Web Links and Videos for Jim Shumate

Jim Shumate: Pioneering Bluegrass Fiddler – FRC727

Jim Shumate

by Wayne Erbsen (photos courtesy of John Miller)

Jim Shumate: Pioneering Bluegrass Fiddler – FRC727

To die-hard fans of bluegrass music the name Jim Shumate is practically a household word. After all, he played with Bill Monroe in the mid 1940s and was the first fiddler for Flatt and Scruggs when they formed their own band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. The three tracks he Continue reading

Vernon Spencer & the Spencer Family of Big Springs, KS

Vernon Spencer of Big Springs, Kansas – FRC726

by Tricia Spencer

Vernon Douglas Spencer was born September 22, 1921, on the family farm in Big Springs, Kansas. He was the baby of 11 children born to his parents Harley and Cora and around the age of 4 or 5, he asked his daddy for a fiddle. He was given a fiddle and Vernon taught himself how to play learning tunes and songs that were popular on the radio as well as tunes that his daddy played on the harmonica. Music was a large part of Vernon’s life from an early age. Living off the land, hunting, and music were done daily. Vernon’s grandaddy left Louisville, KY, at the age of 15, and it was this generation that bought land in Big Springs and brought along a part of Kentucky with them.

Vern and Rod

Vernon Spencer was my grandpa. When I was about 5, my grandparents gave my dad 5 acres on the back side of their property. There were a couple of fields, ponds, and pastures between our houses. When I was about 9, I saved up enough money from fiddle contests to purchase myself a pony. On the weekends, my favorite thing to do was pack a lunch, hop on my pony, and ride to my grandparents’ home. While there, I would just join in what my grandparents were doing. Sometimes it was target shooting, playing cards, and often making music. I still have fond memories from when I was quite young falling asleep while they were still playing tunes or songs.

About a half-mile up the graveled road into the main strip of Big Springs was my grandpa’s gas station, Spencer’s Skelly. He would be there daily, sitting on his chair fiddling until someone pulled up for gas. He would hang his fiddle up and saunter out to pump gas. Most of the businesses left Big Springs long before I was born, so the gas station was really the only place to meet folks and get groceries that didn’t require a half-hour drive for locals. In the gas station there was a large meat case roughly 6 feet long which held mainly a big block of cheese and bologna. I can’t remember when it broke down and quit working, I might have been about 10. Instead of hauling out the meat case, he started putting fiddles in there that he accumulated from a friend who went to auctions. Each day, the bus dropped me at the gas station after school and I would immediately go to the meat case to retrieve one of the playable fiddles. Between customers, he would teach me tunes or back me up on the tunes I was working on. When my grandpa passed away, he had over 80 fiddles.

My grandma, Iona Spencer, told me that Grandpa loved fiddling. The first night they met, he played “Missouri Waltz” for her. She was smitten with him. He was with her as well, but he told her that if she wanted to marry him, she would have to learn how to play guitar. She went out and purchased a $5 guitar at a pawn shop and learned how to back him up. They were married in 1946 and that year, he took her out and bought a better guitar for $38 at a pawn shop. That guitar hangs on my wall and I and my children still play it.

Vernon & Iona Spencer’s wedding, 2/10/46

My grandparents were poor. Grandma talks about how they had almost nothing when they started out. My great-grandparents allowed grandpa to build a one-room shack near the main house on their property. They salvaged wood, cabinets, and other items from places being torn down nearby and added to the one room shack. Their house became a series of rooms that were added as they had children. The property was to be Grandpa and Grandma’s if they stayed and took care of his aging parents. I remember my grandma taking care of my great-grandpa Harley in their home for his final days.

Grandpa was a farmer and did some trucking for one of his brothers. I know most of my grandpa’s siblings made music. Great uncle Lloyd, Grandpa’s brother, enjoyed singing and playing guitar with Grandpa. We have some 78s that the family made back in the ’50s. I have never heard them as they are in poor condition, but I like looking at them and the titles. One that makes me chuckle is labeled “Goldon Slippers.” My dad, Rod Spencer, says that when he was young, he loved sitting around listening to his dad and uncle make music, his dad on fiddle or mandolin and his uncle Lloyd on guitar. Dad says they sang so well together and often had gigs in the community.

Uncle Lloyd early1940s

Uncle Lloyd early1940s

During the Vietnam War, Dad was in the Navy, and once he left home, he taught himself all of Grandpa’s fiddle tunes on the mandolin as well as teaching himself to play 3-finger banjo. Some of the reel-to-reel recordings were of my grandparents sending music and stories to my dad while he was stationed away. Once he came home, he and my mom, Pat Payne, started learning my grandparents’ repertoire as well as adding new material. Grandpa purchased the Skelly gas station there in Big Springs about the same time Dad came home from the Navy. Dad ran it while my parents were waiting on me to be born. Dad tells the story of how he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for me. Grandpa told him to start fixing tires and put that money away. He did, and by the time I was born, they had enough to pay for me. After a few years, Grandpa took the gas station back over and it became my home after school.

