The Kimble and Wagoner Families (FRC106)
by Ray Alden
Many years ago, while at a conference on Old Time Music at Brown University, I heard Alan Jabbour describe the music deriving not from a single pure source but behaving more like river in which many currents mingle and churn together to produce a song or a tune. So too, when I look at the Kimble family tree, I see a meandering stream of personalities and musical abilities flowing into the blood of Taylor Kimble and his children.
Music was an essential part of Taylor’s household; Doris, his eldest son, told me that people from all over the Laurel Fork community would bring their instruments over to be tuned, adjusted and, I’m sure, to sneak in a tune with family members. Hospitality, warmth and humor were also part of the household as both Dave Spilkia and I experienced first hand on the annual visits beginning in 1972. It is our hope that their music, partially documented on the now out of print LP, Eight Miles Apart, will be kept alive by this double cassette, which spans two generations of the family’s music.
By hearing their music and reading about their history, you will get a sense of the richness we found in getting to know them. Taylor’s mother, Mary Jane, was the daughter of Ephrim and Elizabeth Hiatt, Quakers who came from England in the 1850’s. After landing in Long Island, N.Y. they settled near Greensboro, N.C. However, because of their deeply religious beliefs, they were uncomfortable with the slavery evident in the area and so moved to the slave free mountainous community near Laurel Fork. The South was not quite the pro-slavery, pro-secession monolith of legend. Forty four percent of Alabama voted against secession and 2,500 of her white population fought in the Union Army. In April 1875, after the Civil War, the Hiatt’s daughter Mary Jane married Charles Kimble. Charles died at the young age of 47, leaving Mary Jane to raise their seven children, of which Taylor was the youngest. Garland Hayes, the eldest son and 17 at the time of his father’s death, was left to help support the family. Garland, a man who “always worked as though he was going to a fire,” started a sawmill to meet these new responsibilities. Garland also played the banjo, fiddle and sang. It was he who taught Taylor, 14 years his junior, the beautiful song “Troubles” and undoubtedly influenced him in his first choice of instrument, the banjo. In fact, many of us younger musicians gained because of Taylor’s knowledge of the banjo. It was Taylor who first taught Tom Carter the “Sandy River Belle” or “G” tuning for the banjo. The banjo, tuned G-DGDE from 5th to 1st string, can be used for almost any G tune, working well because of the high pitched first two strings. “Troubles” was a good song for Taylor and Garland Hayes to know in preparation for their lives in the early stages after their father’s death.
Taylor’s grandfather, Billy Kimble, was a school teacher and known as the “scribe” of the community. He had settled the Kimble family on the hillside of the mountains between Laurel Fork and Ararat [see map] near the headwaters of Goose Creek. When Taylor was about 5 years old, a huge tree fell from the bluff above the house. It gained enough momentum on the way down to smash right through the stone chimney and end up under one of the beds. Fortunately, nobody was killed. Mary Jane, then a widow, moved her family up the mountain to a farm close to the Laurel Fork community.
Because of his sawmill work, wood dust settled in Garland’s lungs and, on the advice of a doctor to go to a dry climate, he moved with his wife and children to Nyberg, Colorado. Taylor stated:
“I remember the day Garland Hayes left so clearly, in the fall of 1912. I had been finishing up some sawing for him that he simply wasn’t able to do, but had contracted for. Hayes paid me 20 cents an hour, which for me was a good job. I asked him how he came out on the lumber I had finished, which he had sold to the National Lumber Company. He answered that he had cleared $86.00 on the job, after buying the timber and hiring out much of the work that he normally would have done for himself. That was a good profit and I decided that I would try to take over the mill completely from him as he left. One thing I knew Hayes could do was look up a tree and see what kind of lumber and what money there was in that tree, and buy it accordingly. There never was a man more honest. Everyone knew that his word was as good as any number of signed papers.”
