These 28 fiddle performances by 22 fiddlers have been selected because they remain fresh and exciting even after listening to the tune multiple times. Achieving this status requires the combination of an imaginative and talented fiddler in addition to a great tune. Both elements are here in abundance. 23 tracks from County Records’ vaults were recorded between 1965 and 1971. The remaining five from Old Blue Records’ vaults were recorded between 2010 – 2012, almost two generations later than the County recordings. Only 6 of the 28 tracks every made it to yinyl!
TRACK LISTING-- ARTISTS -- INSTRUMENT
1 Richmond Otis Burris -f; James Lindsay-m; Eldridge Montgomery-g; Charles Hawks-fb; Therman Pugh-sb
2 Smoky Mountain Rag Billy Hurt, Jr. - f; Jeremy Stephens - g
3 Old Cow Crossing the Road Kirk Sutphin - f; Betty Vornbrock - f; Billy Cornette - g
4 Leatherbritches Kenny Baker/Joe Greene -fs; Bill Grimes-fb; Warren Brown-g; Ray Hoskins -sb
5 Big-Eyed Rabbitt Tommy Jarrell - f; , Oscar Jenkins - fb
6 Sally Johnson Cyril Stinnett - f; Lena Hughes - fb; Jake Hughes - g
7 Limerock Norman Solomon, Vernon Solomon, Benny Thomasson
8 Benton's Dream Benton Flippen - f; Paul Sutphin - g; Gilmer Woodruff - cb; Hoyal Jones - m
9 Benton's Dream Andy Edmonds - f; Kevin Fore - cb
10 Polly Put the Kettle On Fred Cockerham - f, Osc ar Jenkins - b; Shag Stanley = g
11 Bill Cheatum Gray Graig - f; Kenny Rorrer - fb; Doug Rorrer - g
12 Callahan Hiram Stamper - f
13 Grandfather's Reel Riendeau Family
14 Whistlin' Rufus Melvin Wine- f
15 Arkansas Traveler Major Franklin - f; Mike Solomon - g; Betty Solomon - p
16 Blue Eagle Orville Burns-f; Ollie Miller-g
17 Sixteen Days in Georgia Billy Hurt, Jr. - f; Jeremy Stephens - g
18 Pigeon on the Gate Post Riendeau Family
19 Cacklin' Hen Wade Ward - f, E. C. Ball- g;
20 Sugar in the Gourd Esker Hutchins - f; Shag Stanley - g
21 Pretty Little Girl Andy Edmonds - f; Kevin Fore - cb
22 Jack Danielson Reel Cyril Stinnet - f; Lena Hughes - fb
23 Hop Light Ladies Gray Graig - f; Kenny Rorrer - fb; Doug Rorrer - g
24 Walk, Chalk Chicken Melvin Wine-f
25 New Orleans Hiram Stamper - f
26 Hot Springs Orville Burns-f; Ollie Miller-g
27 Sail Away Ladies Otis Burris -f; James Lindsay-m; Eldridge Montgomery-g; Charles Hawks-fb; Therman Pugh-sb
28 Bucking Mule Steve Ledford-f; Wayne Ledford-g; James Gardner-g
A key attribute of fiddle music is that it is traditionally passed down by ear from one generation to the next. For the older musicians like Benny Thomasson, Benton Flippen and Cyril Stinnett, who pre-date recorded music, listening to fiddlers – fiddle-to-fiddle, so to speak – was the only way they had to hear tunes. These exchanges occurred at dances, fiddle contests, or simply when neighbors and friends (in the case of Tommy Jarrell), got together. The advent of 78rpm records in the early 1920s offered new sources for fiddlers eager to learn new tunes. In addition to records, fiddle music could be heard on an increasing number of small radio stations, as they used local musicians to fill their broadcasting hours. (Even today, station WPAQ in Mt. Airy, NC devotes airtime to both live and recorded fiddle music.) The advent of the automobile extended the traveling range of many fiddlers, which began to blend regional influences.
Fiddle contests were– and still remain – a big magnet for fiddlers. Fred Cockerham loved to tell the story about the time when he almost beat Arthur Smith in a contest. Cyril Stinnett talks about the time he got hooked up with some musicians who were in tune with themselves but not with Cyril, so he simply slid his right hand up the neck of his instrument (he was a left-handed fiddler), and played the tunes without any open strings.
