Floyd County master musician and luthier Mac Traynham is best known for his banjo building and playing, as well as his fine fiddling. He has been playing and teaching traditional music in Floyd, Virginia for decades and is a wealth of knowledge about the history of our local music traditions. A few years ago, Mac started sharing tunes and their stories to a group of friends by email. He has diligently shared one tune per week and has created quite a collection so far! The Handmade Music School aims to make these tunes and stories available to a larger audience through our blog. We invite you to give them a listen, learn more about Southwest Virginia music traditions, and follow us as we share more local tunes from Mac’s collection!
Angeline the Baker
I knew I would have a problem with the name when Floyd JAMs (Junior Appalachian Musicians Program) decided that this tune would be good to get our local kids playing. The other instructors called it Angeline the Baker and since it is a popular tune with folks in the bluegrass world as well, I went along with it until I found this rendition called Coon Dog.
Here’s the Kimble Family from Carroll County playing a nice tune. I have been liking and playing this version on my fiddle lately. This is a distinctive version of the tune they call Liza Jane. It’s not the common version which is the root of such tunes like Sugar Hill and Chicken in a Bread Tray.
Here’s one from the 78 RPM era of the Roanoke Jug Band. They put out two 78 recordings on the Okeh label. Triangle Blues is one side from a record they made in 1929. The members are fiddle Billy Altizer on fiddle, Walter Keith on banjo, Mahlon Overstreet and Ray Barger on guitar, and Richard Mitchell on mandolin. There are some good New River Valley and Floyd County names in that bunch.
Here are a couple of recordings of a tune called Blackeyed Girl. William Marshall’s fiddle version has a nice syncopated bow lick in it while Arnold’s is straighter but rushed sounding, as you’ll hear. Also included are two separate banjo versions of the tune.
Here’s a tune from Franklin County’s Original Dry Hill Draggers called “Dry Hill”. This tune was composed by fiddler Carl ‘Hot Licks’ Scott who still lives in the area. He was one of the original fiddlers with this hard driving band along with Murph Shively. The band was headed up by banjo player Jimmy Boyd who developed and played the rhythmic style heard here.
Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
I just got back today from a 17 hour car trip to Lanesboro, Minnesota where Jenny and Hanna and I were part of a annual weekend festival gig called Bluff Country Gathering. The theme was OT music being passed thru families to the younger generation so some other parents that play OT style music had their musical offspring featured as well. BCG was started by the OT duo of Bob Bovee and Gail Heil back in 1999.
Barlow Knife was probably put out for consumption on LP in the early ’70s as a 3-part tune based on Henry Reed’s version that I don’t have handy to share. If someone wanted to share it then that would be a good contrast. Here’s our more ‘local’ version from Carroll County OT band Norman Edmonds and the Old-timers.
This weekend, I managed to get in a couple of good jams. The first one was on the street in Floyd with Cheyenne and Wyatt Grantham who are 11 and 9 years old. Andy Buckman joined me to have some BBQ at an outside vendor and to meet the Grantham family who came from Franklin County to check out the Friday night scene in Floyd for the first time this summer. Friday nights in Floyd have been light on the usual summer music jams due to COVID.
While thinking about how things evolve and change I’ve turned my attention again to how much mountain music and dance traditions are influenced by black traditions of rhythmic dance and songs. Black lives and black creativity really matter in the sound of our music in the Blue Ridge. Blacks never got enough credit which is no surprise...
I have been thinking about another great person in our area who has passed away during what would have been another Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax Virginia, canceled because of the pandemic. Harold Mitchell (in his 80’s) was in poor health for some time. He was best known as the stylish Emcee on the Galax OLD Fiddler's Convention stage, so it is fitting that he check out during the time in August that was special to the local music scene as well as the world.
So the summer drags on without the festivals that usually are milestones of time in a normal summer. Staying home is routine now and is making for long weeks and long months here in 2020. Receiving news of another friend’s departure from this world seems to be routine too, unfortunately. This time it is Eddie Ogle, a left-handed musician and everybody’s friend who ever met him.
I thought a banjo tune would be a good lift for this week. A while back I traveled to a picnic shelter near Boone's Mill in neighboring Franklin County to meet up for a face to face fiddle lesson with young Cheyenne Grantham as we have done a couple of times before...
This program has been funded in part by a grant from Virginia Humanities.
The tunes I choose are ones found in the repertoire of some old-timers – primarily from Floyd, Franklin, and Carroll Counties. This region is special to me because it is my home and it seems to me that the native old-time music here has been under rated. These tune nuggets are in their natural state; perhaps a bit rough, with some dirt and generally unpolished. Yet, their value is immense to me as I listen to this stuff and more daily, trying to get the details in my head so it affects my sound in a positive way.
I am sharing these recordings weekly in the interest of keeping our ‘local’ music alive here in our local jams, assuming some of you will learn the melodic and rhythmic details of the version. The details can make the difference between a generic version or a ‘cool’ tasteful version. I hope you’ll agree.
~ Mac Traynham