At first Taylor worked 10 hours a day as foreman, earning two and a half cents per hour. Then he rented a sawmill and was finally able to buy it on time. During all these years, music became a more and more important part of Taylor’s life. He played banjo for several years before taking up the fiddle, for which he later became well known. In the early days, he played in a clawhammer style with a rhythm he described as “ga-rip, ga-rip, ga-rip.” To his older brothers, this sounded like the grist mill not far away. When they got in the mood for a tune they’d yell out to red headed Taylor, “hey Reddy, ain’t it about time you was a-turning the water on the wheel?” Taylor did not see Garland Hayes again until 1926, when Hayes returned for a month. They had a great time playing music again.
When Taylor was a teenager, he met and married Jumillie Light, some of whose brothers and sisters played music and became an important part in influencing music in the family. Just around this time, at age 17, Taylor turned to the fiddle as his main instrument. When he was twenty, Taylor and Jumillie’s first son was born, Doris Lee [see photo] and two years later their second, Marvin. Doris and Marvin grew up to play autoharp and guitar respectively, and in the late-1920s, when they became teenagers, formed a tight knit band with Taylor. They played at home, at community workings and at parties throughout the area. This continued until the 1930s when things began to change in the mountains. With the advent of cars, the relative isolation of the mountains was lost and strangers came into the community for parties. This caused trouble as the local men felt defensive of the local women. [This not unheard of even today in the smaller out-of-the-way towns. Mac Snow’s son, Steve, told me of his difficulty in courting his wife to be in nearby Lambsburg, Va.] Taylor told me that were asked to come play a party one night in the mid-30’s; however they had just stayed up the previous night until 4 A.M. Taylor said, “I hated to go, but yet hated not to go.”
They went only to find that strangers and local men had gotten into a fight and liquor was all around. Taylor told me:
“everyone was so drunk that they couldn’t hit the floor with their hats. They was slobbering all over us. One boy had beat another with a pair of knucks. It was a mess. My fiddle slipped and busted and I was so disgusted that I quit playing for 30 years.”
Music was not again part of Taylor’s life until Jumillie’s sisters began inviting them over for “coffee parties” around 1964. Jumillie’s sister Manilla [called Aunt Nella by all], who had played the dulcimer and banjo when she was young, remembered enjoying hearing Taylor play those 30 years ago. She managed to convince Taylor to begin playing again. Taylor’s daughter Ivery, who came home weekends from working at the Dupont plant in Martinsville, remembered the tremendous surprise she had when he asked her to come and play guitar behind him for those parties.
Taylor’s beloved wife Jumillie died in November 1966, leaving him depressed and unwilling to answer people’s requests to come out and play for dances. Soon after that time, Alan Jabbour, who was just finishing his M.A. at Duke University, came around during one of his many collecting trips through the region. Taylor was excited after the visit because someone was interested enough to make a tape of him. Then other young people from the Durham, N.C. area began to come up and learn Taylor’s tunes. Taylor, in turn, would tape them and learn some of their tunes!
Taylor was a surprising man in many ways, as evidenced by this next turn of events. The following comes from an article in The Commonwealth, October 1971 entitled “The Mountain Sound.”
“Four years ago, after proddings from her niece [Betsy Rutherford], widowed Stella Wagoner took up the banjo again after twenty five years in the attic. She formed a duet with her niece and played for YMCA’s and women’s clubs. At his Laurel Fork farm, Taylor Kimble saw a newspaper clipping about this young-old pair and wanted to hear how Stella’s banjo sounded with his fiddle. He soon arranged for them to play together and recorded the event. At its conclusion, Taylor insisted on recording the name and address of everyone present. With this crafty beginning to a courtship, Taylor began writing Stella. Within a few months, a new duet was formed.”
Taylor married Stella in May, 1968 and they played at the Galax Fiddler’s convention, the nearby Mayberry trading post and the Groundhog Mountain Restaurant, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. They would argue about whose corn would grow better, that planted by the light of the moon, or the other’s done according to the Farmer’s Almanac. They would don painter’s caps and re-do their white sided house. Stella’s sister Pearl would come down from Maryland and fingerpick the banjo alongside Stella’s clawhammer style, both accompanying Taylor’s fiddle playing. They produced three record albums of which only one, called Mountain Music, is available as a cassette from Ivery Kimble. It was an exciting time for them and for many of us who went to visit them during this rejuvenated period.
