by John Hoffmann
It was the summer of 1959 and a young Peter Hoover, having flunked out of Harvard the summer before, was volunteering at the Library of Congress, transcribing inventory information of aluminum disc recordings made in 1937 of Crockett Ward’s Bogtrotters, from Ballard Branch, Virginia. (The original Bogtrotters, consisted of Davey Crockett Ward and his neighbor Alec Dunford on fiddles; Crockett’s son Fields Ward playing guitar and singing; and Crockett’s brother Wade Ward often playing the banjo.) Not bad work if you can get it. It seems the young Mr. Hoover had gotten interested in the traditional music of the southern Appalachian Mountain region over the previous couple of years, and he was driven to immerse himself in all aspects of this musical genre. While also working as a janitor at a local private school to pay the rent, the 20-year old was hanging around the archive listening to numerous field recordings and engaging in conversations about the music with the director, Rae Korson. Peter was spending the summer developing a list of favorite old-time music performers as he hatched a plan that would take him on a journey throughout the southern Appalachia region in search of these old-time musicians. Not long after, in the fall of 1959, Peter drove out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, having borrowed his parents’ 1955 Rambler sedan, his Revere tape recorder in tow, heading straight for Hillsville, Virginia and the homes of Glen Smith, Wade Ward, and Charlie Higgins. Over the course of the next five years, Peter would make these summer journeys an annual affair. During this time, Peter recorded musicians in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. After five years, Peter had recorded more than sixty players and singers, on fifty reel-to-reel recordings, copies of which are now deposited in the Library of Congress and at the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, in Bloomington.
For many in the old-time music community, Peter Hoover is a familiar name. Over the past thirty-five years, his name has been associated with numerous old-time recordings, articles, and manuscripts, crediting him for his field recordings and photos of old-time musicians. Miles Krassen used Peter’s recordings for his three Oak Publications books: “Appalachian Fiddle,” “Masters of Old Time Fiddling,” and “Clawhammer Banjo.” Miles had cataloged “the extremely important Peter Hoover collection” while he was at the Archives of Traditional Music at IU and thus was quite familiar with all of Peter’s work. Bruce Greene’s recording “Five Miles of Ellum Wood,” credits Peter for the Charles Hoskins cut “Jack’s Creek Ridge.” Bruce had met Peter in Washington, DC in 1976 through Gus Meade, and they talked about Peter’s trips through Kentucky. Bruce later obtained copies of Peter’s Kentucky tapes through the Berea College Appalachian Center. And Reed Martin credits Peter for getting him started on drop-thumbing the banjo, by giving him “a reel of old-time banjo tunes.” Reed states on his Web site, “I thought I was pretty hot stuff on the banjo and then one day I went into the cafeteria and there was Peter Hoover. I had never seen anyone play “double thumb” style banjo. It sounded like an entire orchestra.”
The breadth and depth of Peter’s field recording resume includes a veritable who’s who of old-time fiddlers. Indeed, Peter was most fortunate to have spent time recording, photographing, playing, and talking with Manco Sneed, Santford Kelly, Sidna and Fulton Myers, Marcus Martin, Dan Tate, James Crase, Norman Edmonds, Glen Smith, Wade Ward, Charlie Higgins, Bayard Ray, Heywood Blevins, and many others. In fact, Peter was the first person to have made recordings of a number of these players, most notably Manco Sneed, Santford Kelly, and the Myers brothers.
It seems quite remarkable that a person of Peter’s young age, only 20 years old at the start of his first visit to the South, had the temerity and focus to undertake such a task, one that required developing relationships with complete strangers, who allowed him into their homes and their communities, to share such vital parts of their lives. Peter’s enthusiasm for the music created an openness that paved the way for many hours of intimate connections with individuals that were two, three, and even four times his age. Anna Lomax Chairetakis recently remarked that her father, Alan Lomax, “just got down to where the people were… he drank with them, he sat with them, he went in their boats and recorded them…” Peter Hoover shared this quality; he was someone who met these rural country musicians in their own surroundings and made them feel good about their music, and Peter’s stories bear that out. Whether he was sharing some of Marcus Martin’s soda crackers and moonshine, or making a special delivery of Garrett’s Strong Scotch Snuff to Wade Ward after a big snowstorm, Peter joined in the lives of the people he recorded. He was interested in their lives, he took part in their chores and activities, and he showed them how much he loved their music.
Peter also loved to play, and the opportunity to learn a tune or to play backup guitar or banjo was a strong incentive. Peter says that he definitely wanted to learn how to play the banjo, and he was dissatisfied with the bump-titty, bump-titty stuff that Pete Seeger’s book provided; he wanted to go to the source. He also wanted to see if the styles and repertoires of the players recorded by the Library of Congress in the 1930s had changed since then, and if so, how and why? Further, Peter wanted adventure and the opportunity to let the players know, simply by being there, that their skills were valued by someone. Valued, indeed!
