Hickory Hill Tribute






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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