Taylor contracted bone cancer and passed away in November 1979. I remember the last visit I had with him during the summer before his death. I brought him a copy of Eight Miles Apart and read the notes to him while he listened contentedly in bed to the record. He told me about a group that had visited him and played him some of the tunes they learned from his records. The fiddler was Magnus Norrman and the group, the Steamboat Entertainers, was from Sweden. Taylor’s music, in the short 15 years since the “coffee parties” got him playing again, had gone from the local to the international level.
Stella and Pearl’s family also had strong musical inclinations. Their father and mother, Joseph Dobson Wagoner [born 1861] and Margaret Ann Duncan [born 1856], encouraged the nine children to play as they grew up on the old Duncan place, one mile out of Sparta, North Carolina [see map]. Life in many ways was as difficult for them as it was for the young Kimble family. Joseph Dobson wanted to visit his brothers who were homesteading in Iowa. So he sold their only brood sow to grandfather Duncan in order to raise the funds to make the trip. Margaret Ann, many years later told Pearl [the youngest, born 1896] the story of what she went through during this period, and Pearl told me this same story:
“Before he left he had grubbed up a pretty good size field. He had cut the trees and just let them lay where they fell. Mamma had taken in a 14 year old boy “on the county.” They didn’t have a pauper house and the county paid you a pittance if you took him in. This boy helped her and they rolled up the trees and dug up the stumps and burned them. This is while she was pregnant too. Then she made a suit of clothes for this colored man in the neighborhood to get him to plow the field, and she and this 14 year old boy planted it. Then she sewed for Grand-Daddy Duncan and bought the brood sow back. When Dad came back after staying out there 11 months, she had this big field cleared up and corn in it, she had bought the brood sow back, she had pigs, and she had a baby. Now how would you like to be a pioneer?”
Margaret Ann could make a beautiful cloth by first removing lanolin grease from lamb’s wool, then clean it with a card [a board with rows of bent teeth], finally using the spinning wheel to produce a long thread. She used dyes made from wild indigo [blue] or walnut shells [brown] and then weaved the thread on a loom to produce beautiful patterns such as the “double bow knot” or “little morray.” Music became particularly important to three of the nine Wagoner children. Stella [on banjo] and Mahlon [on fiddle] were influenced by Joseph Dobson while Pearl [on organ] learned from Margaret Ann.
Stella [born 1892], Mahlon [born 1894, pronounced Maylon] and Pearl were among the earliest musical broadcasters. During the time span 1905-1908, when the telephone first came in the form of a party line, a neighbor would call and ask, “how about a tune.” So the trio would leave the phone off the hook and everyone on the party line could enjoy songs like “High Paper Collar” and “Ninety and Nine.” Later Pearl took up the banjo and learned a finger picking chord style from Lon Brooks, who had returned from a trip West with both that style and some unusual tunes. Pearl played organ with Lon and his brother Guy and, in 1911, this little band won the gold medal at the Sparta Fiddler’s Contest. Later Guy went on to play fiddle with the Red Fox Chasers, whose old records were reissued on County 510. In 1913, Joseph Dobson moved his family to Madison County, New York, feeling he could plow the soil there more easily than he could the rocky red clay of the Carolinas. Stella and Pearl, then 21 and 17 respectively, remember the differences between the music and dance of New York and North Carolina clearly. They told me that tunes like “Holly Ding” were never fast enough for the dancers in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They knew figures to the Virginia reels and cotillions so well that they could easily do without a caller. New York had far more sedate dances and quadrilles such as “Money Musk” and “Marching Through Georgia.” Stella and Pearl remember the “sash-say” skip step being used in both New York and North Carolina; however only in the South did they see clogging such as flat-footing.
These memories of New York seem quite in accordance with those appearing in Simon Bronner’s book “Old-Time Music Makers of New York State,” where Lyle Miles of the Hornellsville Hillbillies remembers people dancing to the schottische and the varsovienne and Woodhull’s Old Tyme Masters played the “Blackberry Quadrille” in 6/8 tempo.
