There were 684 entries in the guitar giveaway. I used the neat random number generator you can find here-to tell me who the winner was.
who as you can see above-is Mike McClain.
I still can't believe how many of you played along. I'm truly thankful to everyone who was part of the Spotlight on Music in Appalachia-whether you wrote a post, let me interview you, or left a comment-I thank each of you.
I only wish I had enough guitars to give you all one-who knows maybe Paul will buy me another one to giveaway next year!
Well actually the guitar giveaway is at the end of the track-not the train. Do you believe there have been over 600 entries? Wow-I still can't believe it. This will be the last Spotlight On Music In Appalachia post before the giveaway-so make sure you leave a comment for one more entry.
Trains have been on my mind for the last few days-maybe because I've been thinking it's almost time for the Santa Train-maybe because during my trips back and forth to the VA Hospital I always notice the big steel rails that run along the Nantahala Gorge.
The tracks that go through the gorge-used to continue all the way to Murphy-well they still do-but trains haven't run to Murphy in years. Seems there is always talk in town about how if we could get the train running again-it would bring tourists (and their money) to town. But so far it's only been talk.
A few years ago, Pap and I were talking about the train that used to stop in Murphy. He told me him and his Mother used to ride it to see his father in Newport News VA. Pap's father, Wade, had one leg that was shorter than the other-so he was turned down for service in WWII but did go to work in the ship yards.
Pap told me one other story about the train and his Mother. They were attending church in Factory Town-a little community in the city limits of Murphy. He said as they sat on the bench she poked him gently in the arm and pointed with her head out the window. Pap was only 3 or 4 years old and almost had to stand up in the pew to see what she was pointing at-it was the train. I'm not sure why I think that little memory is so sweet-but I do. Somehow it conveys the feeling of those personal glances and looks we sometimes give those we love-you know when you know each other so well no words are needed just a nudge or a raised eyebrow.
I've never ridden a train-but I do like a good train song. Paul recently picked out an old Jimmie Rogers song so you could hear how good that giveaway guitar sounded one more time-take a listen and see what you think. (don't forget to stop the player in the top right of this page before you start the video)
Sounded good didn't it? If you've got a favorite train song-leave me a comment and tell me about it.
p.s. the guitar giveaway will officially end on Sunday November 21-so get your comments in-and share the news with your friends and neighbors.
When I first heard about The Old-Time Herald I had just turned 20 years old. Pap and Granny's house was a buzz with talk of the magazine-"where is it from?" "what kind of people are in it?" "are there famous singers in it?" "is Pap going to be famous now?" -were just a few of the questions we were all asking.
Pap and his brother had a 3 page spread about their music appear in the August-October 1990 issue of The Old-Time Herald. Being showcased, in such a high quality magazine that dedicates itself to preserve the tradition of old time music, was a true honor for them and for the entire family.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Sarah Bryan who is the editor of The Old-Time Herald-stick around till the end for a special giveaway.
What is the mission of The Old-Time Herald?
For those of us who love this music, the great thing is that not only do we have recordings of past greats to enjoy -- the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Macon, countless artists whose music survives through early commercial and field recordings -- but there is also a tremendously strong living tradition of old-time music. There are thousands of people all across the United States, and, more than ever, around the world, who play this music. Modern old-time musicians both honor the past and add our own perspective--keeping the tradition alive, but not static, allowing it to grow and evolve. Like any traditional art form, it's all about continuity and change.
The magazine was founded in 1987 by Alice Gerrard, who many readers of this website will know as a pioneer of bluegrass as well as a champion of old-time music. She was the editor-in-chief for many years, publishing the magazine out of her house in Durham, North Carolina. Alice did everything from soliciting and sometimes writing the articles, to editing the text and hunting down photos, to laying out the galleys (the old-time way: with scissors, graph paper, and a hot-wax roller!), to hauling the magazines from the printer to the post office. Thanks to her hard work, the magazine really came into its own, and became a respected and popular source for both news and history of old-time music. Alice was succeeded as editor by Gail Gillespie, a longtime guitar, banjo, and fiddle player, who, like Alice, knows this music inside and out. In the years that Gail was editor, the early and mid-2000s, old-time music underwent a great many transformations, with a new, young generation of musicians really beginning to make an impact, and rapidly evolving technologies changing the ways that the music is experienced. Gail did an exceptional job of keeping the Herald at the forefront of these evolutions, chronicling old-time music's adaptation to the new world. In 2008, Gail retired, and I stepped into the roles of editor of the Herald and director of the Old-Time Music Group. We're now a staff of three: myself, art director Steve Terrrill, and business and advertising director Ruth Eckles. (As has always been the case, the magazine is by musicians as well as for them. Steve and I have both played old-time music for many years, and Ruth is a talented songwriter and folk-fusion musician.) Also helping to pilot this ship are the magazine's top-notch writers and reviewers, our Board of Directors, our advisers and special-topic editors, and the readers, with whom we're always in communication. I'm proud to say that in 2010, the Old-Time Herald published its 100th issue. Rather than having a regular stable of writers, like many magazines, the Old-Time Herald relies on submissions from the community. In the magazine's 23 years of publication, we haven't begun to exhaust the stories that are out there. The magazine is written for a popular audience, not for academics. Some of our articles are written by great scholars of traditional music, such as the late Charles Wolfe and radio host Dick Spottswood; some are submitted by professional journalists with an interest in old-time music; many others are written by people who simply have an important story to tell. You absolutely don't have to be an academic or a journalist to submit an article to the Old-Time Herald. Like old-time music itself, this magazine is about talent and passion, not credentials and formality.
As everybody knows, the late '50s and early '60s were a time when folk music took center-stage in American pop culture. This new appreciation for acoustic sounds and all things home-grown inevitably brought new life to old-time music. The surviving luminaries of the "Golden Era" found greatly appreciative new audiences, and many of these now-elderly men and women had second musical careers that were even greater than those of their youth. Young people began to learn how to play this music themselves, many inspired by the groundbreaking New Lost City Ramblers, which included Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Tom Paley, and Tracy Schwarz. Another deeply significant transformation occurred in this era, as more and more young people from the urban North became champions for the music of the rural South; these are the folks many refer to as "revivalists." Their contribution to the music's survival can't be overstated. And all over the country, young people, understanding the urgency of the changing times, bought recording equipment and began to travel throughout Appalachia, seeking out elder musicians and field-recording their music.
