Hello, I hope this finds you safe at home and not traveling. So this week’s tune is the Arkansas Traveler. It is a well-known tune and has been passed around like a virus mutating as it goes. It has a comical skit that has been done many times on record as a leftover from the minstrel era perhaps. It’s about as overdone as a tune can be. The generic back-up heard in rehearsed bands as well as jams is a sign of infection and poor health of this great tune in my opinion.
Last Summer while providing music for the weekly Wild Goose uprising, I had the pleasure of meeting the great-granddaughter of Carroll County fiddler Uncle Norm Edmonds. Her name is Jennifer Bunn. She heard me play an old gospel tune on my old fiddle and commented about her having an old fiddle belonging to her great grandfather that had been passed down in the family to her. Of course, I asked who her grandfather was and was pleasantly surprised by her answer.
I had hoped to see the fiddle last August at the Galax fiddlers convention but made no solid plan and had no contact info, so I couldn’t find her when I was there. I finally got to see and hear the fiddle last Friday in a Zoom meeting round-robin style song/tune swap that was started by Reverend Grace Kim as part of her daily on-line devotional time. Jennifer who attends one of Grace’s three church groups was invited and played a tune on Norm Edmond’s fiddle. My iPad speakers gave it that tinny old-time sound like on a rough field recording.
So that fiddle was used when this version of Arkansas Traveler was recorded by Uncle Norm Edmonds in the early ’60s. I love this version for a couple of reasons. Notice the fretless banjo playing of Rufus Burnett. It’s superb and so tight with the fiddle. The back-up guitar chord choices take a few rounds to settle in but are the ones I love the best. I really hope to meet Jennifer again and play that fiddle this year after the COVID travels on through and out of the Blue Ridge.