born // 1927
lived // laurel county
played // anything with strings
died // 1998
Dora Mae Wagers -- 4. The Teacher
Dora Mae’s love of music was infectious; she loved to pass the music on to others. In an interview with Susan Eacker, she said; “I’m an old dude. I love to encourage them: the young ones.”
“She enjoyed teaching other people to play the same kind of music she did,” Evelyn said. “My mother loved all music, but she wanted to [teach] the traditional music.”
She taught her five children to play the music, showing them the bass, the guitar, the banjo. “She started my sister off on the guitar, then Don, on guitar.” But it didn’t stick. “They would get tired, or they would have other plans, and they quit,” remembered Evelyn. Evelyn, though, still plays music. “Mom said, well, what can we teach you to play, and I says, well I love the rhythm and, she said… ‘How do you feel about the bass?’” They bought her one, and she’s played it ever since. She married a musical man, who was quickly drawn into the family’s music making. “When I met Moses and brought him home, she fell in love with Moses…. He loved music too, so it was like we were meant to be together.”
Dora Mae’s grandson Ford Wagers, named after his grandpa, was, as a young boy “picking up the banjo,” and hanging out with musicians. “He had a great personality,” said John Harrod, “and everybody thought, okay, he’s gonna pick up Dora Mae’s legacy, he’s going to make a life of this music…” But he didn’t quite latch onto it. (“I think he got into drugs and booze,” said John.)
There were others, too, who did carry on her legacy. Will Bacon, who plays with the Red State Ramblers, an old time string band in Lexington Kentucky, has captured her lick, according to Evelyn. Dora Mae was also an important mentor to Ethan and Eric Eversole, brothers who grew up near her, learning to play guitar, and bass, and trying to figure out how to play banjo, from a book. When they met Dora Mae, she quickly took them under her wing.
“I think it tickled her to death that some young people wanted to do it, you know,” Ethan remembered, fondly. “She was a real animated person. Opinionated. If she didn’t like somebody, she didn’t make any bones about it. I mean, she wouldn’t act like she liked him, but… if she liked you, she’d do anything in the world for you.” Dora Mae, who played a bit of fiddle as well as banjo (and guitar, and bass), loaned her fiddle to Eric for a while, so he could learn to play the instrument. “I mean,” said Ethan, about her generosity, “that’s the way she was, you know.”
The brothers would visit her, to learn tunes, to share a meal and laughter together. “She was a real good cook. But I know if you went down there to play, she usually had something cooked, you know. But, once the music started, the cooking was over,” Ethan remembered, laughing.
“We had a lot of good times,” said Ethan. “She used to call, when me and my brother still lived at home. She’d call, and she’d talk and talk… she’d get something on her mind you know… she’d say, ‘Well honey, I’m going to have to let you go.’ Then she’d talk about twenty more minutes, ‘Well honey I’m going to have to let you go,’ and then talk about 20 more minutes… ‘Well honey, bye-bye.’ It’s kind of funny, I mean, we were just young, but we had a real close friendship because we played old-time, liked the same kind of stuff, you know.”