Peter would typically only go out for two weeks at a time, since, as he stated numerous times, “I could only do this for so many days in a row, and then I had to get home. I was so exhausted and missing my familiar surroundings.…” Still, the travels, the recording sessions, the impromptu music gatherings, and the incredible experiences that Peter now relates in story after story are enough to make an old-time music fan green with envy. Listening to Peter talk about this time in his life, the openness of the people he met, and the beauty of the land he visited, gives one a feeling for the rural South and for a time that has all but slipped away. And although Peter can be extremely quiet and unassuming, he can’t help but relish in retelling the stories and recounting the adventures that he had the good fortune of experiencing for those years. How many of us can say that we play a fiddle that was purchased directly from Marcus Martin? As the story goes, Marcus showed Peter eight different fiddles and recommended one in particular. “I’ll sell you the best one of these, a French violin,” he offered. And that is the fiddle that Peter now plays. A mouse had lived in this particular instrument, a Lupot copy with a twisted, warped neck and an f-hole that had been gnawed to enlarged proportions.
Peter’s sojourns into the world of old-time field recording came at a time just before many notable Southern players were venturing, often with chaperones, to play at folk festivals, universities, and in metropolitan areas. It was just at the start of the big folk revival, when the music of the rural South was finding increasing popularity among city folk. And Peter was right in the thick of things. Not only was he out there seeking the primary sources for old-time music, he was also a part of the burgeoning folk music community in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the very beginning of the folk revival. This was a time of unabashed enthusiasm for folk music, no matter its source, tempo, or message. Bluegrass, old-time, blues, Cajun, and folk ballads were all being embraced by young people throughout the Northeast. And nowhere was this music more popular than in the late 1950s in Cambridge.
Peter Hoover was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on April 29, 1939 to academic/musician parents, and raised mostly in Washington, DC. His father, Edgar, was an economist at the University of Michigan early in his career but in later years worked in Washington, DC at the CIA; in Massachusetts as a professor at Harvard (the elder Hoover was also a Harvard graduate, summa cum laude); and the University of Pittsburgh, until he retired in 1970 and moved to California. Both he and Peter’s mother, Mary, were musicians, playing violin and viola until the late 1950s, at which point their interest turned to Renaissance and Baroque music when they took up playing viols and recorders. Peter’s dad was also an amateur instrument maker, which led to the construction of a number of viola da gambas, baroque violins, psalteries, and at least one marine trumpet. The latter instrument was said to have been invented by Pythagoras and used in the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. It had a single string that is bowed, and a vibrating, adjustable bridge, a sound box, a long neck, and a tuning peg. Some of Edgar Hoover’s instruments are now in Peter’s possession. It was no wonder that Peter got interested in music.
Peter began his musical development at an early age on a variety of instruments. He started with cello lessons at five and switched to clarinet when he entered high school. He tired of classical music by the time he was sixteen and made the move to guitar. Soon thereafter he joined a bluegrass band called the Wilson Gap Boys, with Peter on guitar, Dick Stowe on 6-string banjo (which he tried as much as possible to make sound like Earl Scruggs playing a 5-string), and Jack Tottle on mandolin. Evidently, the band could play a tune or two since they were recorded by Mike Seeger in 1957, the year that Peter graduated from high school. The 45 rpm records were never sold, but Peter still has some copies in his possession.
In the summer after his senior year in high school, while traveling with his parents to Middlebury, Vermont, Peter met 5-string banjo player and guitar player Joe Hickerson. Joe was a left-handed musician who had just graduated from Oberlin College, and he was a member of the Folksmiths. Peter immediately fell in love with the old style of playing the five-string banjo. (This is the same Joseph Hickerson who was to become the director of the Archive of Folk Culture, formerly called the Archive of Folk Song, at the Library of Congress.) So, here is Peter at 18 years of age, having just graduated from high school, hooked on playing clawhammer banjo, and heading off to college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the folk music revival was about to break out in spades…. And thus began the slippery slope into the inner sanctum of old-time music.
