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Sunday, May 2, 2010


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Three years ago Richard Joines told me an awful lot about his fiddler dad, Howard Joines of Pine Swamp. I made notes as fast as I could scribble. That's one thing school is good for is learning how to make notes as fast as you can go while the professor talks. Richard talked and I wrote. I didn't get every word by any means. It's more like a long list of notes than something you just read through in story form. Yet all the notes together tell the story. I was aiming to write out my notes and email them to Lucas Pasley for the website of Alleghany musicians. I had this information in the computer and the computer crashed and I lost it. Then I didn't remember where I'd put the notebook I wrote in talking with Richard. I found it in the desk drawer recently, in the back, a "safe place." I've lost more things in safe places than anyplace else. Found, I decided to put the information here and then on the Alleghany site. I'm putting it here because it's interesting. Maybe 3 more people will see it here that might miss it on the website. Howard was a good fiddler and a good man.
Richard said of Howard's fiddling style, "he bears down on it, gets it out of it, doesn't just tickle it." He said Tal Holbrook, fiddler down the mountain at Roaring River has a style similar to Howard's. He said Howard and Art Wooten made a lot of music together when they were young. It would have been old-time as bluegrass was yet to happen. They were about the same age. Howard played at VFW dances with guitar picker Roy Martin, also guitar picker and singer, Clifton Evans. Ed Atwood played banjo in Howard's band. Ed lived in Whitehead on Air Bellows Gap Road, a white house across the road from the Peaceful Valley Trout Pond. Ed grew up on the farm there on that side of the road. And Kyle Smith played banjo with Howard a good bit. Kyle was killed when his dozer slipped off the truck bed and landed on him.
Jr Maxwell played banjo with Howard when he was younger. Howard was his uncle. Richard, Jr's cousin, played guitar with them. They played together for dances at Laurel Springs. Howard played old-time and Jr took up bluegrass. Jr could play old-time, but it bored him. Howard played bluegrass too. Jr liked him an awful lot and had nothing but praise for Howard's fiddle. When I was first here, Tom Pruitt told me about the fiddler Howard Joines in Pine Swamp. Tom and Howard fox hunted together in their fox hunting years. I believe they went to the same church too and were close to the same age. I knew of Howard the whole time I've been here, but never met him. Richard said Howard could hear a tune played once or twice and have it.
Richard's grandmother, Howard's mother, Lillie Holbrook Joines, wife of Beler, said when Howard was 6 or 7 he started playing fiddle tunes on a tin fiddle. When people came to the house and he was asked to play for company, he would play standing behind a door. When Howard was 18 he bought a fiddle from the Montgomery Ward catalog. That would have been 1926 when his older sister Loretta's boy, Wiley Jr, was 4. Fred Roupe liked this fiddle Howard bought from Montgomery Ward the best of any fiddle he ever played. Richard said the fiddle was a copy of fiddles made by a violin maker named Nicholas Amada, German. I'm not sure about the spelling. He is said to have worked as an apprentice with Stradivarius. It cost $50, which he worked for at 25c an hour helping build Roaring Gap. Richard said, "It was a big price then, a premier fiddle for the time." Howard's last fiddle he found in a flea market in Florida. He bought it for $10 or $15. He said Howard would find old fiddles in flea markets, put strings and bridges on them and get them going.
Richard said of Howard's playing of Sally Gooden, "He played it as good as anybody I ever heard play it." I believe I know what Richard means. First, he wasn't bragging or being partial. He was telling it like it is. He's heard many a Sally Goodin played at fiddlers conventions and around. He paid attention to about every one he heard, the better ones. Richard has heard an awful lot of fiddlers take on Sally Goodin. He knows the tune, knows how it's played. He said Howard liked Kenny Baker as the best fiddler he ever heard. Especially liked Baker's Big Sandy. Howard liked to play Kenny Baker tunes with Fred Roupe, bluegrass banjo, and Jr Maxwell, bluegrass banjo. Haywood Blevins, old-time piano player from Ennice, made music with Howard quite a bit. A field recorders collective album has some tunes by Howard and Haywood playing together. It can be found at It's in the 2007 collection. I don't recall the title of the particular album, and I gave my copy to the Alleghany library. If you want to hear Howard, the library has some of his music. The library has a collection of music from this region, the Central Blue Ridge, that is remarkable.
Richard said Howard's mother's side of the family, Holbrook, is where the music came from. I believe he said Howard's mother played spoons. Beler, Howard's daddy, taught school in Pine Swamp when it was Brooks NC. He later had a store and the post office. Richard said of Howard, "He was easy going, always wanted to be a friend to everybody." His nephew Jr Maxwell was the same. Richard said of Howard's playing, "He kept the bow going--didn't take short strokes. Most of his playing and timing was done with the bow." He said Howard raised honeybees as long as Richard remembers. I'd say he always had chickens too. When he plays the chicken songs, Cluck Old Hen and Chicken Reel, I can see the chickens. He hits those chicken notes just right.
Alan Mastin, bass player with Big Country Bluegrass from the beginning 22 years ago, was killed last night in a car wreck on the way home to Elk Creek from a show at Rocky Mount, Virginia.

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