By Sarah Mansheim
A WVSOM alumna is set to release a CD with her band, the River Drivers. Mindy Murray attended WVSOM in the early eighties, and now lives in the Philadelphia area. She says a lot of the River Drivers’ music reflects the spirit of West Virginia and its hard-working people. The CD will be released on Mar. 31.
The River Drivers are a Celtic/Americana band with roots in traditional Celtic music and political folk tunes. Anchored by Murray (vocals, guitar, banjo) and Kevin McClosky, their self-titled album respects the legacy of “hundreds of years of songs by and about the disenfranchised… (that) just so happen to make for some damn good music.”
The Mountain Messenger spoke to Murray about how her time in West Virginia informs the music she makes today.
When did you attend WVSOM? I attended from 1980 to 1984.
Did you graduate? Are you a DO? I graduated in 1984 with a DO. I still practice in Bristol, PA, in family medicine and geriatrics with my husband, Angelo, who was a classmate at WVSOM. We met in med school there and married during our sophomore year.
What brought you to WVSOM? I worked at a teaching hospital that hosted students from WVSOM for clinical rotations. I learned about the school and its mission from these students. When I came down to interview, the two doctors who were on my interviewing committee were also musicians. We talked about music as much as we talked about medicine. I knew from that interview that I wanted to come down to Lewisburg to learn medicine and to play music.
You speak of your connection to the mountains – can you elaborate on that? A quick story on the writing of the song, Blair Mountain – because the song has a Lewisburg connection. My daughter Meagan (fellow River Driver) is an archaeologist who was working down in Virginia this past summer. She had been to Lewisburg several times as a child, and decided to make a side trip over to visit the town. She stopped in a used book store and found a copy of Shogan’s The Battle of Blair Mountain. She gave it to me one afternoon after she got back from VA. Before that night was over, I had written Blair Mountain. The history of the battle just seemed to fit in so well with the type of songs we do as a band – songs about hard working people, worker’s rights, unions. Many of these songs were written about miners from both sides of the Atlantic. When I was at WVSOM, I can remember hearing the public service announcements that would come on between television shows, telling the miners where they were to report for work for the next shift. We worked with the miners and their families in our clinics throughout the state. Songs like Blair Mountain and Tell God and The Devil serve to remind us all of the sacrifices that these mining families have made. Another song on the album, Manchester Rambler, tells of the beauty of the English mountains as seen through the eyes of “ramblers” who would take to the mountains on the weekends to escape from the hardships of their lives in Industrial England.
Can you elaborate on how Appalachian culture has informed your music? My father is a wonderful wood carver, and when I graduated from high school he made me a dulcimer. It’s a beautiful, large walnut instrument with heart-shaped inlay and sound holes and a deep rich sound. At that time, dulcimers were not very common up in southeastern Pennsylvania (and there was no YouTube) so I had to learn from books and records by people such as Jean Ritchie and Richard Fariña. Some Celtic bands from that same time period also used dulcimers (Steeleye Span, Faiport Convention). So a lot of the music I grew up with was a crossover between Appalachian and Celtic. My band mates, Meagan and Marian are well versed in the genre of “Irish trad” music – tunes that have been handed down from generation to generation in Ireland, England and Scotland. Kevin has a vast repertoire of Irish, Scottish, English and North American ballads. As the River Drivers, we perform music that draws from all of these influences – Celtic, Mountain and Americana – and infuse these songs with arrangements that blur the line between the genres – adding a hint of bluegrass and edginess to the mix.
The River Drivers debut CD will be available on Mar. 31. Go to theriverdrivers.com for more information about the band. They are also on Facebook at Facebook.com/TheRiverDrivers.