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At first glance, the cover photo may look like an RV convention. But die-hard Old-Time and Bluegrass fans know that every year in early August, the nooks and crannies of this crowded field are a hotbed of the best traditional music you'll ever hope to hear. Though many inspirational performances occur on the stage of the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia, some of the finest musical gems can be heard behind the stage, in this maze of RVs, cars and tarps. This CD captures some of those magical performances played in 1967 and 2010. As you listen, you'll notice that the quality, talent and musicianship have remained consistently high throughout this 43-year span.
All the tracks were recorded not on stage, but behind the stage. In ’67, the concrete stands had not yet been built. The wooden bleachers had chicken wire covering the front to keep fouls balls from hitting the spectators. The eight ’67 recordings were made in the sandy infield area just behind the tent. Charlie Faurot, who was making the recordings with Rich Nevins, remembers the crowd pressing in to hear the music so much so that they rubbed up against the reels causing them to turn erratically. “We started recording Oscar Jenkins and Leake Caudle. After chit-chat and a bunch of tunes, John Ashby walked up and played some tunes with Oscar. John’s guitar player joined in and, a tune or two later, so did John’s banjo player.”
From its first contest, April 12,1935, the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention has always had outstanding fiddlers. That fateful day in 1935 featured the Bogtrotters’ fiddlers Crockett Ward and Uncle Alex Dunford. At the October, 1935 convention, Frank Jenkins and Fred Cockerham went home with prizes. The sixteen fiddlers here continue that tradition. Collectively, either individually or as part of a band, they have received over 65 ribbons at Galax!
Oscar Jenkins’s history with Galax goes way back to when he played in his father’s band that took first place in the second 1935 contest. Oscar’s second ribbon came in 1945 when he placed second in the banjo contest. That same year, Leake Caudle’s band took second place. Rich Nevins and I recorded the two of them out behind the tent in 1967: Oscar fiddling on Girl of My Dream, Take Me Back to Tulsa and Western Country; Leake – Leake Caudle’s Tune and Birdie. John Ashby joined the crowd and soon he and Oscar played Sally in the Garden together, just fiddle and banjo. John’s guitar player showed up – “Durham’s Reel. John’s banjo player took over Oscar’s spot for Wake Up Susan.
This ebb and flow of musicians among friends at fiddle contests is one of their main draws. Most of the 40,000 people at the 2010 convention spent more time wandering around behind the stage than in the stands. Two tracks were recorded at the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters’ campsite - the back of a pick-up - with Eddie Bond on fiddle playing Western Country and Kirk Sutphin, sitting on the tailgate, playing Oscar Jenkins’s style banjo, nicely counterpointing Josh Ellis’s clawhammer banjo. Eddie was also the fiddler on Breaking Up Christmas. When Eddie had to go home to get some sleep before getting up for work, Kirk filled in for him. The result - Belle of Lexington: same Bogtrotters, different fiddler, different sound, but still really great music! Dennis Hall, the leader of the band, is a grandson of Uncle Alex Dunford. The Bogtrotters’ fourth song, Reuben, was recorded at a tent set up by Kevin and Trish Fore’s camper.
Galax’s “grandfather” roots are another reason it has grown over the years. Many of the musicians here are third generation, or learned first hand from these grandfathers. T. J. Lundy comes from a legendary Galax family that goes back to his grandfather, Emmett Lundy (1920s-1940s). T. J.’s father, Ted Lundy, took eight 1st places in the banjo and band categories from ’61 to’71’ . Joey Burris and his brother, James, who started Southern Pride, are the grandsons of the legendary Otis Burris. From 1955 – 1970, Otis’s fiddling won him five 1st places, three 2nd places and one 3rd; however, his first ever 1st place was in was in flat foot dancing in 1940. Although not two generations away, Kilby Spencer's primary influences on his fiddling were his father, Thornton Spencer, and his uncle, Albert Hash. Their playing inspired Kilby and his future wife and a close friend to track down recordings of older musicians. Andy Edmonds grew up in Pilot Mountain, NC, in a “family of guitar pickers and banjo knockers”. He also learned a lot from Benton Flippen, one of the legendary Mt. Airy, NC fiddlers.
Some of those grandfathers are still playing. Buddy Pendleton has a long history of prizes at Galax (1st in 1971) and Union Grove. Left-handed fiddler Bill Birchfield and his band, the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, have taken home prize money in four of the last five years; Bill himself has placed in the Old-Time Fiddle Contest.
Billy Hurt, Jr. has heard numerous great fiddlers, some in person, and lots on recordings: Tommy Jackson, Kenny Baker, Arthur Smith, Howdy Forrester and Scotty Stoneman and, possibly more than the others, the legendary Clark Kessinger. He met Clark when he was a toddler, found out they were born on the same day, and still has the toy car Clark gave him. It is not a surprise that his four tracks are Kessinger tunes.
One of the attractions of a great fiddle contest venue like Galax for both the musicians and spectators is that the fiddlers like Adrian Shepherd-Powell can come and hook up with other musicians off-stage. Trish Fore met Adrian five years ago at the Mt. Airy Fiddle Contest and has jammed with him at the local fiddle contests since then. This past year he was her band’s on-stage fiddler for the first time. The Blue Ridge Mountain Ramblers took 2nd place!
In the late 1960s, Jerry Corell was living in the Wilmington, DE area and started fiddling there. One fiddler from whom he learned was Jerry Lundy who was playing in his cousin Ted Lundy’s band. However, although he moved down to Elk Creek, VA in 1974, he has not restricted his sources to the greater Galax area. LPs, CDs and tapes supplemented visits with old-timers like Kyle Creed and also current musicians. Brick Yard Joe came from an old Doc Roberts 78; Parker Brown from a composition by a friend, Brian Duffy.
Originally from Iowa, Betty Vornbrock settled West Virginia in the early '70's, and migrated to Austin, Texas by the '80s. She moved to Hillsville, VA in ’87. Much of her extensive repertoire comes first hand from J. P. Fraley, Melvin Wine and Clyde Davenport. Recorded sources were just as important: Piney Woods Gal came from Emmett Lundy; Pat Him on the Back, from Snake Chapman.
August 2010 was the first time that Corrina Logston, a young fiddler from southwestern Illinois, competed at Galax…and took home the eight-place ribbon.
Her musical background is heaviest in traditional bluegrass; her fiddling most influenced by the likes of Jimmy Buchanan, Tater Tate, and Mack Magaha.”
Her Rachael is based on Jerry Lundy’s version which appears on the Ted Lundy and the Southern Mountain Boys’ 1972 LP (recorded by Charlie Faurot) and the version that T. J. Lundy played off-stage at Galax this year, as well as “a few of Pete McMahan’s [a Missouri fiddler] variations.”
OLD BLUE-708 RECORDINGS FROM GALAX OLD FIDDLERS CONVENTIONS 1967 & 2010
This is an unusual but very interesting & worthwhile record, produced by Charlie Faurot, who was responsible for his early recording of such legends as KYLE CREED, WADE WARD, TOMMY JARRELL and many others back in the 1960s. There are 34 tracks on this attractively packaged album, eight of them dating from 1967 and featuring Oscar Jenkins, Leake Caudle, and the fine fiddler John Ashby. The newer cuts are quite strong, and include tunes by Kirk Sutphin, T.J. Lundy, Grayson County Daredevils, Betty Vornbrock and Buddy Pendleton among others. There’s plenty of good old time music here, typical of what a visitor to Galax’ Old Time Fiddler’s Convention any year might hear on stage and in jam sessions around Felt’s Park.
Dave Freeman County Sales News Letter #316