Welcome back to Field Trip South. This period of isolation is a great time for recollections of a couple of our own recent field trips—my first collection pickups as Collection Assistant with the SFC. It might help during this time to remember ventures outside and connections with people, the history we all share, and the community that shared history creates.
Bobby Patterson (#20574) connected people for years from his hub in the Coal Creek Community near Galax, Virginia, as a musician, producer, and documenter of the old time mountain music of the region, operating Mountain Records with Kyle Creed before building his own studio and starting his Heritage Records label.
Bobby Patterson poses with banjo, mandolin, and electric bass
As another SFC connection Paul Brown (#20382) mentions in his excellent celebration of Patterson’s life and work here (Across the Blue Ridge – episode 95), many of the musicians recorded on both the Mountain and Heritage labels would not have been heard without Patterson’s dedication to recording and preserving this culture. Patterson could also pick a bit himself, accompanying on a variety of instruments with a number of collaborators like Kyle Creed and the Camp Creek Boys, the Highlanders, Tommy Jarrell, and Fred Cockerham. He later played regularly alongside his long-time musical partner Willard Gayheart, who offers his own recollections in the episode, which highlights not only Patterson’s playing, but a number of sessions recorded by him for the labels, and his documentation of performances at festivals and conventions throughout the region.
Heritage Records Release of the 1978 Brandywine Music Festival (Heritage Records #24); from the Norm Cohen Collection (#20480)
In 1987, Patterson was instrumental in launching the Old Time Herald(#20067) with founder and editor Alice Gerrard (#20006), a magazine that celebrates traditional music and dance, particularly in the southeastern United States, which still operates out of Durham.
SFC Curator Steve Weiss, AV Archivist Anne Wells, and I traveled to Galax in early Fall 2019 to pick up Patterson’s collection from the studio he built next to his home just outside Galax. Our local guides Kilby Spencer and Mark Sanderford, without whom we would have struggled to navigate through this pickup, provided context to the collection and pointed out recordings and musicians that could be of particular significance. Steve and Anne assessed the condition of the different formats and began the organization process. I helped them pack, tote, and haul, and learned a great deal.
It was a rewarding and satisfying experience to work with these colleagues and friends, reminding me why we do what we do, and reinforcing the importance of this work, preserving not only the physical materials but the spirit they capture. We would also like to thank Kelley Breiding, and—most of all—Janice Patterson, for their support of this project.
title card of the film, Sprout Wings and Fly (1983)
Sprout Wings and Fly, a short documentary film about the life of old-time fiddler and banjo player, Tommy Jarrell, turns 35 this fall. To celebrate this coral milestone, we’ve gathered related materials found across the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006) to share with you all.
In August 1977, Alice Gerrard approached Tommy Jarrell about her, Cece Conway, and Les Blank making a film about him. In a letter to Tommy, Alice wrote:
“We would like to make a short film about you and your music…we would like to make the movie with a man named Les Blank who has made 6 or 8 other films about musicians. He would do all the camera work and Cece and you and I would decide what goes in the movie.”
Tommy Jarrell’s response to Alice a month later:
“I have decided I will help you all make the movie if there is no commercial TV. You know how I feel about commercial TV. They will have to set the money bags down to me if they want a commercial TV…I am looking forward to seeing you all soon. Come on down as soon as you can and we will talk a lot, fiddle some, drink a little, have a hell of a good time.”
After securing funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, North Carolina Arts Council, and the English and Folklore Departments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Sprout Wings and Fly production team traveled to Tommy Jarrell’s home in the small unincorporated community of Toast, North Carolina, located just west of Mt. Airy in Surry County.
Like most documentary film projects, the film was a collaborative effort – directed and photographed by Les Blank, produced and co-directed by Alice Gerrard and Cece Conway, edited by Maureen Gosling, and sound by Mike Seeger. And let’s not forget about the contributions of those who appeared in the film: Tommy Jarrell (this one goes without saying); Tommy’s sisters, Julie Lyons, Togie McGee, Edith Hicks; Tommy’s brother, Earlie Jarrell; Tommy children, Wayne Jarrell, Ardena Moncus, and Benny Jarrell; Tommy’s friends and neighbors, including fiddlers, Robert Sykes and Art Wooten; and visiting admirers and musicians, including a brief appearance by Blanton Owen.
