In Tune: A Community of Musicians

In Tune: A Community of Musicians


Announcer: From WV
Public BroadcastingFiddler playing “Birdie”Tessa: Before all the
interstates were built, old-time music and
fiddling was really community-based. You would go and play
with your friends on the weekends and trade tunes. Henry: It’s not just sound
entering your ears and being processed by your
brain, there’s a deep, emotional connection and
an investment that goes into participating
in old-time music. Cody: It’s somethin’ that
means a lot to people and it means a lot to pass it
on to other people so that it keeps goin’ and more
people play it and it’s not somethin’ that
just fizzles out.“Birdie”Narrator: What exactly
is old-time music? And how does it relate to
the hills and valleys of
Appalachia? Where are its roots? What stories
does it bring? And who treasures it
enough to keep old-time music
alive? The answers are found
in such places as Clay County, WV, a rugged land
rich in natural resources and old-time traditions. Its first non-native
residents settled here early in the 19th Century. By 1839, hillside farms
dotted the land as 28 families labored to make
a life for themselves. Musician and retired coal
truck driver John Morris grew up in Clay County. John: It was basically a
ginseng-moonshine economy. They traded in stores and
they took a lot of furs and floated logs to
Charleston and sold them. Basically, the best way to
get out of here was in a boat or
walk. There was,
really, no roads.Fiddlers playing “Bring
a Jug Around the Hill”
Narrator: By 1890, Clay
County was home to nearly 4,700 people, mostly due
to the influx of industry. As newly laid railroads
carried coal and timber to distant markets, longtime
residents welcomed new arrivals and forged
lasting friendships, swapping family recipes,
old-time tunes and related
stories. Storyteller and musician
Adam Booth is an adjunct instructor of Appalachian
Studies at Shepherd University. Adam: When you look at
different parts of WV and see who came to the
different parts, immigrants often came to
work in the mines or to cut stones or to work
on rail or in timber. They came from different
parts of the world to do that and they brought with
them different traditions. And some of the easiest
things to bring was music, ’cause it’s often
lightweight.Trio playing “Casey Jones”Narrator: A native of
neighboring Roane County, Bobby Taylor is a 4th
generation fiddler. Bobby: Part of the charm
of Clay County and why a lot of people are drawn
to Clay County and places like Clay County is the
isolation and what gems that they have. John: People are still
playin’ old-time music. It survives! Narrator: For banjo player
Kim Johnson of neighboring Kanawha County, there’s
something to be said for playing old-time
tunes with friends. Kim: In old-time,
everybody plays all at the same
time. You may not be feelin’ the
greatest when you go to a folk festival and you go
to meet people and all of a sudden, you have a tune
or 2 and you visit and all of a sudden, you have a
tune or 2 more and all of a sudden, you’ve been
there 4 or 5 hours. It’s energizing and
uplifting, all at the same time. Narrator: Guitarist Travis
Stimeling is an Associate Professor of Musicology
and Director of Bluegrass and Old-time Bands at WVU. He’s also a scholar of
commercial country and traditional
Appalachian music. Travis: Part of the joy
that comes out of making this music is that it
is pleasurable, it is rhythmic, it is engaging. There’s something simpler,
it seems, for people to get together and play
banjos and fiddles and guitars in community,
often without amplifiers and things like that. It feels more
unmediated to people. It feels as though it’s
something that’s just natural.Trio playing “Walkin’
in the Parlor”
Adam: Very broadly, it’s
a way that connects us to our past, to our heritage. Because story and music
are so closely tied to the land and the people who
live and the way that they live in these areas, when
the land starts to be destroyed, this is
something that we can take with us if we can’t
continue to live there. Travis: I think Clay
County is a great example of the kind of tight-knit
communities that we find here in WV and
across Appalachia. One of the things that
I’ve noticed, goin’ down to Clay County and playing
music is that everybody knows everybody down there
and so they look out i each
other. Narrator: In the
1950s, the number of industry-related jobs
began to drop in the region. Today, Clay ranks among
WV’s poorest counties. Nashville recording artist
Kathy Mattea grew up in Kanawha County and, in her
youth, spent summers with family at a camp
in Clay County. Kathy: Clay County is
just, really, close to my heart. I feel like I got really
steeped in living lose to the land during that time
and, also, led back to a way of life that my
parents grew up with. A lot of that
was bein’ lost. Narrator: Today, Maryland
native Jen Iskow and others like her are
drawn to the distinctive, cultural heritage and
sense of community found in Clay County and
places like it. Jen: Industry has
come and gone. It’s really, hard to
live in the wilderness sometimes, you’re
geographically isolated from other people, so what
you have is your family and your community and
I think that the music reflects those hardships. But it also reflects
the beauty in small communities and the
resilience and tenacity of small
communities. Narrator: Fiddler,
guitarist and singer Cody Jordan says, whether
they’re upbeat dance tunes, ballads or
spirituals, old-time songs are grounded in
the stuff of life.Cody singing “Uncloudy
Day”
