Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell, 8 July 1971, 16mm film by Blanton Owen

This morning, I had the great privilege of inspecting some 16mm film with AV Archivist Anne Wells and AV Conservator Erica Titkemeyer. The film is part of an unfinished documentary project created by folklorist Blanton Owen and features Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham playing music and talking on the front porch at the Cockerham home in Low Gap, North Carolina on July 8, 1971. For more details see the Blanton Owen Collection (20027) finding aid. The collection includes an edited ten minute segment that Owen created from original elements. This unsynced segment consists of a 16mm magnetic soundtrack (F-20027/9) and a silent 16mm reversal print (F-20027/10), so we put the elements up on a Steenbeck flatbed editor to review the contents and shoot some quick cell phone video for documentation.

Owen recorded the image on 16mm film and recorded the audio on 1/4″ open reel using Nagra sync-sound. Owen then transferred these original 1/4″ open reels to 16mm magnetic soundtrack for editing purposes. The series includes both these original 1/4″ open reel audio recordings (FT-20027/16006-16011) and 16mm magnetic soundtrack film elements (F-20027/8-9) along with the original 16mm picture elements and outtakes (F-20027/1-7, F-20027/10), and field notes associated with the master 1/4″ open reel audio recordings (Folder 1).

The film is not currently digitized for access, however, the quality of the image and the sound recordings are such that we could not help but share.

 

Ham, corn and fiddle tunes at Tommy Jarrell’s

20006_pf0081_0029_Alice Gerrard Collection (20006)_Southern Folklife CollectionBack in 2009 we wrote about a field recording, call no. FS8341 from the Alice Gerrard Collection, documenting the Christmas she and Andy Cahan spent with Tommy Jarrell and his daughter Dena in 1983. For those who are interested, they had chicken and “it was so fine.”

That’s not the only holiday recording in the Alice Gerrard Collection. FS8205 was made in 1981 when Alice and a few others, including old-time musician Rusty Neithammer, spent Thanksgiving with Tommy. They had ham, and also some corn, according to the tape.

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How many other holiday menus and recipes were recorded in the process of doing field work that are now held in Wilson Library at UNC? These recordings and thousands more are available for research in the Southern Folklife Collection. There was quite a bit of music at that Thanksgiving celebration, listen to Jarrell’s solo banjo version of “Let Me Fall” and then Rusty Neithammer and Tommy Jarrell twin fiddle one of my favorites, “Rockingham Cindy.”

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The Southern Folklife Collection is thankful to be able to share this with all of you out there. Happy Thanksgiving.

Xmas 83 at Dena’s

Students, scholars, and fans of folklore often can’t help but romanticize the experiences of early field collectors, discovering lost tunes and musicians unknown outside their local communities.  The music is just so compelling and raw and often very good, from the legendary Lomax (John and Alan) recordings of the 1930s to the astounding body of work collected by the scholar/musicians like Mike Seeger and John Cohen in the 1960s, and countless others whose collections remain tucked away in attics or housed in archives like the Southern Folklife Collection and in institutions across the country.

Hearing the music today offers glimpses to worlds of experience foreign to most listeners.  The listener becomes a voyeur, peeking through the window into the homes and lives of the performers (and often the field recorders too) of a forgotten past.  While the feeling of being “let in on a secret” is profound and exciting, regarding the documented performance as a “secret” or a private moment between a few individuals distances the listener, and the temporal difference between when the material was recorded to when it is shared with a larger listening audience only further emphasizes that distance.  Instead of the field recording creating a cultural connection, it is exoticized to the point where such an experience (finding and recording lost or forgotten or ignored practitioners of a similarly lost, forgotten or ignored art form) seems impossible to replicate in the present, “modern” time.  Thankfully there are those who refuse to relegate those experiences exclusively to the past. Instead, these individuals constantly seek to break down the barriers created by an Orientalized other represented solely by the sounds on a tape by finding the hands, faces, and minds behind the music.

Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan spent many years in the late 1970s and early 1980s seeking out musicians in and around Galax, Virginia and Toast, North Carolina.  They developed strong relationships with some of these regions’ greatest living musicians, including Luther Davis, Roscoe and Leone Parrish, and Tommy Jarrell.  Cahan and Gerrard recorded hundreds of hours of interviews, lessons, jam sessions they shared with these musicians.  They learned countless tunes these performers but they also became their very good friends, sharing meals, helping with chores when health problems interfered, and even sharing holidays with them like a family.  In 1983, Cahan and Gerrard spent Christmas day with Tommy Jarrell and his daughter Ardena “Dena” Jarrell at her house in Toast, NC, eating, drinking eggnog and, of course, playing music.  They had such a good time that the ensemble composed a song to commemorate the event, “Xmas 83 at Dena’s.”

I’m including 3 clips here: an introduction, a clip of the song itself, and a brief moment after the song when Tommy, Andy and Alice talk about composing fiddle tunes and recording.  Please enjoy.  Sounds like they did.

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All clips from audiocassette FS-8341: Tommy Jarrell with Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan, recorded on 25 December 1983, in Toast, N.C. From the Alice Gerrard Collection.

The ongoing digitization project Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music: Preserving Audio Collections of Southern Traditional Music, is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.