After the summer of 1957, Peter packed his bags and headed for Harvard to major in chemistry. Early in the semester, Peter had the good fortune to meet up with the legendary Eric Sackheim, a graduate student from New York City, who was studying Japanese at Harvard. Eric was a guitar and five-string banjo player with a prodigious collection of records and tapes. Eric was the first person that Peter met who actually had traveled to the southern states to record musicians. And it was Eric who introduced Peter to the “Anthology of American Folk Music” (a.k.a. the Harry Smith Collection). This was one of the “Aha!” moments in Peter’s life. Eric, who would move to Japan in 1960 on a Fulbright Fellowship, was one of the founders, along with Bob Siggins and Ethan Signer, in the late 1950s, of the Charles River Valley Boys, a Bluegrass band from the Boston area. This is the band that Joe Val and Buddy Spicher would bring to some prominence during the mid ’60s and ’70s. (Peter reminisced about the time that he sat in with the Charles River Valley Boys at a gig at the Putney School in southern Vermont during a fierce hurricane. We agreed that this must have been a sign for Peter to stick with the older style of Southern mountain music.)
Within a short time of meeting Eric, Peter was playing banjo along with many of the recordings from Eric’s seminal collection, and Peter’s passion for Southern mountain-style string band music grew even stronger. Eric was a very influential character, and he cast a similar web over a number of aspiring young musicians in Cambridge, earning this group the moniker of Sackheim’s Hillbilly Mafia. The story of this time has been chronicled in Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney’s book on the Cambridge folk scene, “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” Peter is mentioned a couple of times as one of the hillbilly mafia and as the guy who along with Sackheim was traveling around the States, hunting for authentic folk musicians. All of this music playing and heavy involvement in the Cambridge folk scene was bound to get in the way of Peter’s studies, and unfortunately for Harvard, but not for old-time music, Peter flunked out after his freshman year.
Leaving school in 1958, Peter found work in a meat-packing plant near the Dorchester/Roxbury area of south Boston, as a time-study man. Peter was still in the thick of the music scene that was blossoming in Cambridge, his banjo playing was improving, and he continued to hang out with Eric Sackheim. That summer Eric and his friend Eric Johnson went to Southwest Virginia to record Wade Ward, Charlie Higgins, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Heywood Blevins, and others. Upon Eric’s return to Cambridge, Peter immediately dubbed the tape reels for his own collection, and set out to learn the tunes. These were not the days of cassette players, so tapes were made on reel-to-reel recorders. Eric Sackhiem’s recording trips to the South firmly planted the idea for the steps that Peter would soon be following for his own musical immersion. Peter had already been hooked on the 78s from what many of us refer to as “the golden age of old time music” (the 1920s and early 1930s), but now his real passion was for field recordings made in the hills of Appalachia.
After a year of working in the meat-packing plant and spending plenty of free time honing his skills on both the banjo and the guitar, Peter decided in the summer of 1959 to move back to Washington, DC to become a volunteer at the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress. Once in Washington, Peter spent numerous hours listening closely to the field recordings made by John and Alan Lomax, Jean Thomas, Herbert Halpert, Artus Moser, Margot Mayo, and others. Soon Peter had his own private list of favorite performers, aided by numerous conversations with folks at the Archive, especially Rae Korson. Peter was now itching to get on the road to try his own hand at finding some of these performers from the ’30s and ’40s. (Rae’s husband was George Korson, one of the first collectors and interpreters of American industrial folklore who, among many other accomplishments, collected songs and ballads, largely from the coal regions of Pennsylvania, for the Archive of Folk Song. His collecting efforts resulted in two LP records as well as several books.)
It is interesting to note that Peter’s first southern journey in September, 1959 took him to some of the same towns and musicians’ homes that Alan Lomax was visiting during that very year. Mr. Lomax’s recordings of Charlie Higgins, Wade Ward, and Dale Poe, along with many others from 1959, were issued by Rounder as “Southern Journey, volumes 1 and 2.” And although these are among the most common of Peter’s recordings, they are an incredible sampling of these three musicians’ great abilities, and it is fun to think about Peter being on the same trail as the indomitable Mr. Lomax. No doubt they both caught the boys playing as the Buck Mountain Band at their regular gig for the Parsons Auction Company, as they had been doing for forty years. Peter recorded eighty-two tracks of music played by these gentlemen over two days’ time during this trip. He returned to record Uncle Wade on another 18 tracks in 1962. These are all excellent recordings, a treasure for any fan of these players. One of the very special things about this set of recordings is the fiddling by Uncle Charlie Higgins. Peter captured 20 solo fiddle tunes played by Mr. Higgins, and these renditions are not to be missed. Throughout these recordings, he displays a wonderful grasp of phrasing, delivered with power and drive. The phrases often end with a lilting bounce, either in clear triplets or rocking bow shakes, the imprint of early influences on Mr. Higgins’ fiddling. Also interesting is the repertoire of tunes, some of which are firmly based in the southwestern Virginia tradition, and others of which Uncle Charlie clearly had learned from recordings or radio broadcasts of Arthur Smith. Still, throughout all of these tunes, Uncle Charlie retains the old style of playing, reminiscent of his older contemporary, Emmett Lundy, as well as the unmistakable influence of the even older Greenberry Leonard. A year after Peter made this recording, Uncle Charlie took first place at the 1960 Galax Fiddlers Convention, at the ripe young age of 81.