The New York winters proved too harsh for the Wagoner family and in 1917 Joseph Dobson again moved the family, this time to Bel Air, Maryland. As the children married and moved off, the music in the household stopped. In 1950, Stella’s daughter bought her a banjo, but it remained for Betsy Rutherford to spark her enthusiasm about playing again which led to her meeting Taylor Kimble.
Born on the 23rd of June, 1912, Doris Kimble has many early memories of growing up, but none so vivid as those around the first world war. In 1917 America became involved with a European war that had begun three years earlier. During the war another major calamity, called the “Great Victoria” or “Spainish” influenza, devastated both Canada and the United States as it swept through both countries in 1918. Doris told me;
“over in Roanoke most buildings were turned into coffin manufacturing plants. Often as many as seven coffins would be put into one grave because they couldn’t find enough men to dig the graves. It killed all the pregnant women, all the old people over 60, and all the infant babies. A lot of people don’t know such things happened, and I’m glad they don’t, it was horrible.”
Jesse Shelor, a well known local fiddler who lived eight miles away from the Kimbles, was discharged from the army before ever leaving for the European front because his entire division was nearly wiped out by this modern plague. The Kimble family came down with the flu in 1919. A neighbor, a man discharged from the war, would come over every evening and pile wood on their porch, never setting foot in the house. He was so frightened of catching the flu that he wore his WW1 gas mask every time he did this kind deed. Seven year old Doris, sick in bed, saw him through the window: “I never did see such a varmint in all my life. Scared me to DEATH. I went under the bed and never did come out till he’s been gone.”
The family had the flu for 22 days. As the family recovered and neighbors felt safe in coming over, someone brought an autoharp over to be tuned by Taylor. Doris took an interest in it and recalled; ” Dad wouldn’t trust me with it, ‘fraid cause it belonged to someone else. He sat by and holt it with one hand. I sat in a split bottomed chair. They’s real low for grown people to sit in. He showed me how to play ” Whoa Mule” and ” Old Molly Hare”. I was playing that thing in a couple of years.” Other autoharps passed through the house for tuning and repair giving Doris exposure to 5 bar, 8 bar, 12 bar, 15 bar and 21 bar autoharps. Today he prefers the 12 bar autoharp. As time passed Doris’ friends began to identify him as the “harp player” and would come over to ask him to teach them some techniques on the instrument. At the same time Doris became more aware of the other adult autoharp players in the area. His mother Jumillie had a brother, Matt Light, who was one of the best. Doris would watch and listen to his uncle Matt, as well as other strong autoharp players such as Arthur Radford, who often played with his brother Otis on fiddle.
There were almost always a variety of instruments waiting at the Kimble household for their owners to pick them up after adjustments had been made to them. Doris was interested in most of them as a child. In addition to the autoharp, the banjo was of particular interest. Doris told me that when he was a child
“I’d get the banjer, but it was too heavy. Finally somebody brought over a little one, they called ’em a peanut banjo, and I could play them a little, cause the neck wasn’t as long or as heavy as the other’ins. Most of the banjers were home made, they had about 20 brackets, with a calfskin or groundhog head. Yeah, some woodchopper made it during the winter while sitting by his fire. Some of them were pretty rough looking customers, but they had the music in ’em!”
In his adult years, Doris could play the banjo in both a clawhammer and picking style. He used the picking style on tunes such as “Shortening Bread” and could get a sustained tone by placing two coins under his banjo bridge. This can all be heard on the Heritage LP “Eight Miles Apart.” Today, because his hands have gotten stiff, he uses the clawhammer style when he plays. Growing up around 1923 in rural areas gave events like a toothache a somewhat more striking impact it than would today. The Kimble family had moved into a two room cabin, with 14 foot by 14 foot rooms, at a time when Doris got a major toothache. He tried cures such as an “asphiditity ball” tied in white cloth and hung around your neck that, as Doris told me, “was a ready remedy for anything and everything. It was supposed to keep off disease, germs and all foul spirits. It was the stinkingest stuff thats ever been on this earth.”
