Category Archives: Fiddle

Ora Watson – Watauga County’s Senior Musician: “Music keeps me young.”

Ora Watson – Watauga County, NC Old Time Music – FRC720

Article courtesy of Old Time Herald, Volume 11, Number 1

By Mark Freed

Leaving my office in Boone, North Carolina, one afternoon in May, I drove to the western part of Watauga County for a visit with Ora Watson. I parked my car, grabbed a banjo from the back seat, and walked inside where I found my friend Cecil Gurganus visiting with Ora in the living room. Ora asked me to come closer so she could see me, so I got within a few inches of her face. Continue reading

Fred McBride: Going Across the Mountain

Fred McBride – North Carolina Fiddle and Banjo – FRC722

by Lucas Pasley

Article courtesy of the Old Time Herald, Volume 13, Number 10.

I remember the first time I saw Fred play down at a little jam around Wilkesboro. I was young and in search of a real old time sound, and when I heard Fred I almost fell on the floor. I drove straight up to Alleghany County and told my grandmother I’d found my hero fiddler. She smiled and said, well, what’s his name?” “Fred McBride.” I said reverently. “Fred McBride!” She yelled back as she sat up in her recliner. “Good Lord,” she said, “You’ve known him your whole life – you’ve seen him at every family reunion you’ve ever been to!” Continue reading

Darley Fulks: Kentucky Wild Horse – Tune Notes

FRC716 – Darley Fulks – Kentucky Wild Horse

by  John Harrod, September 2015

Darley Fulks (1895-1990) in his long life worked as an oil driller, traveling both north and south from his native Wolfe Co., Kentucky, meeting other musicians, and learning tunes everywhere he went. But the greatest portion of his repertoire came from the older generation in his own county. Many of his tunes came from his grandfather and some he could trace to his great-grandfather. Consequently, his music represents both an exceptionally old collection of tunes, many pre-dating the Civil War and unique to him, and an exceptionally diverse range of styles Continue reading

Old Time Music of Alleghany County, NC

by Lucas Pasley

Despite having produced well-known fiddlers such as Guy Brooks, Art Wooten, and Tim Smith, Alleghany County’s rich old-time fiddling tradition has remained largely out of the spotlight. This CD attempts to capture not only the importance of Alleghany’s fiddling heritage, but also its own unique character. As with other mountain musical communities, the common threads of tradition met the innovative touch of the musicians to create a complex and powerful sound.

There was, however, a tremendous flow of exchange between Alleghany and bordering counties. According to Brad Leftwich, Tommy Jarrell learned his unique version of John Henry from Alleghany County, and prominent Alleghany fiddlers such as Huston Caudill traveled to Virginia for work and played with Grayson County fiddlers such as Luther Davis. State and county lines meant little to the flow of music and musicians, and Alleghany’s musical heritage is richly interwoven with the surrounding areas.

The recordings of Lawn Brooks, Mack Brooks, and some of the Howard Joines and Cleave Andrews cuts came from a musical gold mine that was brought to me in 2011. Cliff Evans was a well-known jeweler and guitar player in the area, and many old-time, country, bluegrass, and gospel musicians stopped by to play and be recorded on Cliff’s reel-to-reel player. Cliff recorded everything. He captured birds singing, friendships, parties, and an incredible musical heritage from the 50’s through the 70’s. The other tracks are a combination of field recordings gathered by me and Kilby Spencer, who has helped immeasurably with bringing this CD to fruition.

Overall, these five fiddlers offer a slice of the rich music of Alleghany County. As in other places, some of the fiddlers remained firmly rooted in their fiddling heritage while others purposefully and powerfully put their own innovation into the music.

