The songster, Roland Vinyard, known as The Bard Rocks (or is it The Barred Rocks?),
has finally decided to take his act public after 40 years of playing in closets, under rugs, and
when he thought no one was around. Infamous for protest songs (when he sang, everyone protested),
The Bard Rocks now specializes in the songs of the acclaimed songwriter Trad. Anon. If you don’t
know who wrote it, he just might know it - and vice versa. His vast repertoire is sort of a
General Eclectica, ranging from the damsels and knights of the Child ballads (from his deservedly
rare CD, Great Hits of the 1600’s), to down and dirty blues & ragtime, sea songs, the real old
gospel stuff, songs from the Great Folk Scare of the ‘60’s, a few you always loved but haven’
t heard in years, Irish, old timey Appalachian fare and bluegrass, an occasional one by old
country singers like Jimmie Rogers or Hank Williams, children’s songs, cowboy songs, lots of
humorous ditties, and maybe even calypso. There will be plenty of plaintive and quiet ones for
the campfire, and even a few select modern works, just to confuse the issue. Warning: he may
slip in one that he wrote, but it will have an old feel to it and you will probably assume (he
hopes) that it is traditional. Many of what you will hear have choruses and The Bard Rocks is
never so happy as when he gets audience participation. Of course, a chicken song or joke is
mandatory sometime during each performance. (If you don’t understand why, then you need to know
more about chickens.)
He is also a bit of an ethnomusicologist, so you may expect to learn something as well as be
entertained by his songs and his humor. The Bard Rocks’s goal is to communicate his love of
these authentic old songs to the audience, and in doing so, he may tell something of their origin,
its first singers, how it relates to other songs, and also of the old instruments with which he
uses to accompany himself. In his repertoire are a number of songs which have traditionally been
sung in the upper New York State area where he resides.
The Bard Rocks accompanies himself on fingerpicked 6 and 12 string guitar, slide guitar, tiple,
autoharp, banjo, banjo-mandolin and jew’s harp and is sometimes joined by friends, so you never
can be sure who you will see with him or what you will hear. Also, watch out for his jokes and
quips as they have been known to maim an unsuspecting audience. You have been warned.
What is all this Chicken Business?
Not to worry, The Bard Rocks does not have a thing for chickens, though he has raised them at
various times over the years. See the hens above and at right? What breed are they? Don’t know? (oh, you city
people!) They are Barred Rocks, sort of a black, white and gray Plymouth Rock style of chicken,
good layers, and also meaty. And the double pun was too good to pass up. Using The Bard Rocks as
a stage name, he can liken himself to the bards of old, traveling poets and singers, as well as
bring in an implication of raucousness (some of his songs do rock!) and energy. Just to make it
fun, each concert will have either a chicken song or joke featured in it somewhere.
Agriculturally challenged? This is what a Barred Rock looks like
And this is what The Bard Rocks looks like.
You can tell the difference if you look closely.
The Bard Rocks began by listening to Hootenanny, the TV show that was so popular in the 1960’s
at the height of the Great Folk Scare. He stayed up to all hours on Saturday nights searching
the radio dial for stations all over the US that played folk music. He bought a bunch of folk
song books and started from them. If he had never heard a piece played yet, he figured out
something that sounded right to him and did it that way. Then there were the recordings by
the Kingston Trio and the other popular groups of the day. Junior Wilson, whose parents owned
the local music store, turned him on to Bluegrass. By college, he began to explore source
music, either old recordings of those who had learned their music by listening to the old
folks in their families, or field studies by ethnomusicologists. He still listened to modern
singers but, as they began to break away from tradition, he became more attracted to those
traditions. A song just had to have a history of oral transmission for him to be interested.
Nothing has changed, but in recent years, he has broadened his horizons - guardedly - to
embrace certain well-written modern pieces, without any sacrifice of his love of the old
songs and pieces. If you could look at his voluminous collection of recorded music, you
would see that old recordings, "source music" if you will, predominate.
In college, Peter Leavens, a professor of geology, introduced him to Old Timey music and to
the New Lost City Ramblers. This naturally led to the bands that they learned their music
from. He was already familiar with Doc Watson’s phenomonal playing and relaxed singing.
