Skip Navigation (This is an excerpt from an article found in the Winter 96 issue of GOLDENSEAL)

Mountain Music Roundup

By Danny Williams

The past few months have been a great time for friends of real West Virginia music, with more and more recordings bringing our favorite songs and tunes into our homes.

Isn't that what we said at the beginning of the last "Mountain Music Roundup?" Well, it's true again, and there's no sign of a letup.

Among the best of the recent crop are a couple of important re-issues of older recordings, new releases by two prominent hammered dulcimer players, some great stuff from the Northern Panhandle, and a visit to one of the state's legendary jam sessions.

A CD re-issue of the classic The Music Never Dies: A Vandalia Sampler 1977-1987 is the biggest news literally. The two-disc set (formerly a double LP) features over 40 pieces by about 70 musicians, selected from stage performances at the annual Memorial Day showcase of West Virginia's finest.

Several of the musicians represented on The Music Never Dies continue to perform, but many others have passed away. Among the most rarely-recorded pioneers of our music appearing here are quirky fiddler Ira Mullins, lap dulcimer patriarch Basil Blake, fiddler Delbert Hughes, hammered dulcimer legend Russell Fluharty, and Clay County fiddle stylist Lee Triplett. No other recording even approaches The Music Never Dies for presenting the huge variety of West Virginia music, and we are fortunate that this treasure remains accessible.

We are also fortunate that the folks who cooked up this recording for the state's Division of Culture and History took the extra effort to provide valuable information about the music and musicians along with the CD. Most fans of this music care about the context and the tradition of the tunes, and we note with pleasure that the people who bring us such recordings are increasingly complementing the musical main course with a side dish of information.

Our second important musical re-issue is the one and only recording by master fiddler Bobby Taylor. Taylor produced Kanawha Tradition in 1988, quickly sold out of tapes, and never ordered more. Taylor's explanation was that he "didn't want to be bothered with selling them."

Finally he has given in, and now a few more fortunate fans will be able to own this rich collection of hot fiddling. Most of the tunes are favorites of fiddlers and dancers, played with the inventive, energetic touch which has won top prizes for Taylor at many of the most prestigious music competitions. His mastery of the music stands on its own merit, and gains even more value from the countless hours Taylor spent learning directly from the best of the old West Virginia fiddlers. Buy this tape before he runs out again!

A fiddler who takes a little more care to make sure we get to hear his music is Woody Simmons. He has recorded his distinctive fiddling on several cassettes, and he's one of the old masters who can be counted on to show up at all the major festivals and contests. On his latest recording, The Simmons Sampler, he gives us another fascinating selection from his vast store of tunes. Simmons is especially noted for his handling of the waltz style, which many hoedown fiddlers find awkward and difficult. The Simmons Sampler contains four fine examples of how beautiful and inventive a waltz can be in the hands of someone who knows his stuff.

Patty Looman has finally sat down long enough to record some more music for us. As a self-appointed missionary for the hammered dulcimer, Looman is one of West Virginia's most active performers and teachers but had previously recorded only one cassette. On her new second recording, Mountain Laurel Melodies, Looman again delivers a thoughtful blend of old favorites like "Bully of the Town," "Under the Double Eagle" and "Sweet Sixteen," as well as little-known gems including "Prairie Flower," "Snow Deer," and an older version of the true West Virginia murder ballad, "John Hardy."

Looman's style is rooted in the past [GOLDENSEAL, Winter 1995]. She plays the melody simply and elegantly, with a little embellishment here and there and firm control of the rhythm. Typically, Looman promotes the work of lesser-known musicians, inviting several of her Morgantown-area neighbors to add some of their own favorites to this recording.

Many of these recordings are available in The Shop at the Cultural Center in Charleston. Items mentioned in this column may also be purchased directly, as detailed below. Unless otherwise noted, the recordings are cassette tapes, and cost $11.50, including shipping charges.

The Music Never Dies: A Vandalia Sampler 1977-1987 may be ordered from Elderberry Records, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, The Cultural Center, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. East, Charleston, WV 25305-0300. The cost of the two-CD set is $15, plus $2 shipping and handling (West Virginians must also add 6% sales tax).
Kanawha Tradition may be ordered from Bobby Taylor, 982 Elliot Street, St. Albans, WV 25177.
The Simmons Sampler cassette is from Woody Simmons, Box 152, Mill Creek, WV 26282.
Mountain Laurel Melodies may be ordered from Patty Looman, 1345 Bitonti Street, Star City, WV 26505.
Hammer Dulcimer Solo is from Otter Slide Productions, 1225 Corvet Avenue, Morgantown, WV 26505. Prices, including shipping, are $16 for the CD, $11 for the cassette.
Percival Hall Pickers is from Phil Allender, 967 Chestnut Ridge Road, Morgantown, WV 26505.
Root That Mountain Down and Havin' a Fine Old Time are available from Bob Heyer, 501 National Road, Wheeling, WV 26003.
Pioneering Women of Bluegrass is a CD from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Phone 800-410-9815 to order.
Mountain Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia is a paperback book, and may be ordered from CUP Services, 750 Cassadilla Street, Ithaca, NY 14850. The cost is $17.95, plus $3.50 for shipping.
For a free copy of High Notes, a newsletter of West Virginia traditional music, write to High Notes, 456 Elysian Avenue, Morgantown, WV 26505.

Danny Williams co-publishes High Notes, and he can be reached via E-mail at wvdulcimer@aol.com

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