The Old-Time Herald Volume 6, Number 3


Date: Wed, 12 Nov 1997 13:51:52 +0100
From: Irena Pribylova
Subject: Czech Mail

I am glad that you have published a review on a Czech CD, the Honza Bicans Pisnicky Zmrzleho Drevorubce [vol. 5 no. 8]. One of your readers from Chicago contacted me and asked for a promotional copy. I put him in touch with the author.
Irena Pribylova, Czech republic

The Hollow Rock String Band CD: Another View
Kerry Blech comes down pretty hard on the reissue of the original Kanawha-label Hollow Rock String Band album, which was first published in 1967 or so. As arguably the single most important album of old-time instrumental music to come out of the 1960s, it is no doubt tempting to search for a set of Emperor's Clothes when reviewing the project 30 years later. It's true: things sometimes seem changed when viewed from the perspective of the future - look at reruns of the Mod Squad sometime. And I agree that, like most LPs, the Hollow Rock album makes a short CD. There was once another, second, master of these four musicians - Alan Jabbour, Bobbie Thompson, Tommy Thompson, and Bertram Levy. Where it is now I have no idea, and it is certainly possible that it no longer exists, but had it been found and included, the new CD version of the original album would certainly have been enhanced. Maybe the search should continue?

Even as a short CD, however, the Hollow Rock oeuvre remains outstanding as a collection of tunes - anyone who doesn't already have a copy, and who appreciates old-time fiddle playing and repertoire, should own one. Many of these tunes are so deep now in the on-going oral tradition that it might be time to go back and check on how the dang things 'originally' went. I've heard some pretty strange versions of "Over the Waterfall" down through the years, for example. "Money Musk," on the other hand, remains one of the best of the great showpiece A tunes, along with "George Booker" and "Last of Callahan," and it's great in both standard and cross-tuning - a terrific learning experience for any fiddler dabbling in these healing waters. As one who has played every tune on this album, I can say with certainty that they are all first rate, and well-worth learning. Further, Alan Jabbour's style of fiddling - dramatic, energetic, clean, with just enough embellishment to enhance the crucial notes - is a fine vehicle through which to learn these tunes. This, I am sure, is in part why Alan crafted his fiddling style in this way. More than many players, Alan Jabbour has, throughout his career, been concerned with the propagation and dissemination of the old tunes. He has seen his task to be a teaching one (and has surely been most successful).

In the end, Kerry's oddest criticism seems to be the complaint that Alan made this record at all rather than producing - as Alan and others later did with the Hammons family - a field recording of Henry Reed. Well, I don't doubt that, to some, a CD of the Jabbour Henry Reed tapes would be of great interest. Maybe that, too, will someday appear. I've heard the tapes, however, and I can at least testify that, by the time Alan met Henry Reed, Reed was far past his prime as a musician. Tapes of this kind - field recordings which capture the palsied arm, the quavering off-pitch voice or note, the tune which dies in mid-course because the tune has vanished from the mind, are an acquired taste, and not acquired at all by many. As a trained violinist, Alan was able to decipher Henry Reed, to bring his tunes back to life. In the case of "Money Musk" (and possibly other Reed tunes), Alan put together various parts played in different sessions into a coherent, exciting whole. Yet Alan's interest was always in the tunes, the Henry Reed tunes. He always said exactly what he was doing in this project - recreating the tunes of Henry Reed. Like the rest of us, Kerry included, who never got to hear Henry Reed in his prime, Alan was unable to recreate the style of Henry Reed with real precision. He never made such a misguided effort.

A lot has happened since 1967 in the world of old-time music. Many of the greatest old-time players of the century have passed on. Many of us have had the good fortune to hear some of them in recordings from the field work of the '30s and '40s, and others have been close enough in time for us to have actually seen and heard them play live and in person. Some recent 'young fogie' players have gone to extraordinary lengths to recreate subtleties of style exemplified by some of the greatest of these collected players. As only one example, Bruce Molsky has worked out how to capture something in the bowing of players like Luther Strong which, before he did it, was, I expect, a complete mystery to all who listened to those Lomax-collected field recordings (some of which were brought to light in the Library of Congress album of American fiddling edited in the 1970s by Alan Jabbour). But - as I'm certain Bruce would agree - Luther Strong's tunes are entirely worth learning and appreciating apart from coming to a complete comprehension of the most subtle nuances of his style. Kerry, in his review, sort of misses this distinction, as well as the brute fact that there are no extant recordings of Henry Reed comparable to those of Luther Strong - that even though Alan saw Henry play, to recreate what he saw, the shaky playing of an old, old man, was to miss the point of what he was hearing.