After Peter’s first field recording journey, he returned to Washington, DC and lived there for a year, working as a custodian in a private school, and playing lots of music and plotting out his next field trip. Now that Peter had caught the field recording bug, he was always on the lookout for banjo and fiddle players. While working at the school (where Peter resided and also learned to make a mountain dulcimer with the help of the physics teacher, Howard Mitchell), Peter made friends with a plasterer who was working on the school buildings. While talking about his interest in banjo and fiddle music, the plasterer told him that he knew of an African American banjo player named Clarence Tross, living in Dorgon, West Virginia. Peter’s interest was piqued, and it didn’t take long for him to arrange a visit to see Mr. Tross. Mike Seeger joined Peter for this winter trip to West Virginia on March 12, 1960. Given the times, Peter and Mike had to record Clarence on the porch of a neighbor’s house, since Clarence was not allowed to go into the house because of his race. Peter and Mike had to run an electric extension cord into the house so that they could record Clarence playing the banjo in the cold outdoors. Clarence Tross was born in 1884 in Hardy County, West Virginia, where his family had lived for over a hundred years. His father had played the banjo and was born ten years or so before the Civil War. Clarence’s uncle also played the fiddle, and he and Clarence’s father would play for dances held near their homes. Clarence Tross played banjo in a variety of two and three-finger styles, as well as a standard frailing style, and a much older minstrel style that consisted of a reversed frailing stroke. More can be learned about Mr. Tross in the article “Clarence Tross: Hardy County Banjoist,” by Kip Lornell and J. Roderick Moore (Goldenseal, vol. 2, No. 3 (1976), pp. 7-8). Clarence Tross died in 1976.
In the summer of 1960, after his second visit to the South, Peter got word that he had been accepted to the University of Pittsburgh to pursue a degree in geology. For the next four years of his undergraduate studies, Peter would take advantage of school breaks to continue his recording efforts in the South, with three more extensive recording trips. Peter made his last major recording trip to the South in 1964, after which his academic career would kick into high gear. Peter did take a few more trips to the South visiting the friends he had made over the years, but seldom, if ever, did he record them. He did continue to make field recordings, but much further afield. For instance, Peter had time in 1965, no doubt influenced by his association with Howard Glasser, to travel to the British Isles, where he recorded many players throughout Northumberland; the Edinburgh area; around Brora, near Inverness; Durness, near Cape Wrath; around Aberdeen; Kirkwall, Orkney; and Lerwyck, Shetland. Peter also made recordings in Venezuela in the early 1970s and as recently as 2003. Peter still has all of these recordings at his home in upstate New York.
The Players, the Recordings, and the Stories
At first, Peter only recorded those performers whom he had noted from the field recordings of the 1930s and 1940s, which had been deposited at the Library of Congress. During his first recording trip, he reasoned that there were other players from the same regions who had never been recorded. Thus he began to consciously hunt for musicians on his travels. Typically, Peter would travel through small towns and stop at all of the general stores, greeting the owners with the query, “Hi, I’m looking for banjo and fiddle players. Do you know any folks who come in regularly to buy strings for their instruments?” Peter would compile a list of the names the he received, and off he’d go in pursuit of these players. In this manner, Peter would discover numerous people who played music. This is how Peter came to find Claude Wolfenbarger, an accomplished banjo player from Thorn Hill, Tennessee, and Addie Leffew, an amazing singer and banjo player from the same town. Peter had been on his way to Mountain City, Tennessee in hopes of finding the maker of his mountain dulcimer, James C. Cress, when he stopped in at the general store in Thorn Hill. Peter was given Claude’s and Addie’s names, and it wasn’t long before he was knocking on their doors. Peter was very taken by this particular general store in Thorn Hill and was especially fond of the group of fellows who were talking, chawing, and whittling away around an old wood stove, often looking suspiciously at any newcomers walking through the door. Two years later Peter would return to Thorn Hill, and this time he was allowed to sit in with some of those very same gentlemen, whittling, chawing, throwing suspicious looks towards the door, and even playing some banjo.
