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Friday, June 25, 2021

Instrumental Music Of The Southern Appalachians


John Henry

Instrumental Music Of Southern Appalachians
Banjo, Fiddle, Guitar, Dulcimer and Harmonica
Recorded by Diane Hamilton, Liam Clancy and Paul Clayton
Summer 1956
Jacket Art: Darth
Tradition Records TLP 1007

From the back cover: This album is the result of a folk-song collecting trip made during the Summer of 1956 by Diane Hamilton, Liam Clancy and Paul Clayton. All of the selections on this recording were recorded in Virginia and North Carolina. Out of considerable instrumental material, these selections were chosen as being most typical and best performed. The instrumentals represented are the five-string banjo, the guitar, the fiddle, the dulcimer and the harmonica. These instrumentals are the ones which have been played for the longest time in the South, and have been handed down traditionally in families (unlike, for example, the mandolin which is of comparatively recent introduction in the South, and has been played for the most part in connection with string bands under professional circumstances, rather than as a home instrument to be picked up and played in the evenings.)

The performers here play their instruments in traditional style, and, with one exception, have never been recorded before. The exception is Mr. Hobart Smith who has been recorded by the Library Of Congress, and who a number of years ago accompanied his sister, Mrs. Texas Gladden, famed Virginia folk singer, in an album no longer available. On this record he plays one 5-string banjo solo and four fiddle tunes. Mr. Smith, who lives in Saltville, Virginia, where these recordings of him were made, is a fine instrumentalist, and his driving, vigorous performances have been heard for many years at dances in that area. Having had no banjo with him at the time these recordings were made, Mr. Smith borrowed one from a relative. It's frets have been purposely removed in order that it might be played like the old fretless banjos (which are still being homemade today in the mountains.) The unique effect of a fretless banjo can be clearly seen in his Pateroller Song.

The rest of the banjo pieces, and all the guitar pieces are played by members of a very musically talented family living in Gamewell and Morganton, North Carolina. We first visited Mrs. Etta Baker and recorded the guitar solos on this record at Morganton. Later we met more of her family, and other selections played by them were recorded at Morganton or Gamewell. Mrs. Baker used no finger picks in playing the guitar, and in John Henry tunes it to an open chord and plays with a jackknife blade. She started playing the guitar when she was three years old, plays two banjo solos on this record. Sourwood Mountain and Johnson Boys. The other banjo pieces were recorded by Lacey Phillips, Boon Reid's son-in-law.

The harmonica solos are played by Mr. Richard Chase of Beech Creek, North Carolina. Mr. Chase is an authority of folk-tales, songs and dances. The tunes he plays are all familiar melodies used in play-party games and folk-dancing. His technique of playing the harmonica is consistent with the tradition of the harmonica as it is most often played – an instrument to carry a melody with changes and variations from verse to verse, but without the virtuostic trick-playing commonly represented on recordings which seem intent not upon melodic line, but upon how many varied and unusual sounds can be produced by the harmonica.

The dulcimer solos are played by Mrs. Edd Presmell of Banner Elk, North Carolina, upon an instrument made by her husband. Mrs. Powell has her dulcimer (the traditional three-string southern mountain dulcimer) tuned with the strings sol, sol, sol, the third string being an octave lower than the other two. Her dominant chord then is do, sol, sol. She plays with a fretting stick and a lighter supple stick as a pick.

Cripple Creek
Pateroller Song
One Dime Blues
Sourwood Mountain 
Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad
Amazing Grace
The Girl I Left Behind Me
Marching Jaybird
John Brown's Dream
Sally Goodman
Railroad Bill
Soldier's Joy
Molly Brooks
Pretty Polly
Johnson Boys
John Henry
Drunken Hiccups
Shady Grove
Bully Of The Town
Skip To My Lou

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