Remembering Cast King

A downloadable discography
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  December 26, 2007

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J.D. “Cast” King

At 81, J.D. “Cast” King had attained rock-star notoriety — which doesn’t make much sense. After all, the closest he ever got to playing rock was a dozen honky-tonk songs he did with the Country Drifters in 1955, and he was 79 before he followed that up with his solo debut for Locust Records. Still, the unrefined power of his flickering singing voice and the heavenly simplicity of his guitar playing proved difficult to ignore — and now they’re impossible to forget. King lost his battle with cancer on December 14. Here are a few songs to remember him by.

Cast King, “Outlaw”
When the black-haired stranger arrives in town on a stallion “14 hands high,” it’s hard not to imagine King himself, a looming figure appearing from nowhere. But when he vows repeatedly to “die like a man,” the rasp in his breath betrays the fragility that gives his songs such force.

Cast King, “Saved”
Saw Mill Man is as striking an introduction to King as it is fitting a farewell, but it’s hard not to imagine what might have followed. He had hoped for his second album to be a collection of gospel songs, but “not the kind you see on television.” “Saved” is about as real as country gospel gets — a man on a mountain alone with his soul.

M. Downer, “Groundhog” 
A big reason for King’s emergence was M. Downer, a big-bearded young man with old-time penchants who began field-recording the elder musicians of Alabama’s Old Sand Mountain — including King, Gene Ivey, Lloyd Heldt, and Jess Moore. Here, Downer and the hyperfiddling New Binkley Brothers chase a groundhog “big as a calf.”

Jess Moore, “East Canadian Waltz”
This crushingly beautiful excerpt from Downer’s Old Sand Mountain recordings is of Jess Moore, another Alabaman legend, who passed on two years ago. While you’re there, listen to an interview clip of Downer asking Moore whether he remembers his first fiddlers’ convention. (Spoiler: he doesn’t.)

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