So too did he try “Rosebud salve”, which all the kids including himself sold after school. Their teacher, who probably got a cut, gave it out in school after it was sent from a company in Chicago. Nothing worked and he kept the family up for two days and two nights until Taylor decided he had to have the tooth out. Doris remembers it was a cloudy and rainy day when they set out for a local blacksmith who could do the job. On days like that both people and cars had to occasionally, in order to get around a large mudhole, one had to “lay down the fence and walk or drive over a few acres. Then lay the fence back up and nobody’d say a thing about it. That was the road conditions we had back then.”
Once there, Doris saw the blacksmith, his hands dark with ashes from putting horseshoes on. Doris hasn’t forgotten a thing about the encounter: “his hands were as tough as bear paws. He was a one eyed, 12 fingered blacksmith, dentist, millwright and I believe honestly the ugliest man I ever looked into the eye of.”
The blacksmith put his dental tools into a sauce pan of boiling water and told Doris to open his mouth wide and keep his tongue down. “You’ve got a hole in your tooth. I hope it hasn’t abscessed,” he said. The blacksmith slipped a dental tool under Doris’ gums and firmly around the tooth. “He surged to the right, and it didn’t move. He surged to the left, and it didn’t move. Then he lifted up on the handle and I heard something crack. He held it up and I saw the whole tooth. He said, “I got it all, don’t have to go down there with a hammer and chisel. I don’t think we broke no pieces of jawbone, but if you feel anything sharp working its way out, you come back over here. And don’t go playing in the creek none cause it wouldn’t be good for the jaw.” Then he retch down into a bowl and grabbed a handful of salt, pulled my jaw open and throwed it plumb back in my throat. I went down three steps and spit out all that blood and salt. That was still the primitive days.”
In 1919 Doris began his studies at a one room schoolhouse, which is still standing not far from the Kimble home, known to everyone as the Pine Knots school. Music was not forgotten, but rather an integral part of his life at this point. Every night after school Doris would have a tune. On weekends, he and other young people would circle around the mountain region to play music. This was a little different from his father’s time, when “workings” formed the predominant need for music. “Workings” occurred when a farmer had a job too big for him to handle, such as land clearing, leading to a calling of all his neighbors for help and ending in supper and a dance. In the 1920’s, Doris told me, “we went and played music for old people that couldn’t get out and was crippled up. They’d get blue and discouraged and we’d play to liven them up. Then someone would get up on the floor and do a 4, 6 or 8 handed reel. We’d have a lot of sport and laugh a lot and then go in the kitchen and eat a big pot a’beans. They’d have those good ole 12 eggs and a pound of butter pound cakes. I tell you them things went down good too!”
In September of 1923 Taylor Kimble sold his sawmill and headed out for West Virginia because of the economic situation in the area. Well before the depression, the country stores in the Blue Ridge mountains worked on a barter system. If you wanted something in the store, you put a chicken under your arm, or carried a bucket of butter or a basket of eggs to swap. Very few people in the region had money in their pockets except, possibly because of coal mining, for West Virginians. Doris and his brother Marvin stayed behind and ran the Kimble farm for two years. In September of 1925, Taylor returned home, bought a truck and began hauling produce up to West Virginia. Doris began to join his father on these trips bringing up cabbage, fox grapes, eggs, sweet potatoes and returning home with Charlie Poole records that he purchased up there.
Charlie Poole himself roamed through West Virginia throughout the years 1914 to 1926. It was in West Virginia that Poole encountered Posey Rorrer during the influenza outbreak in 1918 and later Roy Harvey in 1926. Doris brought back Charlie Poole records such as “Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down”, which were recorded at Poole’s first New York sessions in July of 1925. In addition to records, the new cash flow allowed them to purchase a cabinet phonograph which had two state of the art features. It had a double spring that permitted three records to be played before rewinding and an adjustable speed so that you could “tune” the record to the autoharp. In this manner, Doris could play along with the North Carolina Ramblers and acquire their strong sense of timing.
