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Tuesday, September 27, 2011


benton flippen of mt airy nc

The August-September issue of Old Time Herald arrived in the mail Saturday. At the mailbox I opened the envelope and pulled it out to see the cover. Steve Terrill, the cover designer, has a good eye for making an excellent cover image. It made my eyes jump. White in the midday sunlight was the first thing, then the lines. Ink drawing of 3 old-time musicians making music. The curving, curling lines in their clothes and faces made the patterns of the music they were making. 3 people sitting still and the rendering of the picture itself so active the picture comes to life on sight. That's what jolted my eyes: the picture was lines dancing all over the paper, the subjects making the music the lines visualize. The image has a living presence about it. I brought it in the house, sat with it a few minutes, flipping through the pages, looking at the pictures and the headlines, looking through the reviews of new projects to see if any from the mountains were among them. None this time. I was getting a feel for the nature of the issue.

This evening I was in good spirit after the day's movie, Harold And Maude, from about 1972. Had seen it twice before. One of my favorite movies. When it was over I didn't feel like getting up and doing something. I was comfortable. Good time to peruse Old-Time Herald. I looked at the article about Earl Murphy pictured on the cover, looked at the pictures, looked at the picture of the fiddler from southern Maine, Uncle Steve Kimball, deep-sunk eyes younger than his white beard. Noted the Bear Family ad for the 5cd set of the Bristol Sessions. What a treasure that must be. I think it's price is a treasure too. It looked like the issue would be a good one to read everything in it. Looking for something to read, my eye fell on the obituary, called Final Notes. Bold print Benton Flippen caught my eye in the middle of the page. I saw Paul Brown had written it, saw it was a page and a half, good. I'd been wanting to see what Paul Brown would write about Benton. He has made music music with Benton Flippen just about every summer since Benton's Camp Creek Boys days. He recorded quite a lot with Benton and made music with him. 

One of the first things I noticed when I heard Paul Brown's banjo on some tracks of Benton Flippen's Old Time/New Times, was he had the mountain sound in his pickin. When Kyle Creed died, banjo of Camp Creek Boys, and Fred Cockerham died, fiddle of Camp Creek Boys, Benton took Cockerham's place and put Paul Brown in Kyle Creed's place. That gave me a measure of Benton Flippen's regard for Paul's picking. If he can fill in for Kyle Creed with Creed's band, these guys respect Paul's picking. Paul has some projects of his own, Red Clay Country, and he plays banjo on fiddler Matt Brown's projects. I wanted to read what Paul Brown had to say of Benton Flippen, knowing Benton and his music as well as Paul does. I started seeing other names in bold print. An old-time fiddler from the eastern part of North Carolina, Smith McInnis. Fiddler Vernon Riddle of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Fiddler Kenny Baker of Gallatin, Tennessee, Bill Monroe's fiddler for 16 years straight and frequently before then. Tom Norman, banjo with Whit Sizemore's band, The Shady Mountain Ramblers, Galax, Virginia. 

These were on the two pages as the magazine lay open. On the previous page was fiddler Charles Summer of Buffalo, South Carolina. Spencer Moore, a guitar picker and singer from SW Virginia, around Chilhowie, Virginia. George "Speedy" Krise, a dobro picker from eastern Virginia, born and grew up in West Virginia. Several really serious musicians. I decided to read all of them, Paul Brown's remembrance first. Paul knew the musician in him best. I wanted to see what Paul had to say. In one of his insights into the man Benton Flippen, he said, "He believed in the obligation to be one's self while living the divine gifts of life." He added, "I don't know where he got that, but he believed in it." It sounds to me like something he got from Primitive Baptist church all his life, the Old Orchard Primitive Baptist Church. It's certainly an illustration of the mountain belief system, that it is an obligation to be yourself. Tenet number one in mountain culture.

Paul wrote of Benton's fiddling, "He made notes the way no one else did. His syncopations were like nothing I'd ever heard. His drive would have sent a frightened mule right through a thicket of hackberries." He gave a brief sketch of Benton's life that showed his character as shy and warm, Paul told about his years working in a sock factory, winning fiddlers conventions in the summers on weekends. Paul gave his kitchen the night of a jam at his house, Paul's house, where Benton spoke the sentences I found at the end of the album liner notes with the album, Old Time/New Times. I'd copied it into the computer, gave it a bigger font, cut it out and put it on the bulletin board at the store among other quotations. He said, "No point to sound just like the other man. Don't even try, 'cause you can't. You've got to sound like yourself, have your own style. That's the way it's supposed to be. Like the old feller said, It's all creamed taters, just fixed a little different." Paul wrote a beautiful memory of his friend.



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