In the '80s and '90s, old-time music fell back out of the spotlight. Many people continued to play it, though, and during this transitional period the tradition remained strong, kept alive through festivals and recordings, and, as always, get-togethers among friends. It was in the 1990s that I began to play old-time music, taking up the fiddle as a teenager. At that time there were very few people my own age interested in the music. Older musicians took us under their wings and we discovered that we were part of a wonderfully creative and supportive community.
Then around 2000, the tide began to come in again. Over the last decade a whole new generation of old-time musicians has come onto the scene, in numbers that are not just encouraging but really exciting. Young people from the Appalachians are loving stewards of their heritage and innovators in their traditions. There's a tremendous amount of energy radiating from the Pacific Northwest, where the old-time music and dance community is blessed with many, many members in their twenties and thirties. People are coming to the tradition from all over. Old-time music festivals draw a staggering number of people; Clifftop, for example, draws several thousand people every year, from all over the world. There's no doubt in my mind that we're currently living in old-time music's second Golden Age.
Do the writers actively seek out stories or sort of wait for them to come their way?
Rather than having a regular stable of writers, like many magazines, the Old-Time Herald relies on submissions from the community. In the magazine's 23 years of publication, we haven't begun to exhaust the stories that are out there. The magazine is written for a popular audience, not for academics. Some of our articles are written by great scholars of traditional music, such as the late Charles Wolfe and radio host Dick Spottswood; some are submitted by professional journalists with an interest in old-time music; many others are written by people who simply have an important story to tell. You absolutely don't have to be an academic or a journalist to submit an article to the Old-Time Herald. Like old-time music itself, this magazine is about talent and passion, not credentials and formality.
Can folks find The Old-Time Herald in stores or is it available only by subscription?
The Old-Time Herald is carried by some independent retailers, but for the most part we are subscription-based. Subscribers receive six issues a year, at a cost of $28 for one year or $50 for two (within the US; international rates are slightly higher).
What about your website-what can they access from there?
Our website, www.oldtimeherald.org features excerpts from the current issue, the whole text of our "Here & There" section featuring old-time music news and announcements, a gallery of photographs of old-time musicians, links to other sites of old-time interest, and some multimedia material that's fun to browse. And of course, you can subscribe to the magazine through our website. We hope in coming years to expand greatly the multimedia content of our website, and perhaps offer digital editions of our back issues.
Is there anything you want my readers to know about The Old-Time Herald?
Welcome! I hope you'll visit our site, and subscribe to the magazine. It's a great way to keep up with what's happening in today's old-time music world, as well as to read about those musicians and dancers who came before us. I hope as well that you'll drop us a line, let us know about what you're doing and happenings in your community, maybe even start thinking of an article you might like to submit. The Old-Time Herald is born of community, and we hope you'll be a part.
How does the magazine relate to Appalachia or does it?
Appalachia is the heart of old-time music. While the styles that make up old-time music have also always been played in the lowland South and the Ozarks, for example, and increasingly all around the world, this tradition is most vital and most visible in the Appalachian mountains. Without the artistry of these generations of musicians from Appalachia, there would be no Old-Time Herald.
I hope you enjoyed the interview. I thought it was very cool that I got to interview Sarah-during the interview I found out she spoke to Pap on the phone back in 1990 when his article appeared in the magazine-neat uh?
Sarah and the rest of the gang at The Old-Time Herald have most graciously offered a free year subscription to a Blind Pig reader. To be entered in the giveaway-all you have to do is leave a comment on this post. The giveaway ends on Sunday Nov 7th. (a comment also give you an additional entry in the guitar giveaway-which is almost over)
Guest Post written by Bob Dalsemer:
In 1978-79 I spent 10 months as artist-in-residence in Randolph County, West Virginia. My job was to promote and present programs of traditional music and dance for schools and community groups. In the process I met a number of wonderful local musicians. Two of the most memorable were Currence and Minnie Hammonds of Huttonsville, WV. They were both born in 1898 and married in 1915, raising a family of nine children. Both came from musical families and they had a repertoire of songs that had been passed down for many generations. Currence’s cousins (who spelled their last name Hammons) and lived in neighboring Pocahontas County were the subjects of a series of documentary recordings by the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.
I spent many happy times at Currence and Minnie’s home, visiting and being treated to their singing. They mostly sang unaccompanied in the old time ballad style that included such traditional vocal embellishments as sliding a note into falsetto at the end of a phrase. Currence also played old time clawhammer style banjo and Minnie used play too but by that time she had quit due to arthritis. They associated each song with a particular relative from whom they had learned it.
Since this is Halloween week, I’ll mention one of Currence’s favorite ballads, “Jimmy Ranvul” which has both a murder and a ghost. He told me:
“Now I always did like that one. You know the reason I always like it, my mother used to sing it. She’d sit and sing that of a night for us. In the fall you know, she’d sit spinning or knitting, singing that piece for us kids. We’d sit right there listening to her sing it. We’d make her sing it, maybe two or three times.”
There are many versions of this ballad. The Dillards had a bluegrass version called Polly Vaughn and there’s an Irish version called Molly Bawn. The young man is sometimes called Johnny Randle. The story is about a young man who goes hunting, mistakes his true love for a swan and accidentally kills her. He is arrested and about to be tried for murder when the ghost of his true love appears in court and gives exculpatory evidence.
as sung by Currence Hammonds
Come all you young heroes who handles a gun
Beware of your shooting after the down sun
I’ll tell you of a circumstance that happened of late
That happened young Jimmy and his lovely maid
Jimmy was a-hunting out late in the dark
He shot Molly Bender and he missed not his mark
Well, he ran up to her and found she was dead
In front of her bosom a tear Jimmy shed.
Well he run back home again with his gun in his hand
Dearest uncle, dearest uncle, Molly Bender I’ve killed
Out stepped his old father with his locks very gray
“Stay at home its young Jimmy, do not run away.”