Consider the example of the O'Neill Collection. Here we find this vast number of tunes. Chief O'Neill 'collected' them, from himself and from other Irish players who resided and passed through Chicago around the turn of the century. You'll find almost no embellishment in the whole book - none of those little things which in one sense 'make' Irish fiddling. How then, can this be a collection of Irish tunes? Miles Krassen's effort to Colemanize O'Neill notwithstanding, the question is silly, isn't it? Like Kerry's review of the Hollow Rock CD, I think the most important point has been missed. There is the forest, and then there are the trees.

Wm. N. Hicks
Siler City, NC

Shame on you for printing Molly Tenenbaum's "review" of The Phillips Collection of Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, Volume Two. Your reviewer apparently (1) doesn't read music, (2) can't find an old-time fiddler who does read music, (3) hasn't got a clue what musicians use written music for, and (4) is predisposed to find fault with Stacy Phillips' monumental effort. Couldn't you find a reviewer who is both musically literate and enjoys old-time fiddling? There are the people (there are thousands of us) for whom this collection has value. No, it doesn't teach you how to fiddle, and no, it doesn't teach you about the fiddlers themselves, but if you've ever tried to figure out the bowing to Doc Roberts' "All I Got's Done Gone," for example, and then happen across Phillips' transcription, you can't help but appreciate the enormous effort that produced it.

Compare Phillips' richly notated work with the bare-bones transcriptions you printed in the very same issue of the Old-Time Herald: basic to the extreme, with no bowing marks! The Narmour and Smith "Charleston No. 2" you printed, simply can't stand up next to Phillips' notation of "Carroll County Blues" by the same artists. What a pity you didn't get Phillips to transcribe this rare gem! Then we would have a reliable guide, not only to the bar notes, but to bowing, accents, articulation, fingerings, chords, and other details that Phillips supplies to help us make music out of mere "henscratches and flyspecks."

Furthermore, basing her review upon sight-reading by a bluegrass fiddler makes as much sense as reviewing French poetry by having it read aloud by a non-native speaker. If her "excellent sight-reader" stumbled over the time signature changes in Jim Bowles' "Christmas Eve," could that be because she'd never heard the original?

Rather than dissing this beautiful collection, I suggest you use it as a standard by which to judge the quality of transcriptions you chose to print in your magazine in the future. If you can't (or won't?) find a musically literate fiddler to help you make competent editorial judgments, at least you could avoid embarrassing yourselves and omit such misbegotten "reviews" from future issues.

John J. O'Loughlin
Oxon Hill, MD

The review of Guitar Playing Hawaiian Style [vol. 6 no. 1] was well received here - George Winston (mentioned in the review) got a copy before I did (probably based on the fact that surface mail to Hawaii takes a few extra weeks) and sent it to the key slack key players in Hawaii.

Dr. Richard W. Brislin
Honolulu, Hawaii

Wade wants to thank all friends for cards and letters, and the calls he has received during his illness. He had triple heart bypass on Sept. 1, 1997. He is progressing along great.
We are at a new address: G 3327 Herrick St., Flint, MI 48532.

Julia Mainer
Flint, MI

I enjoyed [Molly Tenenbaum's] reviews in the current issue, and felt they brought some nice additional perspective.
Bill Nowlin
Cambridge, MA

Kerry Blech, in his winter 1997/98 review of the Alan Lomax Collection Sampler (Rounder 1700) raises a couple of questions that make me wish to comment. He says that he hopes "all is on the up-and-up with its saleability" because he received a copy marked as a promotional copy. It's standard procedure to mark promotional copies, and marking them infers nothing about the legality or availability of the recordings in question. This sampler is widely available, and we have made it available at a very inexpensive price (despite the 72-page booklet) so that people will find it easy to sample this fine Collection. It is troubling that our attempt to make a sampler available inexpensively seems to have called into question in some fashion its bona fides.

