cosmic chagall #5
This morning's radio show was a fiddle and banjo fest of 4 of the great old-time fiddlers. Started with 6 tunes by Benton Flippen with Paul Brown playing banjo from the 1984 at WPAQ fairly recent release. Flippen has a beautiful lyrical style with his bow and on this album he cuts loose. The band, the Smokey Valley Boys, has been the name of the band Benton plays with no matter who is playing, like Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys. It's a long list of bluegrass musicians who have been Clinch Mountain Boys. Like the number that have been Blue Grass Boys with Bill Monroe. Benton Flippen worked in a sock factory in MtAiry to retirement.
Four by Norman Edmonds of Hillsville, Virginia, area. Norman's grandson, Jimmy Edmonds is the outstanding fiddler of the region now.
Norman's boy, Jimmy's dad, was a fiddler too. Jimmy's sister, the late Barbara Poole played bass with Larry Sigmon such that they were inseparable until she died. Norman Edmonds had a style all his own that seems to me can be called sawing in the way he bears down on the bow for emphasis, or drags it a certain way to get that sound he wants. It's a raw kind of fiddling. One of my faithful listeners loves Norman Edmonds' playing of Train On An Island, so I started with that. First time I heard it I wondered why it had that name. By the end, I came to believe it's because it sounds like a train going in big circles. Steady wheels on the track rhythm and the same theme with slight variations all the way through, a circular repetition. It actually makes me think of Philip Glass.
Then the Farm Bureau commercial and the weather report today thru Wednesday. I put on a new Tommy Jarrell release with Field Recorders label. Tommy's fiddle is accompanied by Paul Brown of NPR on banjo and Mike Seeger on guitar. Another 1984 recording. More excellent music by master musicians. Started this set with Train On An Island to hear Jarrell's take on it. It wasn't much different from Edmonds but for Tommy's freer bow. You might say Edmonds' playing is tight and Jarrell's is loose by comparison. Next was Groundhog, Tommy singing it. At the start, it seemed like the 3 musicians were each playing something different. They sounded like they kept trying to get together and couldn't make it, so Tommy stepped in and started singing the song. Then they all came together behind his singing. I'm not certain this is what happened, but that's how it sounded in my ear.
To finish the hour I played 3 tunes by Pop (Joe) Birchfield with the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. They're out of NE Tennessee close to the border with Ashe County. The Hilltoppers are a band with drive. As soon as they start, the drive is on. They played Brown's Dream and Cumberland Gap, the latter a different way from what's played around here. I closed the hour with Pop Birchfield playing solo Old Time Sally Ann. That one ended the hour perfectly. A good hour of fiddle playing as good as it gets.
Joe Birchfield has a good raw sound. Like the old feller said, they aint a note in that fiddle he aint found.
And then it's over. My most fun hour of the week has come to an end. You see, I crank the sound way up like it's Eric Clapton I'm listening to with Steve Winwood back in the day, as they say, hearing it all, not missing anything, feeling it, wanting every tune to be just right to give my listeners an hour of music this good from right here at home. I'd venture that most of my listeners grew up listening to this music; grandpa played a fiddle, another grandpa played a banjo. It's this way everywhere around here.
This music is these mountains in the same way Ralph Stanley is these mountains. The music carries in it the spirit of these mountains. In the music is where the spirit of these mountains lives now. The culture has gone away, but the spirit of it goes on living. Now the music has spread all over the country. It was a trend a few years ago for electric punk bands to go acoustic and start playing old time music mountain style in California, Boston, New York and all around the country.
Old-time drive is the same as punk drive. It's all out. In both old-time and punk no one instrument stands out from the others; they all play together. Rock came out of country and blues, both of which came out of old-time. When the guitar heroes of the 60s, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richard, were out there on their own good as it gets, how can the next generation of teenagers learning guitar in their suburban bedrooms with headphones get good enough to be noticed in the wake of their massive artistry? Punk happened in 1975, going back to basics of 50s r&r. No big, awesome solos. They didn't know it, but they went all the way back to old-time and started over at the beginning, electric.
Punk got the press of being angry youth, but it was art school students where punk started happening. Joe Strummer, Paul Simenon and Mick Jones of The Clash met in London art school. Patti Smith was an artist. Siouxsie Sioux was in art school. Lou Reed and John Cale of Velvet Underground were artists. That explains the wild outfits better than anger. Anger isn't that creative. Anger got expressed in a wing of punk called Hard Core, which amounts to the noise of rage testosterone style.
I tend to hear all the music the same. All of it came out of old-time. Until recording came along and variations began emerging into pop music, country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, r&b, r&r, rock, and whatever's next, it was called music. I hear bluegrass is jazz using old-time tunes for the standards like jazz uses Broadway tunes for the standards. Looking in a new biography of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, I saw where somewhere somebody asked him in a public setting about the music issue of the day, what he made of the classical music / jazz divide. Monk's answer, "Two is one." That's how I tend to see the bluegrass / country / rock divide. Three is one. One is music.