In 1928, at age 16, Doris graduated from the Pine Knots school and began working full time ten hour days at the steam operated saw mill. His brother Marvin joined him after finishing board away high school, firing the steam boiler as Doris learned the subtleties of the sawmill operation. Every half day, for at least 25 minutes, Doris had to use a steel hammer to spread the teeth on the huge saw so that he could bevel the teeth edges and bring them to a keen point with a file. Only then would the saw cut straight. Later he learned to set up the machinery as would a millwright. Starting with a whistle and ending with a whistle, each day followed a process of securing logs with spike dogs and repetitively taking slabs off in order to mill the timber down to 8×9’s, 7×9’s [a cross tie], or 7×7 railroad ties.
In 1930 a man named Reid Rakes moved into the Laurel Fork community and joined Doris and Marvin at the saw mill. He knew his lumber from working with the W.M. Ritter lumber Co. in Cheat Mountain, West Virginia but had been hurt in the coal mines, caught between a mine support and a moving car. Even though he couldn’t do hard work, Reid Rakes was so knowledgeable about timber that they sent him on ahead of the saw man in the forest with a double sided axe to mark a tree showing exactly how it would fall. Reid had an easy way with the men and a good sense of humor, but for Doris and Marvin, even more; he was a great three finger banjo player in the style of a man who had become his friend in West Virginia, Charlie Poole. Kinney Rorrer, in his book “Rambling Blues, The Life and Times of Charlie Poole”, collected the following story illustrating the sometimes rocky relationships Poole would create because of his habits; “He [Poole] traveled to New York with Odell Smith and Roy Harvey, and the recording session was held on September 9 . Since Charlie had sold his banjo to Preston Young, he had to borrow one, a Gibson, from Reid Rakes, a friend in Patrick County, Virginia. Before leaving New York to return home, Poole got drunk and pawned the instrument. Rakes finally got the pawn ticket from Charlie and took the train to New York to retrieve his banjo.”
Doris and Marvin formed a band, with themselves on autoharp and guitar respectively, Reid Rakes on banjo, their father Taylor on fiddle and Walt Stanley on mouth harp. They played for local dances where Taylor would lead out on the tunes and control the timing. He could keep the gait steady for over an hour in these situations, while all the time Doris, Marvin and Reid provided the strong backup. About a year after this band formed, they all, with the exception of Reid, went to a big dance where there were a couple of other bands in attendance. It was a two room cabin with the young people dancing in one room, and some powerful old timers really showing their steps in the other. Taylor and the band were playing so well for the old timers that the musicians in the other room quit and joined in with the dancing in the other room. It was going so well that even a fight between drunks didn’t bust things up, but the crowing of the rooster in the morning finally did. When Taylor got home, tired from the all night session, he was hanging his fiddle on a finishing nail stuck six feet above the ground when it slipped and broke the fiddle into a bunch of pieces. Doris put the pieces into a box and laid it in the attic where it stayed for a good 30 years, until a cabinetmaker restored it. The band continued, without Taylor, with fiddlers like Otis Radford and Murray Bolt up into to the early 1950’s, when Reid’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. Reid died in the early 1960’s.
During World War II Doris had two saw mills running almost day and night. Every time he got a new man trained, he was drafted into the war. The wood was shipped directly for wartime use, with most of it being used as a sandwich between artillery shells to keep them stable on transoceanic passages. In the period 1948 to 1950, after the boys were home from the war, Doris found himself musically active again as they demanded the home music they had so missed. In the 1950’s, Doris’ two eldest sons wanted to ramble and work, and Doris ended going up north with them, working on bridges 15 miles north of Baltimore. In the early 1960’s, he lived in a mobile home court across the way from a Pennsylvanian named Richard Dischong. Doris soon found that Richard played fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo. He knew many tunes that Doris knew, and they began playing together every night until 10 or 11 P.M. Richard’s wife would say to Doris, “now you never knew he was in the world and he never knew you were in the world until you came up here. How can you play the same tunes?” Doris wondered that and also how Richard came to know a tune like “Soldier’s Joy” with a name like “King’s Head”. Richard told Doris: “Some of those southern boys went up here during the slave war and they locked them up. And they would hear ’em playing down there where they were in confinement. But they wouldn’t never tell the name of what they was playing. So they made up the names”. Doris moved back home in the 1970’s and thinks about all that has passed, “I know there’s a relationship between musicians. And I’ve asked more than a 100 people what music is, and nobody’s given me a satisfactory answer yet. But I know it’s always been a part of us, and always will be”.
