WL Gregory & Clyde Davenport - Monticello: Tough Mountain Music from Southern Kentucky

The first five tunes on the album are traditional numbers played as fiddle and banjo duets, in the old style of Burnett and Rutherford. Dick Burnett has described this style as “fiddle and banjo playing every note right together,” and it is characterized by the two instruments often playing the lead melody in unison, as opposed to the banjo playing rhythm to the fiddle. The style may well date back to the time before the guitar was introduced as a folk instrument to the southern mountains (ca. 1900-1910). Here Clyde does manage to play some rhythm, but occasionally integrates rhythm with melody and harmony playing. LADIES ON THE STEAMBOAT, BILLY IN THE LOWGROUND, and WEEPING WILLOW TREE were originally recorded by Burnett and Rutherford in 1926-27; LADIES (which probably originated with Kentucky fiddler Ed Haley) was one of the most popular dance numbers of the time. OVER THE WAVES is very common today at fiddling contests, but the unique version of Gregory and Davenport justifies its inclusion here. Many old Kentucky fiddlers tended to take their waltzes at a very fast clip, rushing them to the point where they would even change the time signature in some measures. BED BUG BLUES is a number W.L. originally learned from Leonard Rutherford, who often sang and played it but for some reason never recorded it. The Rutherford style, with its bent, occasionally sliding notes lends itself well to the blues, and helps us see why W.L. called ALL NIGHT LONG BLUES Leonard’s finest work. W.L. sings the vocal here – the only one on the album; W.L. can sing and play fiddle at the same time, another old and difficult folk skill. (it also, incidentally, causes certain problems in recording such a singer.) Hopefully more of W.L.’s vocal skills will be demonstrated on later LPs. PIG IN THE PEN is associated with Arthur Smith and later with Flatt and Scruggs, but Gregory and Davenport learned their version from local sources. JENNY IN THE COTTON PATCH, “the oldest fiddle tune we know,” is one Clyde picked up from a source long forgotten; it is similar to a tune by the same name played by Chattanooga fiddler Bob Douglas. TAYLOR’S QUICKSTEP was originally recorded by Rutherford and John Foster in January 1929, and has been rarely recorded since then. The tune may have come from Governor Bob Taylor of Tennessee, a champion fiddler and source of several other Burnett-Rutherford fiddle pieces. Side 2 begins with five more songs associated with Burnett and Rutherford. CUMBERLAND GAP is well-known throughout the South, and this version sounds very much like a 1929 version recorded by Burnett, Rutherford, and guitarist Byrd Moore. SLEEPING LULU, another Kentucky fiddle standard, was recorded by Dick Burnett on fiddle on a rare 1930 Columbia record. ARE YOU HAPPY OR LONESOME? is a Dick Burnett original, first recorded as a vocal, and here presented in a lilting instrumental version. LOST JOHN and ROCKY ROAD TO DUBLIN are both well-known. RUTHERFORD’S WALTZ was a favorite of Leonard Rutherford’s that he never recorded; W.L. says he has also heard this piece (or one very much like it) called ST. PAUL’S WALTZ. W.L. has also preserved several other rare and unrecorded Rutherford compositions, and plans to record these in a future album. The last three tunes reveal W.L.’s incredible creativity on the banjo; W.L. considers himself a fiddler first, and a banjoist second, and modestly speaks of these creations as “little old crazy hampered up tunes I made by myself sitting over there on the side of the road.” LIME STREET BLUES (named for the street in Monticello where W.L. lives) features a slide, knife-style banjo. The banjo is tuned in a straight G, two dimes and a nickle are placed under the bridge, pieces of an old auto antenna placed under the first fret of each string; W.L. gets his slide effect with a 10cc veterinarian syringe (which he finds more effective than the knife he used to use). “I used to beat Dick every time in the banjo contest with that knife; he’d say, ‘What’s that man doing? And they’d say, ‘He’s running something up and down the strings,” Aside from Dock Walsh with old Carolina Tar Heels in the 1920’s, we can’t think of anybody else playing this style of banjo, and W.L has never heard Dock Walsh, though he’s been playing in the style since the 1920’s. “We never learned this from nobody; there’s nobody ever played that.” ROCKIN’ THE BOAT and MONTICELLO are two more banjo numbers picked with W.L.’s curious “backhand” style. The first (tuned in B) is a “one-step,” while the second (tuned in F) is a beautiful little piece named for the town that has given us so much fine music. Mike Seeger explains, “IN MONTICELLO he is in a weird F tuning, and then he plays harmonics I’ve never heard in my life in that tuning, and then he plays second harmonics as well as the first. Then he plays these unusual figures that are just not done in that tuning.” It is a fitting conclusion to this album: W.L., sitting alone in his house overlooking Monticello and the gentle rolling hills surrounding it; he is content, and he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. But he would like for you to listen, and if you do, you can see why, even as a banjo player, W.L. is a potent musical source. You can see why musicians like Bobby Osborne have made the pilgrimage to W.L.’s house to listen and learn.

Stock number:

SFR-DU 33014