“Stay at home its young Jimmy, til your trial will draw near
The laws of our country will set Jimmy clear.”
The day of Jimmy’s trial her ghost did appear
With her apron pinned around her, saying “Jimmy come clear.”
You can take all these pretty girls and place them in a row
Molly Bender shone amongst them like mountains of snow
Molly Bender she’s dead and almost are gone
With her apron pinned around her, she was shot for a swan.
I hope you enjoyed Bob's post about Currence and Minnie-makes me wish I could have known them too. Since I've never heard the song before I looked for a video of Jimmy Ranvul on youtube-but didn't find one. I did find the Dillard's version Bob mentioned.
Don't it make you wish Bob had been able to video Currence's version back in 1978?
Just before 7:00 on Tuesday nights you can find folks lining up to contra dance at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The actual musicians who play for the dancers may vary-but the quality of the music is always outstanding. If you're not into dancing-just come hear the music-it's free either way.
On Friday nights the folk school offers free (but donations are welcomed) concerts open to the public you can read more about it here.
Twice in the last few months I've seen Cornbread Ted & The Butter Beans. If you've never heard their music-you should-they're so good someone told Paul they felt sorry for the Blind Pig Gang having to perform after them at the JCCFS's Fall Festival.
A few weeks ago-me and the girls visited Jimmy's Pick N Grin in Andrews, NC. Live music-and a whole dance floor of folks from the audience flat footing-now that was fun to watch. Of course Chatter and Chitter had to get in on the dancing too.
Paul and I recently drove over the mountain to Franklin, NC and caught a show of one of my all time favorite groups-The Del McCoury Band. They put on an outstanding concert at the Smoky Mountain Center For The Performing Arts-of course this one wasn't free-but I promise it was worth every cent of the money.
The Blind Pig Family's new favorite music venue in western NC-takes place on Saturday nights-at the Ice Cream Parlor in Hayesville, NC. You can eat supper-they serve more than icecream-then enjoy the free jam session that goes on in the back of the old timey store.
I wish you could visit the music spots in western NC-but since most of you live too far away for that-I'll do the next best thing-share some of the Blind Pig Gang's weekly jam sessions with 3 of you. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cd of the Blind Pig Gang-if you win-you choose 10 songs from my music player in the top right of this page-just make sure you only pick songs that are by Paul Wilson or The Pressley Girls. Giveaway ends on Wednesday Oct. 27.
Back several months ago a friend asked me if Chatter and Chitter could be in a movie he was helping develop. Surprise doesn't even began to explain how I felt-I think I was more excited than the girls-they seem to take it all in stride. Of course my first question before agreeing to let them-was what's it about and what do you want them to do?
From the beginning the details were kinda sketchy-but the over all theme of the movie was to be about old time music and the influence it had (and has) on folks. Once we agreed-they said they'd be in touch when they needed the girls on set.
Turns out during the month of August-me and the girls got to spend 2 afternoons at the big old house in the photo above. Turns out-the surprises weren't over-they decided at the last minute they wanted me in the movie too-ME? I tried to get out of it-but in the end I gave in and did what they asked-even though I was so nervous I felt like I was back in high school trying out for the cheerleading squad (which I didn't make).
Who are the primary creators of the movie?
Bruno: The movie was conceived of by Harrison Topp and Bruno Seraphin. We wrote the story, developed the concept, and created all the major characters. We directed the film and did the bulk of the producing. I am hesitant to say we are writers, because the majority of the material in the film was developed by and with the actors, and very little was ever actually written down at all. Forrest Oliphant came on board a few months before shooting started and I feel that he played a major role in the conceptual and narrative aspect of the project, and he also was invaluable in helping with producing.
Harrison: Bruno and myself are the primary writers, directors, and producers of the film. Along the way we picked up people like Forrest and Nando who became important additions.
What's the movie about?
Bruno: The movie is about a young man from a small mountain town in western north carolina who, through his singular desire to play music, ends of up learning some things about community, culture, place, love and loneliness. It is a chapter of Felix's life that is frenetic and challenging, both joyful and thoughtful, in which he dances up and down the staircase that he is told leads up to maturity. It's a story about how saying "yes" to things (because you aren't afraid to, or because you have no other choice) isn't always easy but usually leads to enriching and meaningful experiences. And these experiences make you a stronger and wiser person, even if they don't all add up to one cohesive moral idea. So we have Felix's personal journey, which I think is pretty contemporary, shot with a pretty contemporary aesthetic and narrative/artistic sensibility, interwoven with bits of history, folklore, and images from another era. Something very basic for me behind the film is the old Faulkner quote - "the past isn't dead. It's not even past." the past is all around us; it's right under our noses; it's in the words we say, the songs we sing, in our hearts and our imaginations. We said at the start of the film that it takes place from 1910 to 2010. Well, the movie is trying to speak to a current generation of Americans (of all ages) who maybe feel that 1910 plays a role in the way they want to live just as much as 2010 does. Or maybe we are just trying to suggest that such a generation exists. Or could exist.
Harrison: The movie is about a conglomeration of things. It is an homage to the adventurer's saga and the possibilities/realizations that go along with it. It is also a film about "folk" culture. We did our best to write a fun, accessible, and thoughtful film about our own experience, our research about Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and our interpretation of music and dance as it relates to people like Bruno and I, both native and foreign. The film is ABOUT a young man named Felix Eugene who after finding himself without a home or job, falls into the life of a traveler. His journey exposes him to new ideas, new possibilities, and new troubles. The story took many turns throughout the course of production and I expect will take many more. That is sort of the way we designed it (as a filmmaker I am very interested in the art of improvisation). I'd like the final product to be firmly couched in it's narrative but also curious and loose enough to inspire thoughtful daydreaming. I hope this description isn't too aloof or elementary for you. I think that we have made some people weary of our work because they thought we took liberties in the way we chose to represent certain people. I personally don't feel as if we wronged anyone but the scrutiny of our audience is intense because the subject we're working with is very precious to a lot of people. This leads into why our film is important. Our film speaks to those of our generation who are attempting to interpret tradition in a pop cultured, globalized, shiftless society that is constantly trying to shake itself free of such baggage as 'tradition.' Bruno and I weren't trying to reenact a time from the past. I think we were more so using style's inspired by the past to create a world where an expanse of time laid the stage for Felix.
