Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Rooting Around

Himons goes back to his youth's calling

By Michael McCall

JULY 13, 1998:  Last fall, local Nashville musician Aashid Himons received a call from a government official in his hometown of Huntington, W.Va. The request seemed simple enough: Would he return to headline a city-sponsored outdoor concert?

For the dreadlocked singer, the offer couldn't have been more surprising. Himons hadn't been back to Huntington since 1971. But it wasn't because he didn't want to visit--it was because he feared he'd be arrested if he returned. Prior to his departure, Himons had organized several protests aimed at finally ending desegregation in the area. Eventually, a covey of city leaders conspired to arrest him on trumped-up charges. He was given an ultimatum: Leave and don't come back. If he was seen in town again, he'd be jailed.

Apparently, things have changed in the last two-and-a-half decades. Last year, to combat a planned Ku Klux Klan march in Huntington, city leaders decided to put on a concert promoting racial harmony. Officials hoped the event would dispel tensions by providing a focal point for those wishing to show unified resistance to the Klan. Himons performed at a waterfront location, far from the Klan gathering. More than 3,000 people attended the concert, compared to the minuscule group of Klansmen who assembled across town in a park.

Himons' eight-piece new-age reggae band provided the perfect counterpoint to the Klan's message of hate. By encouraging a sense of serenity and community, Himons' performance proved to be a master stroke. "It was real peaceful," he says. "The whole thing had a positive vibe."

For Himons, connecting with his Huntington roots had personal reverberations as well. At the time, he had been considering a change in musical direction. His return to the West Virginia mountains told him that his instincts were right: It was time for him to explore the acoustic music of his youth.

The result is Mountain Soul, Himons' new 16-song album. Merging Appalachian string-band music with a variety of blues styles, Himons has assembled a mesmerizing collection that is as powerful as it is surprising. The sweep is vast: His guitar style incorporates Merle Travis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Son House, and some of the best songs on the album feature him playing down-home acoustic duets with a fiddle, a harmonica, a bass, and a hand drum.

The album's centerpieces are one-of-a-kind covers of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" and the traditional country gospel tune, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Both tap into a deeply felt grace and a joyous communal spirit that runs through the best of Himons' music.

"Mountain music is what it is," the singer says of the self-distributed album, which was released last week and is now available in major Nashville record stores. "It's my roots. I used to do these little licks and tunes onstage, when I was messing around between songs. And every once in a while, I'd do gigs where I'd be hired just to bring my guitar and sit down and sing. But I'd never put [those songs] on record until now."

Over the years, Himons has played a variety of music under an equally wide array of personas, including Little Archie, a '60s soul singer; West Virginia Slim, a Delta and urban bluesman; and, of course, Aashid, leader of the '80s Nashville reggae band Afrikan Dreamland.

But acoustic mountain music speaks to Himons because it's at the core of his raising. "Because my mother was an evangelist, I traveled all over Appalachia when I was young," he says. "I'd hear this music all around the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky and Southern Ohio. This music is the basic sensibility I grew up with."

It's also the first music he performed. "When I was living in West Virginia, a lot of the black musicians and the white musicians would get together and just play and exchange things," he says. "That's what mountain music is--it's the music of the Scotch and the Irish and the Africans, and later the Germans, who settled in the mountains there."

After all of his musical explorations, Himons now feels drawn to play it. "Something in me told me I have to be doing this," he says. "I don't know if it's the ancestors working on me or what, but it just started popping out."

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