Everyone talked about how influential the Carter Family was, so he gave them some study,
and liked what he heard. Somewhere along about this time, he started listening to the
Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, and Irish was added to an increasingly eclectic mix. His
studies in college had familiarlized him with the damsels and snow white steeds found in
the old Child Ballads. By grad school, he and the rest of the folk world had discovered
Mississippi John Hurt. He looked further and found a plethora of old and little-known
blues and ragtime players, then came the yodeling of Jimmie Rogers. Some of the older
country songs began appearing in the mix after a friend gave him a tape of Hank Williams.
He had long listened to country music as the only radio station he could find while doing
the midnight milking was a country one out of Canada., but it was Hank’s music that got
him playing it. A concert by the Riders in the Sky and a friendship with Sean Blackburn
and Liz Masterson led him to rediscover cowboy music, which led in turn to western swing.
And the old-style gospel has sort of always been there from childhood on, its place firmly
cemented because it is just so... so singable. Humorous songs were popular with the college
Outing Clubs that he first sang with and will never be far away from him.
So, who does he copy? Who does he sound like? Well, ...... he sounds and plays like... hmmm....
like The Bard Rocks. He has never wished to follow in another’s footsteps, or to imitate,
though sometimes he has wished that he could. His playing can take on the ragtime bounce
of John Hurt, the thumb-led melody of the Carter family, or whatever, but it is always somehow
with his own defineable sound, its sophistocation submerged, never so polished that it
loses rough-edged authenticity. He takes what he likes, what strikes him in both the ear
and the heart, and adapts it into something in his own style, but always in keeping with
the music’s original traditions. He might come up with a take on it that you have never
heard, but it will still sound old.
The Bard Rocks’ Musical Education
What a crazy thought that he might be educated! But, like many crazy thoughts, there
is some truth. The Bard Rocks began in 4th grade by playing saxophone in school bands, and into
college, where he switched to bass clarinet as their concert band had too many saxes (the Band there
was already too highly saxed). What this means is that he is musically literate. Reading music is not
hard - folks just think it is. You want something hard? Try reading Tablature! At the same time, as a
little kid, he decided he liked classical music and he was one of only 2 in his high school class that
would admit to this. He still frequents concert halls.
Then, when he was 14, an epiphany! He attended a Bible camp at Haverford College and what did the
kids there do for fun? They had Hoots! Until then, he had avoided singing music at all costs.
Here’s how far this went: his 4th grade buddies hated him one fine spring day as the teacher had
insisted that the class could not have recess until each one of them sang a song. This went
along fitfully, until it was his turn. It became a battle of wills: The (adamantly silent) Bard
Rocks versus Mrs. Jones. There was no recess that day. The teacher lost, but had the last word.
Anyway, he finally discovered that singing could be fun. And with the crowd at a hoot, no one
could hear him croaking along. When he got home from camp, he had to get a guitar. Ever-suffering
and nonmusical parents caved in, supportive once again, and a cheap Kay archtop showed up, not
quite the style he had envisioned, but as beggars can’t be choosers, he began to teach himself to
play with the help of a (yes) comic book that had folk songs and some chords in it. You could
get stuff like that then. The local bus station had them, and some folk song books as well, all
in the magazine section. You won’t see that today! He hung around the local music store, bought
cheap records of folk music whenever he could find them ($4 for an album was a luxury for the
rich, like folks who had real jobs; his limit was $2). He never missed the TV show, Hootenanny,
and was convinced that when he finally got to college, there would be people found in every
corner with whom to play folk music. It didn’t work that way at good old U of D, but he did find
kindred souls in the Outing Club there and began leading songfests with them. He wrote a couple
of his research papers on folk music, so got to do a lot of scholarly reading and listening at
that time, a practice he continues today. He also managed to take some courses in music
appreciation in addition to 8 semesters of concert band and some classical music opportunities
as well. But really a large portion of his musical education, whether it be folk, jazz, or
classical, came from the back of album covers! He reads every word.
A graduate in due time, he picked up his first Martin guitar and later began playing autoharp,
the only instrument he could play melody on after only 5 minutes of practice. After grad school,
he had to give up on college songfests and entered a period of basically what amounted to hiding
under rugs and playing in closets when no one was around. Farmers don’t have much time to play
music with others, but he did join the North Country Fiddler’s and work once in a while on stage
as an accompanist. Later on, mandolin was added and the fiddle was started, then quickly
abandoned. Nothing sounds so beautiful as a violin properly played - and there is nothing
worse when poorly played. He couldn’t stand to listen to himself!