Of course, Peter would also get musicians’ names from the players he was visiting. He’d write all the names in his notebook and draw maps of how to get to their houses. It was Glen Smith that told Peter about Sidna and Fulton Myers. He heard about Manco Sneed from his visits with Marcus Martin and Bayard Ray. Aunt Samantha Bumgarner gave Peter a number of musicians’ names to add to his lists. In turn, Peter would tell others about the musicians whom he had visited. He told John Cohen about the Myers brothers, and he told numerous people about Manco Snead and Santford Kelly, Clarence Tross, and others. Years later, in the mid 1970s, Peter would regularly spend time with Gus Meade on Sunday afternoons in Washington, DC, sharing stories about their travels, their visits with musicians, and their recordings.
Being familiar with the collecting methods of the field archivists, Peter knew to document his recordings with great detail. Peter religiously followed the guidelines in “The Manual For Folk Music Collectors,” published in London in 1951. “A Guide for Fieldworkers in Folklore,” by Kenneth Goldstein, published in 1964. was also an important reference for developing an annotated list of the people he recorded. Peter maintained thorough records of every performance, tracking numerous bits of biographical, historical, and musical data. He still keep all of this information on each performer within the box of each reel-to-reel tape, sitting on a shelf in his living room.
It is astounding how many stories Peter remembers, and how vividly he remembers so many colorful details. Aside from the reference notes that he wrote 40 years ago, he has written down nothing but can quickly recall names, places, dates, and hundreds of stories. One of the more hilarious stories associated with Peter’s collecting trips comes from the time that he was driving late at night in Kentucky after a music gathering. He was driving slowly on a two-lane highway, in his parents ’55 Rambler with Pennsylvania plates, when he was pulled over by some Kentucky state troopers. The police officers walked up to the driver’s side of Peter’s car, and one of them said gruffly, “Say fella, this here Pennsylvania car sure is traveling heavy. Whatcha got in the trunk?” Well, the trunk of Peter’s car was loaded down with instruments, clothes and enough moonshine for a very long holiday in the state pen. Peter quickly started sweating bullets at the thought of his car being searched by these two troopers. The policeman then asked Peter to get out and put his hands on the hood of the car. Well, you should know that Peter is a big guy. A very big guy. So, Peter nervously opened the door and slowly got out of his car. Evidently, both officers stepped back, slightly alarmed at the sight of this 6’9″ young man from Pennsylvania. He was likely the tallest person either of these officers had ever seen. He was also probably the most nervous person in the state of Kentucky at that very moment. Peter was summarily frisked and then asked to open the trunk. Shining a flashlight into the open trunk, the officers saw a number of instrument cases, a bunch of clothes stuffed all around the instruments, and a fretless banjo sitting atop everything else. The one officer immediately asked Peter if he played the banjo, to which Peter replied that, yes, he certainly did play the banjo and that was why he was traveling in Kentucky, to listen to some of the great banjo and fiddle players in the area. It didn’t take the officer long to tell Peter that, in fact, his brother-in-law played the banjo. The officer then asked Peter to come down to the station in the morning to play them all a tune, since they’d all get a kick out of a tall guy from Pittsburgh playing the banjo. Peter told the officers it would be a pleasure to come down to the station; however, the next morning Peter thought it best to head out of town as soon as possible and not to take any more chances with the law. And he wasn’t about to dump the moonshine!
The story of how Peter found Dan Tate is an interesting tale. Peter had gotten Dan’s name from the Library of Congress field recording of Calvin Cole that had been made at Fancy Gap, Virginia, by Fletcher Collins in November, 1941. [Fletcher Collins was the father of Francis Collins, who is now the Director of the National Institutes of Health.] Peter had heard the story that Dan Tate had been walking down the road near Calvin Cole’s house during the recording session and tjat he went up to the screen door and commenced to join in the singing of “Old Sally Brown.” Sometime after his first recording trip. Peter wrote a letter to Dan Tate addressed only to Dan Tate, Fancy Gap, Virginia. Within a week or two, he received a postcard back from Dan, stating that he would be at home and, essentially, that he would like to have the opportunity to be recorded. However, Dan did not mention where he lived in Fancy Gap. On Peter’s next trip to Virginia, he asked many folks in Fancy Gap for the whereabouts of Dan Tate. He was told that Dan lived somewhere off the Blue Ridge Parkway, so drove up and down the Parkway, stopping in at houses, inquiring after the residence of Dan Tate. Finally, some time later Peter picked up a hitchhiker on the highway and of course asked the fellow if he knew Dan Tate. The hitchhiker asked Peter, “Why do you want to find Dan Tate?” Peter told him, and the rider said, “OK, yes, I can tell you where Dan Tate lives.” Within a couple of miles the hitchhiker admitted with a chuckle that he was, in fact, Dan Tate. They then drove on to Dan’s cabin, a very simple building with a spring for his water and no electricity. While there, Dan, who was born in 1896, showed Peter a book he had been given by his mother. It was a handwritten book of family songs and ballads, passed down from generation to generation. Peter recorded Dan on a couple of occasions, and he recalled that Dan locally had a reputation of being a witch. Peter said, “Dan told me that he had the evil eye, and he could tell fortunes by looking through a glass of water.” Also, on this trip, Dan pulled out a banjo from a closet and told Peter that the banjo had belonged to Claude Allen, the very same Claude Allen from the folk song, who had been executed in 1913 along with his father, for shootings that took place during the courthouse massacre in Hillsville, Virginia.
