What am I calling old-time music? When I use the term, I mean the traditional folk music of the Southern Appalachians. This music was based on fiddle music of the British Isles mixed with the influences of black musicians, both slave and free. The fiddle came over from Europe with the immigrants, the banjo came from Africa in primitive form and was refined and developed in the US cities starting before the Civil War. The Civil War spread the banjo and the minstrel tunes popular in that time into the remote Appalachian mountains, where they were adopted. The guitar came somewhat later, around the turn of the century.
Prior to radios and recordings, people made their own music. A good fiddler was highly respected and prized in the community. Old-time music was dance music; it was also parlor music, as well as ballads, accompanied or unaccompanied. It was not concert music. Each region, even each county, had unique styles. Until the advent of recordings and radio, the tunes and songs were passed by oral tradition.
With the advent of radio, records, and the music industry, the diversity began to decline and fewer and fewer people learned to play this music. The music was preserved only in pockets and by a few individuals and families such as the Hammons family of Pocohontas County, West Virginia. The last generation of people who knew this music well was born around the turn of the century or slightly before. The next generation often considered this music "ignorant" and preferred commercial music such as that turned out by Nashville. With the birth of the "folk revival" around 1960, many young people, mostly from the cities, but also many from the Appalachian region, came to realize the value of this traditional music, and sought out the old people to learn their songs and tunes, which many of the old people (for example, Tommy Jarrell, Clyde Davenport, and the Hammonses) were happy to impart. [Photo of Sherman Hammons (left) courtesy Dwight Diller.]
Today, the old-time community is not large, but it is vital. It is not a community of fans as much as participants. This is not to say that musicians of exceptional skill are not admired, but almost everyone in the community plays some kind of instrument at some level of skill. Most of them are surprisingly dedicated and adept at their music. The major community activities are jam sessions at the local level, and local, regional, and national festivals and teaching workshops.
Select Old-Time Music Festivals
- Clifftop, WV: Appalachian String Band Festival, held in August since 1990
- Mt. Airy, NC: Mt. Airy Fiddlers' Convention, held in June since 1971
- Galax, VA: Old Fiddler's Convention held in August since 1935
- Glenville, WV: WV State Folk Festival, held in June since 1950
Select Old-Time Music Workshops
Old-Time Music Websites of Interest
- The Old-Time Herald: A quarterly periodical covering historical and current musicians, events, recording reviews, instruments and maintenance thereof.
- Banjo Newsletter: A monthly periodical covering banjo. About 75% of the material is bluegrass banjo oriented, but has regular old-time columns and tablature.
- Fiddler Magazine: A quarterly covering all types of fiddling, but has quite a lot on old-time styles and fiddlers.
- American Folklife Center, Library of Congress: has many online collections and offerings, including MP3 files.
- The Old-Time Music Home Page: created by David Lynch.
- Berea College Sound Archives: includes many MP3s of traditional musicians.
- Digital Library of Appalachia: also contains many MP3s of old-time music.
- Appalshop: an arts center producing media relating to Appalachia.
- Country Sales: Recordings dealer specializing in Old-Time and Bluegrass.
- Elderly Instruments: Dealer in musical instruments and recordings.
- Field Recorders' Collective: Founded by the late Ray Alden. Here you can order CDs of their collections of older musicians.
Notable Musicians' Web Pages
If I have left some out, it is probably because they had neither a website nor a page devoted to them on Wikipedia or other sites, but certainly not because I don't consider them notable. If I missed someone, let me know.
- Adam Hurt: young banjo player.
- Alan Jabbour: fiddler, folklorist and scholar.
- Art Rosenbaum: banjo player, folklorist, artist, and scholar.
- Art Stamper: d. 2005. Son of Hiram Stamper. Both superb old-time fiddlers.
- Bascom Lamar Lunsford: d. 1973. Banjo player, lawyer, folklorist from North Carolina.
- Benton Flippen: b. 1920. Fiddler from Mt. Airy, NC.
- Big Medicine: excellent string band out of North Carolina.
- Bill Hicks: fiddler, stone mason, was one of original Red Clay Ramblers. Performs with wife, Libby.
- Bob Carlin: indefatigable banjo player, folklorist, banjo teacher.
