Field Trip South: Picking Up The Bobby Patterson Collection

Album Cover for Old-time Fiddling and Clawhammer Banjo, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Audine Lineberry, and Bobby Patterson, Mountain Records #

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 seated, holding a banjo with a mandolin and electric bass on either side of him

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.

 

Album cover of the Heritage Records recording of the 1978 Brandywine Music Festival, showing a square dancing troupe

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.

a guitar and two banjos leaning up against a desk in Patterson's studio

The house instruments of Patterson’s studio

We are happy and honored to host the Bobby Patterson Collection (#20574) at the SFC.

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside Galax, VA

Photo of the Week: Ed Haley

West Virginia fiddler Ed Haley (1883-1951), photographed ca. 1930s. Though a professional musician, Haley never made a commercial recording due his suspicion that record companies would take unfair advantage of his blindness. Home recordings made late in his life were issued on Rounder Records’ 1976 LP Parkersburg Landing and 1997 CDs Forked Deer and Grey Eagle. Photograph from the Guthrie T. Meade Collection.

Irish Fiddlers in the Kevin Delaney Collection

shamrock From 1970 to 1974 Kevin Delaney, a Duke University graduate with a keen interest in folk music, traveled across Ireland and the United States recording scores of local fiddlers and old-time musicians, including many whose music may have otherwise gone undocumented.

These field tapes, now preserved in the SFC’s Kevin Delaney Collection, contain hundreds of tunes performed by traditional Irish musicians, primarily fiddlers from the counties of Clare, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Meath, Sligo, and Tipperary, as well as Irish fiddlers working in the US. The collection is an invaluable resource for students of Irish and American fiddling traditions.

Listen below to clips of Irish fiddler John Kelly, of Dublin, performing a tune recorded by Delaney as “The Humours of Castlefinn” on July 31, 1972:

Humours of Castlefinn

and Paddy Glacken, also of Dublin, performing “The Apples in Winter” a few days later:

Apples in Winter

Both clips from field tape FT-272 in the Kevin Delaney Collection.

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, Mountain Fiddler

FC-13991Congratulations to West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd, who today marks his 20,774th day in office, making him the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history. To fully appreciate how long Byrd has served, note that he has had time to both filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to endorse (and, presumably, vote for) the first African-American to be elected President. He has come a long way.

Though hampered now by his age and health problems (he will be 92 years old on Friday), Byrd has been an avid country fiddler for most of his life, heavily influenced by the recordings of legendary West Virginia fiddler Clark Kessinger. In 1978, while Byrd was Senate Majority Leader, he recorded an album for County records titled U.S. Senator Robert Byrd: Mountain Fiddler (SFC # FC-13991).

Listen below to a clip from that album of Sen. Byrd, on fiddle and vocals, performing “Rye Whiskey” with Doyle Lawson on guitar, James Bailey on banjo, and Spider Gilliam on bass.

Rye Whiskey