In the 1950s and 1960s, tape recordings (and a generation later, digital recordings) created new ways for fiddlers to pick up new tunes and to listen to old ones. By the 1950s, anybody could mail a tape of a fiddle contest across the country to a friend. Indeed, by the mid-1960s at the Galax fiddle contest, so many people had put microphones on stage to record the contest, it was hard to see the competitors. Finally, the Internet has made fiddle music more accessible than ever, providing a valuable resource for fiddlers all over the world. However and happily, the old fiddle-to-fiddle tradition is still practiced widely at fiddle contests, in living rooms and on back porches.
The array of fiddlers featured here have been selected because of their different approaches to the music. Each fiddler imbued the music with his or her own unique style. Each of the renditions of the Texas classic Lime Rock by Norman Solomon, Vernon Solomon, and Benny Thomasson (played on stage at the 1965 Gilmer Texas fiddle contest while the judges were conferring to determine the four semi-finalists), is easily distinguished from the others. But there is no question that each is playing Lime Rock. And, neither Benny (CO-CD-2737) nor Norman (OB-701) played it exactly the same later that day when, in the finals, the judges picked Lime Rock as one of the two tunes they had to play for the blue ribbon.
Similarly, Esker Hutchins’ Sugar in the Gourd is very different from John Ashby’s version played on Down on Ashby’s Farm (CO-745). Furthermore, fiddlers frequently create variations within a tune on-the-fly while playing it and often don’t play it the same way twice. Many traditional tunes are played in two parts (often referred to as the A part and the B part), each part typically being played twice. In his version of Sugar in the Gourd (a two part tune), Esker, a fiddler from Mt. Airy, NC, always played the A part twice through, but plays the B part sometimes twice, other times three times. In Polly Put The Kettle On, Fred Cockerham not only changes the number of times he plays the B part, but also changes the way he plays the melody.
The regions where fiddlers live greatly influences the way that they play. This was especially true of the 1965-1971 recordings; those fiddlers came from seven distinct areas. Greater Galax (northwest North Carolina and southwest Virginia) - Burris, Cockerham, Craig, Flippen, Greene, Hutchins, Hurt, Jarrell, Ward; Kentucky - Baker, Stamper; New Hampshire (French Canada) - Riendeau Family; Missouri - Stinnett; Southwest North Carolina – Ledford; Texas - Burns, Franklin, N. Solomon, V. Solomon, Thomasson) and West Virginia – Wine. These fiddlers learned a large percentage of their repertoire from neighbors.
Now that transportation and communication advances have spread what were once regional styles to every corner of the earth, the differences focus more on more style than location: some people prefer the Texas style of fiddling, others the Appalachian style, still others Cajun or French Canadian – and these styles are embraced far beyond their geographical sources. The music of the fiddlers recorded since 2010 - Edmonds, Hurt, Sutphin and Vornbrock (and all are from the greater Galax area) – reflect these changes.
The accompanists are an integral part of a region’s fiddle music. Because of the popularity of Western Swing music, the back-up instruments often include piano, multiple guitars (including a ‘sock’ guitar), tenor banjo, and stand-up bass. Orville’s emphatic bowing was well matched by his equally emphatic guitarist. The Riendeau Family used guitar(s), piano and foot percussion. (“Unfortunately, because of rugs, we were unable to record the foot tempo, but, if you listened to the piano playing you can hear a close counterpart .”– Rich Nevins’ liner notes to The Riendeau Family (CO-725). Lena Hughes, Cyril’s accompanist, was a traditionalist and backed him up with a five string banjo played in her parlor guitar style. Steve Ledford’s back-up was straight-forward south-eastern style – bass runs and solid chords – and considering that much of his fiddling was on stage (he traveled with JE Mainer), also included chit-chat from the band.
There is no doubt that the fiddlers from the greater Galax area have employed ,or employ, a wide variety of back-up instruments. Grey Craig with brothers Kenny and Doug Rorrer on finger banjo and bass-running guitar. Otis Burris, Kenny Baker and Joe Greene were backed up by solid bluegrass musicians. Billy Hurt is accompanied by Jeremy Stevens providing lots of notes in just the right places. Andy Edmonds plays with Kevin Fore on clawhammer banjo – a nice contrast to Tommy Jarrell backing by Oscar Jenkins’s distinctive finger style on a five-string banjo (with the fifth string removed!). E. C. Ball’s subtle guitar slides emulate a chicken’s squawk. Hiram Stamper fiddled by himself, even when he put his bow down and played a tune clawhammer style. About half of Melvin Wine’s tunes (of the 21 tunes recorded in 1971) were accompanied by a long-time friend on guitar; the other half unaccompanied