Was the endeavor harder/easier than you thought?
Bruno: Ugh, this is a hard one to be succinct about. I'll say this - the "plan" was always to be as flexible as possible. From the get-go we knew that we were walking into a culture and a place that we knew relatively little about. So for a year we just learned things and soaked up as much as possible, and let the movie be in the backs of our heads. Felix's journey is all about saying "yes" as I mentioned (like Jack of the jack tales, I should add) so, we wanted to say yes as much as we could during the film making. So if we liked somebody or some idea or some song, we wrote it in. We tried to never turn down any offer of help or donation. We were absurdly loose in our planning, almost always preferring to improvise and play, which was pretty maddening for some who worked with us, I imagine. Anyway, over the last 15 months the theoretical film took many forms - quasi-documentary, straightforward biopic of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, more of a self-reflective journal type film, - but ended up more like the original idea than I actually ever figured.
Harrison: I think one of the major differences was the inclusion of Forrest as the main character. I think that there is no way we could have written in Forrest as he actually is. But even that was the plan. The difference lay in the actualization of Felix, which Forrest turned into a character we hadn't been imagining in our heads. To a certain extent that is what happened with many of the characters. And often the improv. of some scenes brought out totally new material as well.
What was it like working with inexperienced actors from the area?
Bruno: It was very interesting! You have positives and negatives to working with actors and non-actors. With actors you sometimes have to deal with egos, which is rare when dealing with craftsmen and farmers. A good actor thinks of themselves as an artistic collaborator on the project, which can be positive - they want to actively contribute and share in your vision, or negative - they become overly controlling or there is friction over creative differences. The people we worked with cared about the project, they weren't doing it for a career move, or to get experience for a resume, or to make any money, they did it because they thought the project was cool, or fun, or they wanted to help out and support Harrison and I. Relations were almost always good because of this. One huge reason that we worked with non actors is that we didn't want to have a professional relationship with the people appearing in the film. We wanted to use friends. We wanted this to be a small film, a domestic film, a film made of love and hard work, a film with real stories and real feelings, very non-bureaucratic, very non-professional, even non-economical and non-efficient when necessary - we wanted to be and to celebrate amateurness. Amateur, as I like to remind people, comes from the latin word 'amat,' meaning 'love'.
The main struggle that I had with working with non-actors (and this is serious) has nothing to do with artistic collaboration (I felt that we collaborated very well and got lots of wonderful material and inspiration from the people in the film, non-actors all). Simply put,
non-actors have never been on set before. They often don't know how movies are made, and I just was not prepared to deal with that. For example, folks with no acting experience sometimes don't always understand the idea of a 'take.' Like, we walk through the action and the dialogue, talk about the feeling of the scene, maybe rehearse it, and then shoot it. Then we talk about how it went, the director says what he wants to be different, what he liked and didn't like, and we all try it again until we all feel good about it. The idea of getting notes between takes is hard for someone who hasn't been through this process - people would say 'I told you I'm not an actor!" and we would have to say, "no, we know! But this is how it works! We're not supposed to get it the first time!"
Also, non-actors weren't always prepared for just how much work making a film is. It's often really really fun, but it is long hours. It tries your patience. Sometimes it seems like it's moving slowly, like we are agonizing over insignificant details (which to us are highly significant). But even when working at maximum efficiency, film-making is slow and tedious. An in-and-out cameo takes 2 hours. One little scene can take 5. Many people, it seemed, just did not realize what they were signing up for. But in all fairness, neither did we! Here's the big secret: (or maybe it's not such a secret) It was our first time! We were winging it! We are young, this is the biggest thing we had ever done. So NOBODY on set was a pro.
Harrison: It was great!!! I suppose I have a bias though. Part of what I love about working with people is seeing how they transform themselves. When the actors are non trained there is this extra little bit that comes out. Sometimes it's them trying too hard and sometimes it's unexplainable, sort of a humbleness. Anyways, I really love the style of non-actors undergoing that transformation. Its also fun because we were really just asking them to be themselves. We decided to cast the people we already thought of as characters. I think the major challenge was just acclimating the folks to a film set so they understood the protocol and the process that was happening around them. It was also sometimes tricky to get actors to be concise. There is a lot of rambling because sometimes folks dont know if they're doing the right things so they just keep going and going.
Would you say your style of movie making is unorthodox? (I remember you saying something about that on your site)
Harrison: It's hard to say. Our style of filmmaking would have made most of our professors and many of our peers cringe but then again we went to a very formal school. I think the film orthodox is on the way out anyways. Young blood cant afford to make films the old fashioned way, and why should we! There is so much technology out now that makes the old methods seem kind of absurd. Sure, we're not making Avatar but our stuff is a bit more personal and I think it shows. I think our film is unorthodox in a popular sense but to us we're a part of something much larger that is picking up speed.
Bruno: Our style of filmmaking is unorthodox because of how central and fundamental we hold improvisation. Aside from the fact that the actual dialogue is improvised, a lot of the story and ideas of the film got developed during production, and as we shot one scene we would rewrite other scenes and so forth. The process itself became the final author of the film, rather than Harrison and I. I really feel that way. Whether it will yield a decent movie, we shall see.
When will the movie be out? Where can folks see it? Where can folks keep updated about the premier-and how things are going?
Bruno: You can keep updated about everything at kazoofilms.org. Also, email us any time or get in touch via the website if you have any questions, comments, concerns, ideas, pitches, plans, daydreams, or whatever. We are shooting to have a completed film this coming spring, with some possible test showings over the winter. Once it is done, we will have as many local screenings as humanly possible, and submit it to key festivals locally, across the country, and internationally.
Very shortly we will begin soliciting donations again (this time, unfortunately, only monetary - although we may have a silent auction or something similar, so perhaps folks can donate crafts and services) but you will get more on this soon. Distribution is very expensive, from festival submission fees to DVD printing, to making posters and promotional materials, the expenses add up.