While at the Library of Congress, Peter had been impressed with the field recordings made of Marcus Martin. Even though Mr. Martin’s playing had been well documented, the opportunity to hear this great fiddler motivated him to find Mr. Martin. Peter met with Marcus on September 8, 1959. At the time, Marcus was the keeper of the town dump in Swannanoa, NC,, living on a knoll above smoldering mounds of garbage. Peter remembered that the only things that Mr. Martin had in his refrigerator were some bottles of moonshine and soda crackers. Peter would record fifty-four tracks of Marcus Martin, along with a dub of a tape of an additional eight duets by Marcus and his son, Wayne, playing at a family gathering. During the visit, Marcus gave Peter his moonshiner’s name and informed him that the bootleggers would utilize the taxicab drivers in Asheville to transport the moonshine throughout the hills. Peter seemed uncharacteristically forgetful as to whether he ever found Marcus’ moonshiner. Peter had the pleasure of visiting with Marcus three times over five years.
Although it has been stated somewhere on the Web that Alan Lomax recorded Manco Sneed, Peter Hoover was the first person to ever record this wonderful fiddle player, or at least the first person to document the recordings. (Glenn Massey recorded Manco just months after Peter.) Peter had heard about Manco from Marcus Martin during his first visit in 1959, but he did not get to meet Manco until his last recording trip, in the spring of 1964. Peter found Manco living in a small house off the highway in Cherokee, NC, behind a large billboard. Marcus Martin had told Peter that he had learned a number of his tunes from Manco, and listening to Manco’s version of “Lady Hamilton” bears this out. Of course, both Manco and Marcus had learned much of their repertoire from the great fiddler J. Dedrick Harris.
Manco played very few tunes for Peter, twelve tunes in all, but every one is an absolute gem. Years later, between 1970 and 1977, Blanton Owen spent considerable time recording and getting to know Manco. Not only did Blanton record Manco playing 17 fiddle tunes, but he wrote his master thesis primarily about the life and music of Manco. Blanton also published an article entitled “Manco Sneed and the Indians: These Cherokees Don’t Make Music Much” (North Carolina Folklore Journal vol. 28, No. 2 [Nov., 1980]).
The fondest memory Peter has about visiting Manco was seeing the lithograph or engraving that hung over the mantel in Manco’s house. The picture showed John Sneed, Manco’s father, replete with black Stetson hat and handlebar moustache, with a fiddle and bow in one hand, and Manco as a baby in the other hand. Peter has often wondered what happened to that print.
Having heard the great Kentucky recordings of Alan Lomax, Peter was excited to travel to Magoffin County to see if he could locate Luther Strong, Walter Williams, Theophilus G. Hoskins, and others. Peter knew that John Cohen had recorded James Crase, from Bear Branch, in 1959 (see the Smithsonian Folkways recording “Mountain Music of Kentucky”), so Peter had Mr. Crase’s name and address when he left on his 1960 trip. Although Peter would locate and record Mr. Crase, who was a fine fiddler, he never did find any of the players who had been recorded by Mr. Lomax in 1937. While traveling in Salyersville, he had heard a number of stories about the legendary fiddler John Sayler, but neither he, nor Mr. Sayler’s sons, were to be found. A year later Peter returned to Kentucky and this time met a fiddler/banjo player by the name of Charlie Hoskins. (Peter thinks that Charlie was the brother of Theophilus G. Hoskins, who was recorded in Hyden, Kentucky, by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in October, 1937). Then, a few days later Peter came upon a fiddler/banjo player by the name of Santford Kelly, from West Liberty. The recordings that Peter made of Santford Kelly are the most charming of Peter’s recordings. It is obvious from listening to these recordings that “Fiddlin’ Sam” Kelly was thrilled to be visited by Peter, and he introduces each fiddle tune with a thank you to “Peter Hoover from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” On one track, Santford tells the story of how he learned to play the fiddle as a young boy, before he ever saw a fiddle, and he advises those that might be listening “to write to me and I will tell you just what happened, so that I can explain how this happened.” Santford also treats us to some fiddling gems, among them “Last of Sizemore” in the key of D, a terrific “Wild Hog in the Red Brush,” and his wonderfully crooked version of “Flannery’s Dream.” All told, Peter recorded Mr. Kelly playing 49 fiddle/banjo tunes and songs.
