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Old Time Entry for Arkansas Encyclopedia

Posted by trawickjtt on Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I have recently been asked to compose an entry on Old Time Music for the Arkansas Encyclopedia.   In an effort to produce valid composition, I have begun researching the topic.  The further I delve into the subject, the more I realize my ignorance on the topic!  I once believed I had some idea of the subject, however, upon discussions with Clarke Beuhling, I am now in a position to further pursue information on the subject.  

Clarke's extensive research on the classical banjo is priceless to the old time community.  Clarke is known worldwide among classical banjo circles as well as old time banjo circles.  Currently playing with The Old 78's and occasionally with his own Skirtlifters, Clarke performs on a regular basis nationally as well.  His knowledge on the subject of old time banjo is well known.  His assistance in my research is highly valued.

You can see why my eyes have been opened, if you will, concerning old time music in Arkansas!

That said, I am currently on the prowl for certain persons whose knowledge on old time music is unprecedented.  I am extremely excited about meeting with others in the old time community to discuss with them the brilliant beauty and flagrant filth of our blatantly simple yet profoundly complete heritage.  Stay tuned for more at Fiddlin' Arkansas!

11 comments on “Old Time Entry for Arkansas Encyclopedia”

John Gent Says:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 @9:47:39 AM

Erynn Marshall (member here at FHO) might be worth contacting. Her main thrust is Virgina fiddling (I think) but is REALLY smart when it comes to OT fiddling in general.

OTJunky Says:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 @10:00:45 AM

You probably want to talk to FHO member, M-D, who lives over in Mountain View.

You want to examine the Lyons College's "John Quincy Wolf Collection" of folk music - that includes fiddlers and banjo players.

You might talk to FHO member, Fiddler, who lives in Texas now but learned from a lot of oldtimers in the Mountain View area.

Take a look at this thread on Faye Green who lived over around Oil Trough I think - South East of Mountain View.

There are quite a few Arkansas fiddlers recorded by Vance Randolf in the 40's. You can see them here

And, of course, you ought to drive over and see Violet Hensley in Yellville.

Some of these sources will point you to two or three more.


lrhamp Says:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 @2:37:34 PM

You might want to contact the Northwest Arkansas Fiddler's Association and correspond with some of their older members.

M-D Says:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 @11:32:41 PM

I had an e-mail conversation with the Encyclopedia people a month or so back, regarding the mis-naming of some of the traditional music and/or singers, and indicated that old-time was more appropriate to the subject-matter at hand than was bluegrass, which was totally irrelevant in the context given. They did immediately straighten it out, and it was just an error owing to ignorance of the traditional music. I'm glad to see that they're going ahead with developing the idea.

It may be difficult to define old-time in Arkansas because of the different regions involved. I know nothing about the music in south Arkansas, yet surely it was different from the traditional music in the Ozarks, with which I am intimately familiar. What about the music in the Ouachitas, the south-west, the east? Man, I just dont know. The term "old-time" does already encompass a vast amount of different music, from many regions, so it's simply going to be matter of defining this for the particular use.

One thing that comes to mind though, is where to draw the line? Is Classic Banjo old-time? Is Rag-Time? Is flapper music of the '20s? If you limit it to traditional fiddle-music, and the string-bands associated with that, that would pretty much fit the current definition of old-time. But, it has to be about old-time in Arkansas. There are many here who faithfully play old-time music, but not that of Arkansas.

My concern is that the tag of "old-time" is already being co-opted, as has been "folk" music, country music, and bluegrass, so that it becomes the name of something newly created, not what it once was, and once again you're having to hunt for a new moniker. Narrowly defining it, for purposes of the entry, would help to hinder those attempts to alter it.

To add to that, old-time music itself, as it currently exists, is already being re-defined by the contemporary musicians. They're not merely playing it their own way, but playing in a way that it was never played, nor could have been. Same thing has happened, and is happening with bluegrass. It might still be called bluegrass, but it's a long way from that. The contemporary old-time isn't much different in this respect, especially not that of the Ozarks in Arkansas . . . which is to say, the traditional music here is virtually extinct, comparatively speaking.

One thing that is a certainty: The fiddle music of the Ozarks was primarily dance music, and most of the fiddlers played for dances. This gives the music very distinct characteristics, and thus a distinct sound.

There is a lot of good, authentic Arkansas stuff in the Wolf Collection. Be aware that Joe Craft, of whom there are many banjo recordings, was from Kentucky, thus his banjo style is not that of the Ozarks. This is also true of Mulkey Kent, the fiddler from near Ash Flat, but who moved into there from somewhere else. I cant recall where right now.

Faye Green lived near Newark, east of Batesville. She, Leonard and Brenda spent a lot of time in Mountain View. Faye was a very good fiddler, one who competed in many contests. Her fiddling style reflected this also, though it was influenced by the contest-style that was prevalent for the area, which is to say that it wasn't Texas style, or anything at all like what is heard at a contest in Arkansas today. She was definitely an old-time fiddler, though one tempered by the contests. Faye's fiddling was a delight, and I have many recorded hours of her playing.

