howard joines, fiddler of pine swamp, chicken reel
Here is the photograph of what I wrote about yesterday, Howard Joines. Last night it was too dark to go outside and hang it on the side of the house. I have a good light inside, but it makes glare, lotsa glare. Took this picture in the gloaming, after sunset, before dark, no glare. It worked out all right, a bit dull in the colors, but you get the drift. It reproduces the image. All that's left to do is put the strings on the fiddle, which comes after everything is dry. I lay a yardstick on it and draw the line with a colored pencil. It works really well. Also, I suggest them. I'm drawn to do both on this one. My preference is to suggest. I'm not using assists for the painting, though for an instruments strings I'm ok with a yardstick and pencil. But for painting straight lines, I don't use a stick to rest my hand on to still the jitters of having a nervous system. I let my inaccuracies have their say too. If I can't paint a straight line, an almost straight line will have to do.
I'm happy with the fiddle. It was as exacting as the face. I wanted the face to be one his relatives would recognize on sight. I want the fiddle to be the same way. Not exactly like his fiddle, but have the look of being a particular fiddle, not painted with measured exactness, a little bit off in this curve, a little off in that curve, nothing exact, esp perspective, but it's close enough that from the distance of 3 feet or more it looks like it's approaching photographic realism, but up close, all that just goes away. Loose lines, fuzzy edges. Looking at it from a distance I see a study in triangles. His shirt is loaded with triangle lines, the fiddle and the bow make a triangle, the roost the hen is on suggests a triangle, the window is a triangle. A triangle of negative space between his arm bent at the elbow holding the bow, and the side of his shirt. Inaccuracies seem to me to dance before the eye. I like the dance they do with the viewer's eye. It seems to my eye, a little bit offness all around ads a little life, like a subtle movement. I don't think I'm saying this as a justification, but may be. Either way is ok.
I didn't realize when I started painting mountain fiddlers how satisfying it would be, and how necessary it would become. By now it feels like I'm making icons of the people who carry the spirit of mountain culture. The religion doesn't work any more, and the spirit of the culture is weak. The music is the living spirit of mountain culture. It's very much alive. Howard was one of the carriers of the fire. One of the great ones. We don't have much of his music recorded. What I have in my collection I treasure. I would do well to put all my treasures such as field recordings, videos, cds, tapes, in a box for the library. Since the radio show is no more, I have a good collection of regional music that belongs in the library. Already I've taken a bunch to them. It's time for another batch. What it does to me is take all my best music out of the house. It's ok. I don't listen to it all the time. When I listen to old-time music at home, it's largely old-timey banjo pickers like Gaither Carlton, Morgan Sexton, Jont Blevins, the kind of music that has a good flow to it. I forget how much I enjoy the cd of Howard Joines and Jr Maxwell, both of them superlative musicians. I tend to put my treasures away and not listen to them, when that's where the music is I really want to be listening to.
It surprised me when Lucas Pasley turned up with some recordings of Howard and Jr together. I'm thinking the guitar might have been Clif Evans, whose tape I believe Lucas got it from. Jr told me he and Howard didn't play an awful lot together. They're known all around for playing together. Howard played mostly old-time and Jr liked bluegrass only. Old-time was "draggy" to him. For them to be playing together, Howard would be playing bluegrass. They took old-time tunes and bluegrassed them. Howard was as good a bluegrass fiddler as he was old-time. I think what Jr meant by they didn't make music much together was they were not in a band together. They were in different bands. They might show up at a jam together, or during fiddlers conventions, many kinds of possibilities. I think they played together fairly often, just not on a regular basis. Like when it happened it happened. Jr had tremendous respect for Howard's fiddling, for Howard himself, his mother's brother, Uncle Howard.
I expect when Jr was young playing old-time, before bluegrass came along, he played a good bit of music with Uncle Howard who lived at the other end of Pine Swamp Road. Ed Atwood, clawhammer picker, lived across the Little River Creek from Jr, and was banjo with Howard's band. Jr's older half-brother, Welter Maxwell, was an old-time fiddler. Jr's cousin Richard, son of Howard, played guitar. His cousin Carol, Howard's daughter, played guitar. The whole bunch of the Pine Swamp Joineses were good musicians and good singers. Among the living ones is Dennis Joines, bluegrass singer and guitar picker. Last I heard his band is New River Bluegrass. He also has a responsible job that keeps him on the road between home and Winston-Salem a lot. I always think of Dennis when I think of Pine Swamp musicians. He can sing a bluegrass song. He has a singing voice, like Jeff Michael, that is right for bluegrass and does it right. Jeff would rather be poor and make music, while Dennis would rather have a nice house, good woman, some kids, a home. To afford the home he wants, he needs to make some money. Howard was Dennis's uncle too. Dennis's dad, Walton, also a good singer and musician, was Howard's brother and Jr's mother's brother.
I scrolled up to look at the picture and immediately saw a Pine Swamp Joines in his face. I saw Walton and Howard's son Richard, Dennis, and Jr's mother from photographs I've seen, the structure of the face. That's what I see when I see somebody is the structure of their face. I see it in the Joineses of Pine Swamp distinctly. Another thing I see that runs through them is they're all good people. They were Regular Baptists and went to New Salem on Pine Swamp Road. Howard is buried there. I remember seeing Walton's name carved on the back of one of the benches in the church. Walton left this world several years ago, and he did that when he was a kid, probably a teenage boy tied up in hormonal knots. Richard and Jr are the ones of these Joineses I've known the best, to sit and talk with awhile. I didn't mean the church reference as a qualification for someone to be "good people." Jr was not a church goer and he did everything "good" people aren't supposed to do. He was among the best when it comes to good people. I suppose by good I mean perhaps the least abrasive, generous, people you like to see again. That's it. People you like to see again.