This week I want to showcase a tune usually in G from the eastern part of my ‘local’ area. NH “Nick” Mills was from the Boones Mill area of Franklin County and was recorded playing this tune solo on fiddle along with several others. I chose it for its uniqueness. I know several on this list are already familiar with this recording.
I first heard Cuffy in the late 70’s at a contra and square dance in Charlottesville. Ever since I have associated it with fiddlers of my generation whose approaches to playing tunes were more melodic. It’s been a standard tune for some fiddlers who’ve learned the bulk of their repertoire from hearing tunes played around festivals and dances over the years since.
At that time I first heard it, I still lived in Blacksburg and was getting into playing banjo more in a basic clawhammer style. I found Cuffy difficult to play as a clawhammer banjo tune unlike the typical ‘mountain’ tunes from our area. Now I realize that it’s easier and more enjoyable to just back-up this tune with a basic 2 or 3 finger up-picking style using chord shapes and patterns.
Nick Mills plays it in the key of E but his fiddle is obviously tuned down 3 half steps and he uses G fingering. Without a back-up musician to tune to it didn’t really matter. G is the key otherwise when playing it with a standard pitch on fiddle.
I have never heard any other tunes that are close to it but if someone cares to share another version please do so. Other info about Nick Mills would be nice too.
Thanks and enjoy!
Comment from Andy Buckman
Since I live near Boones Mill I am particularly interested in N.H. Mills and his fiddling. My best informant has been Tom Wright, who lives in Franklin County, is an accomplished Old Time musician, and is some kin to N.H. Mills.
Tom told me that Nick or Nicky Mills was locally known as “One Eyed Nick” because he lost an eye in some sort of accident. Please find a picture attached. Tom says that family members still occupy Nick’s old home place in the hills above Boones Mill, though they are not the kind of folks who would welcome unknown visitors!
I agree with Mac that Nick’s fiddling is notably melodic, particularly in the context of other Franklin County fiddlers, especially those from the southwestern part of the county and the Ferrum area, many of whom tend to be much more rhythmic and clawhammer-friendly in the SW Va “mountain” tradition.