In this audio excerpt, old time style fiddler and collector Bruce Greene talks about meeting Hiram Stamper and describes his style of fiddle playing.
From the series "Musical Migrants: From North to South" from Falling Tree Productions for BBC Radio 4 produced by Rachael Hopkin.
Kentucky Old-Time Fiddler: Hiram Stamper
Stamper (1893-1992) is one of the many older generation Kentucky
fiddlers documented in Hutchins Library's sound recordings collections.
Library of Congress recordings of older associates such as Bev
Baker and Luther Strong, make clear that Stamper was the last known
living representative of what might be called a "classic" eastern
Kentucky style of fiddling. Other 19th century fiddlers that
were particularly influential in the development of Stamper's style
include his uncle, Daniel Triplett, Shade Slone, a Civil War veteran
from the Pippa Passes area (Knott County), "Black" Hiram
Begley (Leslie County), and Si Terry.
This style, with local and regional variations, was probably the
dominant fiddling style throughout the southern Appalachians. It
developed as it did because at the time, the fiddle was mostly played
without accompaniment. This allowed the fiddler a great deal
of freedom in timing and self-expression through idiosyncrasies of
tune structure and variations in the melodies.
The instruments commonly associated with the fiddle - the banjo
and guitar - did not appear much in eastern Kentucky before the Civil
War, and the early 1900's, respectively. The fiddle music of areas
such as southwestern Virginia is closely entwined with the rhythms
of the banjo and guitar. In contrast, Stamper's playing requires
an accompanist to adapt to his sense of timing and tune structure.
Many of his tunes are not well suited to accompaniment at all.
Stamper's bowing was very vigorous and energetic. There was strong
emphasis on the push, or up stroke, giving a strong pulsing beat,
especially when beginning and ending phrases of tunes and between
parts in tunes. Phrases are ended with an abrupt upward motion of
the bow, drawing out the last note as long as possible, then returning
to the tune with a long downward stroke that again would draw out
the melody in a way that gave the rhythm of the tune a pronounced
pulsing, or wavelike feel. He also used long sweeping motions of
the bow interspersed with more explosive bursts of quick back and
forth sawing patterns that often gave a rather syncopated feel. He
wielded the bow with his elbow held fairly high, allowing most of
the bow work to be achieved by his elbow, wrist, and finger movement.
He tuned his fiddle about a full step below standard pitch, and
the bridge was cut with a very shallow curve. Both of these practices
allowed him to play two and sometimes three strings simultaneously,
and gave his playing a very full, deep sound. This, and his sense
of timing, gave many of his tunes a very dark, mysterious quality
which has always been closely associated with older Appalachian fiddling.
Stamper's repertoire of tunes is characteristic of eastern Kentucky
traditional music of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
He played very little music from later radio or recorded sources. There
are marked similarities to his music found in other regional collections
as is illustrated by the presence in Jean Ritchie's repertoire of
such tunes as Betty Martin, Boston, God Bless Those Moonshiners,