- Bob Flesher: virtuoso banjo player, minstrel, banjo maker.
- Bob Heyer: banjo player from West Virginia.
- Bob Smakula: plays, repairs, and sells old-time instruments.
- Bob Thornburg: plays and makes gourd banjos.
- Bobby Taylor: WV fiddler, student of Clark Kessinger, and nice guy.
- Brad Leftwich: fiddler, banjo player, fiddle teacher, and another really nice guy.
- Bruce Greene: Kentucky fiddler and folklorist.
- Bruce Molsky: probably the most well-known of the "younger generation" of master old-time fiddlers and teachers..
- Buell Kazee: d. 1976. Kentucky banjo player.
- Carolina Chocolate Drops: African-American string band from North Carolina.
- Carroll Best: d. 1995. Banjo player from NC, and was a gentle, nice, man.
- Carter Family: Enormously influential musical family.
- Cathy Fink: Washington, DC area banjo player.
- Charlie Poole: d. 1931. Very influential banjo player and leader of string band.
- Chicken Chokers: an East Coast string band.
- Chris Coole: another promising young banjo player.
- Christian Wig: an excellent fiddler from Ohio who plays West Virginia tunes very well.
- Clarke Buehling: gourd banjo impresario and minstrel banjo player.
- Clyde Davenport: b. 1921. influential Kentucky fiddler.
- Dan Levenson: banjo player, Banjo Newsletter columnist and teacher.
- David Holt: North Carolina banjo player and instructor.
- Dirk Powell: one of the most accomplished and influential of the younger generation of fiddlers. Also plays Cajun accordion.
- Doc Watson: b. 1923. Legendary North Carolina musician.
- Dock Boggs: (1898-1971). Virginia banjo player and singer who had a unique and haunting style.
- Donald Zepp: banjo player and instrument dealer.
- Double Decker String Band: wonderful band which formerly featured the late great Craig Johnson, d. 2009.
- Doug Van Gundy: West Virginia fiddler.
- Dwight Diller: influential West Virginia banjo player, folklorist, and teacher. "Discovered" the Hammons Family.
- Ed Haley: (1885-1951). Legendary West Virginia/Kentucky border fiddler.
- Edden Hammons: (1874-1955). Probably most famous old-time West Virginia fiddler.
- Erynn Marshall: young Canadian fiddler who does a great job on West Virginia tunes.
- Flying Jenny: interesting Alabama string band.
- Foghorn String Band: Portland, Oregon string band.
- Frank Proffitt: early old-time banjo player. Played on banjos of his own make.
- Fred Cockerham: seminal North Carolina musician. One of the founders of Round Peak style.
- Georgia Potlickers: excellent string band.
- Ginny Hawker: probably the best living West Virginia singer.
- Government Issue Orchestra: good young string band from Portland.
- Grandpa Jones: (1913-1998). Grand Ole Opry star and banjo player.
- The Haints: yet another excellent young string band.
- Hobart Smith: (1897-1965) influential fiddler and guitar player.
- Jake Krack: child prodigy fiddler who has continued to develop as a young man.
- Jane Rothfield: fiddler and banjo player.
- Jerry Correll: superb Virginia fiddler, member of Wolfe Brothers String Band.
- Jody Stecher: multi-instrumentalist and singer. Another Brooklyn kid who fell in love with old-time music and became a master.
- Joe Newberry: very good banjo player.
- John Cohen: folklorist and original member of the New Lost City Ramblers.
- John Hartford: (1937-2001) famous bluegrasser, but also loved and played old-time fiddle.
- Kate Lissauer: I love her lyrics to John Lover's Gone.
- Ken Perlman: melodic banjo player and banjo instructor.
- Kenny Jackson: first-class fiddler.
- Kerry Blech: Seattle fiddler.
- Kevin Fore: Round Peak banjo player and banjo maker.
- Kirk Sutphin: North Carolina fiddler.
- Laura Boosinger: North Carolina banjo player and sweet singer.
Leroy Troy: Tennessee banjo player known for his Uncle Dave Macon imitations.
Lester McCumbers: b. 1921. West Virginia fiddler and fiddle maker.