: Oh, they tell me of a home far beyond the sky,
they tell me of a home far away. Oh, they tell me of a
home where no storm clouds rise. Oh, they tell me
of an uncloudy day. Oh, the land of a
cloudless day, oh the land of an uncloudy sky. Oh, they tell me of a
home where no storm clouds rise, oh they tell me
of an uncloudy day. Oh, they tell me
of an uncloudy day. Narrator: A native of
Mason County, Jordan believes the tight-knit
nature of relationships among old-time musicians
is drawing a growing number of individuals
to Appalachia. Cody: Where the music kind
of came out of community, I think now people are
trying to make community around the music.Duo playing “Clyde’s Reel”Cody: Modern life kind
of lacks a good source of community naturally, so
people are lookin’ to make
community. John: There’s a warmth
and an acceptance amongst old-time players. It’s all freely given. They tend to be open, not
judgmental, mean-spirited
people. They don’t try to
force their way on ya. They don’t try
to dominate. They don’t try to play
louder than the guy next to ’em; good people
to be around. Narrator:
Multi-instrumentalist and Ohio native Henry Barnes
believes people around the globe can identify, in
some way, with the musical traditions of Clay County. Henry: Clay County just
has this rocky and driving and machine-like rhythm
to so much of it. It makes just phenomenal
dance music, but at the same time, much of the
music that comes out of here is lonely,
arrhythmic; sorrowful.Fiddler playing
“Ole Dan Tucker”
Narrator: In the Clay
County tradition, it’s not unusual for old-time tunes
to be played “crooked”, with the player disrupting
the standard rhythm of a piece by adding or
dropping notes in whatever manner feels
right at the time.Trio warming upNarrator: Kanawha County
native Tessa Dillon believes that, however
it’s played, the traditional music of WV
and the practitioners passing it on make
the Mountain State a worthwhile destination
for old-time enthusiasts. Tessa: I think it kind
of puts us on the map. Since a lot of these tunes
are just passed down and passed from friend to
friend and that sort of thing, it’s really,
important to keep that lineage
going. Bobby: To have a good
future, you have, to have a good foundation
in the past. As music has evolved down
through the years, people have built on
that foundation.Fiddler playing
“Soldier’s Joy”
Travis: When the first
record producers came to the Mountain South, in
search of new and exciting musics, one of the things
they got a hold of was the music that was being made
right here in our own region, the kind of music
that had been in the oral
tradition. They were recording gospel
songs, ballads and story songs and fiddle
tunes and banjo tunes. Narrator: Beginning in
the 1920s, record industry executives referred to
these traditional tunes they were preserving
as “hillbilly music”. Adam: They were tryin’ to
collect “hillbilly” music just to see if people
would buy it, people would
consume it. There really wasn’t a
market for it at that point. And if it weren’t for
“old-time” music, then that foundation wouldn’t
be there that just a few years later, they start
to call “country” music. Narrator: Along with
the development of the recorded music industry
came the homogenization of music culture and cultural
expansion related to popular
music. Henry: And “old-time” or
“old-timey” was the phrase used to define the music
that was present before these technological and
cultural steps in the different
directions. Travis: So, really the
entire country music industry was born around
this repertoire of old
traditional tunes.Vocalist singing “Calling
Me Home
“: An old friend lay on his dyin’ bed,
held my hand to his boney
breast. Then he whispered low as I
bent my head, Oh, they’re callin’ me home. They’re callin’
me home –. Narrator: Kathy Mattea
says another far-reaching, technological wonder to
influence country music was radio. Kathy: Clear Channel radio
stations could get your music out and then,
all-of-a sudden, people wanted to come and see you
in places that were far away.Duo playing “3
Forks of Reedy”
Narrator: As country music
found its voice, old-time practitioners continued
passing on tunes from another time and place. John: Old-time music, to
me, is the music that the people who settled
America brought with them, wherever they come from,
Europe or the British Isles. It was played on fiddles
and probably an instrument called the hornpipe. It was played on bagpipes. It was whistled. Bobby: They brought it
primarily by ear through the oral tradition,
without it being written. They picked the fiddle up
and whatever instruments was around them and
played tunes that they
remembered.Duo playing
“Elzec’s Farewell”
Cody: Traditionally, you’d
learn from your dad or your mom or grandpa or
uncle or somebody that was
around. Adam: And it is a
traditional music that reflects the cultures of
the people that came to Appalachia and
brought that music. Narrator: Tunes steeped
in British and European history gave way to titles
linked to the New World with a spare-yet-rugged
tone, reflecting the lives of people making their
homes in 19th Century
Appalachia. John: After they settled,
the themes of the music began to change to relate
to the mountains that they lived
in. And structure
was different. Instead of jigs and
quickstepping, we had a lot of reels.Duo playing “Shelvin Rock”Narrator: In Appalachia,
mountain music is more than just another name
for old-time tunes. It’s music both preserved
and shaped by the region’s hilly terrain, isolated
nature, sparse population and the folk traditions
of its people. Bobby: WV has its definite
