The field recordings of musician-researchers Bruce Greene, Steve Green, John Harrod, Barbara Kunkle, Steve Rice, and Jeff Titon are especially strong in documenting Kentucky’s older generation fiddlers. In many instances the fiddle tunes and playing styles that they have documented date well back into the 1800s. Predominant tune sources for the fiddlers they recorded include minstrel stage music, Civil War military music, and the dance music of Britain, Ireland, and in some instances, France and Germany. Nonetheless real but less well documented, are the musical interchanges with African and Native Americans.
Transcriptions of some selected fiddle tunes from these collections have been produced by Sound Archives Fellowship recipient Erynn Marshall.
A useful perspective from which to explore a large portion of Berea’s fiddle recordings, are the three broad regional traditions identified by Jeff Titon in Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes (University Press of Kentucky, 2001).
The more elaborate melodies that became common in the northeast tended to not be well suited to the banjo.
Fiddle-banjo duets were particularly prevalent in the southeast but the solo tradition was also well represented among fiddlers born as late as the 1880s and 1890s.
South-Central Kentucky Counties
Playing styles found most commonly in the south-central region include fiddle-banjo combinations associated with African-Americans prior to the Civil War. There is also an even older tradition of solo fiddle tunes not well suited to banjo.
Representative fiddlers from this region include Doc Roberts (Madison County), Clyde Davenport (Wayne County), and Jim Bowles and Isham Monday (Monroe County). Davenport’s playing includes both styles. Bowles tends mostly toward the African-American and Monday more toward the solo style. Doc Roberts is particularly notable for the extent to which he merged more modern styles with his older repertoire, much of which came from African American fiddlers of his acquaintance.