Mountain Grown Music - traditional mountain music of Haywood County North Carolina

of the
Haywood County, North Carolina Public Library

Late in the 18th century the musical sounds of the Scots-Irish began to permeate the haze on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The sound of the fiddle and the banjo drifted down the valleys. Listen to the Stuarts play Pretty Little Widow.

With the early brush arbor churches and then the primitive log churches came the sounds of European hymns, but with a new musical system called "shape note singing" or "Christian harmony". Hear a live recording of Pisgah from the Morning Star Methodist church led by Quay Smathers

Quay was a master craftsman and builder. He built many of the region's most beautiful homes and churches. Once I visited his home and he was engrossed in making the most elaborate three-fiddle case I nearly ever saw. Ned Smathers, another great fiddler, needed the case for his trip to England to perform. Sue, Quay's wife, was busy lining the case with foam and satin. It truly was a work of art and strong enough to withstand at least a 7 on the seismograph. I said to Quay, "Where do the bows go?" The truth is he had forgotten the bows. Not to be outdone he retorted, "If he had had enough foresight to have learned the guitar, he could just put the picks in his pocket".

Dr. Mack Snoderly was our county's school dentist. As good as he was in his chosen vocation, he really shined in his avocation "fiddle player extraordinaire". Mack has lent his considerable skill with the fiddle to many mountain bands. His tone quality and feel for the music may be recognized in any musical group. Here he joins with fellow fiddler Cliff Stublefield in a twin fiddle arrangement of The Bluebells of Scotland.

The preponderant musical form has long been instrumental, buts the Scottish-English a cappella style once flourished with ballads and love songs. Here I will give my rendition of The Lover's Farewell. You may note that the chorus bears a close resemblance to Robert Burn's poem, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose. The verses, however, may be found in scores of other mountain songs. My youngest son, Doug Trantham, began his musical training at age six with an inexpensive ukulele and then a lap dulcimer. At ten, he began to perform with me on stage at festivals. He is now a serious musician skilled on guitar, banjo, lap and hammered dulcimer. Here he plays Morrison's Jig T5.

The Luke Smathers Band, composed of four brothers, began playing in the late 1920s. Two events changed the course of their lives. First came the advent of mail order houses offering relatively inexpensive musical instruments. Brother George ordered three instruments from Sears-Roebuck and they began to practice. At first they were playing fiddle tunes learned from the likes of Uncle Aldie Smathers and Pender Rector. Second came the battery-powered radio. A new world of music unfolded to them between blasts of static and signal fade. Luke became enamored with western swing and they soon had a pretty good repertoire. Soon they were in demand all over the country. Then the group grew tired of traveling and the demand for their music subsided so they rarely played outside the home. In 1968 the band reformed with Luke, Harold, J.T. Smathers, great nephew Charles Gidney, and David Holt. David has had a significant influence on the music of our region, not only as a performer but also as a teacher. On the staff of Warren Wilson College he has helped many of our young people discover our music. Here now is Dinah featuring David on banjo and vocal.

The Rob and Anne Lough family came to us from Kentucky bringing with them a bag full of wonderful songs and tunes not unlike our own. Mom, Dad, and four daughters all at one time or another joined in to form the Lough Family Band. Anne is a music teacher and an accomplished singer and instrumentalist on guitar, lap and hammer dulcimer, autoharp and kazoo. Rob plays excellent guitar and carries a pretty good tune. The first of four selections by the Loughs is a spiritual entitled Children Go Where I Send Thee Samantra | Twilight is Falling | Woody Knows Nothing

It must be clear that our music is family oriented. This may be explained in part by genetics, moreover, it is more likely the closeness of our family units that nourish the love of the music.

Two brothers, Mark and Matt Pruett may further advance this premise. Mark plays banjo, sings, writes songs, and produces records. He has for a number of years recorded with Ricky Skaggs. You will hear Mark on two selections. John Saw Me and Wildwood Flower. Mark's wife, also an excellent banjo player will be featured on Red Wing. Matt started his musical career as a base player in a rock band. His parents are my neighbors and on many occasions the music was so loud the trees would shed their leaves. Now Matt is a preacher. He and brother Mark formed a gospel music group called Rock Springs Reunion. Here they join with Angie and Ralph Toomy performing a song that Matt and Mark wrote titled John Saw Me.

Quay Smathers raised his own band, with three daughters and later with their husbands they became The Dutch Cove Old Time String Band. Here they are featured in Sycamore Tea T9, the first of five selections Sugar in the Gourd | Cumberland Gap | Joys of Quebec

Larry Watson is one of the most gifted musicians and teachers in the southeast, playing both guitar and banjo. When Mac Snoderly and he team up there is musical synergism. Here they give forth with The Saint Louis Blues and The Tennessee Waltz and the Civil War staple Lorena.

Bill McElrath, with his brother Bus, came on our music scene in 1920 and continued into the 1940's playing with the like of Tommy Magnes of Grand Old Opry fame. Here Bill plays and sings an old mountain piece called Shout Lulu.

