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JIM HERD: OLD TIME OZARK FIDDLING
Jim Herd, fiddle. Laura Smith, banjo. Vivian Williams, guitar. Phil Williams, bass.
I was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri, Tancy County. I'm the youngest of a fiddling family, and the fiddling in my family goes back to my great grandfather, maybe farther, I don't know. He was born in 1789, and I still play some of the tunes that have been handed on down from father to son, now to the fourth generation. And the tunes that I play, I learned them from my father and my older brothers, we all played. It was something we was supposed to do, I guess. We never any of us, ever once went to a music school. I don't know anything about notes, I don't know one note from another. I play strictly by ear. I have played since I can remember, I don't really know when I started. It's been part of my life all along.
I guess I play a Tennessee style, 'cause that's what my father played. And we always used banjos. My father came from Sneedville, Tennessee, that's down right near Cumberland Gap. Everyone of the old timers in the community where I was raised, they were all from three states: either Kentucky, Tennessee, or Virginia. My people, when they came from England, they settled shortly after they come to this country, they settled in Tennessee. My mother's people came from Ireland, father's people from England, and they were all from Tennessee originally, when they come into Missouri."
They danced a lot of square dances there. You'd play maybe all night, and they'd dance a very few waltzes, or two-steps or something like that. It was strictly breakdown tunes, and fast dancing.
The old time jig dance was done down there, and it originated in Tennessee, Kentucky, and some of those states back there. Dad said that back in Tennessee when they'd have a fiddle contest they'd always have a jig dance contest, and we did that in the Ozarks too. And you played a breakdown like I play here now and they jig danced. They called it jig dancing or buck dancing. It was practically the same step that the cloggers do today. And they always give prizes for the best jig dancer. All that stuff made a big change in the last forty-fifty years.
I play a lot of the old time square dance tunes they played back when my grandfather
was a young man. My grandfather Herd was a Union soldier. He carried his fiddle
all through the Civil War, and played around campfires. It's been handed on
down from one generation to another, and that's why I know that the style I
play today was the style that they played back them days, because it was handed
down from father to son, down to me. It's a lot of the same tunes, and the same
style that they played back then. That's why I know it's particularly old time
1. Little Rabbit Where's Your Mama (1:48) That old tune's been around for a long time.
2. Tennessee Grey Eagle (2:14)
3. Tennessee Wagoner (2:07) There's probably been more square dances danced to them two tunes than any other tunes that you could bring up.
4. Smith's Waltz (2:14)
5. Old Hat (1:58)
6. Goldenrod Waltz (1:34)
7. Green Leaf Rag (1:35)
8. Monkey in the Dog Cart (1:24)
9. Cumberland Gap (1:30) They was words to it, "Me and my wife and my wife's pap, whipped all the rebels out of Cumberland Gap" was part of it.
10. The Girl I Left Behind Me (1:05)
11. Old German Waltz (1:30) That's one that my great-grandfather played.
12. Katy Hill (2:00) I don't have any idea how old
it is. It's an old tune, it's been passed on to me.
13. Chinese Breakdown (1:16)
14. Eighth of January (1:54)
15. Forked Deer (1:50) I played it ever since I was a little boy, and dad played it, and my grandfather, and probably my great-grandfather.
16. Katydid Waltz (1:26) My grandfather played it.
17. Durang's (2:12)
18. Gold Rush (1:27) That's the way they played it, the way it sounded when I was a kid, and then the bluegrass fiddlers play it quite a little different to that. They's a lot of the young people think it's really a new tune but that old tune's been played a long time. It's not as old as a lot of those others that we played.
19. Turkey Creek Breakdown (1:00)
20. Zender Waltz (2:05) That's about as old a one as there are. I never heard any out of our family play that. It's one of my dad's old tunes.
21. Marmaduke's (1:43) That's the way my dad played it, and that's the way the old timers played it years and years ago.
22. Chinky Pin (1:54)
23. Hooker's Hornpipe (1:06)
24. Give the Fiddler a Dram (2:00)
25. Old Coon Dog (1:06) I played it ever since I
was a kid. Dad used to sing it, he'd say "I once had an old coon dog, I
wish I had him back, he'd run the old ones over the fence and the young ones
through the crack."
Liner notes excerpted from a 1987 interview by Kathleen Oyen for the Washington Traditional Fiddlers Project, a research project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Washington State Arts Commission, initiated by the Centrum Foundation and continued by the Seattle Folklore Society and Northwest Folklife. Additional liner notes and comments about the tunes are from the recording session.
Recorded in June, 1991 by Phil Williams in a campground at the Weiser, Idaho fiddle contest, accompanied occasionally by crickets and birds.
Cover photo by Barry Brower.
Jim Herd was born in 1919 and moved to the West Coast in 1941. He currently lives in Sunnyside, Washington, and has been a successful competitor and frequent judge at fiddle contests. (Note: Mr. Herd passed away in 2002.)
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