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Saturday, August 29, 2009

FIELD RECORDERS

tommy jarrell & fred cockerham

Today the mailman brought a little box I've been anxious for. It was the 2009 collection of CDs from Field Recorders Collective. 13 CDs are in the collection. Every one is a gem. I've put in the jukebox v1 of 2 with Tommy Jarrell playing fiddle, Paul Brown banjo, Mike Seeger guitar. It's Tommy playing not many months before he died, meaning he is way up in years. His fiddle and his voice are weaker than earlier recordings. That is not criticism. It means he has a slightly different sound in fiddle and voice. The fiddle has a lacelike quality about it. It's subtle and complex, the master's touch every draw of the bow. His playing has the ultimate maturity about it, up in his 80s playing effortlessly.



The recording was made in 1984. It was American Music & Dance Week at Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts. They had a small house for Tommy to stay in. Tommy did his fiddle instruction from the porch of the house. Jerry Epstein recorded the concert of Tommy with Paul Brown's banjo and Mike Seeger's guitar. Paul Brown's banjo sounds as good with Tommy as Fred Cockerham's does, but different, of course, his own style. Good banjo picker. I wrote y'all about an album made by Paul Brown and Mike Seeger a month or 2 back in their Rounder album from early 1990s.



This series of field recordings from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s has been made available 10 to a dozen released every year since 2004. This is 5 years now and about 60 CDs of old-time music in these mountains. Especially in the 60s and 70s music folklorists were driving around in these mountains finding people like Bertie Dickens of Alleghany, Dan Tate from Fancy Gap, Albert Hash from Whitetop, Fred Cockerham from Low Gap, Benton Flippen from MtAiry, Esker Hutchins of Dobson, Sidna and Fulton Myers of Laurel Fork, Charlie Higgins, Wade Ward, Dale Poe of Independence area, Joe and Creed Birchfield of Roan Mountain TN. Fiddlers and banjo pickers from all over the Central Blue Ridge. One of the CDs in this year's collection is Union Grove 1969. Another is Dock Boggs of Norton VA,recorded in 1966 at a concert at ASU in Boone.



Much of the very best music in my house is in this collection from the beginning. It's as great a resource for the radio show as can be. This collection has been played to Alleghany County from WCOK over these years. 2 more CDs available of Tommy Jarrell, who has quite a number of them already. He is the master fiddler of master fiddlers. Several videos are available of Tommy playing and a documentary film about him, Sprout Wings And Fly. It's beautiful from start to finish. Art Wooten plays Sally Goodin at the end in the parking lot of Galax Fiddler's Convention, Tim Smith beside him playing; behind him watching were Whit Sizemore and Tom Norman, fiddle and banjo of Shady Mountain Ramblers.



I see this collection as the result of the hippie invasion of the mountains in the late 60s and 70s. Many of them came to learn mountain music at the source and went on to wherever they lived taking mountain music with them. An awful lot of folklorists went over these mountains recording musicians. These CDs from Field Recorders Collective are the harvest of seeds planted in that time. Kilby Spencer, son of Whitetop Mountain Band, gathered the various recordings of Albert Hash, original fiddler of Whitetop Mountain Band. Kilby has been recording musicians around in our area for some years now. Fiddler Raymond Gentry from TrapHill is one.
http://www.fieldrecorder.com is the website. One of the folklorist musicians of that time was Ray Alden, who is the one collecting all the field recordings for these CDs. You can be sure it isn't because he's making a fortune on it. I hope he is better than breaking even. Surely must be. He's doing us all a favor making this music available. The years when these recordings were made was in the period when the older generation was the last generation of mountain musicians who matured before electricity changed everything. These musicians like Tommy Jarrell carry in them the tradition that went before, the only access we have to what the music was like in the last few centuries in these hills.
Here comes granddad poppin his cane
I swear he ate that groundhog's brain
The first LP I bought of mountain music back when I was new here was of Tommy Jarrell with Oscar Jenkins and Fred Cockerham playing banjos. Now it's available on CD. Good selection. It perked up my ears. And they aint been the same since.




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