While many of our young people are seeking and excelling in more modern music, the Stuart twins are a refreshing exception. Trevor and Travis Stuart are making music that seems to hearken back to the early part of the 19th century. It becomes obvious that they spent their formative years on the doorsteps of Quay Smathers and listening to old time fiddlers like Manco Sneed. Their music is in demand all over the U. S. and Europe. Here they give us three more selections of that good old fiddle and banjo: Starvation On Hell Creek | Little Birdie | Cacklin' Hen

Ballads, once the staple of mountain music, have now almost vanished from the musical landscape. Here are two that may still be heard from my front porch: Young Emily | Katie Morey

Roy Kirkpatrick learned much of his music from his father, William Kirkpatrick. Now Roy's son, Scott is in line, benefiting from several generations of mountain music. Roy's strong ties to his family and church kept him from following a full-time career in music but this in no way diminished his influence on the musical community. Here he performs two selections popular in the 40s and 50s: When You're Smiling . Don't Get Around Much Anymore

Doug Trantham and his children Sara, Adam and Emily represent the third generation of mountain musicians. The first selection here is a spiritual entitled Swing Low which he learned from Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Next is a mountain play-party song Buffalo Boy with Emily joining in. This song has been in our family for many years. Mariah's Gone was learned from the Ritchey family in Kentucky. Many Irish and Scottish tunes subsist in the Blue Ridge while others are still emigrating. The Road to Lisdoonvarna is a more recent arrival.

The first four selections come from the Luke Smathers Band with David Holt. Only two members of the old band remain. J. T. Smathers and Charles Gidney. Listen to the smooth and solid bass played by J. T. and the clean and professional lead guitar played by Charles. David Holt really shines on the old mountain staple Billy in the Lowground .

Carroll Best was one of the most unique banjo players in the entire mountain region. Many have tried to describe his style as melodic. Carroll simply says that he was only trying to play the fiddle lines. For me it doesn't need to be analyzed, only enjoyed. Here his band, bolstered by master fiddler Mack Snoderly, Danny Johnson on guitar and Calvin Parham on bass will give us some exceptional string music. Hear Carroll give out on Bill Bailey.

The next four selections come from the Reel Band formed and led by Mack Snoderly and joined by 17 year old Flave Hart, grandson of Danny Johnson in the previous band. Kirk Randleman and Calvin Parham. The banjo of Carroll Best became tragically silent in 1995, but listen carefully to the banjo of young Flave Hart and you may still hear much of the Carroll Best style. For those pure serious mountain musicians you will hear an atypical chord progression in part B of the Snowflake Reel, going from the key of D to D flat. Kirk Randleman, a lawyer, also comes from a musical family. I firsts heard him perform with his brothers. Here he gives us an excellent rendition of the Gold Watch and Chain.

Raymond Fairchild is a stone mason by vocation. This work has by no means adversely affected his dexterity. Someone told me that Raymond has only two speeds, faster and faster. His style may be accurately described as supersonic. He has gained national and international recognition for his music. Here the Frosty Mountain Boys, recorded first in 1967 join him. His rendition of Kicking Mule is spectacular (also T19 -20).

Losing both legs in a tragic accident in his teens, Jimmy Haynie turned to music. His music took him to many of the most prestigious country music halls in the country, including the stage of the Grand Old Opry. He never neglected the home folks. He was always in Canton on Labor Day, performing as master of ceremonies. His trademark was Johnson's Old Gray Mule. Sadly I have not been able to find a recording of this. Here he gives us two of his best, albeit, the second track is scratched 21. Chime Bells are Ringing My Guilty Soul

Flora McDonald Gammon has strong and direct ties to our Scots heritage. She has performed both here and in Scotland for many years, becoming a repository of Scottish song and tunes. Here, however, she renders an excellent if somewhat unusual version of Sourwood Mountain.

Trina Hannah is an artist and musician, performing here on banjo and vocal. She is now playing with a group called The Mountain Air String Band. Here is a beautiful version of Handsome Molly.

The next two selections feature wife and husband: Anita Pruett joined by the Whitewater Bluegrass Company plays Red Wing and her husband Mark Pruett with the Mark Pruett Band plays Wildwood Flower .

Andy Smith came to our county in the 1960s and lived here for twelve years. Already an accomplished guitarist and singer, he quickly acclimated to our music and performed with me in the very first Smoky Mountain Folk Festival. Andy is what we now call a singer/songwriter and has written all of the music on his recordings. No one in my acquaintance has formed stronger bonds to our mountains and the people and the music than Andy Smith. While his work and career has carried him far afield, he returns at least for the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival. I hope you sense the pride he projects in his song Carolina's Land of the Sky.

Don Pedi is without question the fastest lap dulcimer player in the Blue Ridge. Here he is joined by the equally talented Steve Sutton on guitar with an electrifying performance recorded by Bill Gannon at the 1996 Smoky Mountain folk Festival. They play Bill Monroe's Jerusalem Ridge.

-James A. Trantham


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