The Old-Time Herald Volume 12, Number 3

Memories of the Hammons Family Part II: Sherman Hammons
By Wayne Howard
Photo by Wayne Howard

Sherman Hammons was a colorful character, and meeting him ought to stand out, but I have no recollection of our first meeting. Most likely, Dwight Diller drove me and my wife out to his home and introduced us. The date was almost certainly in mid-July of 1970.

Sherman lived in a beautiful spot on the Little Laurel, about fifteen miles from Marlinton, West Virginia. Little Laurel was a tiny tributary of the Williams River, where Sherman and his brothers and sisters had grown up. One sister, Maggie, had once lived right across the road with her husband, Nathan Parker. Living with Sherman were his wife, Allene, and their son’s young children, Lee and Kay. The son, Roy, did not actually live with them but stopped by frequently. The place was at a fairly high elevation, cold and very snowy in the winter, and I was told that snakes did not live there on account of these conditions. Not many human beings did, either. The gravel road, which ran no more than ten yards from the front of Sherman’s house, carried very little traffic.

It is not surprising that Sherman, an extremely extroverted and gregarious man, spent a lot of his time plying the roads in his old Chevrolet truck. Among old-time music fans, Sherman is not so well known as his brother Burl and sister Maggie. On the LPs that made his family known, he played a couple of banjo pieces and told a couple of interesting stories, but he was overshadowed by the others. In the area where he lived, though, things were different. His progress down Main Street in Marlinton was something to see. The old-timers who loafed in front of French’s Diner would inquire about his garden; he would stop and exchange a few lies with them. People in cars would yell, “Give us a turkey call, Sherman!” and Sherman would rear back and oblige them with a shrill gobble—his trademark. In the barbershop, he would be called on to admit that he’d caught over his limit in fish. And on and on it went. Everybody seemed to know Sherman Hammons and stop to talk with him. It would not be too much to say that Sherman, not technically a resident of Marlinton, was the town character.

* * *

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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