spot in the world order of preserving old-time music. Every little area, remote
or otherwise, has their
traditions. Mountain folks did not
usually have all the influences that you’d
get in a big city, so the mountain folks did what
the mountain folks did before
them. With each generation, it
changes, it evolves, but hopefully, it stays pure
with the feeling and soul in place, the archaic
mountain sound.Duo playing “Shelvin Rock”Bobby: When I think of the
Clay County fiddlers, I think of how they would
start and dwell on those bows, when they would
float into something that kind of had, just in the
first draw of the bow, coyotes at night and
panthers running through the woods or a breeze
through the woods; echo. They seemed to have that
in that long, lonesome draw of the hills. John: A man who went into
the wilderness to build a home and establish himself
in the wilderness, he would have had an axe, a
sharp knife, just simple woodworkin’ tools. When he got his home
built, he also had in his hands the tools
to make a fiddle. I think that’s how
the fiddle became so ingrained. It was so compact. It was easy to build
and became so popular.Trio playing
“Cripple Creek”
Narrator: Historically,
old-time music helped bring together neighbors
who may have lived as far as several miles apart. Bobby: In the 19th
Century, being the 1800s, it would have been very
rural, very few people living
there. In a little community,
old-time music played a big part in the weekend
festivities of hardworking
farmers. The town dance, where
they’d have the cakewalks and the pie suppers, young
people would meet the person that they
would marry. The music really brought
people together for a purpose. Adam: There’s always some
element of music in little communities,
isolated communities. When you find pockets of
lots of musicians or very strong traditions, then it
would be well-known in the
region. Because of the musicians
who are there, there’s a certain way that people in
the area played or sang, because they were
influenced by the music that was there. It helps build that
community and community
identity.Fiddlers playing
“16 Days in Georgia”
Narrator: In Clay County,
it was the fiddle that became prominent among
musically inclined families settling there. Also common are
competition and friendly rivalries between
old-time fiddlers. Bobby: Where there was
more than one fiddler, guess
what? Somebody had
to be the best. There would be fiddlers
that would travel quite a ways to get to some
of these contests! And everybody then would
come and applaud their favorite, so the music
was a great deal in little local
areas. It brought people out.Fiddler warming upNarrator: Tessa Dillon
says there’s more to old-time fiddle contests
— than winning. Tessa: I think that if
you’re always in a relaxed setting when you’re
playing, that you could easily lose touch with
some of the aspects of fiddling that only
come out in contests.Fiddler playing on stageTessa: One idea that’s
coming to mind is Clark Kessinger playing and he’s
on stage and wiggles his legs and does a little
dance and everything. It’s very high energy. He’s playing a lot of
variations and a lot of really, fancy stuff, but
you would lose that aspect of it in a relaxed
jam setting. Narrator: Bobby Taylor
says old-time fiddlers typically garner a lot
of respect, often in the least expected situations. Bobby: I always felt that
the music I play, and a lot of the fiddlers, gave
you the secret handshake to get into the most
bizarre circumstances. Musicians could play in
areas that was so rough that you wouldn’t want
anybody in it, but it’s the secret handshake
that gets you through.Duo playing “Yew
Piney Mountain”
Narrator: In old-time
music, the fiddle is often accompanied by the banjo. Bobby: I think the
interplay between the old-time banjo and the
fiddle is very special. There’s a groove, a timing
groove, where the banjo is alternating some melodic
lines with the fiddle, if you get people that’s
played together for a long time, that groove becomes
very present and they sound very tight, like one
voice, adding the little ornaments along the
way that go and fall
beautifully. And that rhythm and the
groove can paint beautiful pictures of the community,
of history, of everything.Banjoist playing
“West Virginia Girls”
Narrator: The origin
of today’s banjo can be traced to instruments
crafted by enslaved West Africans brought to the
Caribbean Islands in the 17th
century. Travis: The banjo came
through the slave trade and was picked up in the
early 19th century by the minstrels who were coming
out of places like Dayton, Ohio, Cincinnati, Irish
and Irish American musicians who picked it
up, donned black face makeup. And through that kind of
lineage, the banjo becomes very highly associated
with white musicians often playing up a
black character.Banjoist singing “Steal
Away”
: “Steal away. I ain’t got long
to make it.” Narrator: In Appalachia,
white people likely learned to play old-time
banjo tunes from slaves and former slaves. Mercer County native
Uncle Homer Walker, for instance, learned to play
claw hammer style, as practiced by his maternal
grandfather, who’d been born into slavery
in Virginia. One of the last African
American banjo players of his generation, Homer
Walker performed at such events as the Morris
Family Old-Time Music Festival in Clay
County in the 1970s. Adam: Claw hammer is one
of the links that says that the banjo definitely
comes from certain West African instruments,
’cause you can look at these instruments and the
way that people played them and it’s exactly the
