Foreign Soil – Extended liner notes
If I am captivated by a piece of music, I want to know where it came from or what inspired the musician. This curiosity eventually led to me having a great love of old-time music, especially the traditional music of central Appalachia. I was captivated by this wonderful music, as well as by the people, the landscape and the lore behind it.
In June 2015, I spent a couple weeks traveling in Appalachia to seek out the music and culture that has fascinated me for more than a decade. I was hoping that the trip would connect me deeper with the music. In some ways it did…but it also made me more aware of the fact that no matter how great a love I have for it, I am still a foreigner to the music. There is something I will never fully understand or be a part of since I didn’t grow up in this tradition. But that has not diminished my love of the music. Quite the opposite.
The Richness of Region
I chose to limit this CD to music from West Virginia and eastern Kentucky for several reasons. First, there are so many great tunes and songs; it would be hard to limit myself. So in the spirit of Danish Dogma Cinema, I set up a “rule” to follow. Second, the music of the selected areas seems so well-suited for solo recordings. There is plenty of band music from both areas, but my favorite solo recordings are from that region. Third, during my trip there was something about my visit to eastern Kentucky and West Virginia that really had an emotional impact on me. I can’t describe it. Special thanks are in order to John Haywood and George Gibson in Kentucky and Doug van Gundy of West Virginia for welcoming me into their homes and showing this Danish stranger their culture and music. In this world of old-time music, I really enjoy the varieties of styles and sounds — especially the regional differences. I have a lot of respect for those who are keepers of their local musical traditions.
The tunes played on this CD are not replications of the sources. The fiddle bowing may differ and notes may be added or removed. The mentioned sources are a dominating influence, but I play the tunes how they naturally come to me while trying my best to maintain their aesthetics. Today we can slow down recordings, analyze the tones, loop phrases and duplicate the tunes precisely. I like to think about how the old-timers learned. They would listen to their source, maybe just once or twice, and then try to replicate what they heard. Banjo historian George Gibson talks about learning by emulation as opposed to by imitation, and notes how it adds a great diversity to music.
I like to think of the tunes on this CD as music by people born around 1900 in Appalachia as passed through the filter of a Danish person born in 1978. I try to capture the spirit and tradition of the music, but let it be my own. And with the rise in banjo sales and folk-inspired bands in Denmark, I hope to help inspire people to seek out the older traditional music.
1. Walking in the Parlor
Banjo: gCGCD (approx.)
Many chords can be played on a banjo, but in my opinion nothing beats a good “one-finger tune.” This is a banjo tune based on right-hand rhythm in which just one finger on the left hand is enough to add some melody. This tune, from Lee Hammons (1883-1980) of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, is one of the greatest banjo tunes. On the neck of the banjo all you need is one finger, one string and one fret position; the rest is right-hand magic.
2. Shaking Down the Acorns
This is an amazing tune is from one of my all-time favorite musicians, Edden Hammons (1876-1955) of Webster and Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The Hammons family members are the sources of so much great music. This tune has been played a lot on CDs and at festivals, but there is some crookedness to Edden’s version that is sometimes left out. Edden’s nephew Burl Hammons (1908-1993) also played a great, but more straight, version.
Great and detailed article about Edden Hammons and his background here.
3. Molly Dear (Oh, Molly Dear)
In 1927, Benjamin Frank (B.F.) Shelton (1902-1963) travelled from his home in Corbin, Kentucky, to record in Bristol on the Tennessee/Virginia border. His recordings are some masterful examples of two-finger-picking banjo. Inspired by another great Kentucky banjo player, Rufus Crisp (1880-1950: Floyd County, Kentucky), I start out playing two-finger but switch to an overhand style.
4. Chinquapin Hunting
There are several tunes by this name, but there is something special about the one the Stampers played. Hiram Stamper (1893-1992) and his son Art Stamper (1933-2005) from Knott County, Kentucky, played this both lonesome and danceable tune. By chance, I tried playing it with my fiddle tuned low, and in that tuning it sounded a lot more like Hiram Stamper’s playing. This low tuning makes the rattlesnake rattler in my fiddle come alive.
Read about Hiram Stamper and hear his music here.
Watch a youtube of Art Stamper performing in 2003:
Bending the rules a bit with this one. Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs (1897-1971) was from Virginia but lived right by the Kentucky border and resided and worked in both states. In June 2015, I drove through Dock Boggs’ Wise County and then into Letcher County, Kentucky. The areas seemed very similar to me and had the same vibe, which might be one of the reasons why Dock always seemed to have a Kentucky feel to his music. Cuba has verses found in other songs, and I have combined it with verses from If I Die a Railroad Man from Green Bailey (1900-c.1980) who was from Owsley County in Eastern Kentucky. Who knows? Perhaps Dock learned it from Green – or vice versa?