The Fiddlers

Lawn Brooks and Cliff Evans

Lawn Brooks and Cliff Evans

Lawnie H. Brooks (1893-1964) was the older brother of Guy Brooks, fiddler for the Red Fox Chasers. Although he never made any commercial recordings, Lawn played fiddle his whole life, and Cliff Evans was one of his dearest friends. The two got together regularly to spend an evening playing and recording music. Lawn played on a Russian fiddle that he received in exchange for work with the Duncan family. It has a delicate sound that suits his fiddling well. The family describes Uncle Guy as more of a square dance fiddler and Uncle Lawn as more refined. One of his daughters described to me her fond memories of quietly sitting in the living room of their farmhouse after dark and listening to her father fiddle in the evening. Lawn was also a well-known craftsman: wagoner, blacksmith, and gunsmith.   Lawn dreamed of rising to greater heights with his music, but felt held back by an gunshot wound to his right arm that he felt caused him to lose his edge with the bow. I believe he would be proud to know that people were listening to his music and learning his tunes on this CD.

Mack Brooks and Maxine

Mack Brooks and Maxine

Mack Brooks (1902-1966) was from a different set of Brookses than Guy and Lawn and was widely known as T-Model Mack. Guy and Lawn did have a brother named Mack who played a little in his youth, but he was widely-known as a preacher. Fiddling Mack frequently played at the VFW square dance in Sparta, and as the recording indicates, his fiddling was powerful and perfect to move the dancers. He ran a convenience store and gas station off the Blue Ridge Parkway on Shawtown Road. His tremendous sense of humor was legend: one day a traveler from out of town stopped at the store and Mack noticed his Pennsylvania license plates. When the traveler stepped out and asked rudely where all the hillbillies were, Mack quickly responded, “Up in Pennsylvania teaching school.” In addition to music, Mack also loved to bowl and was proud to receive a trophy for being the oldest bowler at Sparta’s first bowling alley. In general, he lived life with a powerful joy that came out in everything he did.

Kilby Reeves (1898-1980) is a member of the musical Reeves family, and the grandfather of renowned bluegrass fiddler Tim Smith. Kilby was a hardworking farmer in the days before tractors and always worked for himself on his farm close to Twin Oaks. In the evenings after work, when Kilby wasn’t getting ready for a fox hunt, Art Wooten (Bill Monroe’s first fiddler) would come up to Kilby’s for help learning to play.   Kilby mostly played for local square dances at people’s houses but did compete and win at the Galax Fiddlers Convention. The family recounts a humorous story of a day when Kilby stepped outside in nothing but his overalls, literally, and stepped onto a yellow jackets’ nest. He didn’t hesitate to jump out of those overalls and ended up standing in the yard buck naked. Luckily, his wife was the only one to witness the spectacle.

Junior Maxwell and Cleve Andrews

Junior Maxwell and Cleve Andrews

Cleave Andrews (1895-1969) would certainly have grown up with the fiddle music of the area, but, according to his nephew, first learned to play the fiddle in a WWI prison camp in Africa when fellow inmate BILL BILL showed him some of the basics. To make a living after the war, he worked in the Dr. Grabow pipe factory and delivered milk while keeping up his fiddling playing regularly at the VFW square dance in Sparta and other local venues. He played with well-known banjo player Junior Maxwell in the Little River Boys, and while they would have called themselves a bluegrass band, Cleave’s old-time fiddling heritage comes through every note.

Howard Joines (1908-1981) was a virtuoso fiddler. Starting on a toy fiddle at 7 years old, it wasn’t long before the neighbors were coming by to hear him play. He left Alleghany when he was 18 to join Red Gay’s Brown Jug Fiddling Band but returned to work on the Parkway and raise beef cattle. He greatly admired the fiddling of Red Gay, Clayton McMichen of the Skillet Lickers, and Kenny Baker. He was a regular fiddler at the VFW square dance and would play with many others – Cliff Evans, Ed Atwood, Paul Joines, and Junior Maxwell to name a few. Howard was part of a generation of fiddlers that were both old-time and bluegrass, both deeply rooted in tradition and yet progressive and innovative in their fiddling and musicianship.   Howard’s repertoire ranges from timeless tunes like “Soldier’s Joy”, to contemporary jazz and pop like “Get Out and Get Under The Moon”, to bluegrass classics like “Pig in the Pen.”

For further reading, see Howard Joines article by TJ Worthington in the Old-Time Herald, April 2014.   Learned from Red Gay, Clayton McMitcheon,

Information from Strings of Life by Kevin Donleavy and interviews with Richard Joines (Howard Joines), Maxine Fender (Mack Brooks), Lawn Brooks’s children, Ray and Tim Smith (Kilby Reeves), Tom Edwards (Cleave Andrews) and TJ Worthington.

