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10. Little Boy Working on the Road

J.W. (James William) Day (1861-1942) from Rowan County in northeast Kentucky recorded for Victor in the 1920s as well as the Library if Congress and Ohio Historical Society in the 1930s. His archaic style was learned directly after the Civil War mainly from his father Jilson Day and shows a wonderfully melodic sensibility and clear forceful tone. As a left handed fiddler, he simply took a right handed fiddle and played it without changing the strings. Equally interesting is how Day was the first mountain musician to be exploited, packaged and sold to the public. Charles Wolfe characterizes this: “In 1926 a wacky, self-ordained folklorist, Jean Thomas, took control of Day's life, had him use the name Jilson Setters…dressed him in funny clothes and paraded him around the country as the prototype of real mountain life.” (Kentucky Mountain Music booklet). In truth, JW was a willing participant in his commercialization. And far from being “wacky,” Jean was a promoter and entrepreneur seeking to maximize her reputation. (Blech) Part of the lore around Day is his blindness, which Jean Thomas supposedly helped him get an operation to cure. Steve Green, who has researched Day extensively for an upcoming book, has uncovered that Day “actually had surgery in the early 1900s to remove cataracts. The doctor's case report said that after the operation, Day was ‘able to drive a double team of horses without trouble and strike a quart can with a pistol at twenty feet nearly every time he shoots.'” Accounts disagree on the extent of hid blindness, but probably he glasses he wore helped somewhat, but he was still legally blind. His granddaughter remembered him totally blind in later years. (Green). This tune does not fit into the mold of melodic tunes, but is more repetitive with several notes played slightly sharp or slightly flat with deliberate consistency, while some of the double stops are slightly dissonant. Whether this tune is using a scale from an earlier time before Equal Temperament, or Day simply sharpened the notes to create tension, we don't know. John Salyer, fiddler from Magoffin County Kentucky called these “wild notes,” the notes “in between.” Buddy Salyer claimed that his grandfather did so for contests, believing this gave him an edge. (Titon: e-mail). In any case I think we can say this “technique” is archaic, while the tune to which it is applied may not necessarily be so.

Chris' Hopf F#C#F#C# (GDGD)