same or very similar right hand shape, where you have
a claw, the claw hammer, and you’re hammering down
and hitting the strings with the back
of your nail.Banjoist singing:Once I
had an upset dog, black as he could be –. Narrator: Travis Stimeling
stresses the importance of respect for musicians
passing down old-time tunes and traditions. Travis: All, of the tunes
in the common circulation, have been in circulation
for a very long time and have been under the
fingers and in the hands of people for generations. And we see them as sources
of wisdom, sources of a certain degree of truth. And, also, ones we talk
about the most are great
mentors.Duo playing “The
Devil in Georgia”
Narrator: Bobby Taylor
appreciates the many mentors who’ve helped keep
old-time music alive here and
beyond. Bobby: The Clay County
music scene today is not what it was. We’ve lost the
great legends. But people still revere
and hold John Morris in high
esteem. John: I can play about
anything with strings, exceptin’ a piano. [Chuckles] Bobby: John had a rhythmic
style on the bow, a lot of power, a lot of
drive, very spirited. If you can’t dance to
John Morris’ fiddling, you can’t dance [chuckles],
’cause he’s, in my opinion, about as raucous,
rhythmic as you can get. Henry: John’s a very,
unique musician and has a unique approach to
melodies and I try and figure out what’s coming
out of his mind, kind of randomly or as a burst of
creativity, and what is something that he’s worked
on, for a period of time, that is sort of his
baseline for how he expresses
music. Cody: He’s somebody who
the music means so much to; he’s one of the
last people, who’s still living, who learned in a
traditional way with his family and community. John: When I was learnin’
old-time music, you had to go to the old people to
learn it, you had to go into their homes. And you had to be
respectful of them. You had to be a friend
to make a friend.Banjoist singing: Mammy
love my pap, love my baby in the Cumberland Gap. Narrator: Today, Morris
lives on the same plot of land where his family
settled in 1917. Besides farming and
raising cattle, his parents taught school. John made his first public
appearance as a musician at age 11, during Clay
County’s 1958 centennial
celebration.Duo playing tuneNarrator: In 1975,
representing a new generation of old-time
musicians, John Morris introduced a WV Public
Television crew to some of Clay County’s most
proficient practitioners. John: Speakin’ about
some of the people that’s influenced my music, I’d
have to say, first-of-all, my
family. My granddad, “A” Morris
was a banjo player. My dad, Dallis, and my
mother Anna played guitar and sung when I was just
a child and while I was growin’ up, I stayed with
my grandmother before I started to
school, Lila Hill. She was a ballad singer,
sang a lot of the old unaccompanied hymns. Then there’s other people
around the community. Narrator: Among these
was John’s third cousin, guitarist, banjo picker
and singer Gruder Morris, who cheerfully shared
old-time music with students at Ivydale
Elementary School, where he served as a custodian. Gruder: As I was tellin’
someone the other day, I was born and raised in a
half a mile of this place about 59 years ago. I’ve been out of the
state of WV one time. I went to Ohio. The cars was runnin’ so
fast there that I didn’t think I’d want to go
back there anymore. And I’ve played old-time
music for about 48 years.Duo playing tuneJohn: Gruder’s got a fine
sense of drive to his music and a good sense of
rhythm about his playin’. I picked a lot of that up. He’s good with
dancin’ type music. Narrator: Bobby Taylor’s
fondest memories of old-time music revolve
around good food, hospitality and a deep
sense of community, as experienced in
Gruder’s Ivydale home. Bobby: I might have been
in a bad mood when I got there, but I left
in a great mood! He was always, just so
cheerful and his music was as cheerful as it got.Dancer tappingNarrator: It was common
for Gruder’s wife, Jennie, to start dancing when she
heard old-time music being
played. Bobby: Jennie was a great
dancer and she was light on her feet as a feather. What a lovely lady she
was and a great cook! Narrator: Jennie said,
when she was young, her family’s religious
beliefs forbade dancing. So, unbeknownst to her
parents and with the help of a schoolmate, she
learned to dance in a privy, an outside toilet. Jennie: She’d
teach me to dance. And I wore out a pair
of shoes that winter, learnin’ to do
the backstep. And then Shirley Temple,
they had pictures of her at that time in the
movies and she tapped. Then, I went home. And I tried to tap. So, I put ’em both
together, tappin’ and the back step and
that’s what I do. I love dancin’. It does somethin’ for me,
when I hear music, ‘seem like I tingle from the
bottom of my feet to the top of my head. And so, when I dance,
I dance the way I feel. It’s not always
the same step. It’s the way I feel. It’s how the
music affects me. John: Another person that
I was extremely fond of as a person and just dearly
loved the music and the man, too, was Doc White. Doc played old-time
fiddle and banjo. He also played flute. Doc White’s just a
fabulous, fantastic man in my opinion with his music
and his medicine and everything else
that he done.Fiddler playing
“Little Rose”
Narrator: Reading medical
books and apprenticing under local physicians and
dentists, James Franklin White practiced medicine
in Clay County, routinely making house calls and
reportedly delivering more than 1,800 babies. White mastered a
variety of trades. He even served 30 years
as a Justice of the Peace. Still, he found time
to fiddle at fairs and