It should be noted that the Crase and Kelly names continue to shine in the world of southern music. Both James Crase’s son, Noah, and Santford’s son, Clarence, currently play in a bluegrass band called the Bluegrass Legends. Noah Crase plays banjo and back in the 1950’s had been a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. There is also a Charles Hoskins who plays in the Legends, and one can only speculate as to whether he is any relation to the Charles Hoskins recorded by Peter.
It was Glen Smith (from Virginia) who had told Peter about Sidna and Fulton Myers. Peter could not record the Myerses at their home since they did not have electricity. The closest available spot to plug in was at Spraker’s General Store in Five Forks, Virginia. Peter tells the story of recording at Spraker’s, during which a child in diapers kept running through the area where they were recording. In fact, in one of the tapes you can hear the child running into the reel, causing the recording unit to slow down. Interestingly, about twelve years ago, a folklorist looking for the recordings that Peter had made of the Myers brothers contacted Joe Hickerson at the Library of Congress. After doing some sleuthing, it was determined that this folklorist was that very same diapered child! Having gotten interested in folklore by listening to the Myers brothers, one of whom was his grandfather, he then learned that there was a recording at the Library of their playing, a copy of which he purchased.
One of the more interesting recordings in Peter’s collection is the set of tunes played by Heywood Blevins on piano. Mr. Blevins, from Baywood, Virginia, said that he played piano the way that his father played the banjo. The tunes have that banjo bounce, bearing some resemblance to Hobart Smith’s piano playing. What is interesting about Heywood’s playing is the fact that many of the tunes are played in atypical mountain music tunings, such as F, E, and G#. Peter noted how often Heywood was playing on the black keys. In addition to his FRC CD (FRC 508), Mr. Blevins appears on “Old Originals, Vol. 2” (Rounder LP 0058 ) and on “The Art of Old-Time Mountain Music,” a wonderful collection of tunes hand-picked by Kerry Blech (Rounder CD 1166 ).
One of only two women that Peter recorded in a leading role was Addie Leffew of Thorn Hill, Tennessee. This woman’s performance was outstanding, especially on a few songs where she accompanied herself on the banjo. Addie frails and finger picks through 20 tracks of banjo and country blues numbers (including the Blind Boy Fuller song “Step It Up and Go). Peter’s favorite is entitled “My Husband’s a Drunkard” (a vocal with the banjo tuned to F#DEAD). Addie sings about the ravages of alcohol and the unfortunate ones who must contend with the consequences. Addie sings on the chorus, “My moments are lonely / No pleasure I find / My husband is a drunkard / It troubles my mind.” In the last verse Addie gives the morning-after flip side of the well know fiddle tune “Drunken Hiccups,”when she sings, “They’ll get up in the morning / They’ll stagger and reel / They have those drunken hiccups / How bad they do feel.”
Peter met up with fiddler Harry (Tink) Queer in the fall of 1961. Tink was a relatively well-known fiddler in western Pennsylvania. He had a large repertoire, and by the time Peter recorded him he played in group with electric guitar, saxophone, and drums. He is also a listed in Samuel Bayard’s book “Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife: Instrumental Folk Tunes in Pennsylvania.” He had previously recorded eleven tunes for Sidney Robertson of the Resettlement Administration, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania in 1936.
In a non-recording visit that Peter made in February of 1965, he traveled with Peter Narvaez (who later worked as a folklorist at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland) to Virginia to visit Wade Ward and Dan Tate. There had been a big snowstorm over the previous few days, and when they got to Independence, they phoned Uncle Wade and learned he had been stuck in the house for days. Walking in through the drifts that blocked the road, Peter watched Wade’s face with glee as he handed over Wade’s drug of choice, Garrett’s Strong Scotch Snuff. That same trip, Peter stayed with Dan Tate in his tar paper shack that stood by the highway in Fancy Gap. Peter remembers that Dan only had white bread and apples in his house and that all the grocery stores were closed because of the storm. So Dan and the two Peters fried up the apples and white bread on Dan’s Atomic Blast Heater wood stove. During that same trip, Peter noted Dan’s unusual method for going to sleep each night. Dan would sleep in his long underwear, with a baseball cap on his head, a loaded .38 revolver under his pillow, and a shotgun beside the bed. Dan would also stick half a plug of Apple brand chewing tobacco into his mouth, work it up a bit, spit it into his hands to roll out some Navy sweet snuff into the wad, then put it all back into his mouth, say goodnight and go to bed under a mound of heavy quilts. Dan told me that he would then usually wake up around 2 a.m. to spit, and then go back to sleep.
