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Saturday, March 20, 2010


first applications of color

This afternoon I was looking for my Stanley Powerlock 12' measuring tape in the desk drawer. That's where I keep it. It wasn't there. I opened the drawer all the way. It still wasn't there. Then I realized it was on the table beside the reading chair. I spotted a a little blue 4"x 6" spiral notebook. It seemed like it had a light on it. When the computer crashed last year I lost my notes on Howard Joines from a phone conversation with his son Richard. I wrote down everything he said like taking notes in class, fast as I could go. I copied it into the computer and put the notebook in a safe place. The same as putting it in a black hole, which is what I've found safe places to be, and still use them. Like, duh. I'd looked everyplace I could think to look and places I wouldn't think to look, the same as lost. I didn't give up all the way. I don't often go to prayer for such as a lost notebook, but this was more than that. The notebook had a brief of a man's life in it. I felt like that made it ok for prayer. That was just a few days ago. When I saw that blue, I thought, if I'm not wrong, I wrote it on several pages in a small notebook. A little bit of memory coming in. It could be false memory too, so I didn't get excited. I opened it and there it was. Phew. Thank you.

I've read them over and thought I'd tell you about his life as told to me by his son Richard 3 years ago. Tomorrow I'll enter the notes on a website Lucas Pasley put up for information about different Alleghany musicians. I like Richard's description of how Howard played. It's a good example of musician language that says specifically what they mean, though to a nonmusician sounds like mush. Richard said, "He bears down on it, gets it out of it, doesn't just tickle it." To any mountain musician, that is perfectly clear. He bears down on it, obvious, lays it to it with the bow, digs into the strings. Gets it (music) out of it (the fiddle). He doesn't just tickle it (the fiddle). His bow doesn't just glide over the strings. He bears down on it. Gets him a full bodied sound out of the fiddle.

Of the very few tunes I've heard him play, maybe 5, every time I hear him play Cacklin Hen I can see the chickens scratching around, making their chicken sounds. Then there's the cacklin hen. Howard gets the chicken notes in that song like there's a chicken in the fiddle and he found it. I've noticed that the old timers who lived with chickens all their lives always get those chicken notes in Cacklin Hen, Cluck Ol Hen and Chicken Reel to sound just like a chicken. Fred McBride never came close to the chicken note and neither does Lucas Pasley. Neither does anyone else who didn't have chickens. I am only aware of it because I grew up with chickens, and had chickens here the first 10 years, until rambling dogs, one thing and another made it impractical. I especially like Howard's playing of Cacklin Hen because I can see chickens when he's playing it. They're everywhere.

Richard said Howard could hear a tune played once or twice and have it. Howard's mother said when he was 6 or 7 he started playing tunes on a tin fiddle. She said he'd stand behind a door playing for people when he was a kid. He bought his first fiddle for $50 from a Montgomery Ward catalog when he was 18. He was born in 1908, so that would make it 1926. Fred Roupe liked it the best of any fiddle he ever played. Richard said the last fiddle Howard bought he found in a flea market in Florida. He paid 10 or 15 dollars for it, put strings and a bridge on it and got it going.

Howard held Kenny Baker as the best fiddler he ever heard. Richard said he liked to play Kenny Baker tunes with Fred Roupe and Jr Maxwell, both bluegrass banjo pickers, both really good. All three of them had a lot of blue ribbons from fiddlers conventions. Jr and Howard made much music together through their lives, Howard Jr's uncle. But Howard played old-time and Jr played bluegrass, so they didn't make as much music together as they would have if they'd both played bluegrass or both old-time. Jr could play old-time, knew the tunes, but found it boring next to bluegrass. He played banjo when young, old-time. Then came a time when he quit playing because it was too boresome. Then bluegrass came on in the early 40s and he picked up the banjo again to learn bluegrass and loved it.

Howard's mother and dad were Lillie Holbrook and Beeler Joines. Richard said the music in the family came through the Holbrooks. I think he said Lillie played spoons. Beeler taught school at Pine Swamp, had a store and operated the Post Office for Pine Swamp. I believe Richard said Pine Swamp was then Brooks, NC. Lillie's sister Maggie played an organ like Heywood Blevins played piano, by ear, and played every note together with Howard on fiddle. Aunt Maggie sang Old Time Molly Hare every time they visited. About all the boys played an instrument. Mama said Howard was the most talented of the boys.

If I got it right, I think the last band Howard played with had Richard Nichols playing bass, Jack Handy, guitar and vocals, Kyle Dean Smith on banjo, Richard Joines, mandolin, and Howard fiddle. If these names have no meaning for you, I can give you a hint: they're all master musicians that don't stop short of making music. Ed Atwood, who lived at the bottom of the mountain in Whitehead, grew up in sight of Jr's farm, played banjo with Howard for many a year. They played a lot of dances. Clifton Evans played guitar with them. I used to know Ed. He smoked Camels by the carton. And he could pick the fire out of a banjo. I didn't know Ed picked for a long time. I was invited to a neighbor's house for some music and it was my first up close old-time music, Fred McBride, fiddle, Faye Brooks Wagoner, guitar, George Eller, banjo, and there was Ed Atwood clucking that clawhammer like nobody's business. And Faye, I didn't know she picked until that night and could sing so well.

Tom Pruitt knew Howard Joines. They both had fox dogs and foxhunted together. To both of them, the chorus of the dogs' voices was music. If I'd lived in that time, I'd have had fox dogs. I can hear that music in a dog's voice. I know what they're talking about, that appreciation of the music, but I've never had anything near the foxhunting experience as done in these mountains, or at all. Catching the fox was not the goal. If you catch it, then you can't run it again. The goal was to listen to the dogs run all night long. I expect every man brought his own fruit jar. You drink all night (if you're a drinker), listen to the dogs, talk with friends all night, listen to the dogs. Tom had mentioned Howard Joines to me over the years, a fiddler hard to beat, foxhunting friend, a good man. A Pine Swamp Joines.

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