festivals. Henry: Doc played with,
to my ears, a lack of self-awareness. It was kind of primal in
the way that he played it and it didn’t sound like
he really cared about what anybody else
thought about it. Narrator: Barnes says his
version of “Little Rose” combines those of Doc
White and Lee Triplett. Henry: There is something,
really, magical about his
playing.Fiddler playing tuneHenry: A lot of people
would think of Lee as having a very smooth and
silky sound for a mountain
fiddler. But at the same time,
there’s a lot of discomfort. He would play stuff in
different keys and play different licks
upside down. Narrator: Some might say
Lee Triplett’s playing was driven by the same forces
pushing his ancestors forward into the unknown. Francis Triplett emigrated
from England to America, where he settled in
Virginia around 1660. In 1812, Sennett Triplett,
traveling on foot and toting a flintlock hunting
rifle, set up camp in what is now Clay County,
establishing himself as the first
non-native resident. Farmer Lee Triplett,
dubbed “the Grand Ole Man of the Fiddle” by Bobby
Taylor, is known for his musical skill, showmanship
and competitive spirit.Fiddler playing
“Wild Horse”
John: Lee, he’s got a lot
of drive to his music and Arry Mullins, he’s
another one that I like.Fiddler playing
“Fisher’s Hornpipe”
John: Nobody in the world
can beat Ira playing “The Fisher’s Hornpipe”.Fiddlers
competing on stage
Narrator: Ira Mullins,
known affectionately as Arry, and Lee Triplett
delighted audiences with a spirited rivalry, played
out at the annual WV State Folk Festival at
Glenville State College. Bobby: If there was more
than one fiddler, somebody had to be the best. Lee would win some, I
guess Arry would win some, because, which one was the
better fiddler, yeah, both of
’em. And I look at it as
a healthy rivalry. Narrator: Arry Mullins, a
dedicated family man who worked in the timber
industry, was a natural
entertainer. With a unique repertoire
and gift for exaggerated storytelling, the Clay
County native became one of the state’s most
beloved old-time musicians. Taylor: When I think of
Arry, I can think of no one in the Clay County
tradition better to portray the Clay County
tradition, with stories, humor, serious fiddling,
great fiddling, personality that you
would not believe. He had it all. John: He’d tell a story
about his family comin’ to America in a covered wagon
[Chuckles] from Italy. Taylor: That his fiddle
was given to his family by the Pope of Rome. John: Somebody said,
“Arry, what did they do when they come
to the ocean?” Arry said, “They went
around by the Narries!” Taylor: “They come
by the Narries!” He had an answer. John: People have been
talkin’ about this Asian land bridge,
for a long time. Maybe his family knew
somethin’ ours didn’t, ya know.Fiddler playing
“Camp Chase”
Narrator: Instrumental in
John Morris learning to play the fiddle was David
“French” Carpenter, who learned such tunes as
“Camp Chase” from his father, Tom, often hailed
as a fiddling preacher. It’s said that the
Carpenter family, with a fiddle among their few
possessions, stood among the first to settle in
what is now central WV. John: When I got my first
fiddle, I was about 6th grade, I guess. We took the fiddle and
went to French’s house and he tuned it and played a
few tunes on it and sang and I probably will never
forget that, as-long-as I live. Narrator: Note the subtle
nuances of Bobby Taylor’s take on French’s
version of “Camp Chase”.Duo playing “Camp Chase”Bobby: His playing took
you back to the 1800s, real,
quick. It’s a sound that
had a rhythm to it. It had texture, a lot of
feeling, a lot of soul. But above and beyond
the other fiddlers or different, it was
original, almost Middle Ages sounding. What he did is very
hard to duplicate. Narrator: Besides
producing some of the state’s most distinguished
fiddlers, the Carpenter family has built a
significant library of old-time tunes. It’s common to introduce
tunes played without lyrics by sharing
stories linked to them. Travis: I think it’s —
absolutely — essential that we tell the stories
behind the old-time tunes that we pass along. We need to know the
history of why these songs were written or who they
were written by, who created them, what their
circumstances were. Narrator: The story behind
“Camp Chase” finds the people of Clay County
divided by the Civil War. After siding with the
Confederacy, Solomon Carpenter, French’s
grandfather, is captured by Union forces and
imprisoned at Camp Chase in
Ohio. Bobby: Sol Carpenter won
a fiddle contest at Camp Chase, winning his freedom
for playing this tune and they said that he won his
freedom by 2 little notes.Fiddlers playing
“Camp Chase”
Narrator: Within 2 months
of his release, “Devil” Sol, as he was called, was
again captured by federal
troops. John Morris believes such
stories would be lost to recorded history if not
passed on through old-time
tunes. John: It’s just as
important to have a musical history as it
is a written history. A lot of small community
histories are never written
down. Narrator: It’s true that
many a historical event involving families and
their communities have been preserved and
carried forward through an old-time fiddle tune. John: Every time the
fiddlers got together in a group, they played the
tune and the event was
remembered. It would be a group
history lesson. Narrator: Morris says
the accompanying story essentially provided a
framework for playing the tune. John: That tells you what
the tune is about and why it’s structured the way
it’s structured, why the parts sound as they do,