Peter received his undergraduate degree in 1964 and then went on to get a masters degree in geology from Indiana University in 1966. It was in Indiana that he met Neil Rosenberg, who was working on a dissertation and had a job at the Archives of Traditional Music at IU. Neil suggested that Peter deposit copies of his recordings at the IU archive. Later on, Peter also deposited copies at the Library of Congress.
In 1967, Peter moved to Cleveland, where he worked at the Natural Science Museum and also became friends with Doug Unger, an art professor at Kent State University and a talented banjo player and maker of fine banjos. Peter then attended Case Western Reserve University, where he received a doctorate in paleontology in 1976. Throughout his academic career, Peter continued to play music, mostly for square dances and at parties. In 1977, Peter moved to Ithaca, New York, to be the assistant director for the Paleontological Research Institution. A year later he became the Institution’s director, a position he held until 1992.
Peter continues to love the music of the people. His current passion is for the indigenous music of Venezuela. He recently returned from a trip to Venezuela, where he had the opportunity to stay with musician friends and to record some of the local music. Peter became interested in the music of this area when he was conducting paleontological research in Venezuela for his dissertation in 1971 and ’73. While in South America in 1973, Peter took a tape recorder and recorded lots of music in the Andes. He also purchased numerous recordings to bring home. Peter especially fell in love with the music known as musica llanera, the music of llanosgrasslands/cattle country. This was hillbilly music, as it is literally translated. Then in 1998, the Latin American Studies Program at Cornell brought up a musica llanera band from Guanare, Venezuela. Once again Peter was quite taken by the music. He ended up going to all of the concerts, got to know the band members, and now he has been sponsoring the band to come to the US most summers, to perform at the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg, New York.
Peter Hoover lives with his wife, Peggy Haine, near Perry City, New York, a tiny village located about ten miles northwest of Ithaca. They live in a well-worn farmhouse on a dirt road, on sufficient property for them to pursue their many agricultural and social hobbies, and to properly entertain their houseguests and musical friends. Peter is currently an editor for Cornell University’s Office of Communication and Marketing Services. In addition, he and Peggy have formed a writing and editing company called Curmudgeon and Crone, and they write articles on wine, food, and fun in New York’s Finger Lakes region. As they say on their Web site, “We’re food and wine writers, gourmands, makers of fine hard ciders, brandied cherries, pickles and preserves, husbandmen of rabbits and pheasants, hunters of venison.” An evening at Peter and Peggy’s is a treat to be savored and remembered, with guests enjoying their superb dry hard cider as well as méthode champenoise bubbly cider, brandied cherries, apple brandy, and quarts and quarts of dilly beans.
Peter continues to play music. He plays the concertina for weekly Morris dance sides, including Ithaca’s Heartwood Morris and Syracuse’s Bassett Street Hounds. He still plays clawhammer banjo and a bit of fiddle, mostly at parties. Peggy is also a musician. in addition to being a writer, editor and a student of the history of food and dinning. No musical slouch, she has recorded with the Even Dozen Jug Band, the Iron Mountain String Band, and Country Cookin’, before joining the Lowdown Alligator Jass Band, which she fronted for 15 years.
When they are not working, writing, or entertaining at home, Peter and Peggy can be found on Monday evenings holding court at Trumansburg’s Simply Red Bistro, for Richie Stearns’s weekly Old Time Southern Dinner Night. Then, every Wednesday evening they can be found down the street at T-Burg’s Rongovian Embassy, for their weekly Old Time Music Night. You can set your watch on it. In fact, Peter and Peggy are probably the most ardent old-time music fans in an area known for its vital music scene. For years, old-time players, locals and out-of-towners alike, have taken delight in the thoughtful comments and tune requests from Peter, not to mention his sharing in the ubiquitous gallon of hard cider that is always at the Hoover/Haine table.
Recently Peter’s field recordings have been digitized down to twenty-seven CDs. The transfer of Peter’s recordings over to digital form is part of a multi-person effort to take advantage of the power of the Web to begin to illustrate, educate, and distribute field recordings that have been made by old-time musicians over the past forty years. [As of 2015, nine CDs have been produced by the Field Recorders’ Collective from Peter Hoover’s field recordings.]
John Hoffmann is a banjo and fiddle player living in Ithaca New York. Between Peter’s prodigious memory for stories, names and places; his and his wife’s hypnotic culinary skills; and Peter’s incredibly smooth, crystal-clear, before-and-after-dinner drinks, it’s a wonder that this article was ever written and it’s not surprising that it’s taken a number of years to complete. Look for part two in 2014!