Chasing fiddles

I spent a while looking for the album Great Big Yam Potatoes: Anglo-American Fiddle Music from Mississippi after learning of it from someone I met at the blogged Mississippi John Hurt Festival. It was released in 1985 on vinyl through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Herbert Halpert recorded the tunes in 1939 with support from the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers’ and Music Projects and the Library of Congress. Sociologist Abbott Ferriss accompanied him. Using an old army ambulance converted to transport recording equipment, they made over 300 recordings, including 115 fiddle tunes.

Finding a copy of a vinyl album issued in small numbers 22 years ago is no easy task. Folks in the old-time world, however, have been very helpful to an unknown person, me, who contacted them asking for help finding one. Several Usenet discussions mention the album. One included statements that it had been reissued on CD, and another person suggested contacting Cleff’d Ear, which I tried unsuccessfully. The originator of the thread told me that he had found digital versions of the tunes and generously offered to send me a copy, but he had not found the album itself. I corresponded with two people behind the production, Tom Rankin and Gary Stanton. They contributed to a booklet included with the album, as did Ferriss. They told me that a CD reissue has been considered, but it has not happened yet. I also found Tom Sauber who worked on the project. Rankin and Stanton both looked for copies for me, but found none. Stanton did send me a CD with the tunes and photocopies of the booklet. Larry Morrisey, Heritage Program Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, suggested that I contact County Records. Folks there also looked around for copies, but found none. Finally, I inquired at the Old Capitol Shop, the store of the Department of Archives and History, as Harry Bolick suggested.

The shop had one copy left! It was closing soon for reorganization, though. Partially due to Katrina damage, the store has made several moves lately, and they were planning to close for September and October. It was already late August by the time I found out the copy. In a stroke of luck, my mother happened to be passing through Jackson the next day. I wrote asking the store to hold it for me, and they had it waiting behind the counter for her. Now I have it. It has 42 tracks, all short examples of the tunes rather than fully developed performances with variations because Halpert had to conserve disks. The music is terrific and strange. I hope that someday the whole collection of recordings is released.

More relevant to my current residence, I got Dear Old Illinois: Traditional Music of Downstate Illinois as a birthday present. Garry Harrison and Jo Burgess compiled it. I have only begun to explore the collection, but it is great so far. I have both the CDs and the book, which has notation for many fiddle tunes. It might inspire me to develop my sight reading.

In addition to pursuing recorded fiddle music, I looked into a new fiddle for myself. The Enterprise-Journal, my hometown newspaper, published “Pulling Strings” back in May about two locals men who had become luthiers in retirement. It is missing from their web archives. As part of my playing and listening on my trip home this past summer, I had a great visit with violin maker Robert Causey. Soon I will have one of his instruments for my very own.

1 Comment »

Michael M. on September 24th 2007 in General, Music, Recorded

One Response to “Chasing fiddles”

  1. Chasing fiddles responded on 05 Dec 2007 at 3:18 pm #

    […] life and times of me            Chasing fiddles I spent a while looking for the album Great Big Yam Potatoes: Anglo-American Fiddle Music from […]

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.