About Appalachian Old Time Music
T he Appalachian Mountains stretch some 1500 miles (2400km), from the Canadian east coast to central Alabama in the US South. Eastern US states such as the Carolinas, Virginias, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia as well as Southern Pennsylvania and Southeast Ohio tend to be the most significant in terms of Appalachian Old Time music culture. This is the music that originated in Ireland, Scotland and England, ballads and dance tunes, brought by Scotts-Irish immigrants who settled in and near the Appalachian mountain chain, often in coal country. The music evolved in the many remote rural settlements and backwoods, developing its own character and variations. Early recordings in the 1920s and ‘30s, along with the work of music collectors including Cecil Sharp and Alan Lomax, helped reveal and spread the accumulated riches of songs and tunes. It is the basis for the musical forms that developed in the 20th century such as ‘country music’, ‘bluegrass’ and the ‘folk music revival’ that started in the 1960s. Appalachian music intermingled with gospel music and Afro-American blues, and occasionally absorbed influences from other ethnicities that had migrated to rural America, such as from Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Early recorded Appalachian musicians include the Carter family, Clarence Ashley, Doc Boggs, Hobart Smith, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Fiddlin' John Carson, Jimmie Rodgers, Charlie Poole and Frank Proffitt initially recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Early string bands included Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers and Humphrey Bate & the Possum Hunters. After the Depression and WW2, the ‘50s-‘60s saw new names come to prominence, such as Doc Watson, Sam & Kirk McGee and the New Lost City Ramblers with Mike Seeger, Tom Paley and John Cohen. The typical instruments played in string bands are fiddles, 5- string banjo (played claw hammer or 2 or 3 finger picking style but not bluegrass style, yet to be invented by Earl Scruggs) with guitar picking or strumming, and double or tub bass accompaniment. Other instruments played in Old Time include the mandolin, harmonica, piano, Appalachian dulcimer, banjolin, autoharp and percussion such as the spoons and washboard. An old-time jam differs from an Irish session typically by playing one tune at a time rather than a set of three, , and staying in the same key for an hour, afternoon or even a day to avoid re-tuning the fiddle and 5-string banjo. Musicians typically learn a collection of tunes in the major keys, and work through those in a jam. As in an Irish session, songs may occasionally intersperse the tune-playing . Appalachian instrumental music was primarily to accompany dancers at local weekly barn dances, derived as it is from Irish and Scots reels. There are individual dance styles such as flat-foot and clogging, but mostly people participate in ‘barn dances’, square dances and contra-dancing. The caller constantly sings out the dancer instructions while the string band provides the musical backdrop. Many festivals and ‘fiddlers conventions’ are staged throughout the Appalachian region. The Asheville Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was started in 1928. The biggest is Clifftop in West Virginia, where over 5000 musicians gather yearly.”Old Time” festivals can be found during the warmer months from New York to California. Some links to musicians mentioned above: Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers Humphrey Bate & the Possum Hunters Clarence Ashley Fiddlin' John Carson Doc Boggs Charlie Poole New Lost City Ramblers
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