However, I am currently in the "daydreaming" phase of another film! So if you want to act, or sing and dance, or learn how to use a microphone or a HD camera, or you have a story to tell, get in touch and let's make a movie together!
Harrison: Well, our website (www.kazoofilms.org) is the best place to be updated. Right now the film is slated for release next summer but we'll probably do test screenings before then. I'd think we'd both like to push it pretty hard and really see where it takes us. Our local audience probably is the most important but we'd also like to see how we stand up to the competition. That is what film festivals are all about. They are wonderful for exposure but also great snapshots of what is out there right now. If we make it into festivals it shows that we're doing something right and it's really encouraging.
Hmmm, of course we still need help. We still need funders and backers but we also need publicists and town criers. It is hard because the film is sort of metamorphosing right now and there isn't much anyone can really do. But the film still belongs to everyone involved so I'd love to hear what people would like to see happen with it, etc. Opinions are still really great and folks are welcome to add theirs whenever the spirit moves them. It is far from taking its final form.
I'd just like to encourage everyone to check in on the blog from time to time. More than anything I just want to make sure everyone who participates knows that they have my unending thanks!
So will me and the girls make the final cut and be in the finished movie? No one knows yet-but we do know the 2 afternoons spent with Bruno, Harrison, Forest, and the rest of the Kazoo Films gang was big fun-and if given the chance we'd do it all again.
You can get a small peek at the movie by watching their first trailer below-don't forget to stop the music player in the top right of this page before starting the video.
Oh and if any of you are wondering-they got to wear the boots.
p.s. Click here for another one of my favorite old gospel songs.
When I first started my Spotlight on Music in Appalachia-I knew gospel music should be part of it. For weeks I've tried to wrap my mind around the importance gospel music has played-and continues to play in Appalachia. It's like something I feel deep inside but once I try to put my feelings to words-they fall flat. Either sounding like a crazed religious fanatic or like I'm belittling the very people I'm one of.
I'm not really talking about it in monetary terms or even about successful performers-although a huge majority of country and bluegrass stars got their start singing in church. I'm thinking more about how it relates to people's everyday lives. I can only speak from personal experiences-but I feel strongly that my thoughts about the relationship that exists between faith, gospel music, and Appalachia would be shared by most who have grown up attending a church in Appalachia.
I'm a snob when it comes to modern praise music. I just can't seem to lay aside the old hymns nor any of the songs of faith that I grew up with for the rocking praise anthems of today. I realize the words are what matter-but somehow the songs cannot move me the way the old ones do. A local pastor once reminded me, in the past, Hymns were thought to be too modern for the church too.
My first exposure to music as a child-even as a babe still in Granny's arms-was to gospel music. It seems The Louvin Brother's songs were the background music to my childhood. Sad warning songs like-Praying, The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea, Satan Is Real, The Great Atomic Power and happier ones like-Love Thy Neighbor, The River of Jordan (my favorite!), and Born Again were often heard around Granny and Pap's.
Even as a young child-I remember being astounded at the power of songs of faith. There's a palatable feeling that occurs when folks gather to lift their voice in worship-and if you've never felt it-I suggest you slip in the door of one of those little old churches scattered through out the Appalachian Mountains-sit down on the back row as the choir sings and see if you don't feel it too.
My friend, Sharon, and I shared a special bond when we were kids. We were in the same classroom at school-and we went to the same church. We both liked the singing more than the preaching-as most kids are likely to do. We knew the page number to all our favorite songs-and we'd anxiously wait to see if the song leader called out one of our favorites. Down On My Knees written by Mosie Lister, The Prettiest Flowes Will Be Blooming by Albert E. Brumley, I Want To Know More About My Lord by Lee Roy Abernathy, and Are You Washed In The Blood by Rev. E.A. Hoffman were a few of the fast upbeat songs we liked. But both of us had a love for the more lonesome gospel songs too like- Lord I'm Coming Home by William J. Kirkpatrick, Almost Persuaded by P.P. Bliss, Oh Why Not Tonight by J. Calvin Bushey, and Take My Hand Precious Lord by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey.
The lyrics of those old gospel songs I grew up with lend themselves to the culture of Appalachia-not that they all were written here-most were not. But the strong recurring themes of God, Jesus, love, the cross, faith, death, blood, hell, rivers, long roads, toiling, snares, mountains, lights, rejoicing, happiness, joy, better times to come, dark valleys, and loved ones calling come-fit perfectly in the mindset of most folks born and raised in Appalachia. I would go so far as to say the manner in which they were written-the words used-strike a chord with the language of Appalachia. Maybe in the same way the isolated nature of the Appalachia region played a role in the continuity of our dialect-it also aided in folks holding on to the hymns and sacred songs of our past.
Here's one of my favorite old gospel songs. (don't forget to stop the player in the top right of this page before you start the video) What A Savior written by Marvin P. Dalton in 1948.
I hope you enjoyed Paul and Pap-and if you click on any of the songs I mentioned above-you can hear them for yourselves too.
At the end of the next few posts-I'll continue to share a few of my favorite gospel songs-and I hope you'll be thinking of some of your favorites to tell me about along the way.
Perhaps if I could find the words to explain the humbleness of gentle mountain men, women, and children coming together to sing in worship to their God you could understand the importance of gospel music in Appalachia-but I kinda feel like I'm a day late and a dollar short. The following story is a good example of what I'm trying to say:
2 old matriarchs stand out from the church of my youth. One of them walked to church-as I look back it seems too far a piece for an old lady to walk. But she did. She spent her last years in the local nursing home. She seldom knew her family members-not even her own children. But any time the home had someone come in to play the piano she'd sit right there and sing every word of every old gospel song they played. She didn't know her children-but those songs of faith that guided her through her long long life were still there for her to call upon when she reached the last mile of her way.
p.s. Don't forget-a comment on this post gives you another entry in the guitar giveaway.
When I put the gospel music question out to Blind Pig readers-most of the comments left had something to do with Shape Note Singing. The tradition of Shape Note Singing is sometimes called Sacred Harp Singing. Click here for a website full of information on Shape Note Singing.
