The Old-Time Herald Volume 12, Number 2

Feature
Memories of the Hammons Family Part I: Lee Hammons
By Wayne Howard
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Lee Hammons, 1973. Photo by Wayne Howard

 

Most readers of the Old-Time Herald will need no introduction to the Hammons family, but it seems that no article about them has ever appeared here. I was asked to make up for that deficiency because they were friends of mine. I have found it hard to do this, hard to remember things after so many years, even though I have notes and tapes to help me. Even at the time, I missed some of the specific information, or didn’t get it straight. Most of my visits with them were not taped. A lot of conversations even took place while we were driving somewhere, or walking out in the woods. Mostly, I would just visit; then, sometimes, after going home, I would write down as much as I could remember. The stories and observations I give as theirs are authentically their own, but some things set here in quotation marks are not really quoted word for word. I am only trying to give an impression of the way they talked, while letting them speak for themselves.

Here and there I will have some background and some conclusions to offer, but the best sources of background material are still the booklets by Carl Fleischauer and Alan Jabbour that accompanied their 1973 LP recordings, The Hammons Family (AFS L65-L66) and Shaking Down the Acorns (Rounder 0018), which have been combined and reissued with a CD set also called The Hammons Family (Rounder CD 1504/05). Their work is carefully researched, while I can only offer memories and impressions.

* * *

I went to Pocahontas County, West Virginia, just out of college, in August of 1969, to teach high-school English. I was aware of the urban folk revival of the 1960s and its music. Somewhere in the back of my mind was an idea of finding folk musicians in these mountains, but I had no idea what they would sound like. I knew nothing about old-time music and could not play a note on any kind of instrument. I was, however, looking for a dulcimer. I had promised a girl named Barbara, now my wife of many years, that I would try to find her one. My quest for that led me to the Hammons Family.

Dwight Diller’s mother worked in the school board office and heard me inquiring about dulcimer makers. I had not met or even heard of Dwight at that time, but she told me I needed to meet him and directed me to the home of an old man whom Dwight had been visiting lately: Lee Hammons. This was in the fall, probably October, of 1969.

 

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