For fiddler and founder of Five Mile Mountain Road Billy Hurt, Jr., Swingbilly Swagger is about more than just the band’s latest release. The title bears its own bravado representing an admixture of styles that rural musicians— including himself, his bandmates, and their mentors—have long absorbed and transmitted. In Billy’s home of Franklin County, Virginia, a profusion of musical influences thrive and inspire traditional musicians. And his word for this synthesis is swingbilly.
The term refers to Billy’s regional musical history. Older players that Billy met in his youth—figures that included Clark Kessinger, Burke Barbour, Jim Eanes, Clinton Gregory, Willie Gregory, Raymond Neighbors, and Bob Riley, as well the earlier presence on recordings of the Blue Ridge Highballers led by Charley La Prade, and above all, the legendary Charlie Poole—drew from a rich American songbook. They brought their music to the new media of radio broadcasts, phonograph records, and live public performances.
On this album Billy and his bandmates—Brennen Ernst, Seth Boyd, Caleb Erikson, JC Radford, and their guest Danny Bureau—play, as Billy explains, “a music meant to be danced to.” Their swingbilly repertory encompasses old-time reels, rural ragtime, blues, Western swing, 1950s-era country, and early bluegrass, in addition to more recent compositions and original tunes. Billy’s masterful fiddling, Brennen and Caleb’s virtuosic guitar breaks, Brennen’s stride piano stylings, and Seth’s facile and adaptive old-time banjo, propelled by JC’s walking bass and Danny’s washboard accompaniment all urge us to the joy of the dance. To an old refrain that tells us that “If it ain’t got that swing, it don’t mean a thing,” Billy comments, “that’s a real thing.”
Billy recently discovered that swingbilly also finds a literal precedent, validating what he and his bandmates had already intuited: In 1931, Charlie Poole’s son, James, put together a band called The Swing Billies. A recording and performing ensemble, they drew from an older country repertory that they inflected with newer sounds. “See, we was playing ‘corn stuff,’ but we were swinging it,” Poole explained (from Patrick Huber’s Linthead Stomp, p. 157). His band put to use what Five Mile Mountain Road came to know themselves: that mountain music has long translated popular styles into its own vernacular. Billy notes that the tributaries that get to this river are many and diverse.
Given these riches of inheritance and invention, no wonder Billy’s friends and fans have told him lately, “Finally we can hear what you were always meant to be playing.”
The Train That Carried My Girl from Town
Sally Was a Poor Girl
There is a Time
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas
Just When I Needed You
Pallet on the Floor
Only in a Dream World
Wild Bill Jones Lynchburg Town / Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down
You Ain’t Talkin’ to Me
KC Railroad Blues