Here are a few excerpts about the history of Shape Note Singing from one of my all time favorite Appalachian Writers-John Parris.
Old-Time Shape-Note Singing Still Lives
The heart-stirring voices of the FASOLA singers can still be heard here in the highlands where folks never have lost the feeling of Christian Harmony. They are a unique coterie, practitioners of "do-ra-me" or "fa-so-la" singing, who apply Elizabethan names to the notes of songs made in pre-Revolutionary America and sing them with the help of the 155-year-old "patent notes".
The men and women who came here as pioneer settlers shortly after the American Revolution found much of their spiritual strength in the peculiar gift called fasola singing or Christian Harmony. When they first came their hope was anchored to the axe, the rifle, and the Bible-their trinity for survival.
Camp meetings, held at some central place in a settlement, were introduced and brought a new way of life to the mountains. At such meetings the Gospel was preached two or three time a day. And it was through these meetings that a need for congregational singing, as a means of expressing pent-up emotion, began to make itself felt.
The gift of song as part of their religious services was given to them by a man whose recognition of the opportunity for a contribution to the development of the section came shortly after he had entered on what was to be his life's work-the teaching of singing. The man was William Walker who was known far and wide as "Singing Billy." He was born on Tyger River in Union County, South Carolina, in 1809, and while still a child moved to the Greenville-Spartanburg district.
In indicating the sounds used in his fa-so-la book, each note was represented by a character of differing shape. This made the reading easier for those who had had so little opportunity to learn to read at all. The fa-so-la method, in use by other early song writers, was not entirely unknown in the mountains where before "Singing Billy's" coming a few scattered copies of Sacred Harp, Harp of Columbia and other like books had found their way.
The fame of the singing master, the one called "Singing Billy," and his book, the one called Southern Harmony, was not long in spreading through the southern states, where annual classes of singing school were taught by him or by someone trained by him.
As means of travel improved, the singing classes became regular seasonal events. When crops had been laid by, and before time for the fall harvest, every little community in the mountains had a session of "singing school."
Walker described his method of teaching thusly: "Not more than one in every fourteen can make a musician, but every person has time and tune, more or less, so all may learn to sing."
Whatever social life existed in the scattered settlements, it centered around the old song book, and many a courtship had it's start at the yearly fa-so-la class.
Excerpts taken from My Mountains My People by John Parris
When the girls were 8 years old we attended one of those singing schools John Parris was talking about-the North Georgia School of Gospel Music. It was a 2 week school where we learned the basics of singing Gospel music-which included the fa-so-la technique. The NGSGM produces a cd from each year's 2 week school. Here is the Shape Note example from the year we attended-"When We Hear The Trumpet Sound". As you listen to the song-you'll notice on the 2nd verse we sing the notes-instead of the words. (don't forget to stop the player in the top right of this page before you download the song)
Download When We Hear The Trumpet Sound
I know Shape Note Singing continues in my area of Appalachia. The John C. Campbell Folk School encourages the tradition-and this past weekend as the Blind Pig gang was performing at WCU's Heritage Day-just across the way there was an old time Shape Note Singing going on.
Though the tradition continues-my only experience with Shape Note Singing was at the 2 week music school. Hopefully some of you who have more experience-will leave a comment and tell us what you know.
TipperSubscribe for free to Blind Pig & The Acorn by Email
p.s. Next up in the Spotlight on Music in Appalachia-the kind of Gospel Music I was raised on.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish during the Spotlight on Music, was to highlight communities spread through out the Appalachian Mountains and beyond, where traditional music is alive and well. On almost every weekend you can find local musicians putting on shows that rival Nashville or Hollywood productions.
Over the weekend, me and Pap traveled to Dahlonega, GA to one of those venues.
The Mountain Music & Medicine Show is a live radio show-where you can be part of the audience and watch what thousands of folks are hearing over the airwaves.
Here's a great description from their website:
"The setting is Dahlonega from Gold Rush days of the early 1800s to modern times of the early 1950s---? Doc Johnson's traveling Miracle Medicine Show has come to town and set up on the Square in front of Nix's Store, the hub of local commerce and social center of the area. Doc brings musical acts of the time with him as well as his own brand of humor while he exhorts folks to buy his "Wizard Water" elixir for improving their lives. He also showcases local talent on his show. Folks come from all around to hear the music & Doc. His fast-paced style and rapport with the crowd keeps toes a-tapping and things moving briskly along. The scene occasionally shifts to "street scene" short skits where local people comment on the goings on of the day, mixing local history, culture and humor in the unique Southern Appalachian style of the time period. This is all presented in a live old-time Radio broadcast; sort of like going back in time without leaving your living room!"
Once we arrived I was tickled pink to see the pre-show entertainment was provided by children from the Georgia Pick and Bow Traditional Music School. I first learned about the Pick and Bow program earlier this summer when I was contacted by Alice Sampson, Ph.D., who is Director of Georgia Appalachian Studies Center. The goal of the school is too offer affordable lessons to kids in an effort to foster and encourage the traditional music of Appalachia. The kids we saw on Saturday night did a great job-both their playing and singing were impressive. You can see a few of the same kids performing for their Fall Recital on youtube by clicking here. Most of all it was encouraging to see another program, like JAM, making sure the coming generations know about Appalachia's rich musical heritage.
The Mountain Music & Medicine Show has received 3 GABBY awards from the Georgia Association of Broadcasters for best locally produced radio program in the entire state. After seeing the show I can clearly see why-but what makes the awards even more remarkable is knowing the radio show is put on by a volunteer effort.
From the radio announcer, J. Melvin Hawkins, to the Doc, Henry Johnson, the actors all did a great job-both realistic and humorous. The show was fast paced and very entertaining-in addition to the humor and music there was even some clogging thrown in. It was the 2nd time we'd seen the Buzzard Mountain Boys-and they were as good as the first time we saw them here in Brasstown.
While I enjoyed it all-my favorite aspect of the show was 'discovering' 2 bands I had never heard of but will be adding to my ever growing list of favorites. The music of Yahoola and Little Country Giants will be running around in my head for days to come. Neat to think they've been performing an hour and half away for a good while-and until last night I had never heard of them. See what I mean about great musicians being around every corner-all we have to do is take the time to look for them.
