Tommy Jarrell playing with Mike Seeger and Paul Brown at Pinewoods Camp, MA in 1984.
By the early 1980s, Tommy Jarrell was known around the world as the grand figure of the Round Peak fiddling and banjo-playing tradition of Surry County, North Carolina. And thanks to his gregarious nature, sharp mind and desire to share, thousands of people had met him and considered him to be the living definition of the southern rural musician. Of course, Tommy represented one set of styles among many in the south. But how well he represented it! He welcomed visitors into his home. He relished traveling and meeting people. He appeared at festivals around the country. In 1984, he agreed to ride hundreds of miles to Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts to be on the staff of American Music & Dance Week, hosted by the Country Dance & Song Society of America. Tommy moved into an old house at camp, complete with a pot of beans and fatback that simmered all week. Each day, he held forth on the porch, rather than conducting formal classes. He played at a concert or two in the evenings. The music you hear on these albums was recorded by Jerry Epstein. Mike Seeger and I accompanied Tommy, who was at a high point of creativity and virtuosity just months before the end of his life. Included are unforgettable renditions of "Jimmy Sutton" and "Drunken Hiccups", and the story behind "Sail Away Ladies". - Paul Brown
Field Recorders Collective has become the foremost vehicle for getting music by master old-time musicians into the hands of listeners. As such, they have become in essence a public archive of recordings made during the old-time revival by exceptional collectors and musicians. Times have changed a lot since our friends were recording the traditional bearers back in the 1960s and 1970s, and they have changed since FRC produced its first CD. FRC, therefore, is now making some of their classic early CDs available as digital downloads.
Tommy Jarrell is the Grateful Dead of traditional fiddle recordings. Everybody seemed to record both, and those recordings seem to be everywhere, but the fans still want more. Even though, like his son Benny, we know what he is going to say and what he is going to play, we eat it up. During the last year of Tommy's life, Paul Brown took him to Massachusetts for the Pinewoods Music Camp. Just like at home, Tommy's "teaching" consisted of him playing and sometimes singing, often expertly accompanied by Paul and Mike Seeger. New Yorker Jerry Epstein captured much of the "classes." Tommy Jarrell, Vol. 2 (FRC212) is the second collection drawn from those tapes. The album collects 30 tunes, which helps it stand out from the field. With the 27 selections on Vol. 1, they form a comprehensive collection of Tommy repertoire. Vol. 2 include the "hits" such as "Breaking Up Christmas" and "Joke on the Puppy" and less heard pieces such as "When Sorrows Encompass Me Around" and "Rochester Schottische."
Albert Hash remains a legend in the old-time world as fiddler, tradition bearer, band leader, and luthier. Unlike the other two projects here, the music on Albert Hash, Vol. 2 (FRC707) comes from multiple sources including Wayne Henderson, the Spencers, and the Augusta Heritage Center. Delightfully, several of the 31, yes, 31 tunes include spoken comments by Hash. He plays plenty of the old familars, his original "My Whitetop Mountain Home," and a cover of the pop song, "Love Letters in the Sand." With the variety and intros, this is essential for any Hash fan.
Less well known, and thus even more important to have been recorded, are the The Kimball and Wagoner Families (FRC-06). Fiddler Taylor Kimble (1892-1979) raised two children who are recorded here with his first wife and then remarried at 76, to banjo player Stella Wagoner, also heard here. Ray Alden began recording them in 1972. This release is derived from a double cassette Ray released from those tapes. The set contains far more singing than the other two sets but is more important is what it tells us about the roles of family, place, and time in traditional music. For example, we find the Oak Ridge Boys' hit "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor" and "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" from Wanda Jackson and Linda Ronstadt in among "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" and "Georgia Buck." Other titles have morphed such as "Duncan and Brady" becoming "Brady Why Didn't You Run" and taking on some aspects of "Otto Wood the Bandit."
If you love the old music and understand about the fidelity of field recordings, you'll live the Field Recorders Collective catalog.