The Hanging of Fiddlin’ Joe Coleman

American Fiddler cBy Wayne Erbsen

The story of the hanging of Fiddlin’ Joe Coleman is enough to send chills up and down your spine. In 1847, near the town of Slate Fork, in Adair County, Kentucky, a shoemaker and fiddler named Joe Coleman was living with his wife, and his wife’s mother and sister. According to some accounts, Joe had been acting erratically and not long after that, someone smothered his mother-in-law to death with a pillow. A few days later, Joe’s wife went into the woods to gather bark and never came back. Joe went searching for his wife in the

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Yes, There Were Cowboys in Bluegrass Music

Hopalong CassidyBy Wayne Erbsen

As a kid, I desperately wanted to be a cowboy.  I dreamed of owning a horse, riding the range, and doing what cowboys did. And why wouldn’t I? Every night I slept under a cowboy blanket and my lunch box was fully decorated with a decal of a handsome cowboy twirling his lariat. Growing up at the dawn of the age of television, all my heroes were cowboys: Hopalong Cassidy, Shane, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. I watched Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, and Bonanza while eating my TV dinner.

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The Dark History of ‘Hangman’s Reel’ + Clawhammer Banjo Tab

By Wayne Erbsen

Albert Hash and Emily SpencerHangman’s Reel always reminds me of my old friend and mentor, Albert Hash. I first met Albert at the Grayson County Fiddlers Convention in the summer of 1972, and took an instant liking to him. Not only was he a great old-time fiddler, but I was drawn to him by his plainspoken ways and his humble spirit. He spoke in an old-time Southwest Virginia dialect, and I hung on his every word. The man was wise from his head to his toes, and I spent a lot of time hanging out and playing music with him at

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“Drifting Too Far From the Shore” by Charles E. Moody

Charles E. Moody was not your average gospel songwriter. He alone wrote both the words and the melody of two of the bedrock classics of country and bluegrass gospel, “Kneel at the Cross” and “Drifting Too Far From the Shore.” To get a handle on this man and the songs he wrote, let’s go back to Moody’s beginnings in rural Georgia.

cabin illustrationOne of eight children, Moody was born in a log cabin on October 8,1891, near Tifton, Georgia. In this rural farming community, music was a favorite pastime, and as a young man Moody learned to play the harmonica and

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Rattlesnake Fangs, Fiddles, Mandolins & Folklore

By Wayne Erbsen

Jarrell & Cockerham Archives of Appalachia, ETSU +People have always had a strange fascination with rattlesnakes. As one of America’s most poisonous snakes, they are both feared and hated, and yet their rattles are prized for their mythical and magical properties.

While doing research for this article, I ran across an amazing number of stories, some true, some pure myth, about rattlesnakes or “rattlers,” as they are sometimes called. One old timer personally told me the following story as the gospel truth, but I have since found versions of it that were collected both in the Southern Appalachians, and in Western Europe.

It seemed

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Samantha Bumgarner: The Original Banjo Pickin’ Girl

This article was written by Charles K Wolfe.

One of the sillier myths being bandied about these days by the Nashville establishment involves the role of women in the history of country music. It is said, down along Music Row and in the August pages of Country Music Magazine, that before the advent of Kitty Wells in the late 1940’s, women had little to do with country music’s devel­opment: they were cast as only pretty faces along to dress up the act. This, of course, is nonsense, and an account of the significant women artists who contributed to

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Rural Black String Band Music

By Charles Wolfe

Originally published in Black Music Research Newsletter 4, No. 2 (Fall 1980). Used by permission of Mary Dean Wolfe.

“The first time I think I ever seen Arnold Schultz … this square dance was at Rosine, Kentucky, and Arnold and two more colored fellows come up there and played for the dance. They had a guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Ar­nold played the guitar but he could play the fiddle-numbers like Sally Goodin. People loved Arnold so well all through Kentucky there; if he was playing a guitar they’d go gang up around him till he would

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Gospel Boogie: White Southern Gospel Music in Transition, 1945-55

It has become a truism to say that most forms of traditional music in the American South were to some extent ‘commercialized’ by the end of the 1920s; certainly this is true of fiddle and instrumental traditions, country singing, the blues and jazz. By the middle of the Depression most of these musics had gained access to the mass media, either through phonograph records or radio. Throughout the Depression amateur musicians gave way to semi-professional, and then fully professional, musicians who spent most of their time playing music. While these changes meant erosion of regional styles and dilution of tradition,

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Emmett Miller – The Vaudeville Star Who Helped Shape Country Music

By Charles Wolfe

Emmett-Miller-photo

There are dozens of unsung heroes in the annals of country music; some are instrumentalists, like the legendary Georgia fiddler Joe Lee, who introduced the “long bow” style to greats like Clayton McMichen; some are songwriters, like the gospel singer Grady Cole, who wrote Tramp on the Street; others were promoters and radio personalities like the late Eddie Hill, who helped introduce the music of the Louvin Broth­ers to a wide audience. But one of the most unsung, and one of the most mysterious, was a remarkable blackface come­dian and singer named Emmett Miller. He flourished

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Tommy Jackson – King of the 1950s Fiddlers

By Charles Wolf

The first great Nashville session fid­dler, Tommy Jackson has probably been heard on more country records than any other musician. Through out the 1950s and 1960s, he dominated .the field, appearing: on records by every major star of the era, from Hank Williams to Bill Monroe, from Ray Price to George Jones. He virtually invented the standard country fiddle back-up style, and in the early 1950s had a string of hit albums of his own that both reflected and stimulated the square dance craze.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 31, 1926, Jackson and his family moved

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