James Rolan Foster
1950 - 1996
Rolan Foster, Master of Ceremonies for the East Texas Hickory Hill bluegrass
band, humorist, guitar player, singer and professional welder. To this day, 30
years later, I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on Rolan at the 1979
Kerrville (Texas) Bluegrass Festival. I was setting in the audience and a few
rows up was this blond headed guy wearing a small funny multi-colored hat with
several children in tow. I thought, “Now you see all kinds here but this guy
with that funny hat is one of the strangest.” I later learned that the hat was
the kind professional welders wear which was Rolan’s trade and in which he
excelled. It is similar to a baseball cap but different. Later that weekend, a
girl from my work, Judy Schrimpshire, and her husband, Jerry, came by where Don
Eaves and I were camped and asked Don, “Say, aren’t you from East Texas?” He
responded “yes” and they remarked, “Well, there’s several guys at the bottom of
this hill in the valley that are also from East Texas and they don’t have a
banjo player.” With that, Don jumped up, grabbed his banjo and started down the
hill with Judy and Jerry. From this rather fortuitous meeting the Hickory Hill
bluegrass band was formed featuring Rolan on guitar, John Early, guitar, Don
Eaves, banjo, Ronny Singley, mandolin, and Bob Stegall, bass.
The first time I heard them at a performance as a band I was totally blown away.
Each of them sang and lead breaks were passed around to everybody. Now that’s
about as good as a band gets. However, Hickory Hill had a secret weapon that
caused other bluegrass bands to very reluctantly follow them on stage; that
secret was Rolan Foster! Rolan emerged as the spirit leader for the group. Not
only did he introduce the band members and the songs they were going to present
but he inserted humor to the performance like adding hot peppers to chili. The
more Rolan used humor the hotter the band played and the more the audiences
reveled in their performances. It was not unusual for them to be called back
for, not one, but two encores plus leaving the audience clamoring for more.
Humor and good music were definitely the trademarks of the band. Rolan was
unique in that, should there be a heckler in the audience, he could heckle him
back and in short order having him laughing at himself and becoming one of the
band’s biggest supporters. Then, there were Rolan’s recitations; Beepin’ Sleauty
(Sleeping Beauty), Rendercella (Cinderella), The One Bullet Hunt and others that
mesmerized audiences. I always cringed when Rolan started Them Poems as I was
always afraid he would mess up on “Them Duck Pluckers” (there is a rumor that he
once did and was so cracked up that he couldn’t go on).
I always looked forward to a Hickory Hill performance because when Rolan and I
were alone he always had a new joke (he never forgot any joke that he ever
heard). However, after he was diagnosed with Melanoma cancer and the last time I
saw him alive, he and I were visiting and he cracked several jokes then leaned
towards me (I thought he had a really good one to tell) and very seriously said,
“If you ever have something that’s bothering you and you think you might should
see a doctor, DON’T do like I did and put it off – go!” I put my arms around him
(with tears in my eyes) and said, “Rolan, I love you.” To this day I still miss
him and tear up when I think of him.
Ted Miller, friend and fan.
About the author: Ted Miller is now retired and lives in Austin
TX. He was the founder of the Central Texas Bluegrass Association
in 1977, Publisher/Editor of the Bluegrass Newsletter and friend of
Hickory Hill since the band’s formation.
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