Reprinted with permission from
Bluegrass Music Profiles Magazine March/April 2004
Written by: Kevin Kerfoot
Since 1999, OMS Records, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, has released some of the most creative acoustic and classic country music around including projects by bluegrass greats such as Benny Martin, Josh Graves, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Kenny Baker, Vassar Clements, Buddy Spicher, and Glen Duncan, as well as projects by Pam Gadd, Johnny Russell, Billy Troy, Bill Henry, Jeannie Seely and Doyle Holly.
The company originated from a music program started in 1994 called the Original Music Showcase and a friendship with legendary fiddler Benny Martin. “We had this major renovation of a beautiful theatre in Durham, N.C. that is a beautiful venue for music called The Carolina Theatre and we did a series of concerts called The Original Music Showcase,” said OMS Records founder and president Hugh Moore.
During this period Moore, also a banjo player and bluegrass music fan, became friends with Benny Martin and that’s where the end of The Original Music Showplace and the beginning of OMS Records overlaps. “Benny Martin was a friend of mine and he played at the Original Music Showcase and his record was the first one for OMS Records in 1999,” Hugh said. ” At one time Benny had been on top of the world. He was a great showman and a member of the Grand Ole Opry and played with Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe and recorded for Decca and was the best fiddle player there ever was in a lot of people’s opinions and was a great singer and songwriter – but by the time I met him people had just kind of forgotten about him. When I got to know Benny he was a recovered alcoholic and went 18 years without a drink before he died in 2001 and he had an illness called spasmodic dysphonia which is a nerve disorder that took away his ability to speak.
“I started studying his illness and eventually took him to the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic where he got Botox shots that relieve the symptoms of spasmodic disphonia. I was really involved in his situation and we had a great time together.”
The first project Benny Martin recorded for OMS Records was “The ‘Big Tiger’ Roars Again Part 1”, which included guests Tom T. Hall, Earl Scruggs, Vince Gill, Del McCoury, Crystal Gayle, John Hartford, Bobby Osborne, Jim & Jesse, Buck White, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Russell, Terry Eldredge and Jerry Douglas.
“On the first session we did with OMS Records I had to pinch myself. The session was three of The Foggy Mountain Boys – Earl Scruggs, Josh Graves and Benny Martin – and also Tom T. Hall, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Bub and John Hartford,” Hugh recalled. “It was a great session and I knew it was going to go well and it did.”
The original plan wasn’t to establish a label or even do a second Benny Martin project. “It took a long time and we ended up getting so many people on it that it became a two-part project and probably stopped making economic sense at some point,” Hugh said. “We just decided to go ahead and make it two parts and it took on a life of its own. At first it was Tom T. Hall and Earl Scruggs and Josh Graves and Crystal Gayle and Johnny Russell and Bonny Osborne and a few that were on part two like Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill. All of these people had tremendous respect for Benny even though he wasn’t known outside of a narrow circle and was long forgotten about by a lot of people just because he had been ill for so long and hadn’t played. To the people that knew the music, Benny was very important and this project just became a personal tribute to him and it started this label as it got to be a big deal.”
And it was through Benny’s project that Hugh met Johnny Russell, which led to the company’s next project. “Johnny was on Benny’s projects and died after Benny on July 3, 2001,” Hugh said. “That’s how I got to know him and we got to be really good friends. I said, ‘Johnny you ought to let us do a bluegrass record on you sometime.’ “
Titled “Actin’ Naturally”, Johnny Russell’s project featured guests such as Dolly Parton, Crystal Gayle, Buck Owens, Earl Scruggs, Marty Stuart, Bobby Bare, Bobby Osborne and The Whites. “Johnny was a great songwriter and one of the only songwriters to write a song for The Beatles called ‘Act Naturally,'” Hugh said. “Johnny had songs that were so perfect for bluegrass.”