they go up and down. There’s not a song for
every tune, but there’s most generally a
story for every tune.Trio playing
“Mississippi Air”
Narrator: As in the
case of heavy equipment operator Wilson Douglas,
the story of the musician is often as important
to preserve as the tale behind the tune. John: For years, I’d see
him go up the road, 2 or 3 times a week, He was goin’
to French Carpenter’s! Narrator: Growing
up during the Great Depression in the 1930s,
Wilson Douglas was inspired by the fiddling
of his grandmother and by Logan County native Blind
Ed Haley, who sometimes traveled to Clay County
to visit a friend. Wilson: That fiddle
just hypnotized me. So, I decided then I’d get
me a violin and I started figurin’, “How am I gonna
get the money to buy this
thing?” My people’s poor
and we was farmers.” So, this ole farmer said,
“Well, Wilson, I’ll give you 50 cents a day,
10 hours’ work. Brother, I grabbed it.”Trio playing
“Cotton Eyed Joe”
Narrator: Wilson bought
his first fiddle through a mail order catalog for 10
dollars plus postage and played with his uncle,
Gruder Morris, and a neighbor. In time, French Carpenter
took Douglas under his wing. Wilson: If you missed one
note, he’d stop ya in the middle of the tune, make
you go back and get it. Proper time.Trio playing
“Cumberland Gap”
Bobby: Not everybody can
paint pictures when they fiddle, he could. He could pull that bow
down, starting the long, lonesome draw and start
painting the picture. Somebody once said that
his heart was out there at the end of that bow when
he played, ’cause every ounce of his being
went into his fiddling.Banjoist playing
“Eliza Jane”
Narrator: Kim Johnson,
after attending the WV State Folk Festival,
became interested in learning to play old-time
tunes with the help of a
fiddler. So, in 1980, she
approached Wilson Douglas. They spent the next 20
years, playing together. Kim: He was a nice
man and he was funny. He would just do
anything he could for ya. [Chuckles] He was just one
of the best fellers I ever knew. He sure did help me.Banjoist and fiddler
playing together
Narrator: Douglas
encouraged her to play on the banjo as many of the
fiddle notes as she could. Kim: He says, “You won’t
get all the notes a fiddle gets. But you get what you
can and it’ll be good.” [Chuckles] “OK,
I’ll do that. I didn’t know he was
considered hard to play with. And he played these little
snaky tunes, today they call ’em crooked, but I
learned to play that and it’s not real hard for me. Wilson: There’s something
about them old mountain fiddle tunes, those
changes, those drops, the minors, the pitches
that turn me on. And I can go to a big
fiddlers’ convention, somewhere where’s there’s
a lot of mountain music and put in a night and a
day and when I come home, I’m a different man. Terry: I’m Terry Vaughn,
born and raised in Clay County, down in the center
of the state and live in Cross Lanes, now. But I’m here in Elkins,
one of my favorite weekends of
the whole year. It’s like a 2-day
sleep without stop. It rests ya, it relaxes
you and you’re revitalized for the next 30 days
or whatever you need.Trio playing “The
Girl I Left Behind Me”
Narrator: Terry Vaughn,
a former apprentice of Wilson Douglas, is at
Davis & Elkins College for the Augusta Heritage
Center’s annual Fiddlers’
Reunion. The 2-day event features
scheduled performances and impromptu jam sessions
with master musicians, singers and others from
around the Mountain State and
beyond. The reunion tops off
Old-Time Week, offering attendees a variety
of workshops and culture-related sessions. Today’s festivals,
fairs and other events, showcasing old-time music
around the state, owe much to the revival of folk
traditions sparked in the 1940s. Travis: There was a folk
revival here in the U-S that helped to elevate
the place of traditional singers and
instrumentalists in the national consciousness. Partly, this was driven
out of kind of a reaction to rock-n-roll, which was
taking the airwaves by storm, partly it was
a desire to get back a little closer to the land,
closer to the older ways as a response to the
growth of middle-class America in the 1950s. Narrator: The revival
served to reconnect people to their cultural roots. Decades earlier, educators
had begun stressing national rather than local
and regional customs and culture to meet the
demands of industry for a focused and
uniform workforce. In the 1960s, despite the
folk revival’s popularity, old-time traditions faced
resistance in the face of images depicting
Appalachia and President Lyndon Johnson’s
War on Poverty. Adam: Broadly speaking, a
whole generation stepped away from those images and
those traditions and said, “Let’s modernize, let’s be
like the rest of America. Let’s move away from the
folkways that people have kept alive forever!” John: I was denied a job
teachin’ school in Clay County in 1969. ‘School board member said,
“We were afraid that you would try to bring that
music into the schools.” That music was old women
singin’ ballads and old-time fiddle tunes. They were afraid that
children would be exposed to their own culture. Narrator: Around that
time, John Morris attended a meeting in Tennessee at
the Highlander Research and Education Center,
concerning cultural initiatives in Appalachia.Musicians playing
old-time tunes
John: We were talkin’
about things that we could do on a local level
that wouldn’t involve government control. I come up with this
concept of local festivals put on by local people. Guitarist singing: Bill
Mason was an engineer, been on the road
all his life. I never will forget the
day he married his loving wife. But he hadn’t been married