Lily May Ledford: (1917-1985). Kentucky banjo player "banjo pickin girl."
Lonesome Sisters: singing duo of Sarah Hawker (Ginny's niece) and Debra Clifford.
Lynn "Chirps" Smith: midwestern fiddler.
Mac Benford: excellent banjo player, member of Highwoods and Fat City string bands.
Mac Trayham: banjo player and banjo maker. Plays with wife Jenny.
Marcus Martin: (1881-1974). North Carolina fiddler of great influence.
Mark Campbell: Virginia fiddler and folklorist.
Marvin Gaster: North Carolina two-finger banjo picker and good singer.
Mary Z. Cox: Florida banjo player with many recordings.
Matokie Slaughter: (1919-1999). Virginia banjo player who both uppicked and downpicked.
Matt Brown: young Pennsylvania fiddler.
McGee Brothers: Sam and Kirk, early old time music singing duo.
Melvin Wine: (1909-2003). Unique West Virginia fiddler and humble, wonderful man.
Mike Seeger: (1933-2009). Folklorist, banjo, fiddle, autoharp, etc. Probably the most influential person in the old-time revival.
Monks: A fine Indiana twin fiddles band.
New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters: Virginia band which has had various incarnations, all good.
New Lost City Ramblers: began in 1958. Probably the most influential revival string band.
Norman Blake: one of the best old-time guitarists living. Plays with wife Nancy.
Ola Belle Reed: (1916-2002) singer and banjo player.
Paul Brown: fine folklorist, banjo and fiddle player. Also heard doing the news on NPR.
Pete Seeger: almost single-handedly started the folk revival and brought the 5-string banjo from obscurity.
Pilot Mountain Bobcats: North Carolina string band.
Rafe Stefanini: excellent banjo player and fiddler who came to the USA from Italy.
Ralph Blizard: (1918-2004). Tennessee long-bow fiddler.
Ray Alden (1942-2009). Recorded many old-time artists, played the banjo, and died too young. A generous man.
Rayna Gellert: young fiddler and daughter of well known fiddler and banjo player Dan Gellert.
Red Clay Ramblers: one of the earliest revival bands, started in 1972.
Reed Island Ramblers: great string band doing West Virginia music.
Reed Martin: wonderful banjo player and collector of music and stories from divers sources.
Rhythm Rats: Very good Ohio string band.
Richie Stearns: Well-known banjo player.
Riley Baugus: North Carolina banjo player.
Riley Puckett: (1894-1946) blind Georgia guitar player.
Roscoe Holcomb: (1912-1981). Banjo and guitar player, inspired the term "high, lonesome sound."
Skillet Lickers: Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett created this band in 1924.
Southern Schoolhouse Rascals: another good string band.
Stairwell Sisters: San Francisco "girl" band.
Stephen Wade: his Banjo Dancing one man stage show introduced many to the 5-string banjo.
Stewed Mulligan: funky West Virginia string band.
Stillhouse Rounders: New York old-time string band.
The Tallboys: Seattle string band.
Tom King: d. 1993. West Virginia guitar player and friend.
Tom, Brad, and Alice: string band with Tom Sauber, Brad Leftwich, and Alice Gerrard.
Tommy Jarrell: (1901-1985). Extremely influential NC fiddler who generously spent time with young learners.
Troublesome Creek: terribly impressive Virginia string band.
Uncle Charlie Osborne: (1890-1992). Virginia fiddler.
Uncle Dave Macon: (1870-1952). Banjo player and comedian on Grand Ole Opry. Very influential body of work.
Uncle Earl: another good old-time "girl" band.
Wade Mainer: b. 1907. Three finger banjo picker and brother to J. E. Mainer, another old-time legend.
Wade Ward: (1892-1971). One of the most famous banjo players, also fiddled. Played with brother Fields.
Walt Koken: banjo player and fiddler. Played with Highwoods and Fat City string bands.
Wayne Erbsen: North Carolina banjo player and teacher.
Will Keys: (1923-2005) banjo player with a strange but beautiful 2 finger style.
Wilson Douglas: (1922-1999). Squeeky but wonderful West Virginia fiddler. Another one we'll miss.
Wolfe Brothers: Superb singing Virginia string band.