In November of 1919 the third child and first daughter of Taylor and Jumillie Kimble was born. They named her Ivery Jane and she was, as were the other three, destined to be a musician. Ivery’s strongest memories of music becoming important to her life go back to 1925, when she was six years of age. Ivery recalled; “We had an old Sears and Roebuck wind up record player. Seemed like we were the first ones to get one close by. Us kids were just big enough to stick our heads over the edge and see them records. We thought it was the greatest thing thats ever been. People would come over Sunday afternoon and enjoy hearing records played.” This great pleasure in seeing people so enjoy music left Ivery with a deep impression that has lasted to this day.
Ivery was fortunate in being surrounded by music but nonetheless had to make her own way given the fact she was both a girl and so much younger than the boys. Even though Ivery first picked up the autoharp, it was the guitar that attracted her and that remains her instrument to this day. She would stay close to the family band of Taylor, Doris and Marvin and peek over the shoulders of her brothers while they played. Ivery told me; “sometimes they’d run me off and sometimes they’d let me stay there.” Taylor proved to be more supportive and would often help her form chords on the guitar. Just about this time Marvin left home and boarded away at Woodlawn, some 18 miles out of Galax, in order to attend high school. This gave Ivery the opportunity to pick up Marvin’s beat up old Sears and Roebuck’s guitar in order to practice what she had learned.
Ivery began attending the Pine Knots one room school house just about the time that the last addition to the Kimble family came. Hazel Kimble was born in July of 1926 and became to Ivery what Marvin had become to Doris, a close friend and member of the same band. Since the boys were old enough to be working and playing in a top notch band with their father and Reid Rakes, it remained for Ivery and Hazel to make their own way musically. Those opportunities came at the Pine Knot school with their peers. Ivery studied with John Duncan, who had taught Taylor, Jumillie, Doris and Marvin before her.
The Pine Knots school had about 30 students, spread out in seven different grades, all in the same room. Oddly enough, when I paid a visit to what remains of the school, I saw two doors in the back. Ivery told me that the boys had to go in one side and the girls the other, even though they ended up in the same room together. Ivery remembers each class would be called down to a long bench. The head of the class would be asked to read a verse and then the rest of the members of the class down the line. Arithmetic and spelling would be done up at the board during the school day, which lasted from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. In this type of school situation, the teacher could go around the room periodically to see if the groups or individuals are proceeding correctly. In today’s schools, teachers are usually forced to lecture in order to “cover the curriculum,” which can lose some students and bore others in its attempt to walk a middle ground. Thus, the one room school house may give us some lessons on effective learning even now.
Educational theory aside, the Pine Knots school provided Ivery and Hazel with a fertile ground for learning and playing old time mountain music. During lunch, Ivery and her musical friends would sit on a big log and play music while the kids, usually the younger ones, danced. After school, the older students would help Mr. Duncan with odd jobs such as cleaning out the ashes from the wood stove. Again, Ivery and her friends would play music and provide the entertainment. This lasted for about 45 minutes after the 4 P.M. dismissal of school, until Mr. Duncan officially locked the door. Then there were special occasions such as May Day parades and the end of year school breakings when music was particularly needed for the celebrations. Tunes such as “Chapel Hill Serenade,” variously known as “Green Willis” or around Mt. Airy as “Peek-a-Boo Waltz,” were well suited for such moments and were often used.
Phil Marshall, a local musician, had two daughters who became part of Ivery’s school band. Margaret Marshall played the banjo , her sister Lorene the guitar, and both could sing. Around 1929, they were joined by Hassell Stanley, a year younger than Ivery, who was on his way to becoming a very fine fiddler. Finally, in 1933, Hazel Kimble began school and within two years began playing the fiddle with this older group. So strong was the urge for many students to be a part of the music that one fellow cut out a plank of wood, strung it up with what wire he could get off his screen door, and tried to join the band.