When he moved his farming operation to the Mohawk Valley, he discovered a richness of folk
music that, until then, he had only dreamed about. Oh, how wonderful were the rare nights at
the Old Songs Festival or Caffe Lena! Then, The Bard Rocks met the PSG (Pickin’ ‘n Singin
’ Gatherin’). Now there were other amateurs and semiprofessionals to play with! Momentum was
gathering. Banjo was added to the mix. He began to host get-togethers at his house, which
continue to this day.
When he sold his Johnstown farm and moved to his present location in Sprakers, he feared
losing his musical community. But the opposite happened. In his fear, he searched deeper and
further. Trained since college to always read bulletin boards, he saw a card for an Irish group.
“Hey, I like Irish music.”, he thought, “Maybe I can get together with them!” So he called.
The reception was guarded, but they finally said to come on over for a practice. Oh, embarrassment,
this was a group that sometimes performed for real (green) money and he had just implanted
himself into their band, unasked and unexpected. And they permitted it! Looking back at a
distance of quite a few years, that chance marriage of The Bard Rocks and the Valley Bog Players
has been a good one for all parties, and has been a marriage that has lasted. He also began
to find more venues to play and also to listen. A week’s stay at the Ashoken Music Camp gave
him additional experience and contacts.
Finally, somewhere along the line, The Bard Rocks decided that he loved his music too much not
to share it with as many folks as he could. Yes, there were others that were better singers and
some are better players, but, doggone it, they weren’t out there or if they were, were so
expensive that most regular folks would never get to hear them. This stuff is just too good
to have it be forgotten and get moldy. So another career was launched - and The Bard Rocks now
gets the chance to show audiences what is it is about these old neglected songs that makes him
love them so much. And he gets to tell someone else besides his wife all those jokes. She
refuses to laugh; his audiences certainly don’t!
And he remains an undeterred and unabashed reader of liner notes, even though the print is
much smaller now and the eyes that much older.
Does The Bard Rocks have a life off-stage?
You bet he does. Just Google the name “Roland Vinyard” and see what all you find. He wears
many hats, the real estate tycoon (ha), the outdoorsman, the writer, farmer, and photographer.
He earns his real living selling farm and country property and has done so since 1981. For many
more years he was involved with the dairy industry, both as a real state professional and also
as a dairyman (20 years at this one, folks) and crop farmer. An offshoot of the real estate
business involves property that he owns, improves, and then later sells.
In addition, The Bard Rocks is a nationally known cave explorer and is very involved on that
front as well as finding time once in a while for other outdoor sports - backpacking,
canyoneering, x-c skiing, mountaineering, and canoeing & kayaking. Several weeks a year are
devoted to these things. His cave projects involve mapping and surveying, photographing, and
sometimes working with scientists. He has done this in many locations - New Mexico, Arizona
in addition to many other states + Puerto Rico, Belize, Mexico and New Zealand. His other
outdoor interests have taken him to just about any state that has mountains or rivers; in
fact, he has visited them all except Alaska (so far) and he has seen quite a bit of Canada
and not enough of Mexico along the way. The Bard Rocks writes occasional articles on his
adventures or other things which interest him, takes fine art natural landscape photos,
and uses them in lectures and speaking engagements.
He has a couple of degrees in history, from the Universities of
did several scholarly papers on folk music, way back then. As a remnant of college days, he
remains connected to the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association. He has run the alumni group
(IOCAlum) for what seems like forever and edits and publishes their Directories and newsletter.
He is a member of his local town’s free summer music program committee, and does most of their
photography (see musiconmainstreet.com), and on the side, he performs a variety of volunteer
jobs, mostly on the conservation and music fronts.
Fall through Spring, just for the exercise, The Bard Rocks plays basketball in a pickup men’s
league, and has done so every year since 1979. And he is an avid reader, consuming 20
periodicals and up to 50 books a year, mostly well-written fiction (he admits to being a
literary snob). It will be no surprise to you to learn that you may also see him making music
for free when he can’t get paid for it! He plays 2-3 times a week, in various places, such as
folk song club meetings, festivals, churches, private homes, parties.... And he is fully
domesticated too, with a great wife and 3 adult children, all of whom have given him many
reasons to be very proud. He has learned to always have time for friends, something we all
need to remember.
The Bard Rocks goes to folks festivals, so he figured he’d better ge
a car camper. All the pros have them now.