The Old-Time Herald Volume 8, Number 5

Feature

by Frank Weston-

As has long been understood the rural tri-state area of Western North  Carolina, Southwestern Virginia and East Tennessee has been a rich source of  traditional music, from the ancient ballads of Britain sung alongside the home grown variety documenting local happenings such as the tragic deaths of  Laura Foster and Ellen Smith, to the fiddle music which accompanied many rural social gatherings. Around the turn of the century industries such as the  textile mills were   luring people away from the hard life of farm work. Being less isolated than they previously were, musically inclined workers began to broaden their  repertoire somewhat, particularly with the coming of the phonograph record  and the radio. Bluegrass music once described by Alan Lomax as “folk music with overdrive”  had a big influence on many of these traditional musicians, but this didn’t  mean that everybody completely abandoned the older material. One musician  that kept the old  songs alive alongside his bluegrass interests was Glenn Neaves.

            The town of Fries , Virginia lies in Grayson County approximately five miles northwest of Galax on the New River . Up until 1955 when the employees bought the homes in which they were living this was a company town having been built by “Old Man Fries” in the year 1901 to accommodate the employees at Fries Textile Mill. Many musicians have passed through the doors at Fries Textile Mill, three of the most important from the early days being Henry Whitter, Ernest Stoneman, and Kelly Harrell. A marker commemorating these three musicians was dedicated on Labor Day 1980 and one of the musicians asked to play at the dedication ceremony was fiddler and guitarist Glenn Neaves who had been a loom fixer in the mill for 34 years. He retired in 1977.  It was at Glenn’s home in Fries a few weeks later that I had the pleasure of speaking with Glenn and his wife Jessie. I was in  Galax at the time and took the opportunity to pay them a visit.

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