And once again, the project with Johnny Russell led to another project: Dobro legend Josh Graves, who had been involved in all of the previous OMS projects. Josh’s son Billy Troy also co-produced a lot of the projects. “Hugh and Linda Moore are dear friends of mine and I respect them highly,” said Josh Graves. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done with Hugh and he’s always been straight with me. I’m glad that I can say I’ve spent a lot of time with OMS Records and I know they have with me. It’s one of the most pure and honest companies I’ve ever worked for, it’s run like a business, they take care of their artists and I appreciate that. I’m proud they let me be a part of OMS Records and I’m real proud to have them on my side.”
Entitled “Sultan of Slide”, Josh Graves’ project featured Buddy Emmons, Tom T. Hall, Delbert McClinton, Johnny Russell, Marty Stuart, Billy Troy, Porter Wagoner, The Whites, and Vassar Clements – which also led to the company recording a few of Vassar’s projects. Following Josh’s project OMS Records released Billy Troy’s project.
Another highpoint for the company was recording bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne. “Bobby Osborne, along with Benny and Earl, was always it for me as far as singers go,” Hugh said. “I talked to Bobby gradually about this and suggested we do a country album because The Osborne Brothers have always done bluegrass. I’m extremely proud of the first one called “Selfishness And Man”. It’s just a great record and really powerful singing. It took Bobby’s voice and put it in a classic country setting and in my mind it just reinforced what I already knew – that he’s just the best singer there’s ever been.”
Since then OMS Records has also released projects by Kenny Baker, Doyle Holly, Glen Duncan, and Pam Gadd, former lead singer and banjo player for Wild Rose.
“Johnny Russell had a lot of impact on all of this because he also introduced me to Jeannie Seely and it was his idea to have Doyle Holly sing Buck Owens songs bluegrass style – he was helping me with that one when he died,” Hugh said.
“The Kenny Baker project came from my association with Josh,” Hugh said. “Kenny hadn’t recorded in forever and everybody wanted him to but he just wouldn’t do it. Josh, Billy and me really kind of just told him he really needed to be doing something and suggested that we just get in there and do it and we did. The first one was Cotton Baggin’ 2000 and then “Spider Bit The Baby” in 2002. Kenny played great, was at ease, totally got into it and we had a real relaxed, fun time doing it. I don’t think he would have recorded if he hadn’t felt really comfortable with me and Billy and Josh.”
In November 2003 the company unveiled Jeannie Seely’s project entitled Life’s Highway. “The Osborne Brothers did a song on it called Kentucky that Jeannie wrote, Charlie Louvin sang on ‘Cry Myself To Sleep’, The Whites did a whole lot of backup stuff, and Jesse McReynolds and Josh played on it,” Hugh said.
Upcoming OMS releases include projects by Jesse McReynolds and duo projects featuring Vassar Clements and Buddy Spicher, and Glen Duncan and Buddy Emmons. “Buddy had helped me with Benny Martin’s project so it’s also a kind of a continuation,” Hugh said. “Vassar and Buddy’s project was done in Buddy’s studio and it’s Bob Wills-type fiddle music – it’s really great music by these two fiddle geniuses. They’ve got great musicians on there from start to finish and it’s a very well done, slick, jazzy-type fiddle record. It will come out in early 2004.”
“Jesse McReynolds has also done a mandolin record that we were working on at the time Jim (McReynolds) was sick so it’s been delayed a little bit, but it’s done and it’s real good and will be coming out some time in 2004.”
Fiddler Glen Duncan and steel player Buddy Emmons’ project will also be released in 2004. “It’s country and bluegrass versions of classical-type songs such as Beethoven’s Fifth with banjos on it,” Hugh said. “It’s a very cool record.”
Reflecting on OMS Records’ beginnings and where the company is now, Hugh said: “It just kind of evolved and at some point I knew it had legs. The company has settled into having three to four releases a year.” Hugh’s wife Linda runs the company on a day-to-day basis and is the primary contact for retailers, artists and customers.
“The way I envision the label – bluegrass is my background and the way I think about everything – but I also love classic country,” Hugh said. “We are doing some important preservation and I think it’s important for people to discover the roots of the music. As far as a label, I think what we’re trying to do is do things that are significant and that kind of gives us a different angle. To that extent my goal is that we exist five and 10 years from now and I think we will.”