You can keep track of the Mountain Music & Medicine Show by bookmarking their website-by listening in to GPB Radio (WNGU 89.5fm and WPPR 88.3fm local to north GA) and by checking out their past shows on Itunes (which are FREE to download). If you ever get the chance-I highly recommend seeing the Mountain Music & Medicine Show-I know you'll be glad you did. Their next show is on November 6th.
Are there venues in your area that showcase traditional music on a regualar basis? Leave me a comment-I'd love to hear about them.
TipperSubscribe for free to Blind Pig & The Acorn by Email
Today's guest post is written by Appalachian Historian Dave Tabler.
In 1984, the Tennessee General Assembly recognized the town of Bristol, with one foot in Tennessee and one in Virginia, as the “Birthplace of Country Music.” The Commonwealth of Virginia followed in 1995, with both the State Senate and the House of Delegates passing identical resolutions honoring Bristol.
The Bristol Sessions of August 1927 are commonly acknowledged as the event that gave rise to the professional country musician and recording star. Releases from the Sessions put both the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers on the country music map.
Ralph Peer, the Victor Talking Pictures A&R man responsible for organizing the Bristol Sessions, often gets the credit as the recording industry visionary who single handedly brought Appalachian music to a national audience. He was only too happy to promote that position himself; in a 1958 interview he stated bluntly “I went to New York and worked for OKeh Records. That’s where I invented the hillbilly and the nigger stuff.”(he didn’t join Victor till 1926.)
As it happens, three other records companies had held or were scheduling auditions to record musicians in Bristol concurrent with Peer’s trip.
Why Bristol? Along with Johnson City, TN and Kingsport, TN, it formed the Tri-Cities, then the largest urban area in the Appalachians. Ernest Stoneman, whom Ralph Peer had recorded on location in Asheville, NC in August 1925, was the one who’d recommended that Peer set up shop in Bristol; ironically from our point of view, Peer had blown through Nashville in 1927 before settling on Bristol, but had dismissed it as a location.
Nor was the Bristol undertaking the first attempt by the recording industry to codify and capture this (to the general public’s ears) new musical style.
So then, what was the precise moment hillbilly music began? Was it with fiddler Eck Robertson’s 1922 New York recordings? These were done at Victor, quite likely produced by Nat Shilkret, who was head of Victor’s Foreign Department.
Robertson relates his first encounter with a Victor manager (though he doesn’t name Shilkret): “He said `Young man, get your fiddle out and start off on a tune.’ Said `I can tell that quick whether I can use you or not.’ Well, I said back to him just as honest as I could `Mister, I come a long ways to get an audition with you. Maybe I better wait and come back another time. You seem like you’re in an awful hurry.’ `No,’ he said, `Just start off a tune…’ Well, I didn’t get to play half of Sallie Gooden; he just throwed up his hands and stopped me. Said, `By Ned, that’s fine!’ And just smiled, you know. Said, `Come back in the morning at nine o’clock and we’ll make a test record.”
Shilkret played piano on three of Robertson’s first recordings, July 1, 1922.
Perhaps we could argue that hillbilly music commenced with Fiddlin’ John Carson’s June 1923 Atlanta sides. This was a Ralph Peer undertaking while he was still at OKeh. The Carson Atlanta recordings were almost an afterthought: Peer was primarily in search of black talent for OKeh’s race records division.
“OKeh had never made any recordings outside the studio,” said Peer of the experience. “We went down to Atlanta, we looked around, found a small vacant warehouse…. I had gone down ahead and began scouting around for some talent. Now, I was dependent largely upon the [Atlanta] distributor of OKeh Records. Matter of fact, I hadn’t been to Atlanta, Georgia before—this was my first trip.
“So this fellow ran a furniture store, and he began scouting around, but, to my amazement, he didn’t know of any Negro talent…. So I began to switch off, and I said, ‘I better record a local dance band, I’ve got to do something about this.’
“And he went to the local Negro theater and he tried to find acts but nothing amounted to anything, so we did a sort of fill-in job on this first trip. We went down there to get Negro stuff … [but] I don’t think we picked up any Negro stuff of any importance….
“Finally there was the deal where he wanted me to record a singer from a local church. This fellow … had quite a good reputation and occasionally worked on the radio…. So we set a date with this fellow, and this boy’s father was ill in some other town—he just couldn’t make the date.
“So to take up that time, my distributor brought in [white fiddler] Fiddlin’ John Carson…. He said Fiddlin’ John had been on the radio station, and he’s got quite a following. He’s really not a good singer, but let’s see what it is. So the beginning of the hillbilly was just this effort to take up some time.
“He would never have recommended Fiddling John except that we had a vacant date and the time would otherwise have been lost. So I can’t claim there was any genius connected with it, not on my part, not on his part.”
Although OKeh held the Atlanta effort in low esteem, the record-buying public depleted the initial supply of 500 records within days, and company record-pressing facilities were rushed into service to fill back orders. When sales reached the 500,000 figure, the company greatly altered its assessment of Fiddlin’ John Carson’s abilities. Carson was called to New York to record more of the music from his considerable repertoire of old-time ballads and traditional fiddle tunes.
Frank Buckley Walker was the Artist and Repertoire (A & R) talent scout for Columbia Records’ Country Music Division during the 1920s and 1930s, and he was monitoring Peer’s activities closely.
After the success of Okeh’s recording with Fiddlin’ John Carson, Walker sent the word out to his record distributors that he was looking for similar talent.
In Atlanta Gid Tanner was recommended and Tanner brought blind guitarist Riley Puckett with him to New York on March 7, 1924 to back-up his fiddle. Puckett became Columbia’s and Walker’s first country star, and picked his way through “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” accompanied on fiddle by Tanner.
On the flip side Puckett yodeled on “Rock All Our Babies to Sleep,” introducing a technique that was destined to longevity in country music. Their disc was released on May 20 and was an immediate success.
Columbia viewed this new music style as niche music for poor southern whites, and didn’t want to alienate their existing base of both northerners and wealthier southerners.