Kerry also questions whether or not we will be making available more of the old-time music which Alan Lomax recorded, but instead of contacting either Rounder or the Lomax office to ask, he comes to the conclusion in print that it "seems once again that our little niche in the music world is being overlooked, ignored." In actual fact, the editors plan many reissues of Anglo-American material, including all of the various items he mentioned. In addition, there will almost certainly be further volumes which will include ballad signes and others from outside Appalachia, such as Pearl W. Nye of Ohio, Blaine Stubblefield of South Dakota and the ballad singers which Alan recorded in New England.

The Lomax folks are well aware of the rich old-time music recorded by Alan and others associated with him, and would by no means deliberately ignore the reissue of this portion of the large body of recordings. There are many excellent performances here, and they will be released.

It is probably worth noting, additionally, that the Collection will present material from Alan's entire career. Though Kerry says that he believes that "everything in this mammoth collection will be from the late '50s forward, recorded in stereo" he is again, unfortunately, incorrect. Once more, he could have found out the answer simply by inquiring. Most of the music will in fact be from prior to the late 1950s, and it will be presented in stereo or mono, as appropriate. Most of the tracks on the sampler are in mono. A great deal of work has been done to get the best possible sound, and only recently the 20-but mastering equipment was taken to Washington for a lengthy span of work with the original recordings at the Library of Congress.

Undertaking to release over 100 albums of music from this grand body of works is a daunting task, and we do hope for sympathetic support from lovers of folk music everywhere.

Bill Nowlin
Cambridge, MA

I thought that Molly Tenenbaum's review of Hubie King and Diane Jones' recent CD There Are No Rules, was unnecessarily unfriendly, so I would like to offer my response.

Molly seemed to be looking for more organization and a theme, but I thought that the title There Are No Rules clearly explains that no such things are needed. I think it is fine to put some of your favorite tunes on record for no more reason than the fact that you like them. This is old-time music, isn't it? Not exactly noted for formality and organization.

I don't know Ms. Tenenbaum, and I'm not familiar with her musical background, but I suspect that she is not much aware of West Virginia banjo music, or may not be very interested in it. She is certainly entitled to her opinion, but I thought her put-down of Diane's singing was unnecessarily harsh. There aren't many of us old-time musicians after all, and I think that we should try to be more supportive of one another.

I admit to being prejudiced, Hubie and Diane are friends, they are two of my favorite banjo players, and I have always particularly enjoyed Diane's singing. It seems to me that her voice suits the music well. There Are No Rules has been one of my favorite CDs since its release about a year ago, and it will remain in my CD player.

Clarke Prouty
Lanham, MD

I appreciate the nice recent review of Close To Home: Old-Time Music From Mike Seeger's Collection, 1952-1967, Smithsonian Folkways 40097. I'd like to clarify a few points.

1) The review reads: "This CD represents samples from a number of artists that had their own LPs recorded and produced by Seeger and published by Folkways or Rounder. . . ." Actually, this is the first time I've released recordings by 16 of the 30-odd artists on the CD. For many of those 16, this is their only released recording.

2) Only one of the pieces on the CD was previously released.

3) Snuffy Jenkins really does play "Going To Lay Down My Old Guitar" on track 24. His version of "John Henry" is on Smithsonian Folkways 40037. It never occurred to me, but the two pieces do have some similarities.

What I think I didn't mention in the notes was that this CD was an integral part of a project about 10 years ago to copy all of my field recordings 1952-1967 for preservation purposes. Listening to those 300 hours of field recordings gave me a good opportunity to select music for release. This is the first of those collections to be published and is dedicated to old-time music, primarily music recorded in homes.

Mike Seeger
Lexington, VA

Thank you for running my article on "Let's Dance!" It has elicited several comments and hopefully other groups will try such an event.

I also really appreciate that you have broadened your scope at OTH to include a bit more notice of northern music and dance while still maintaining southern old-time music as your primary focus.

Cathie Whitesides
Seattle, WA

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