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Old-Time TOTW #117: Brushy Fork of John's Creek (9/20/20)

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Sep 20, 2020 - 6:49:48 AM
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313 posts since 7/31/2018

This week's tune is Brushy Fork of John's Creek from the playing of Hiram Stamper (16 March 1892 or 1893--16 January 1992 of Knott County, KY. He was the son of Marion Stamper (1855-1953) and Martha Ann Stewart (1864-1929). His ancester Powell Stamper was born in Middlesex Co., VA, in 1690. Hiram married Martha Kelley (1909-1994) in 1924. (source for above: Ancestry)

There is a discrepancy in Stamper's year of birth. His WWII draft registration says 1893, but the Social Security Death Index, his WWI draft registration, as well as his family tree say 1892.

Stamper is acknowledged to be the last known living representative of the Eastern Kentucky style of fiddling. His style was influenced by 19th century fiddlers, including Daniel Triplett, Shade Sloan, and Si Terry.

The style is characterized, in part, by melodic and rhythinc freedom and self expression through the variation of structure and melody within a tune. The style developed as it did due to the fact that the fiddle was mainly played without accompaniment. People today often describe Hiram Stamper's tunes as being "squirrley," and this is an important factor to explain the crookeness and fact that he rarely played a section the same way twice. Stamper's repertoire focused on tunes from the region rather than radio or recordings.

Like many of the earlier fiddlers, Stamper tuned his instrument quite low. Whereas today tunes are classified according to key ("D tunes," "A tunes," etc), that notion really didn't exist back then. The tunes that modern fiddlers would generally play in the key of A in AEAE tuning were played by Stamper approximately in the key of E (EBEB tuning), a a perfect 4th below AEAE tuning. This low sonority gives the fiddle a rich, archaic sound.

Stamper learned Brushy Fork of John's Creek from Civil War veteran Shade Sloan and said Alton Sizemore played it, calling it "Brushy Fork of Buckhorn." Versions of the tune were played by West Virginia fiddlers Burl Hammons and Ed Haley. Hiram’s son, Art Stamper (1933-2005), recorded a version in standard tuning he called “The Long Fork of Buckhorn.”

Directly quoted from Traditional Tune Archive:

Gerry Milnes suggests the title may relate to John’s Creek in West Virginia’s Big Sandy Valley, at the mouth of which one branch of the Hammonds family settled in 1791 (members of the family spell their last name differently). John Hartford (Fiddler) says older informants have told him the title commemorates a Civil War battle either on Brushy Fork of John’s Creek in Pike County, Kentucky, or near Old Bedstead Mountain in southern Floyd County, Kentucky. The battle was supposedly one of the last of the war, according to the veteran Sloan.

John Salyer (Magoffin County, KY) also played a version of Brushy Fork of John's Creek, but Hiram Stamper's is quite crooked whereas Salyer's is square.

Joining me is friend Stephen Rapp on banjo (Kent, OH). We decided to tune low for this recording. I learned the tune directly from a recording of Hiram Stamper playing it. Since I don't use pitch bending programs to learn tunes from source recordings, I tuned as Stamper tuned, which was close to EBEB. He and Isham Monday tuned quite low and influenced me a lot.

Recording of Stamper playing Brushy Fork of John's Creek:

Subscribe to my YouTube channel as well as Stephen Rapp's, and be sure to click the bell icon to receive notifications, and don't forget to join the Old-Time TOTW group on Facebook at:

I give remote workshops on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month that focus on the Old-Time TOTW series. Contact me at for more information

Sep 20, 2020 - 6:52:05 PM
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11335 posts since 9/23/2009

Nicely done, guys!

Sep 21, 2020 - 9:44:13 AM

313 posts since 7/31/2018

Originally posted by groundhogpeggy

Nicely done, guys!

Thanks, Peggy, and thanks for following 

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