an hour and that is mighty
clear. I’m bringing you his
orders to bring out the night
express. Narrator: Besides
organizing events in Kentucky, North Carolina,
Tennessee and Virginia, John Morris and his older
brother, David, hosted several at their
homeplace in Ivydale. Billed as the Morris
Family Old-Time Music Festival, the gathering
drew nearly 7,000 people in 1972, despite poor
weather conditions. Among those attending
such events were back-to-the-landers,
settling in WV during the Vietnam War, a war in
which David had served as a U-S Army combat medic. Back-to-the-landers came
looking for a safe and peaceful place where they
could live on their own terms, grow their own food
and embrace the culture embedded in old-time
music, in essence, saying Adam: “Let’s make it as
authentic as possible. Let’s learn the stories. Let’s learn how
it was played. Let’s learn who the people
were that kept this alive. And while we’re at it,
let’s learn about the recipes that they cooked.” Jenes: What are
ya fixin’ for us? Sylvia: I’m fixin’ roasted
tomatoes and boiled eggs, fried potatoes,
fried bread. Adam: “Let’s learn
the holidays that they practiced and how they did
their folk medicines” and things like that, just all
built on that community. So, I think they’re an
important part of keeping that tradition going. John: They were
educated people. They started businesses
and some of them related to music and all in all,
they contributed pretty, well to the society of WV. Narrator: Thanks to
festivals, Morris spent a lot of time on the road,
particularly with Clay County banjo picker
and woodcraftsman Jenes
Cottrell.Banjo picker singing:
Well, hello here stranger. Stranger can you tell
me where this road goes? No, sir, I can’t. I’ve lived here for 40
years and it never did go
nowhere. The doggone thing’s
still right here yet. John: Since the festivals
and things started, everybody’s got
out and traveled. You get to hear new people
and meet new people and you bring back that music
and, of course, that’s added to
everybody’s music. Narrator: Besides
traditional music, the folk revival generated
renewed interest in American folklore
and folk arts. Jenes Cottrell was among
the most popular old-time musicians and craftsmen
to emerge as scholars and promoters alike sought
performers and artisans to showcase folk heritage. Jenes: They’s been a
lot of visitors in my workshop. Kim: He built a
foot-powered wood lathe. He could make things,
ball bats, table legs, furniture, Billy clubs for
the sheriff and stuff like that. [Chuckles] Narrator: Among the first
to settle in Clay County, the Cottrell family lived,
farmed and played music on Deadfall Run, where they
produced fine woodwork. Cottrell also built some
of the banjos he played. Jenes: It’s a handmade
banjo made of cast aluminum and the rim
is out of a Buick transmission. And they was makin’ ’em
for automobiles and didn’t know they was makin’ as
good a banjo rim as ever made.Banjoist playing
“Wildwood Flower”
Narrator: After the death
of her husband during the Second World War, Sylvia
O’Brien returned to Deadfall Run, where she
lived with her older brother in the unpainted
house their family had built of American
chestnut. Kim: They had no
electricity or running water or natural gas. She’d get bacon, sausage
and stuff like that and she’d cook it all, ’cause
she didn’t have any
refrigeration. [Chuckles] Narrator: She and her
brother didn’t have a car or telephone either. What they did have were
the music and traditions of their family. Sylvia: I learned what I
know about banjo playin’ from Jenes here. He don’t know a note in a
songbook nor a chord in a music book, neither do I,
but we can pick up these banjos and play. Narrator: Renewed interest
among folklorists and others led to the
discovery of long forgotten commercial
recordings. This, in turn, led to
making new records, featuring O’Brien,
Cottrell and other old-time practitioners. Travis: They were going
back and finding these records in antique stores
and junk shops and going home and trying to learn
note for note what was on those recordings. When they started to
learn that many of those musicians were still
alive, then they sought them out and eventually,
in some cases, actually put out new material, new
albums of recordings that folklorists had made
in people’s homes. Narrator: Besides
recordings made by such folklorists as Alan
Jabbour for the Library of Congress, Kanawha Records
and other commercial labels allowed formerly
obscure old-time practitioners to reach
broader audiences. The Kanawha label was
established in the early 1960s by local record
producer and Wyoming County native
Ken Davidson. Bobby: He did several,
really, good recordings that he managed to get out
there that kind of put our little area
here on the map. Bobby: He’s the one who
put Clark Kessinger on the map with “The Legend
of Clark Kessinger”. Clark: Yeah! Narrator: Ken Davidson is
credited with the revival of Kessinger’s
musical career. Travis: That led to
a number of pretty significant gigs for these
older musicians, many of whom who hadn’t played
professionally for decades. John: What I liked about
old-time music, the thing that I like the most
is no longer here. It was the people that
played it, the old people that I had so much fun
with and were so much a part of my life and now
it’s the young people. They’re really, great.Duo playing
“Devil in Georgia”
Narrator: These days, John
Morris, who learned from some of the best musicians
in WV, is himself mentoring a new generation
of old-time practitioners. More than instructor and
pupil, Morris and Henry Barnes have become
