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!
I know June is past, but this week I want to feature the tune June Apple. Thanks to Andy Buckman for inspiring me to study this tune in the past few days. It is one of the first old-time tune titles that I heard back in the early 1970s when I was beginning to get on a deeper track beyond Americana and bluegrass. I was intent on discovering the older music. I think I wanted to connect with the distant past through my music and lifestyle and figure how to get a ‘sound’ that wasn’t so generic. Instead of playing more tunes I desired to play fewer tunes better.
Train on the Island
The pandemic has gotten me exploring more ‘hardcore’ banjo based old-time music. Maybe its a yearn to show how alike our mountain music heritage is with that of the oldest black traditions when it comes to the banjo’s transition into rural white culture. It’s a process that took at least 200 years I guess.
Last week was special as I was able to spend a chunk of Thursday afternoon doing in-person lessons in a socially distanced way with two sets of kids. These young folks hold the most promise for carrying on the traditional style of old-time music that I have long been promoting. William and Ola Moeckel are twins who have livened up the youth scene around here for the past three years with their dancing and playing on fiddle and banjo.
I was saddened by the news that my friend Greg Lam had passed away. He was in his mid 60’s. His health had not been so good when I spoke to him last at the Galax Fiddler’s convention in August 2019. Before I heard the news that same day I was trying to memorize the words to this song, Little Maude, and thinking of Greg. I guess I sensed something in the universe as he passed to think of him and this song.
Honoring Janet Turner
Today was sad as I lost yet another friend to a non-COVID death. This time kidney failure. Janet Turner was a local singer who had a unique youthful sounding voice and an immense personality. Born and raised in Floyd County, she was a mainstay of the Floyd Country Store’s Friday Night Jamboree often heard singing old-time, bluegrass, classic country, and gospel songs both in jams on the street and on stage.
With all the awful videos of senseless things happening to young black men resulting in their death lately, I thought of this banjo tune from Hobart Smith of Smyth County. He likely learned from a black banjo player near his home in Saltville. This stuff as we know has been happening for 400 plus years.
Up Jumped Trouble
It is still hard to believe that Mt Airy Fiddler’s convention didn’t happen on the first weekend of June 2020. I have been to that convention more than any others over the years. I can’t remember if I have missed it since the late 1970s. So why not have a tune from that part of the region!
Rocking in a Weary Land
Today I checked out of reality as I worked on my farm on a patch of ‘new ground’ still aware of the news in the world. However, I was listening to some tunes by Galax old fiddler Luther Davis on the Galax Way LP, on which he tells stories and plays his fiddle at the age of 95 back in the early 1980s. He told me of the changes that he witnessed in the music since the 1930s and complained about how it had gotten too fast....
Sit Down and Write
Here’s a song/tune in waltz time in honor of Mother’s Day which will be this coming Sunday. I still don’t know who wrote it but the group here performing “Sit Down and Write” is the Laurel Fork Travelers. Laurel Fork is in neighboring Carroll County, the best county in Virginia for many authentic sources of ‘real’ mountain music.
Here’s a tune that I consider to be one of the standard dance tunes today. It was found in the repertoire of many old-timers from the Blue Ridge area whose music I have heard who learned to play before World War 2. Mississippi Sawyer is a tune that I
Rock the Cradle Joe
Hello to everyone from my socially distant location in Floyd County. I knew there were good reasons to move to the country in the 1970’s way back when deciding just how I wanted to live. Here years later I have figured out yet another reason. Social distancing. I still get
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
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