Iona, Vern and Rod

Iona, Vern and Rod

The Spencer Family Band, Belton, MO 1981

The Spencer Family Band, Belton, MO 1981

Around the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were inspired to put together a family band. When I was born in 1971, the family band consisted of my grandpa (fiddle, mandolin, tenor guitar, and guitar), grandma (guitar and mandolin), dad (banjo, guitar, and mandolin), mom (bass), and Uncle Toad (Roger) (guitar). They played fiddle tunes and sang old favorites as well as what they liked from the radio. They never really labeled their music other than Country and Western. Also during this time, contest fiddling became important to my grandparents. Grandpa started looking for contests in neighboring states and attending them. Over the years, he developed friendships with Amos Chase (Grantville, KS), Pete McMahan (Columbia, MO), Cyril Stinnett (Fillmore, MO), Dwight Lamb (Onawa, IA), Lucy Pierce (Kansas City, KS), and other fiddlers from all over.

Vernon and Iona, Ellsworth, KS 1981

Vernon and Iona, Ellsworth, KS 1981

Rod, Tricia & Uncle Toad, Topeka, KS c1981

Rod, Tricia & Uncle Toad, Topeka, KS c1981

From the moment I was conceived, this music was in my ears. Since we lived out in the country, making music was a prominent pastime. Around the age of 3, I had asked my parents for a fiddle. Since my grandma played a little mandolin, she taught herself enough of the fiddle to get me started. My grandma’s lesson in chords was something that I remember from a young age, and even though I had no idea which chords I was playing, I now understand finger complements from her little lessons. Grandma would go on and keep learning tunes and eventually competed in several ladies divisions at contests and placed in a few of them. When I was 8, my family traveled to Graham, MO, for a fiddling contest. I had never competed and only knew “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” There were two other junior contestants, so my grandparents signed me up. I was guaranteed third place, but I needed another tune. I will never forget Grandpa taking me out behind our camper and teaching me the third tune, “Go Tell Aunt Molly.” It was the first of many tunes I would learn from him. That day, competing on the same stage as Pete McMahan, Amos Chase, Dwight Lamb… I took third place and received a trophy and 35 silver dollars. From that day on, my grandpa was my buddy and I spent as much time as I could to learn his music.

Glen Woolaway, Amos Chase, Eldon Ray, Topeka, KS c1981

Glen Woolaway, Amos Chase, Eldon Ray, Topeka, KS c1981

Around the age of 11, I beat my grandpa at a contest. He got 6th and I got 5th. He was so proud, of me and of course, I felt like I had achieved one of the greatest feats of all time. He asked our good friend who lived across the river to start teaching me tunes. His name was Amos Chase. Once a week, my dad would drive me to Grantville, Kansas, and I would spend the evening with Amos and Ruby. There were cookies and more complicated tunes. Amos never charged my dad, and he never called them lessons, he just said he was going to show me something.

Tricia, Vernon and Lucy Pierce, Smithville Lake, MO.

In 1993, I graduated from college and moved to St. Louis. I hadn’t been fiddling much but decided to travel to Yankton, SD, with my grandparents and dad for the fiddling contest. I had never competed in the open division but I know it was a great moment for my family to watch me compete that year and win first place. My grandpa was a man of few words but standing there next to him after winning, he said, “You did good.” This was a pivotal moment in my life and it wasn’t about winning the contest. A few months later, my grandpa, knowing he wasn’t well, took a long walk. It was December 4th, 1993, and my dad and uncle found him out on the land where he had spent his entire life. Shortly after his death, my grandma gave me his fiddle and I have been playing it ever since.

