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Jim Scancarelli and his band, the Molehill Highlanders (or is that the Mole Hill Highlanders . . . )

Posted by brooklynbanjoboy on Tuesday, March 30, 2021

You Say Tomatoe, and I Say Mole Hill


One "article of faith" issue came up during the course of this writing project -and was debated with a ferocity akin to argument over the essential meaning of canonical rites - was the spelling of the name of the Mole Hill Highlanders band - or, alternatively, the Molehill Highlanders, with vocal members of the band dividing between these two orthographic alternatives. 


Jim was firm on the point that the band's name was "Molehill Highlanders," and Chuck Dunlop was equally adamant that the band name should be rendered "Mole Hill Highlanders."  From what I could tell, the third remaining member of the band, Mark Wingate, was either agnostic or had blotted that whole chapter from his musical life out of his memory.


I was firmly inclined to avoid another round of slash and burn edits or to rely on a suspiciously untrustworthy "global replace" function.  I therefore decided to go with Mole Hill Highlanders, but in the interest of celebrating the reason why the band was christened this way, I decided to make a mole hill out of a molehill. 


First, I reviewed the literature, scrutinized the internet for hints and evidence, reviewed all my interview notes, and finally demanded that the band members "talk amongst themselves."


What became clear to me - before I provoked that discussion, largely between Jim and Chuck Dunlop - was that the liner notes for Union Grove Talking Machine records such as "Union Grove: Hub of the Universe," (SS-4), as well as SS-5, favor "Mole Hill Highlanders." 


-- Clyde Williams' natal village is rendered as "Mole Hill" on SS-6. 

-- The "descriptive notes" for SS-7 credit cut 4, "Huckleberry Pond," to Clyde Williams "and the Mole Hill Highlanders. 


-- The notes accompanying SS-10 reference the "Mole Hill Highlanders" on cut number 4, playing "Lady of the Lake." 


Jim is credited for his work as producer, and for the graphics work, on those records.  At some point, if he utilized his preferred spelling, and had that challenged by an ultimate arbiter of Union Grove-related issues, perhaps a Van Hoy family member, then that moment is lost in the mists of old time string band revival history. 


It is important to note that the band's name, as inscribed on their recording, "Old Time String Band Music: The Molehill Highlands," is ambiguous, largely because of the artistic license taken with the nature of the block letters utilized to attract customers to the shelves in music stores piled high with these recordings. 


The "Molehill" in the recording title can be interpreted as MOLEHILL, MoleHill, or MOLeHILL. 


That is, the letter "e" in the artwork for the cover of the band's recording is definitely lower case in the word "THe" that introduces the Mole Hill name," and that would mean the last word in the band's three word name should be rendered "HIGHLANDERS," while the first two words should be spelled: "THe MOLeHILL." 


Intriguingly, the cover design for the liner note insert that accompanied the cassette tape version of the recording, released as Old Oblivion OO-2, "MOLEHILL HIGHLANDERS, VOLUME 2," could be interpreted as "THe MOLeHILL HIGHLANDERS," given the manner in which the letters are represented in artful form as either capitalized or lower case. 


The introductory phrase to the title on the cover, "Old Time String Band Music," is definitely rendered in all capital letters: 'OLD TIME STRING BAND MUSIC.  The inscription on the tape cassette itself is unequivocally 'THE MOLEHILL HIGHLANDERS." 


However, the text of the liner notes spells the band's name this way: "The Molehill Highlanders." 


The ambiguity deepens in the online resource, The Rocklopedia Fakebandica.  The entry for the band's name is rendered as "The Molehill Highlanders," but the text of the entry that discusses the appearance of the string band in Gasoline Alley records the name as "Mole Hill Highlanders." 




The band's name is rendered as "Molehill Highlanders" in Gasoline Alley strips written and illustrated by Jim, including one on 22 April 2018, for example. 




Other sources - Facebook; Lambiek, an internet comic strip resource; and the internet platform "Fiddle Hangout," for example - are split between "Molehill Highlanders" and "Mole Hill Highlanders.  Some internet discographies favor "Mole Hill Highlanders."


Exploring the manner in which the geographic place name for Clyde Williams' home is rendered in public documents, a newspaper article, for example, suggests that since at least 1897, the area near Charlotte which was home to the fiddler Williams was rendered as "Mole Hill."


In the interests of resolving the manner in a peaceable fashion, I offered to alternate between the two spellings, though the editors for McFarland frowned on sacrificing basic orthographic conventions to an attempt to reconcile a rift in the space time continuum created by this argument between two old Molehillers (or Mole Hillers).  


My preference was to promise to reverse polarity in a possible future second edition of the book, switching from "Molehill" to "Mole Hill" in the next printing. 


Another alternative discussed was expunging the band from this attempt to tell the story of one small slice of string band revival history. 


There was no real consensus in favor of substituting "MHH" for all references to the band, largely because once that alternative was proposed, the possibility of relying on "mhh" emerged as a counterpoint in this debate, and the professional mediator brought in to negotiate a soft landing abandoned his post in frustration. 


We finally decided that none of the band members would read the book, once it is published.  A fall-back position emerged on this score, too, that stipulated if band members do decide to acquire a copy, that they would refrain from reading the sections that discuss the history of that band. 


I triggered a discussion on this matter between Jim Scancarelli and Chuck Dunlop in early November 2020.  The reverberations from that discussion between two old bandmates are still bouncing off the hills surrounding the city of Charlotte, North Carolina.  In the end, the two most adamant proponents of opposing views reached an agreement based on the manner in which the name was reflected in liner notes.  I do, however, have a sneaking suspicion that this is not the end of the story. 


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