a live music show at the Meadowlark Motel. He welcomes walk-in musicians to share their mountain and he will share Scottish songs with them in return. Even during this pandemic there are opportunities to hear live music. The Fairground has been doing drive in concerts with bluegrass and country musicians. Many musicians don’t have anywhere to play so they are grateful to be playing outdoors. Mike has a website that is a nod to his black and Scottish culture called the blexcotsman.com. He can also be found on the Meadowlark Motel’s Facebook page because they livestream his performances.