Carlton Rawlings

FRC718 – Carlton Rawlings – Bath County, Kentucky Fiddler

by John Harrod

INTRODUCTION

Northeastern Kentucky was still a hotbed of old style fiddling in the 1970s and ’80s when Gus Meade, Mark Wilson, Bruce Greene, and I began making regular visits to record and learn from the many interesting local fiddlers who were still going strong at the time. We were astounded at the sophistication and complexity of the styles, the level of performance, and the dramatic Continue reading

Vesta Johnson, Missouri’s Well-Kept Secret

FRC715 – Vesta Johnson with Steve Hall – North Missouri Dance Fiddling

by Bob Bovee

I’ve known Vesta Johnson since 1977, played tunes with her at her home and on stage, learned from her, and consider her a friend and mentor. She has likewise been a friend and teacher to countless other old-time musicians over the years. I interviewed Vesta at her house last winter, but our visit seemed more like a conversation with an old friend than a formal interview. Continue reading

Darley Fulks

FRC716 – Darley Fulks – Kentucky Wild Horse

by Jeff Todd Titon

Darley Fulks (1895-1990) was from Campton, in Wolfe County. He told John Harrod he was glad to have been alive when he was, early on, to learn the old tunes; he thought he was probably the last to know some of them. He felt most of the tunes he learned came to Kentucky from Virginia, but the bluesy tunes came from the lower South. Fulks’s grandfather and uncle played Continue reading

Ralph Whited: Oneonta, Alabama (1919-1994)

FRC717 – Ralph Whited – Old Time Alabama Fiddling
by Joyce Cauthen

Bio

Ralph Whited lived in one house in Oneonta, AL from the day he was born in 1919 until the day he died in 1994. Oneonta sits in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains, below Sand Mountain and 35 miles north of Birmingham. The Whited home, inherited from Ralph’s prosperous grandfather, was large enough to comfortably house Ralph’s parents, Henry and Elizabeth Whited, and their 6 robust sons Coy, O’Dell, Ward, J.D., Ralph and Brady. When Ward and J.D. took up playing guitar, it became a musical gathering place. Continue reading

Poems by Dean Sturgill

FRC710 – Dean Sturgill – The Spencer Branch Fiddler

Dean Sturgill is an old-time fiddler and poet from Ashe County, North Carolina. For many years, he led the popular Grayson Highlands Band. In the early 1990s, he self-published these three books of wonderful poetry about life in the mountains (available for download in pdf below). He reads his poem, “The Fees Branch Fiddler” in the video.

An Old Fiddler’s Book of Rhymes
An Old Fiddler’s “Second” Book of Rhymes
An Old Fiddler’s Book of Rhymes III

Jimmy Wheeler

Jimmy Wheeler (FRC401)

by Henna R. Armstrong, Getzville NY – 18 Dec. 2007

I was tickled to read on the web page about the trip down to Portsmouth to get Jimmy on tape.  You see, Jimmy Wheeler was my father’s first cousin.  Jimmy’s mother, “Aunt Em,” was a sister to my grandmother, Nell Odell.  I was raised in Portsmouth but we rarely visited the Wheelers, and I don’t remember Jimmy and his sisters at all.  My dad told me about going there one time after I Continue reading

First Recording Session with Jimmy Wheeler

Jimmy Wheeler (FRC401)

by Jeff Goehring

Oct. 5, 1982 – First recording session with Jimmy Wheeler in Portsmouth, Ohio

Arrived approx. 2 p.m. unexpectedly.