Vernon Spencer Track Notes


Track notes by Tricia Spencer

  1. Intro (by Wilbur Foss) (0:31)  Wilbur and Elizabeth Foss ran the Yankton, SD, fiddle contest where our family competed during the ’70s, ’80’s, and early ’90s. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for this contest. You would get your picture taken, record a tune for the album, receive goodie bags from the town, and see all of your worldly friends. I heard a lot of great fiddling at this contest from Canada to Missouri and beyond.
  2. Spotted Pony (Vernon) (1:45)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin. This was one of the earliest tunes I heard and learned from my grandpa and perhaps one of his favorites. This tune was comes from Kansas City, MO fiddler Carol Hascall. She learned the tune from her dad, who learned the tune from Bob Wills’ dad. Many folks confuse this tune with the D version which is actually a tune called “Snow Shoes.” Dad on guitar and Grandma on mandolin.
  3. Stony Point (1:05)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle.  An interesting take on “Stony Point” which also showcases my grandpa’s sense of timing if he was left to fiddling by himself.
  4. Please Papa, Don’t Whip Little Danny (2:35)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin, vocal.  I grew up to my grandma’s singing and remember all of the different songs she used to sing around the house. This was one of her favorites that she sang in the family band.
  5. Uncle Joe (1:04)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Iona Spencer: guitar.  This was a recording that my grandparents did for my dad while he was stationed in the Navy. This was during their electric phase. My grandma is playing guitar and my grandpa on fiddle.
  6. Wednesday Night Waltz (2:53)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Uncle Toad (Roger): guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin.  Another recording for my dad while he was in the Navy. My grandma is on mandolin and my uncle Toad, who was about 15, is on guitar backing my grandpa up on fiddle.
  7. Hooker’s Hornpipe (1:42)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin.  This was a tune that my grandpa recorded while we were at the Yankton, SD. fiddle contest. It might have been his contest tune for that year.
  8. Joys of Quebec (1:05)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle.  I can imagine that some of these recordings happened in between customers while grandpa was at the gas station. His wooden chair sat on a concrete floor and over the years, the combination of the old chair and his foot tapping wore holes in the floor.
  9. Banjo Signal (2:00)  Rod Spencer: banjo, Vernon Spencer: guitar,  Iona Spencer: mandolin.  This recording came from the Yankton, SD, fiddle contest. My family would often record a couple each year we attended. I grew up with my dad playing banjo, and I learned how to play guitar from him without him ever really teaching me. I asked my dad why he never learned how to fiddle. Without missing a beat, he said, “I don’t like fiddle.” He was serious about that as fiddling didn’t do much for him but he loved the sound of the banjo.
  10. Canary Waltz (2:02)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle.  My grandpa loved waltzes and had so many. His hands were so large that he didn’t use his third finger much. I remember him telling me that he wished his fingers could move like mine.
  11. Brilliancy (2:21)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: banjo.  A banjo and fiddle duet with father and son. I often think of how happy this must have made my grandpa to be able to make music with his son. I also love how my grandpa took notes out of this tune and inserted some interesting bowing in place.
  12. Big Springs (1:03)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin, Pat Payne, bass.  This could be my grandpa’s version of “Hell Among the Yearlings” but I have never been able to confirm that with my dad or grandma as they both had said remembering titles wasn’t important to them. Howard and I started calling it “Big Springs” and the title has stuck. This was the beginning of the Spencer Family Band with my mom, Pat Payne, on bass
  13. Twinkle Little Star (1:08)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Iona Spencer: guitar.  My grandparents making music and being interrupted by the phone. I can tell my grandpa didn’t want to stop as those high notes are hard to hit and he was hitting them well. Crazy to think that documentation of a rotary phone might be important.
  14. Red Fox Waltz (1:20)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle.  Another waltz with my grandpa doing what he loved.
  15. Salty River Reel (1:48)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin.  Another recording from the Yankton, SD, contest.
  16. A & E Waltz (2:06)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin, Pat Payne: bass.  Another night with the Spencer Family Band.
  17. The Old Bulldog (1:27)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Iona Spencer: guitar.  This tune is also called “The Jenny Lind Polka.” I’m not sure where my grandpa got his title. My grandparents recorded this on reel to reel to send to my dad while he was in the Navy. My grandpa nicknamed my dad “Jug” because as a baby, he didn’t want to give up his bottle.
  18. Coming Down from Denver (1:37)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin, unknown guitar.
  19. Fat Meat & Dumplings (1:08)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar. This seems to be a version of “Fat Meat and Dumplins” but no one in the family recalls that title. Grandma on typewriter.
  20. White Rose Waltz (2:31)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar
  21. Marmaduke’s Hornpipe (1:29)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, unknown guitars.  In my grandpa’s list of tunes typed out by grandma, he had this tune listed as “Mormon Duke’s Hornpipe.” This was from the Yankton, SD, contest but it might have been the year before my dad and I went with them. Whoever is backing him up doesn’t understand my grandpa’s timing.
  22. Tipperary (1:41)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: mandolin, Iona Spencer: guitar. This was one of my grandpa’s tunes that Dad learned while he was in the Navy
  23. The Old Man and The Old Woman (1:04)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar.  This Canadian tune made its way to the Midwest.
  24. Acorn Hill Breakdown (1:31)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Iona Spencer: mandolin, Pat Payne: bass.
  25. Clark’s Waltz (2:24)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: banjo, Iona Spencer: mandolin.
  26. Stone’s Rag (1:59)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Iona Spencer: guitar.
  27. Sail Away Ladies (0:57)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, unknown guitar player.
  28. Sailor’s Hornpipe (1:28)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Iona Spencer: mandolin, Rod Spencer: guitar.
  29. Golden Slippers (2:56)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: banjo, Iona Spencer: mandolin, Ira Ross: guitar.  I was pleasantly surprised when my grandma jumped in and took a little mando break.
  30. Swedish Waltz (2:29)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: banjo, Iona Spencer: mandolin.  Another waltz probably played on some Sunday afternoon. Grandpa on fiddle, grandma on mandolin, and dad on banjo.
  31. Oklahoma Redbird (1:17)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: banjo, Ira Ross: guitar.  My grandpa wasn’t afraid of B-flat and it was common in our area to have several tunes in that key. When my grandpa taught this tune to me, I spent half the time frustrated and the other half crying. I had no idea the difference between keys and scales and so nothing laid down as I thought it should. He was so patient with me. You can hear Grandma on the typewriter on this one.
  32. Vern’s Waltz in E (2:07)  Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar.  Grandpa and my dad playing a beautiful waltz in E
  33. Up Jumped the Devil (1:46) Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Pat Payne: bass. A tune originally recorded in the 1930s by the San Antonio, TX, fiddle band The Tune Wranglers.
  34. Woodchopper’s Breakdown (1:11) Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar, Pat Payne: bass. A very young Tricia confirms the key in the background.
  35. Steel Guitar Chimes (2:14) Vernon Spencer: guitar, Rod Spencer: banjo, Iona Spencer: mandolin. Another recording taken from the Yankton, SD, contest archives.
  36. The Jones Waltz (2:31) Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: banjo, Iona Spencer: mandolin, Uncle Jim: guitar.
  37. Durham’s Bull (Vernon) (1:24) Vernon Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar. Dad and Grandpa working up another one of grandpa’s contest tunes.
  38. Durham’s Bull (Tricia) (1:00) Tricia Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar. A young Tricia playing her grandpa’s tune at the Yankton, SD, contest.
  39. Spotted Pony (Tricia) (1:24) Tricia Spencer: fiddle, Rod Spencer: guitar. This is one of the first contest tunes I learned from my grandpa and this was recorded at the Yankton, SD, contest. This is me on fiddle and my dad backing me up. I was about 12 years old.