Dock recorded in music in the late 1927 and retired from music in the 1930s. Musician Mike Seeger found Dock in the 1960 and brought him to the attention of the world.
Dock Boggs’ biography.
6. Fiddler a Dram
This tune, which has a variation of a common name, is from the playing of James Crase (1885-1977) of eastern Kentucky. I thought it was played in standard violin tuning when I learned the tune, but he played it in GDGD. I have kept playing it in standard. I love the drive and energy in this tune and the contrast between the high and low parts.
Not much is known about James Crase. He was recorded in 1959 by John Cohen and the recordings were included on the LP Mountain Music of Kentucky. The liner notes have very little information, and Cohen (who is also a photographer) wasn’t allowed to make any photographs. Crase has a great old sound, and used to play with legendary fiddler Luther Strong, who was recorded in the 1930s.
I had to do some research on Crase and found a date of birth and death. The liner notes mention his son Noah Crase was a pretty well known bluegrass banjo player. I found a Noah Crase obituary which had his date of birth and mothers name. That led me to a 1940 census. And then to a James Crase social security death index.
James was born on the 12th of July, 1885. In 1940 he lived in Breathitt, Kentucky with his wife Pearlie (born circa 1894) and his daughter Bessie and sons Claud, John and Noah. They had lived in Barwick, Kentucky where Noah was born in 1934. They would have 2 more daughters Ethel and Myrtle. At some point they moved to Ohio. James Crase died in 1977 in Warren, Ohio. If anyone know more (or has a picture) please let me know. James Crase was a great fiddler and deserves more attention.
7. Wild Bill Jones
I have heard this classic “bad man”/”murder ballad” for as long as I have listened to old-time music. George Gibson (1938- ) of Knott County, Kentucky, recorded a very evocative version on his CD Last Possum Up the Tree, which inspired my version. I had the great fortune to meet George Gibson and his neighbor John Haywood in June 2015, and it was a very inspiring meeting.
8. Johnny Booger
Banjo: gCGCD (approx.)
There is just something magical about the banjo playing of Lee Hammons (see Walking in the Parlor). He is one of my favorite banjo players, and had a great rhythm and a subtle touch. He played a cheap Harmony Bakelite banjo. I bought one and play it on the Lee Hammons tunes on this recording. Wonderful banjo.
9. Jenny Get Around
This fiddle tune is from John Morgan Salyer (1882-1952) of Magoffin County, Kentucky. I suggest you spend some time online and read this article about John Salyer and how these wonderful recordings could have been lost forever had it not been for fiddler and tune collector Bruce Greene.
John Salyer Collection: Hear all the recordings.
10. Trouble in Mind
The great Roscoe Holcomb (1912-1981) of Perry County, Kentucky, epitomized the “high lonesome sound.” I love this song, but I can come nowhere near Holcomb’s vocal rendition. So I lowered the tuning and made it my own. I am really pushing my voice to the limit on this one, but the subject matter also relates to the troubles of the soul.
There are also several videos on youtube. Here is one:
11. Fiddler’s Dram
A common tune name used on tunes that at times only have the title in common. This recording is inspired by the playing of Thomas Dillon (ca. 1888-1965) of Webster County, West Virginia. He called himself The Cornstalk and Bagpipe Fiddler and played in some wonderful low and droning cross tunings. You can read about him in the great book “Play of a Fiddle” by Gerald Milnes.
Special thanks are in order to Martin Verner Hansen, John Høyer Nielsen, Mike Jarboe, and Peter Lorichs and the rest of Turf Rollers – Lasse Høi, Mathias Enevoldsen and Jonas Jirhamn. Also, my heroes and mentors Ole Rossel and Anders Færgeman. Doug Van Gundy, John Haywood and George Gibson for sharing the wonderful music of West Virginia and Kentucky with me, as well as American friends who hosted me when I visited: Becky Cohen, Rachel Eddy, Larry and Sue Warren, and my good friend Scott Byrne. Also, thanks to all the other old-time music friends of Denmark, Sweden, The United Kingdom and the U.S.A. And, of course, thanks to Vaida Enevoldsen and Freja Enevoldsen.
Mountains of Music: West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal by John Lily et.al.
Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes by Jeff Todd Titon
Fiddling Way Out Yonder: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine by Drew Beisswenger
River of Earth by James Still
The Hammons Family – Detailed study
George Gibson: Last Possum up the Tree
Edden Hammons Collection 1 & Collection 2
The Hammons Family: A Study of a West Virginia Family’s Traditions
Various (James Crase): Mountain Music of Kentucky
Bruce Greene: Five Miles of Ellum Wood
Born Old (Doug van Gundy & Paul Gartner): Vintage Keys – Oldtime Music from West Virginia
Rich and the Po’ Folk (with John Haywood): When the Whistle Blew