Found Jimmy and two of three sisters sitting under awning between house and shop/garage, smoking cigarettes and drinking Old Milwaukee in red and white cans, a welcoming wave.  Jimmy didn’t remember my name though I’m positive he remembered me.  His sisters Dottie and Merle were friendly.  Dot remembered me, Merle didn’t. Continue reading

Fred Cockerham

Fred Cockerham (FRC101)

by Ray Alden

Fred Cockerham, one of the seven children of Elias and Betty Jane Cockerham, was born on November 3, 1905.  He was the only one from the Round Peak community to attempt the difficult life of a professional rural musician.  The way that Fred began playing the fiddle is similar to the way many country musicians began.  Basically, this story can be heard on Continue reading

Review of the Sidna & Fulton Myers CD (FRC504)

Sidna & Fulton Myers (FRC504)

by Kerry Blech, Old Time Herald Magazine

Fiddler James Fulton “Jimmy Natural” Myers was born about 1895 and died in 1979.  According to Blanton Owen, who recorded him in the mid-1970s, he was born near Woodlawn, Virginia, between Galax and Hillsville.  He farmed, worked for the WPA during the Great Depression, and was a mason’s helper.  He learned to play from his father, who played banjo, and from “Old Man” Continue reading

Soldier’s Joy According to Fulton Myers

Sidna & Fulton Myers (FRC504)

by Jody Stecher (Fiddler Magazine)

This installment of Cross-Tuning Workshop (CROSS-TUNING WORKSHOP Part Thirty-Two: ADAE) pairs a well-known fiddle tune with a little-known but fascinating fiddler.  “Soldier’s Joy” is a contender for the world’s most played fiddle tune.  If you wonder why, you’ve heard only the bad versions.  This is a great tune for dancing, always fun to play (on any instrument), and it carries a huge amount of energy which it will release to Continue reading

Review of the Santford Kelly CD

Santford Kelly (FRC503)

by Kerry Blech, Old Time Herald Magazine

I want to be perfectly clear about my feelings about this series, The Field Recorders’ Collective (FRC).  I have bought into the concept totally, from the very moment that Ray Alden told me about his plans several years ago.  There are many recording projects that are worthy and fruitful, but this one is very special, to me at least.  I’ve known Ray for over 30 years.  He’s always Continue reading

Lonnie Seymour

Lonnie Seymour (FRC403) and bonus tracks on Cecil Plum (FRC404)

by Betty Seymour, April 2006

Lonnie was born June 15, 1922.  Lonnie’s grandpa, John Seymour, played the fiddle, so when Lonnie was about five years old, grandpa would put him on the bed with his fiddle and let him play it.  Lonnie watched how Grandpa worked his fingers and bow, that is how he learned to play the fiddle.  He came from a family that loved the fiddle, including his dad, Webster, and Continue reading

Buddy Thomas’ Autobiography

Buddy Thomas (FRC303)

by Mark Wilson

Biography and photos from Rounder CD0032, “Kitty Puss,” produced by Guthrie T. Meade and Mark Wilson.
Used by permission. To order Rounder CD0032, visit www.rounder.com.

We growed up real poor, so poor that even the poor folks said we were poor.  There were ten in our family and we had to raise most everything we ate and work in logwoods and stuff like that.  My dad worked all the time, but he was sick and had to doctor so much, that I don’t see how he could have made it if it hadn’t been for us.  He was a big strong man until he got sick and he Continue reading

Clyde Davenport

Clyde Davenport, Vol. 1 (FRC103),  Clyde Davenport, Vol. 2 (FRC104),
Clyde Davenport DVD (FRC1004)

by Jeff Titon

Kentuckian Clyde Davenport is a master old-time fiddler and banjo player. His large repertory of traditional tunes, many of them rare, makes him an important source musician. At 85, he still plays wonderfully well. For almost twenty years old-time fiddlers and banjo players have made pilgrimages to his home in Monticello, Kentucky, to share in his music. Clyde is amused and Continue reading

Manco Sneed

Byard Ray, Manco Sneed & Mike Rogers (FRC505)

by Dakota Brewer, the daughter of Manco, for the occasion of the John H. and Sarah Lovin descendants’ reunion on February 17, 2007 at Tsali Manor, Cherokee, NC.

Manco Sneed was born in Graham County Feb.18-1885, the son of John Harrison and Sarah Lovin Sneed, but later moved to Cherokee and lived in the “Sneed Gap” section all of his life where he and my mother Rosebud Beck Sneed raised their family of seven children. He died at age 89. Continue reading