Lowe Stokes at Brandywine

Lowe Stokes, Georgia Fiddler – FRC723

By Joe LaRose

A previous version of this article served as liner notes for Heritage 048, Georgia Fiddle Bands, ©1983 Heritage Records.

Of the many legendary fiddlers from old time music’s “Golden Age,” the period of commercial recording from the mid-twenties to the early thirties, Lowe Stokes seemed to have an aura of myth that went beyond his superb fiddling on records by the Skillet Lickers and others.

Lowe Stokes

Lowe Stokes. Photo courtesy Bill Dillof

His raspy voice and no-nonsense delivery heard on the Skillet Licker’s spoken skit records suggested something of a scrappy guy. But when one considered that, at the height of his success, he lost his right hand to a shot gun blast only to go on fiddling using a hook to hold his bow, his reputation as—in fellow Skillet Licker Bert Layne’s words—“one tough fella,” was ensured. Continue reading

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

Memories of the Hammons Family: Maggie Hammons Parker

Maggie Parker – Hammons Family Songs & Music – FRC713

by Wayne Howard

Article courtesy of the Old Time Herald, April-May 2010.

I had gotten well acquainted with Lee Hammons by the summer of 1970, but I still hadn’t met Dwight Diller, who had indirectly led me to Lee.  At the end of his school year at West Virginia University, Dwight came home.  By the time of Pioneer Days, in mid-July, we were fast friends; and Dwight was rapidly acquainting me and my wife, Barbara, with the “mountain music” scene. 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


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


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

About the Old FRC CD Sets

A few of our long-time loyal customers were inquiring about the yearly sets we offered in the past. Please note that all of our CDs and DVDs are still available and with the capabilities of the new web site we are able to offer quantity discounts that allow you to make your own sets at the same lower prices.

In any case, we have attached a list of the past issues that were grouped  in sets. You can download the list here.

Tom Fuller: The Life and Times of a Fiddler from Indian Territory

FRC714 – Tom Fuller – Traditional Fiddling from Oklahoma & Texas

By Brad Leftwich

An earlier version of this article first appeared in The Old Time Herald, Volume 13, Number 11.

I stood in Jan Fitzgerald’s home recently in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, holding her father’s familiar old fiddle in my hands and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it had been 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