Traditional Fiddling of Randolph County, West Virginia (from field recordings)
(See liner notes and details below.)
Randolph County fiddling embraces a style and repertoire commonly found in the southern Appalachians with some traces of a more localized, West Virginia Style. Several tunes presented here have old-world sources. Some are from family repertoires that probably date to the frontier era. Some are more widely known, regional pieces from the golden age of early country music on the radio.
Continuing for over two hundred years, dancing to live music gives purpose and necessity to Randolph County fiddling traditions. Over the years it took many fiddlers to fill the bill demanded by active dancing communities.
This anthology presents the current state of traditional, old-time fiddling in Randolph County. Whether they are hoe-down tunes, waltzes, hymns, or song melodies, these tunes celebrate life and commemorate valued subjects in different ways.
Produced by Gerald Milnes from field recordings made 1994-1997, with production assistance from Rachel Nash Law and Susan Rudisill.
Mastering by Flawn Williams
Cover photo by Gerald Milnes
Graphic design by Mary Rayme
Margo Blevin, Executive Producer
CD – $15
The Eastern Continental Divide at the crest of Allegheny Mountain marks the edge of Randolph County where, from early settlement days, the “western waters” began. Several forks of the Cheat River, with their steep ridges and valleys, presented more barriers to westward traveling pioneers of the eighteenth century. Just beyond is the Tygart River Valley, in the heart of Randolph County, where the first white settlers arrived in 1753. They met with bitter resistance from Indians, but after forty years of conflict and many deaths to both groups, that threat abated and settlers came in significant numbers. The fiddle music in Randolph County today reflects over 250 years of county history and the ethnic make-up of county residents from early settlement days.
Randolph county fiddling embraces a style and repertoire commonly found in the southern Appalachians with some traces of a more localized, West Virginia Style. Several tunes presented here have old-world sources (Leather Britches, Paddy on the Turnpike, Sweet Sixteen). Some are from family repertoires that probably date to the frontier era (Puncheon Floor, Shakin’ Down the Acorns, Wild Hog in the Red Brush). Some are more widely known, regional pieces from the golden age of early country music on the radio (Foggy Valley, Spanish Two-Step, Fifty Year Ago Waltz). In the mid-twentieth century, stations like WDNE in Elkins, WBUC in Buckhannon, WMMN in Fairmont, and programs such as the Jamboree from Wheeling (WWVA), and the Grand Old Opry (WSM) in Nashville, provided live music and access to more varied styles and tunes for local musicians. Some selections here are commonly used in religious worship (Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have in Jesus); others commemorate local places and national events (Point Mountain Railroad Blues, Little Home in West Virginia, The Sinking of the Titanic), and some originate from black and minstrel show tradition (Bully of the Town, Run Johnny Run).
Continuing for over two hundred years, dancing to live music gives purpose and necessity to Randolph County fiddling traditions. Dancing is still popular at Harman, on the Dry Fork, and at Elkins in the Tygart Valley. The Swiss settlement of Helvetia, in southwestern Randolph County, actively supports community dancing that is a mixture of Swiss and non-Swiss Appalachian music and dance traditions (see AHR-016 and AHV-93). Over the years, it took many fiddlers to fill the bill demanded by active dancing communities. Woody Simmons, heard here, played for countless dances including a stint of four nights a week, for thirty years, at the Log Cabin, a dance hall on the banks of the Cheat River.
In addition to the fiddlers presented here, dozens more from surrounding counties come to Elkins for the annual Old-Time Fiddlers’ Reunion, sponsored by the Augusta Heritage Center every October. While Augusta documents the various regional old-time fiddling traditions presented there, hundreds come just to enjoy the music, see old fiddling friends, and dance to the fiddle and bow.
This Anthology presents the current state of traditional, old-time fiddling in Randolph County. Whether they are hoe-down tunes, waltzes, hymns, or song melodies, these tunes celebrate life and commemorate valued subjects in many different ways.
Wilmoth Cooper (born 1947) and Jack Hedrick (born 1951) are from the Harman/Dry Fork area. Jack’s son, Scott, plays guitar here. They play together on this recording, and often are the fiddlers called upon for the square dances held in Harman. Wilmoth’s fiddling cousin, Stoney Cooper, and his wife, Wilma Lee, both from Randolph County, were popular performers on the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.
“Shorty” Currence (born 1927) is from a family of fine musicians who grew up in the rural, “High Germany” section of the county. Shorty achieves fine tone in his playing, and is comfortable playing in high positions on the fiddle. Completely self-taught, his style and tone perfectly complement the waltzes, tunes, and songs he plays, as well as the faster hoe-downs he fiddles at dance tempo.
Ron Mullennex (born in 1949) is a native of Whitmer, where he picked up old-time music from family and community sources. Most often seen playing a banjo, Ron has sought out the older sounds from the region’s oldest musicians and has played widely with many traditional West Virginia fiddlers. He plays two tunes here from an older fiddler, Lee Hammons, of neighboring Pocahontas County.
Boyd Phillips (born 1939) is a first cousin to fiddler Murrell Hamrick. Boyd began fiddling at the age of thirteen, with the help of his guitar-playing father, Chester. Boyd was impressed by the playing of Will Carver, the Bailey Brothers and numerous other radio fiddlers. He also learned tunes from his uncle, Dewey Hamrick (father to Murrell). Boyd’s hard-driving style and mastery of the bow make for a powerful performance.
Woody Simmons (born 1911), of Mill Creek, began playing as a thirteen year old boy, and lists Charley Bell, several members of the McGee Family, and John Geer as early influences. He has lived in the Mill Creek-Huttonsville area all his life. Woody has been a fierce competitor at regional fiddle contests, and has a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for it. In his active earlier career he played on radio stations at Elkins, Fairmont, and Bluefield.
Charles Taylor (1921-2001) was raised at Elkwater in the Tygart Valley and started playing the fiddle in his teens after taking up the clawhammer banjo. He has influenced by his grandfather, also named Charles Taylor, who lived at Mill Creek. In late years, Charles has made seven fiddles, and his sons also have taken up instrument making.
Jimmy Triplett (born 1967) plays a tune here so that Murrell Hamrick can demonstrate a family fiddlestick tradition. Jimmy is a North Carolina native, living in Elkins, who puts great emphasis on achieving an old-time sound. He has learned, for the most part, from field recordings of older West Virginia fiddlers. Most older West Virginia fiddling families, like the Hamricks, have fiddlestick-playing traditions.
Produced by Gerry Milnes from field recordings made 1994-1997
Mastering by Flawn Williams
Production Assistance, Rachel Nash Law, Susan Rudisill
Photo by Gerry Milnes
Graphic Design by Mary Rayme, Cherry Street Design
Executive Producer, Margo Blevin
Made possible through support from the National Endowment for the Arts
Back-up musicians: Scott Hedrick (SH) guitar, John Lilly (JL) guitar, Charles Chewning (CC) guitar, Delmer Taylor (DT) guitar, Jimmy Triplett (JT) guitar, Gerry Milnes (GM) guitar and banjo, Murrell Hamrick (MH) fiddlesticks.
Standard tunings unless otherwise indicated. Tunings given from low to high.
Originally issued on cassette in 1997 – CD Reissue 2001
Copyright 2001, Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College
Elkins, WV 26241 – 304-637-1209