The film, which was originally shot and distributed on 16mm motion picture film, premiered in the fall of 1983 at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Filmmakers Cece Conway and Les Blank and sound person, Mike Seeger, standing in front of Tommy Jarrell’s home in Toast, NC. Tommy Jarrell, Robert Sykes, Blanton Owen, and others are seen sitting on the porch. From folder PF-20006/80 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Filmmaker Les Blank (left) and sound person, Mike Seeger (right), standing in front of Tommy Jarrell and others. From folder PF-20006/80 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
From left to right: Les Blank, Cece Conway, Mike Seeger, and three unidentified women. From folder PF-20006/80 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Filmmaker Alice Gerrard (left) and sound person, Mike Seeger (right), posing with Tommy Jarrell (center). From folder PF-20006/81 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Tommy Jarrell became well known for his music late in life. Before Alice, Cece, Les, and company showed up in 1981 to begin filming (pictured above), musicians and admirers had already been taking advantage of Tommy’s open door policy to observe and learn from Tommy, who was known for his old-time clawhammer style and participating in the Round Peak music tradition of Surry County (more on Tommy and Round Peak music over on NCpedia).
One of the many admirers who reached out to Tommy for lessons included Alice Gerrard, who received this handwritten note from Tommy.
Handwritten note from Tommy Jarrell to Alice Gerrard. From the Sprout Wings and Fly scrapbook (SV-20006/1) in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
As mentioned and exhibited above, the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006) contains a wide range of materials relating to the pre-production, production, and screening of Sprout Wings and Fly, including photographs, scrapbook clippings and ephemera, and two audio recordings.
Much of the scrapbook materials and both of the audio recordings relate to the film’s November 1984 screening at the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mt. Airy. As the poster and ticket stub below announce, this was not just your typical film screening. It was also a stage show!
Ephemera related to the November 1984 screening of Sprout Wings and Fly in Mt. Airy, N.C. From the Sprout Wings and Fly scrapbook (SV-20006/1) in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
The two audio cassette recordings (FS-8685 and FS-8686, pictured below) document the stage show portion of the event, which included musical performances by Tommy himself, as well as The Pine Ridge Boys, Art Wooten, Robert Sykes, Bert Dickens (aka Bertie Dickens), Steve Haga (only 9 years old!), Mike Seeger, and Tommy’s sister, Julie Lyons, among others.
Audio cassettes FS-8685 (left) and FS-8686 (right) found in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Julie Lyons, “Wildwood Flower” (FS-8685, side 1, 23:35-24:44)
Mike Seeger: A woman that a lot of you know and that we worked with
in the film, Tommy's sister, Julie Lyons, I believe is going to sing
a song for you. Julie. Excuse me folks she's going to play the harp
[harmonica] for you. Why don't you give her a nice, warm welcome.
♪"Wildwood Flower" [instrumental]
Steve Haga, “Shuckin‘ the Corn” (FS-8685, side 2, 22:58-24:55)
Steve Haga: I'm going to play a little [?], "Shuckin' the Corn"
♪"Shuckin' the Corn" [instrumental]
Steve Haga: Thank you!
Robert Sykes and the Surry County Boys, “Black-eyed Susie” (FS-8685, side 2, 25:25–28:53)
Alice Gerrard: I'd like to introduce the next band. Robert Sykes has
been a member of this community for a real long time. He used to be a
fiddle player. I have an old picture of Robert when he played with
his brother, playing fiddle and guitar. He quit for a long time and
nobody ever thought he played the fiddle, or at least we didn't know.
He was in the movie, just briefly at the dance, as a dancer. We
didn't know he ever played the fiddle, although Tommy said he used
to play the fiddle. Well a little bit later, he started picking it
up again, and I believe it a lot of the reason he took the fiddle
back up was due to Tommy's encouragement to go ahead and try to get
back into playing again. And he certainly has. He's been going like
a house of fire ever since. And I'd like you to make welcome to
Robert Sykes and the Surry County Boys.
Robert Sykes: We're going to try one called "Black-eyed Susie"
♪"Blackeyed Susie" [instrumental]
Robert Sykes: Our next tune is a tune that I made up. I was mowing
the yard one day and a tune kept coming over my mind and I killed
the motor on the lawn mower and went into the house and played it.
