Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hearing Eddn Hammons Again

Edden Hammons Collection, Vol 1 CD cover

At the end of June, a thunderstorm fried our satellite dish. If we ever come to miss the TV, or perhaps simply forget that there is "nothing good on," we'll replace it. Broadcast TV and radio are marginal to non-existent here, so until we break down, I'll be listening to recorded music when I need household noise.

Edden Hammons Collection, Vol 2 CD cover

Lately I have been hearing my Old-Time fiddle CD's as collections of music for listeners, rather than as tune-learning tools. Prominent among my recent fare has been Eddn (or Edn or Edden) Hammons (1874-1955), the famous Pocahontas County fiddler. Louis Watson Chappell recorded Eddn's fiddle playing in August, 1947. Chappell and other folklorists believed that Eddn's style and repertoire represented authentic, "unspoiled" British Isles culture. John A. Cuthbert's article is typical of this mind-set, which David E. Whisnant savages in his 1986 book, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region. Until recently, I was not a bit critical of the notion that Appalachia somehow preserved archaic British culture in a backwoods amber of isolation and deprivation. It's really a goofy idea, and condescending as well.

Now that I've been awakened from my dogmatic slumbers, I'm no longer listening for music "untainted" by exposure to phonograph records, radio and foreigners. When I hear these recordings, I hear a mature individual musician playing traditional tunes the way he wanted them to sound. I'm much more conscious of Eddn Hammons as a person with specific tastes and techniques. I don't recommend listening to all these tunes, one after another. There's madness there. Eddn Hammons has what my resident Old-Time musician calls "a mournful lick." It's truly evocative of the Williams River of Pocahontas County, where Eddn Hammons lived for much of his life. The forest is dense, the mountains are high and exposed to the wind, and of all the days and nights I've spent there, camping, hiking and playing music, I can't remember a single sunny day.

You can download samples (and order the Eddn Hammons CD's) at West Virginia University Press. Tunes available as samples include "Washington's March" and "Fine Time at Our House" and "High Up On Tug" and "Wild Horse." Amazon.com also has the CD's: The Edden Hammons Collection, Volume One and The Edden Hammons Collection, Volume Two.

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