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Fiddle Tunes and Fiddlers in the Berea Sound Archives

Fiddle Tunes and Fiddlers Research Guides

The fiddle recordings in the Berea Sound Archives are especially strong in documenting Kentucky’s older generation fiddlers. The work of musician-researchers Bruce Greene, Steve RiceJohn HarrodBarbara Kunkle, and Jeff Titon in many instances document fiddle tunes and playing styles that 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. Other states represented in the work of these researchers and others include Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Where Kentucky Fiddle Tunes Come From

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).
Northeast Counties
The more elaborate melodies that became common in the northeast tended to not be well suited to the banjo.
Representative fiddlers from this region include Alfred Bailey (Bath County), Darley Fulks (Wolfe County), and Santford Kelly (Morgan County.)
Southeast Counties
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.
Representative fiddlers from this region include Estill Bingham (Bell County), John Morgan Salyer (Magoffin County), and Effie Pierson (Owsley County), and Hiram Stamper (Knott County).
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),  Jim Bowles (Monroe County),  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.

Selected Fiddlers - How They Do What They Do

Hiram Stamper (1893-1992) is one of the many older generation Kentucky fiddlers documented in Hutchins Library's sound recordings collections. Selected recordings with biography and description of Stamper's playing style by Bruce Greene.
Ernie Carpenter and Melvin Wine: West Virginia Fiddling Traditions. Recordings with analysis and tune transcription by 2008 Sound Archives Fellow, Eric Strother.
Selected Kentucky fiddle tunes. Chosen by 2008 Sound Archive Fellow Alan Jabbour to feature interesting tunes and variants, and to highlight key elements of performance style. Recordings with tune transcriptions and detailed commentary on repertoire, tune genres, and playing style.
Selected Kentucky and West Virginia fiddle tunes. Chosen by 2006 Sound Archives Fellow Erynn Marshall because they are of a kind almost never included in music books and tune collections. Recordings and tune transcriptions.
Bill Livers was born in Monterey, Owen County, Kentucky, He was sixty when he performed at the 1975 Celebration of Traditional Music backed by the white revivalist Red Hot String Band. As have been the majority of African American performers at the CTM, he was a songster who played tunes from a wide variety of traditional and popular music genres he heard growing up.
Earl White started playing fiddle in 1974 and spent long periods collecting fiddle tunes in the mountains, mostly from white fiddlers who at times credited black sources for some tunes and stylistic elements. One such tune is “Riley and Spencer” which White learned from Tommy Jarrell. Others of his extensive repertoire played at Berea include “Mole in the Ground,” and “Fire On the Mountain” along with more recent old time-style tunes that do not have explicit connections with black traditions.

Fiddlers in Their Own Words

John Harrod An extensive interview with Appalachian Sound Archives Fellow Scott Prouty covering how Harrod got started playing and collecting, and the varying repertoire and playing styles of the many fiddlers he has recorded.
Bobby Taylor of Kanawha County, West Virginia is a 4th generation fiddler.  With L. Scott Miller, he performs and talks about his repertoire and playing style.
Bruce Greene talks about moving from New Jersey to Kentucky in the 1970s to learn and collect old time fiddle tunes. Included are his memories of meeting and getting to know fiddler Hiram Stamper and working to preserve home recordings of John Salyer.  Originally aired on BBC Radio 4 in 2008.
Jake Krack graduated from Berea in 2007. He performs and talks about his musical influences in this campus performance and more recently at the Pocahontas County Opera House.

Selected Fiddle Tune Books & Journals