I live about a quarter of a mile from Tommy Jarrell and I went up
there and "Tommy, I got a need a tune. I'll play it. If you don't
like it, tell me. And if you do, name it." And I played it for him
and he said, "I'll call that 'Robert Surly[?].'" He didn't say he
didn't like it.
Tommy Jarrell, “June Apple” (FS-8686, side 1, 00:00-04:40)
Tommy Jarrell: Does that sound right? I'm going to try and sing a
little a "June Apple", I don't guess I'll get the job done, but
I'll try it.
Wish I was a june apple
Hanging on a tree
Every time my true love pass
Take a big bite of me.
Can't you hear that banjo sing
I wish that gal was mine
Don't you hear that banjo sing
I wish that gal was mine.
I'm going 'cross the mountain
I'm going in my swing
It's when I get on the other side
I'm going to get my woman sing.
Charlie he's a nice young man
Charlie he's a dandy
Charlie is a nice young man
Feeds the girls on candy.
Goin down to the river to feed my sheep
Going down to the river Charlie
Going down to the river to feed my sheep
Feed them on Barley.
I wish I had a [?]
'Cuz every time it rains and snows
It's sun down on my fire.
Tommy Jarrell: Thank you
Tommy Jarrell,“Big Eyed Rabbit” (FS-8686, side 1, 09:50-12:57)
Andy Cahan: we got a request for "Big Eyed Rabbit"
Tommy Jarrell: "Big Eyed Rabbit". Alright, here we go...I don't
believe I can think of it.
♪ "Big Eyed Rabbit"
Yonder comes a rabbit,
Down skipping through the sand
Shoot that rabbit,
He don't mind
Fry him in my pan
Lord I fry him in my pan.
Yonder comes a rabbit,
Just as hard as he can run
It's yonder comes another one
Gonna shoot him with a double barrel gun,
Shoot him with a double barrel gun.
Rocking in a weary land,
I'm rocking in a weary land.
Yonder comes my darling,
It's how do you know?
I know her by her pretty blue eyes
Shining bright like gold,
Shining bright like gold.
Tommy Jarrell: I'm sorry about that singing. I just couldn't get up
there. One more?
We invite you to continue exploring materials found in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006) related to the production. And if you’re interested in viewing Sprout Wings and Fly over the long holiday weekend (highly recommended, of course!), it is available on DVD via Criterion Collection and as of November 2018, the film is streaming on Kanopy, a streaming service that is available for free to all UNC staff and students.
This past month the SFC surpassed over 20,000 streaming files of digitized audiovisual recordings, all accessible through UNC Library finding aids. Digitized over the course of a number of years through in-house and outsourcing efforts, the content represents materials from over 75 different collections, ranging from Western North Carolina flatfoot dancers to Mississippi juke joint performances.
One of our first batches being prepped for shipment in February 2016
With the more recent addition of video content and the increase in production in our audio studios since starting our Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in August 2015, there’s a lot to explore online. Since it might be overwhelming to know where to start, I thought I’d share my top 5 countdown of memorable moments from watching and listening over the last couple of months.
5. The time Dr. William R. Ferris panned across the Mississippi and framed the New Orleans skyline, from the vantage point of what is now the Crescent City Park in the Bywater (one of my favorite places in N.O!), while documenting his trip on the Delta Queen in 1987 (VT-20367/24).
Starts around the 33 minute mark Delta Queen, 17-24 April 1987: tape 1 of 4 Dr. William R. Ferris Collection, 20367 Video8
4. Finding this disc in the stacks during a conservation survey and spending many weeks curious about its contents before finally having it digitized. I’d be very curious if anyone knows the whereabouts of this band. (FD-20245/836) Chicken Way’s “Classy Lady ” Goldband Recording Corporation Collection, 20245
3. When James “Son” Thomas performed with George Thorogood and Ron Smith, and the video switcher employed some creative video effects (VT-20466/3) James “”Son Ford”” Thomas with George Thorogood and Ron Smith, 1978 Robert D. Bethke Collection, 20466
2. This SFC department favorite featuring Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Tracey Schwartz and a beautiful sunny backdrop (VT-20006/2). Bonus music videos by unidentified bands at the end! Woman Alive: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard with Mike Seeger and Tracey Schwartz, November 1975 Alice Gerrard Collection, 20006
VHS dub from unknown format
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST….