Initially, says Walker, “The music was not understood by my own people, and they said under no circumstances could we put anything of that sort on the market. But after due pleading on my part they agreed to let me do it providing we not make mention of it in any way. We must not put it on any of our [advertising] hangers or anything.”
The year 1924 is noteworthy in country music’s history because it produced the first multi-million selling tune ever. For Thomas Edison’s recording firm that summer vaudeville singer Vernon Dalhart recorded a cover of a Henry Whitter railroad ballad accompanied by his own harmonica playing and Frank Ferara’s Hawaiian guitar. “The Wreck on the Southern Old 97″ (Edison Diamond Disc 51316) was issued in August, and a month later was dubbed for release on Edison Blue Amberol Cylinder 4898.
Neither disc nor cylinder made a special stir, but their good sales did help Dalhart persuade his Victor executives, one of whom was Nat Shilkret, to let him record the ballad for them. Dalhart now coupled “The Wreck of the Old 97″ with his cousin Guy Massey’s piece, “The Prisoner’s Song.” It was released on October 3, 1924 on Victor’s Olde Time label, and went on to sell more than seven million copies.
Nor were the big New York recording companies the only ones interested in the newly emerging country music market. Art Satherley had joined Wisconsin Chair Company’s new Chicago based record label, Paramount, in 1918, first in manufacturing, then as a salesman. Although the label was known mostly for its race records, Satherley recorded a large number of old time country artists.
Paramount’s first foray into the genre came in 1924 with harmonica and guitar player Walter C. Peterson on the budget “Broadway” label (catalog #33150), though his work was tucked into the middle of a pop dance catalog series. By the mid-1920s, after earning a reputation as an expert in the infant genres of hillbilly and race music, Satherley was spending more time scouting and recording talent than working as a salesman.
“He tried to do a job and he did do a job,” noted Ralph Peer about Satherley. “He was a good judge of what the market needed.”
In January, 1925, Columbia had enough folk material to begin a Columbia 15000-D series, Familiar Tunes – Old and New, paralleling its own 14000-D race offerings. “I created a special series number, as I remember,” said Frank Walker, “at Columbia called the 15000 series, and we would make a record and we would manufacture and release it and offer it quietly by a little letter to our various distributors through the South.”
At this time Okeh, like Paramount, was still releasing country material on pop labels. Hence, Columbia was the first company to see the possibilities in an exclusive white folk series. By October 1925, OKeh followed suit with a similar 45000 Old Time Tunes category.
The record companies hadn’t quite yet settled on the moniker of ‘hillbilly music’ for this new style of music: descriptions included “Old- Time Tunes” (OKeh), “Old Familiar Tunes” (Columbia), “tunes from Dixie” (Brunswick), and “Olde Time Fiddlin’ Tunes from the Sunny South” (Victor).
The term first appeared on an OKeh release from 1925, a recording of a string band from Watauga County, NC, who showed up at the New York recording studio without having decided what to call themselves. When Ralph Peer, who was supervising the sessions, asked for their names, one of the group’s members responded, “We’re nothing but a bunch of hillbillies from North Carolina and Virginia. Call us anything.” So Peer released the sides under the name “the Hill Billies.”
Jack Kapp’s father was a Chicago based salesman for Columbia Records, and young Kapp joined that firm in 1914 as a shipping clerk. He was hired by Brunswick Records (also Chicago) in 1926 to form a race record division, with initial releases on the Vocalion label.
By 1927 Brunswick’s “tunes from Dixie” series featured Vernon Dalhart (he of the 1924 ‘Wreck of the Old 97’ fame), Al Hopkins, Uncle Dave Macon, Dock Boggs, and Buell Kazee. The Vocalion 5000 series featured Uncle Dave Macon, Am Stewart, Sid Harkreader, and Charlie Oaks.
“Kapp’s promotion follows a concrete survey of the country’s musical tastes, particularly in the Southern and Midwestern demands for ‘hill-billy’ and ‘race’ records,” Varietymagazine noted on March 21, 1928. “These two departments have been chiefly developed by Kapp and have contributed to Vocalion’s financial success.
“It was Kapp who taught the mountaineer music dealers to capitalize the hill-billy folks’ penchant for purchasing from 6 to 15 copies of the same record. The mountain people don’t come down into the valley towns for months at a time, and their chief amusement is the constant repetition of their favorite record, wearing one out and playing a new one.”
Johnny Cash called the 1927 Bristol Sessions “the Big Bang of country music.” It’s a great sound bite, but it wildly oversimplifies the truth. Fiddlin’ John Carson, Uncle Dave Macon, Vernon Dalhart, Frank Hutchison, Ernest Stoneman, the Skillet Lickers, Riley Puckett and Charlie Poole were already established recording artists by the summer of 1927.
Victor Talking Pictures and its star producer Ralph Peer had plenty of competitors in the field, and while Peer’s contributions are many, he and Victor were far from being the only show in town.
Recorded music in American life: the phonograph and popular memory, 1890-1945,by William Howland Kenney
Creating country music: fabricating authenticity By Richard A. Peterson
“Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol,” by Archie Green, Journal of American Folklore 78:309 (July- September 1965)
Ralph Peer interview–Lillian Borgeson, 1958. Southern Folklife Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records,” By Sarah Filzen
Wisconsin Magazine of History 82/2 ( Winter 1998-99): 104-127
Brunswick records: a discography of recordings, 1916-1931,by Ross Lairdhttp://www.duggcollins.com/legends.htm
I hope you enjoyed Dave's informative post as much as I did. A couple of things that jumped out at me:
- Amusing how in the beginning, the recording studios had a hard time believing folks would actually like the old time sound and even went so far as to forbid any advertising of the records for fear they would offend the customers of their established artists
- I love what the string band from Watauga NC told Ralph Peer-sounds like something Pap would say about his music
- I liked the reference to mountain people playing their favorite song over and over until they ruined the record-been there done that.
Hope you'll leave a comment with your thoughts on the piece-and I'll make sure Dave Tabler reads them!
p.s. Drop back by tomorrow-its time for Spread the Love.Subscribe for free to Blind Pig & The Acorn by Email