Hazel learned “Up Jumped the Devil” from Taylor, as well as some of her favorite waltzes, “Wednesday Night” and “Over the Waves.” Every time the band members would hear a new song, they would get on the telephone and talk about it. Whoever could work it out by the time of their next meeting would exchange it with the rest of the band. The repertoire expanded with Hazel singing alto and Ivery lead, the Marshall sisters on duets, to gospel and popular songs such as “In the Pines” and “Tempted and Tried.”
In 1937 Taylor purchased a piano for Hazel which, after a few years, she learned to play well. The piano is not commonly thought of as being used in old time country music; nonetheless it was popular in the mountains. Often it was sold by subscription through a traveling salesman. It was shipped by train from a major city like Roanoke, and then tediously carted up into the mountains. Clarice Shelor, wife of fiddler Jesse Shelor mentioned at the beginning of this article, had her piano strapped to a truck bed to play at a July 4th celebration in Laurel Fork. This is an event that the Kimble family remembers well. For further listening and reading, I would recommend Ferrum College’s Lp, BRI 005, “Blue Ridge Piano Styles.”
Ivery graduated from the Pine Knots School in 1935 fully intending to go to work in one of the mills. One of the changes that was occurring at this time in the more rural areas was that women were starting to go to work. Ivery told me that in her father’s time the man was considered to be the “lord and master,” whereas going to work would give Ivery the ability to “paddle her own canoe.” Work, however, was scarce at this time as the “panic” of 1929 had reached the south. Since most country stores worked on the barter system and many rural communities were self sufficient, the Kimble family could, by and large, fend for itself even during the depression.
Ivery stayed at home for the next few years, helping in the kitchen and on the farm, until 1941 when she got a job in Mt. Airy at a hosiery mill. Ivery’s band had continued to play at people’s homes during this period, but America’s entry into World War II in December of 1941 gave the band a special purpose. All the new draftees in the area were brought up to the county seat in Hillsville and put up in a hotel. The county provided Ivery’s band with an old school bus to transport them to Hillsville so they could entertain the men before they were sent by bus to the various army bases. The band, consisting of Ivery, Hassell Stanley, his sister Ardeth and the Marshall sisters were considering, particularly because of Hassell’s strong fiddling and his interest in doing so, a try at the Grand Ole Opry. Hassell was soon inducted into the army, ending those thoughts.
In 1943, Ivery went up to Baltimore, Maryland to work at Glen L. Martin Aviation along with many others who became known, in poster fame, as the “Rosie the Riveters” of America. Ivery trained in the machine shop, learning to run the drill press and bullet turning lathe. Ivery became more of a “Rosie the Fixer” as she repaired the rivet guns, electric drills and welding machines for workpeople on the line who made the PBM3 sea plane and the B29 bomber.
She would try to get home every Christmas, for the yearly house to house dances, but sometimes found herself stranded in Washington, D.C. because all the buses were packed full of service men. In 1946, Ivery married a man who had been a patternmaker for the B-29 bomber. For five years, they lived with his mother while Ivery took many different jobs. As can happen when a young couple lives with an overbearing parent, strains were created in their relationship. Finally, after trying to get her husband to move out and become independent but seeing that this was not about to change, Ivery left and returned home to Laurel Fork. When Taylor learned that Ivery intended to sue for divorce, it created yet another tense situation, as Taylor felt the way many old timers did, that a marriage should be kept at all cost. However, Ivery did not feel helpless in the face of all this adversity and said, “I got myself into this mess and I’ll get myself out of it.”
To this day Ivery remains a strong woman, both in her music and her life. She supported herself for 32 years, working at the Dupont plant in Martinsville, returning weekends to visit her parents. When Taylor began playing again in 1963, Ivery was there to play guitar with him. She built a home between the old Kimble homeplace and the Pine Knots schoolhouse, living there now in retirement. She continues to play music with groups such as the Blue Sky Ramblers and individuals like John and Betsy Coffey. Whereas Doris thinks “the best music you can have is in your own community, in the homes of your friends,” Ivery says; “the bigger the crowd, the better I can play. After you go to enough of the Fiddler’s Conventions and meet different bands, that is just like a family, but you just got more of them, that’s all.” And so, maybe in this sense, perhaps we are all part of the Kimble family.