close friends. Henry: He was just
somebody who I wanted to be
around. I don’t think he knew that
I wanted to visit with him and learn from him, but
when he realized what I wanted, it wasn’t long
until he initiated me as sort of part of his family
and gave me access to every resource
that he had.Fiddlers playing
“16 Days in Georgia”
Narrator: Through the
WV Humanities Council’s Folklife Apprenticeship
Program, John Morris taught Jen Iskow, over the
course of a year, to play old-time fiddle tunes. Jen: The deeper and deeper
I go into learning to play the fiddle and, also,
learning the stories behind playing, I gain
a deeper appreciation, because it takes me
outside of myself and out of my own life and I’ve
learned so much and it’s been like a really,
incredible experience.Woman dancing,
quartet playing
Narrator: It seems that
more and more young people are turning to old-time
music to gain a sense of community, holding monthly
square dances with potluck dinners and the like. Cody: Livin’ in WV, the
focus is like, “We gotta get out of here,
there’s nothin’ here. But the old-time music
tradition is somethin’ that’s valuable that we
have that’s right in our laps pretty much. Narrator: Adam Booth
believes lots of folks are hungry for the
traditions of Appalachia. Adam: There are a lot of
people my age that love to dance, square dance and
contradance, that love to sing the old ballads, that
love to get together and play music and party with
the music and the culture that comes with it,
because #1, it’s fun, but also it connects us back
to this place where we’re from!Banjo picker and fiddler
playing “Little Blue-Eyed Gal”
Narrator: Tessa Dillon
appreciates the way old-time music connects
people one to another. Tessa: Many people, my
age, don’t have a lot of day to day exposure for
hanging out with people many generations
older than them. Old-time really allows me
to have that connection with
people. Jen: I’m gonna play my
version of John’s version, of French Carpenter’s
version of “Yew Piney Mountain”.Fiddler playing
“Yew Piney Mountain”
Jen: I think that the
legacy that old-time music is carrying on today is,
really, about painting this portrait of the
history of Appalachia and the people who have lived
in these mountains as something, really,
beautiful and inspiring. And I think that as more
people from across the country get interested in,
start playing and across the world start playing,
that they find that there’s this whole other
narrative of this area that they couldn’t have
even imagined, that it’s full of just resiliency
and beautiful nature and beautiful people, who
make really incredible, inspiring music that
uplifts people even if they’re not from here.Banjoist playing
“WV Hills”
Narrator: Adam Booth
incorporates musical instruments into his
storytelling and says kids he meets in Appalachia
often seem disconnected from the region’s
old-time traditions. Nevertheless, they show
genuine interest in learning about
their heritage. Adam: Whenever I take a
dulcimer or a banjo in or if I sing a ballad,
they’re always so curious to see the instrument
and touch it and learn a little bit about it or to
learn some of the song or “I noticed that you sang
it differently than people on the radio sing.” And then I get to speak
about folk singing and the tradition of folk
music and old-time. And so, I think that
there’s the potential for a really, great future for
these traditional arts.Vocalist 1 singing:
Oh, beautiful hills of Galilee, amid whose scenes
the Savior dwelt –. Narrator: Inspired by
Mercer County native Hazel Dickens, Kathy Mattea
is using her voice to encourage a new generation
of singers in the tradition of old-time
practitioners. Kathy: I have wept to
Hazel Dickens’ singing more than once, just
because it’s so real. It isn’t modern,
it isn’t ancient. It is timeless because
it’s so honest.Vocalist 2 singing: Fly
away, you little pretty bird. Fly, fly away. Fly away –. Kathy: In finding a way
that I could do that, that felt authentic for me,
felt like a way to honor Hazel and all that came
before her, my thought was, you know, if you’re
not used to something super edgy, a voice that’s
really raw and edgy like hers was, then you might
need someone to sort of lead you into that and
maybe I can be that for people.Vocalist 2 singing: But
fly away, little pretty bird. Oh, oh, oh –. Narrator: Travis Stimeling
looks to inspire, as well. Travis: An undergraduate
student here in West Virginia, I was frequently
told to put away all those silly hillbilly things. And I got to be kind of
ashamed of things I said and of music that I liked
to listen to and the food I like to eat. I want kids from WV to
come into my classroom and know that fundamentally
it’s okay to be a West
Virginian. And, not only is it okay,
it’s actually; a good thing.Duo playing “Run
Here Granny”
Travis: Our young people
come from places that are important and that have
histories and that have important stories to be
told, that have lessons for us to learn. And I think that’s the
kind of thing that can help keep our young people
here and help them realize that they can build
a better future for themselves right here
in the Mountain State. Narrator: Fiddler Bobby
Taylor knows of a whole community willing to help. Taylor: In the social
group of old-time musicians, we would like
to think of our self as an epidemic that spreads and
basically encompasses as many young people as we
can to not only play the music, but to enjoy
it and pass it on.Duo playing “Run
Here Granny”
Announcer: From WV
Public Broadcasting

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