1. When a nightmarish Barney joined a Mt. Airy dance contest (VT-20009/272). The beloved dinosaur from our imagination appears around 5:20 minute mark
Mt Airy Fiddlers convention, dance contest Rufus Kasey, Molln part 2, 1997 Mike Seeger Collection, 20009
The Southern Folklife Collection now has well over 5000 streaming audio files of digitized archival recordings. Recent additions have been made possible through support from a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We’ve shared streaming recordings from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367), Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245) and the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) in the past, but we have since more than doubled the amount of streaming content. We’d love to hear your favorites, but as an introduction, we pulled a few that we found particularly fascinating from the most recent additions. Click on the link to go directly to a streaming audio file:
From the Bob Carlin Collection (20050), The Spencer Brothers, Lance and Maynard. Originally from Virginia, The Spencer Brothers performed on Greensboro’s WBIG and with Stringbean as part of Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Partners Troupe in the 1940s.
From the Tom Davenport Collection (20025), we’ve added a number of interviews with Arthur Jackson, aka Peg Leg Sam, and members of the Joines family . Here is one of Jackson conducted during the making of the excellent documentary film, Born for Hard Luck (view it on Folkstreams.net).
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.FS8205_Ham
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.”FS8205_Let Me Fall_BanjoFS8205_Rockingham Cindy
The Southern Folklife Collection is thankful to be able to share this with all of you out there. Happy Thanksgiving.
BILL BIRCHFIELD OF THE ROAN MOUNTAIN HILLTOPPERS, PHOTO BY ALICE GERRARD.
The Southern Folklife Collection is pleased to announce The Banjo: Southern Roots, American Branches, Saturday, August 25, 2012. This exhibit, symposium and concert is the first of the three-part Southern Folklife Collection Instrument Series. Panels, exhibits, and concerts in 2013 will feature the pedal steel guitar and the fiddle. The series seeks to provide an opportunity for music lovers to learn from leading musicians and scholars about the music, history, and culture of the American South.
Please join us first for the banjo symposium Saturday, August 25 from 10am to 4pm in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-CH, followed by a free concert in UNC’s Memorial Hall including master pickers Tony Trischka, Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Riley Baugus with Kirk Sutphin. This is a free but ticketed event. Tickets are now available at the Memorial Hall Box Office, 919.843.3333.
The symposium features lectures and panel discussions on the history of the banjo with:
Robert Cantwell, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of Bluegrass Breakdown
Bob Carlin, Musician and Author of The Birth of the Banjo
Cecelia Conway, Appalachian State University Professor of English; Author of African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia
Laurent Dubois, Duke Professor of Romance Studies and History
Dom Flemons, musician (Carolina Chocolate Drops)
Phillip Gura, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the 19th Century
Jim Mills, musician (Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill) Six time winner of IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Award.
Stephen Wade, Musician and Author of The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience
Don’t miss the accompanying exhibit tracing the history and development of the banjo, featuring instruments, photographs, recordings and ephemera from the Southern Folklife Collection.The exhibit opens August 25th and runs through Dec 31, 2012. on the 4th Floor, Wilson Library. Follow the Southern Folklife Collection on facebook or come back to Field Trip South for updates.
And now a couple more photos from the same roll as the one featured above from the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006). These photos feature Joe and Bill Birchfield of the great family stringband from Carter, Tennessee, The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Bill is demonstrating his unique banjo style, playing backwards, upside-down, and left-handed.
The end of UNC’s school year came up on us extremely fast. We are sad to see our student assistants, upon whom we depend to keep the SFC machine running smooth, graduate and go on to other things. We can’t thank them enough. Recently, one of these intrepid employees digitized a great number of photographs from the Alice Gerrrard Collection (#20006). The image above, a beautiful portrait of legendary old time banjo player Matokie Worrell Slaughter, came from a set of 35mm slides.
Originally from Pulaski, Virginia, Matokie Slaughter performed with her family on local radio during the 1940s and became a regular at fiddler’s conventions. She is featured on a number of recordings, including a band she formed with her sister, Virgie Richardson, and Alice Gerrard called the Back Creek Buddies.
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.
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.