Monday, October 31, 2005

Signs and Wonders from Burl Hammons: Turkey in the Straw

Burl Hammons, with fiddle

Burl Hammons tells this story to accompany his own version of "Turkey in the Straw" on "The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends." I think it says a lot about Burl's childhood view of playing the fiddle. Music is terrifying and wonderful. The folklorist authors of the pamphlet cite many stories about the Devil appearing as a fiddler, but to me this is more personal than folkloric.

Well, I was--where we lived, we lived down on the Williams River, when the--when I saw this thing, and so--. And we always went to bed pretty early, my dad did, and--about eight, nine o'clock we always went to bed--and I laid down and I, didn't seem like I could go to sleep. And I laid there a while and just directly I heard the click, open come the door, and in walked this skeleton of a man. And he was the tallest man, Lord, I've--he was really tall, a-must've been six or seven feet tall or looked like that.

And he had--I noticed he had a fiddle in his hand when he walked in; and he walked about the middle of the floor where I was a-sleeping. And he took off on that "Turkey in the Straw," and boys I never had heard nothing played like that in my life. And I shut my eyes to keep from looking at the skeleton of a man, but I was still listening at that tune. And, when I opened my eyes, he'd--I waited till he finished the tune before I opened my eyes, but he--when he finished it he was still a-standing but he just turned and walked to the door, and just "click" open come the door, and out he went.

And the next morning I was a-telling my dad about that. "Ah," he said, "that's a bunch of foolishness. Quit." He said, "That was only just a dream or something you had," he said. "Quit thinking of such stuff as that." "No," I said, "it was the truth." I said, I wished I could've played "Turkey in the Straw," heard somebody else play "Turkey in the Straw" like that. "Ah," he said, "that's foolishness."

And I never told no more about it, but I can still mind that--what ever it was, I don't know whether it was a dream or not, but I tell you I can still mind about it. A six or seven--a fellow only six or seven year old and still can mind that just as well as it was the day, you know it's bound to be pretty plain, now--or he couldn't have minded that.

The quote is from "The Hammons Family: Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Friends," as is the photograph of Burl Hammons. If you're curious, you can visit the link and hear samples of many of the tracks on these two CD's.

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