Holler if you need anything, JT. Judi is supposed to be up in a couple of weeks, for Billy's work-shop, but we'll also be discussing the subject of her Master's thesis.

OTJunky Says:
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 @6:00:49 AM

A question - 'cause I'm interested.

Does that County "Echoes of the Ozarks" two CD set pretty much capture the OT sound of the '20's from areas North of Little Rock (both Northwest and Northeast since it includes a band from Fayetteville)? Of coure, it's probably too small a sample to be really representative.

It may be that the OT music from the regions South of Little Rock are lost forever since I can't name any early recordings of fiddlers from those regions.

M-D Says:
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 @7:34:31 AM

Yes, and no.I think they capture the commercial side of that music, Paul, though that wasn't/isn't as much of a clear line, given that the commercial end wasn't too well-developed conceptually. Still, many of the groups on those recordings were in existence prior to having made those recordings, and just like any group today were out there trying to differentiate themselves from everyone else, thus the music expressed this. Take a listen to the Morrison Twins "Ozark Waltz". Now, waltzes in the Ozarks were fast, but not nearly that fast. No one could have waltzed to that tempo. So, why did they record it at that tempo if not solely for those commercial purposes? There are waltzes up there that are meant to be played fast (Mockingbird Waltz, for example), and not danced to, but "Ozark Waltz" isn't one of them. Not only this, but some of the Echoes recordings contain other musical elements and influences which were incorporated.

I make the distinction because I have recordings of people who were born in the 1800s/early 1900s, who had fiddled for the majority of their lives, and yet who sound very different from the majority of those recorded groups, and what they were doing. This difference is one of style. They sound like Ozark fiddlers, of which there is a large body of recorded example, albeit in their own uniqueness within that context, whereas the majority of the groups on the recordings do not. I think the main distinction to be made in that is that one music was for entertainment purposes only, one lacking any utility, whereas another had entertainment purposes, yet had utility, whether or not it was being put to that purpose.

The music on the Echoes recordings is mind-bogglingly good, and quite unique. Of all the early recorded OT examples, it has its own place amongst them. There's nothing else like it. But, this speaks to the intended purpose of those recordings, that being to sell to the masses. Those people took what they knew, and fashioned it into something they thought had more appeal. Bill Monroe did nothing different, in that respect, and there are any number of folks who've done the same.

This same idea exists today in music, pretty much all of it. Only today, most people prefer to sound as though they're professional recording artists, whether they are or not. This is true of the playing, true of the singing. In effect, we've been sensitised to the polish, as though that is the only desirable standard, and have done so to the point of losing the beauty inherent in the individual uniqueness. In short, pick a genre, but most everyone wants to sound the same, while thinking they're somehow different. In days gone by, however, this wasn't the case. People still valued their individuality, and suffered no delusions of mass conformity, save that of necessary function. And, it's not as if they weren't exposed to outside influences.

There are probably, somewhere, recordings made of those south of Little Rock, but who knows where they are. I would expect over-lap from one region to another, as one gravitates outward, but there had to have been meaningful differences in each of those regions. I surely would be interested to hear such recordings, if only from a stand-point of curiosity.

OTJunky Says:
Thursday, July 30, 2009 @6:45:37 AM

It's ok I guess.

Nobody North of Little Rock cares much about what happens South of Little Rock anyway... ;-)

Would be interesting to hear some stuff from the Ouachita mountains though...


M-D Says:
Thursday, July 30, 2009 @7:16:23 AM

'Tis true, and Little Rock cares nothing about, nor knows anything about anyone but Little Rock . . . which perfectly explains why they want to run everything, right?

M-D Says:
Sunday, August 2, 2009 @11:09:51 PM


The late Dr. Bill McNeill, folklorist at the Ozark Folk Center, has written several books on the music in Arkansas and the Ozarks, not to mention compiled volumes of information on it. The books are easy to find, but you'll have difficulty finding his compilations, since the OFC and the chumps at the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism saw fit to give all that stuff away, along with the Archives, to various and sundry agencies and institutions. Who knows where it all went? I doubt anyone does, nor cares. Even if you can find it, it's probably boxed up, sitting around, gathering dust, and wont see the light of day for many years.

trawickjtt Says:
Monday, August 3, 2009 @11:37:01 AM

Thanks M-D,
I have been searching for that stuff. The Arkansas History Commission claims to have all of it. Though people at OFC have told me it went various directions as you have. AHC told me they are currently attempting to organize all the information. I guess there's no telling really what's going on there. I'm planning on talking with them more soon. I am planning on being in your area this weekend. Saturday is a study day for me. Meeting with certain folks there. Hoping to check the OFC library and archives for whatever's left. Any chance you'll be around?

M-D Says:
Monday, August 3, 2009 @3:02:24 PM

I'll be at the house, far as I know. We may be playing in Red Stripe on Saturday night, though no one's mentioned it -- yet. E-mail me through the Hangout, and I'll send you my cell number. Wait a minute . . . I can e-mail you! ;o)

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