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Dr. E. Lyndol Harris


Lyndol Harris: A Musical Friendship
Joe W. Specht

HarrisNot long after I arrived at then-McMurry College in September 1975 to assume directorship of the Jay-Rollins Library, Lyndol Harris stopped by the office to introduce himself. We quickly learned of our mutual interest in country music, especially the bluegrass variety. And this was the beginning of a thirty-nine year musical friendship, although I did not see Lyndol during the last five years due to his advancing dementia.

Lyndol grew up in Fisher and Nolan counties. As a toddler, he often stood on a chair to reach his grandmother’s Victrola to turn the crank and play one of her Jimmie Rodgers’ 78 rpm records. Rodgers, the “Blue Yodeler” and country music’s original superstar, continued to be a lifelong favorite of Lyndol’s; Hank Snow, another member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, also ranked at the top of his list.

As for bluegrass music (Lyndol preferred the definition “folk music in overdrive”), even though he kept up with newer groups and performers, it was the musicians of the “Golden Age” of bluegrass of the 1950s who always held his loyal attention: Stanley Brothers (Carter and Ralph), Reno & Smiley (Don and Red), Flatt & Scruggs (Lester and Earl), Jimmy Martin, and Moore & Napier (Charlie and Bill). He also had an appreciation for the lesser-known, such as Curly Dan & Wilma Ann, Alex & Olabell Campbell, and the Double Mountain Boys (from Lipan, Texas) … all imbued with that “high lonesome sound.”

When one mentions bluegrass music, the banjo or perhaps the fiddle might first come to mind, but for Lyndol, it was the acoustic guitar that was of import, more specifically the rhythm generated by the flattops crafted by the C. F. Martin Company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Lyndol owned three guitars, including a Martin limited edition bicentennial model D-76. Not to forget, Dr. Harris could pick a tune or two himself. He was particularly attracted to the guitar stylings of Doc Watson and Norman Blake. Until problems with his hands made it uncomfortable to play, Lyndol’s fingers were always calloused from practicing the Lester Flatt “G run.”

One of our favorite songs was the “D-18 Song (Thank You, Mr. Martin),” a reference to the Martin D-18 guitar with the memorable opening line, at least for us Texans: “In a pawn shop in Odessa in the fall of ‘64.” The “D-18 Song” is a track on Norman Blake’s 1989 duet album with Tony Rice, Blake & Rice 2. And when I remember Lyndol, the chorus of the “D-18 Song” will forever be a souvenir of our musical friendship: “I said thank you, Mr. Martin, I’m alright/Once again this old guitar helped me through the night/I’m really grateful to you, you know how to make ‘em right/I said thank you, Mr. Martin, I’m alright.”

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(July 4, 2015) Rick Nason said:

P-Chem, the mere mention of the term still evokes strong memories of both terror and joy. I was in my second year at McM and the year long, two semester course was being taught by Dr. Harris. The first term was fine. There were approximately 15 students in the class, so there was someplace to hide - or at least someone to commiserate with if you could not answer a question up to Dr. Harris's standard. A very patient and deliberate teacher, he also expected students to think - something that unfortunately is not demanded as much in this day and age of "smile sheet evaluations". Approval of your response by Dr. Harris immediately gave one a shot of endorphins and made one strut taller and more confidently across campus for the rest of the day. A less than satisfactory answer meant that you knew you had to hit the books a little bit harder before next class.

In the second term of P-Chem, I was shocked to find out the first day of class that I was to be the only student. The rigours of living up to Dr. Harris's standards left me as the only one in the class. My normal seat - along the far right hand wall, near the back - would not do and I was front and centre with only myself and Dr. Harris. Dr. Harris could have "mailed it in", but that was not in the nature of a man with his integrity. With the same level of diligence, patience and exactness we carried through each and every class, with him not cutting a corner ever once. I never worried so much about a class before or since - and I also never gained as much from a class more or since. What an honour to learn from a man who was so dedicated to his students and to his profession.

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