Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cotton Eyed Joe-Wilson Douglas

"Cotton-Eyed Joe" is an old song played as a fiddle tune by a great many West Virginia old time fiddlers. This Wikipedia entry has some interesting history about the song.

Drop down a couple posts for a video of Lester McCumbers playing "Cotton-Eyed Joe". Lester lives in Calhoun County, right next door to Clay County. As a matter of fact, some of Lester's ancestors moved (under interesting circumstances) to Calhoun County from the area known as Booger Hole in Clay County.

Wilson Douglas grew up on his family's farm on a hill above Rush's Creek (overlooking Booger Hole). Here Wilson plays Cotton-Eyed Joe for a fiddle master class at the Augusta workshops in 1995. I believe my photo of Wilson at left is from the same week. The tempo is slow on this recording, but once he gets going with the guitar (Leslie Green), it is really very close to the pace he usually played it at that time. In earlier years he played at a brisker speed. I like both; Wilson put a lot of feeling into every tune no matter what the speed. When you've been listening to music played at a fast pace, moderate can sound really slow, but Wilson's playing never seemed slow in context. Listen to Wilson's CD Fiddle Tunes From Central West Virginia (a compilation of two cassette tapes that had been released earlier) for his mature playing. Directions for ordering the CD are at the bottom of this tribute page put together by Kim Johnson, or you can also order it here.

Earlier, up tempo versions can be heard on the 1974 LP The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek and on Hot From the Kitchen. Rounder has re-released The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek on CD and includes extensive liner notes. You can listen to sound samples (including Cotton-Eyed Joe) on the Rounder site and also download the liner notes, though I was not able to open either the sound or pdf files on my computer. Wilson told Kim Johnson that Rounder was originally going to call the album Booger Hole, but Wilson said, "My mother'd kill me". Whatever the name, the CD is a treasure (in spite of a bit of a mismatch with the backup musicians). If anybody has played "Yew Piney Mountain' better (solo fiddle for that track), it isn't on record.

While looking for a source for Hot From the Kitchen, I found it as Dwight Diller's Feb 07 pick of the month on his Morning Star Folk Arts site. Dwight gives it a five star recommendation (out of five). That's good enough for me. These field recordings by Tom Brown in 1973 are the real deal. This CD is pure raw West Virginia old time music. The sound is rough, but the music is great. Pay some attention to the guitar backup by Wilson's uncle, Gruder Morris (not that you could miss it). That's the way Wilson liked it. I'd love to see this style of backup resurface; the rhythm sounds a lot like what is used "beating straws" (fiddlesticks). Here's a source with some sound samples (including Cotton-Eyed Joe). This is my favorite recording of Wilson playing Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Wilson Douglas learned a great deal of his fiddling from fellow Clay County fiddler French Carpenter. Wilson liked to say that he apprenticed with French. You can really hear the influence in the two earliest recordings. I hope to be able to post some recordings of French Carpenter soon.

Gardner Winter Music Festival

The Gardner Winter Music Festival was this weekend. Traditional music festivals are mostly a summer activity. Back in 1979, Worley Gardner wanted an opportunity to get together with other musicians during the winter as a break from cabin fever. Here's a page that tells about the origins of this festival. Follow this link for a story I wrote for Goldenseal Magazine about Worley. Butch and Margo Neil have been involved with the festival almost from the first and have kept it alive through through a lot of transitions.

As I remember it, the only rules Worley had were that all the musicians were equals (no one got paid) and "no electric instruments". This freehand approach has led to a lot of variety over the years.

The pictures here show fiddler Chance McCoy jamming with friends Saturday night. I met the guitar player (who also plays clawhammer banjo), but I don't have his name. Hopefully someone will let me know so that I can add it. Scott Phillips is off to the left playing banjo, and Bill Kimmons is playing bass.

A whole slew of young musicians with an old time approach have been showing up the past two years. With fiddlers such as Chance, Jesse Milnes, and Doug Van Gundy (and many more) on hand, jams at Winter Music Fest are taking a new/old twist. Let's hope it continues.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cotton Eyed Joe-Lester McCumbers

The link is below. I'll rework these video posts later so that you can click the photo to get to the video. I'll also add some simple titling to the video.

The video posted here is Lester McCumbers playing the tune Cotton-Eyed Joe in his room at the Conrad Motel during the West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville, June 17, 2006. Kim Johnson is playing banjo. Lester has his fiddle tuned GDGD (low to high). All the older fiddlers around here play this tune, but I've never heard it better than this.

Quicktime movie 11.2 MB

m4v format for iPod video 11.1 MB

Monday, February 19, 2007

Old Mother Flanagan-Lester McCumbers

The video linked below is Lester McCumbers playing the tune Old Mother Flanagan in his room at the Conrad Motel during the West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville, June 17, 2006. Kim Johnson is playing banjo. Lester has his fiddle tuned GDGD (low to high).

I'll be posting more video clips of Lester soon. I'm still figuring out how best to keep the file size down and still show his amazing bowing. The link to the video may change as I experiment with different compressions and formats. The link(s) in the post will always be correct (hopefully), so bookmark this post rather than the movie itself.

The links below are fairly large files. If you click the link, your browser will start loading (or playing-depending on your settings) the movie. You may also right click and choose to save the movie to your computer, then you'll have it available without having to download again later. The downloads are taking about a minute for me with broadband (and should be faster than that).

Quicktime Movie 10.9 MB

Mpeg 4 file format for iPod video-11.1 MB. I don't know that I'll have the server space to continue posting in this format, so download it now if you want it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pictures from Lester and Linda McCumbers's house

Lester and Linda at WSPZ in 1963.

Another nice old snapshot.

Click on the pictures for a bigger view.

Lester McCumbers; Nicut, W.Va.

January 27 Jay Best, Josh Wanstreet, and I went down to Nicut for a visit with fiddle player Lester McCumbers. Kim Johnson, his regular banjo player, met up with us there. Lester was playing great and we had a wonderful day. I shot a couple hours of video, including quite a bit with Lester playing in G cross. I haven't edited yet, but I'm pretty sure he played a couple tunes that I had not taped before.

And, finally, I got a nice photo. I've been just not quite getting it for so long that I was started to get frustrated. Oddly enough, after Jay and I swore allegiance to film the night before, I bailed out on my Leica (with Tri-X ) and switched to my point and shoot digital camera. It was far from perfect for the situation, but the combination of color, autofocus, and greater depth of field made the difference this time.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Booger Hole?

West Virginia has produced a dazzling number of great fiddle players; you'll meet many of them here. Pictures, video, and audio files will be a regular feature.

I was lucky enough to get to know Wilson Douglas (Clay County) just as I was starting to play the fiddle and I learned from listening to and watching Wilson. The Douglas farm where Wilson grew up was on a hill above Rush Fork hollow. At one time this area was infamous as a rough and tumble region noted for wild and strange occurances. You won't find it mentioned on your road map, but that is the place called Booger Hole.