Old-Time Fiddlers |
Hiram Stamper (1893-1991) is one of the many older generation
Kentucky fiddlers documented in Hutchins Library's sound recordings
Library of Congress recordings of older associates such as Bev
Baker and Luther Strong, make clear that Stamper was the last known
living representative of what might be called a "classic" eastern
Kentucky style of fiddling. Other 19th century fiddlers that
were particularly influential in the development of Stamper's style
include his uncle, Daniel Triplett, Shade Slone, a Civil War veteran
from the Pippa Passes area (Knott County), "Black" Hiram Begley
(Leslie County), and Si Terry.
This style, with local and regional variations, was probably the
dominant fiddling style throughout the southern Appalachians. It
developed as it did because at the time, the fiddle was mostly
played without accompaniment. This allowed the fiddler a great
deal of freedom in timing and self-expression through idiosyncrasies
of tune structure and variations in the melodies.
The instruments commonly associated with the fiddle - the banjo
and guitar - did not appear much in eastern Kentucky before the
Civil War, and the early 1900's, respectively. The fiddle music of
areas such as southwestern Virginia is closely entwined with the
rhythms of the banjo and guitar. In contrast, Stamper's playing
requires an accompanist to adapt to his sense of timing and tune
structure. Many of his tunes are not well suited to accompaniment at
Stamper's bowing was very vigorous and energetic. There was
strong emphasis on the push, or up stroke, giving a strong pulsing
beat, especially when beginning and ending phrases of tunes and
between parts in tunes. Phrases are ended with an abrupt upward
motion of the bow, drawing out the last note as long as possible,
then returning to the tune with a long downward stroke that again
would draw out the melody in a way that gave the rhythm of the tune
a pronounced pulsing, or wavelike feel. He also used long sweeping
motions of the bow interspersed with more explosive bursts of quick
back and forth sawing patterns that often gave a rather syncopated
feel. He wielded the bow with his elbow held fairly high, allowing
most of the bow work to be achieved by his elbow, wrist, and finger
He tuned his fiddle about a full step below standard pitch, and
the bridge was cut with a very shallow curve. Both of these
practices allowed him to play two and sometimes three strings
simultaneously, and gave his playing a very full, deep sound. This,
and his sense of timing, gave many of his tunes a very dark,
mysterious quality which has always been closely associated with
older Appalachian fiddling.
Stamper's repertoire of tunes is characteristic of eastern
Kentucky traditional music of the nineteenth and early twentieth
century. He played very little music from later radio or recorded
sources. There are marked similarities to his music found in
other regional collections as is illustrated by the presence in Jean
Ritchie's repertoire of such tunes as Betty Martin, Boston, God
Bless Those Moonshiners, etc.
Selected Hiram Stamper Tune
These recordings are mostly the work of musician-researcher,
Bruce Greene, who has documented the repertoire, technique, and lore
of several dozen traditional musicians from 38 southern and
southeastern Kentucky counties. The three 1986 tunes came to
Greene from the collection of Bob Butler. The keys and tunings
are described as if the fiddle was tuned to standard A440 pitch. In
reality, Stamper's fiddle was tuned a good step below that pitch, so
when he played a tune that is listed as key of A, for instance, his
pitch was more like the key of G. A similar consideration applies
for the one banjo tune included. Tuning is to Stamper's preferred
pitch. The given tuning describes the relationship between the
Key of G, Fiddle tuned gdad. Recorded 01-06-77.
Because of the implications of the title, Stamper considered
this "the oldest tune ever made." This tune is also known in
eastern Kentucky as Betty Baker. John Salyer of Magoffin Co,
KY played a version and called it by both names. His son Grover
recalled a verse, "Went over the hill to see Betty Baker, She
was asleep and I could not wake her."
Fork of John's Creek:
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 01-06-77. Stamper
learned this from fiddler Shade Slone, a Civil War veteran.
Slone and others said that the tune was made by Morgan's soldiers
while camped on Johns Creek in Pike County during the raiding
days in the Civil War. This tune was played with some variation
all over eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia. See recordings
by John Salyer, Manon Campbell, Ferdinand Lusk, and the Hammonds
family of West Virginia.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 01-06-77. A member of
a tune family including Fire on the Mountain and Granny Will
Your Dog Bite. Known all over Kentucky and the southern mountains
in general with much variation. This version is quite similar
to Jean Ritchie's song Pretty Betty Martin, which she probably
learned in Stamper's native Knott Co. They both sang "Pretty
Betty Martin, tip toe, tip toe."
Key of A. Fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 1-6-77. This is a different
tune than the one that is a version of Indian Nation. It is
related to a tune known in other areas of the south as Wolves
A'Howling. It is a fine example of Hiram's use of the typical
southeastern Kentucky fiddlle technique of jumping from the
open bass string to the open e string to add a nice rhythmical
bounce to the tune.
Key of D, fiddle tuned adae. Recorded 02-11-77. Stamper said
this was a Civil War tune about a soldier who was "taken up
a holler and shot". He often confused its name with another
tune, Last of Callahan, which he played in the key of A. It
was also played by Santford Kelly of Morgan Co, Ky.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 02-11-77. A well known
tune all over the southern mountains. This is a good example
of the way Stamper takes a commonly known tune and adds very
individualistic touches by holding on to notes and phrases,
varying the tune each time through it.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 02-11-77. Similar to a
version by the same name played by Manon Campbell of nearby
Magoffin County. This name is attached to different tunes throughout
the South, the unifying feature being the imitation of the cry
of the goose by the fiddle, often using harmonics on the low
string, as Stamper does on this version.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 02-11-77.Stamper learned
this from Shade Slone. It is a different tune than one by the
same name as played by Luther Strong for the Library of Congress.
Strong was a contemporary of Stamper, and they played against
each other in contests. Stamper sang this verse, " How you getting
long with your hog eye, hog eye, how you getting long with your
hog eyed man? Sally in the garden sifting sand, Sukey upstairs
with the hog eyed man."
Key of C, fiddle tuned gdae. Recorded 1980. This tune has been
found more frequently in West Virginia. Stamper may have
learned it later in life, possibly from the radio. It was, however,
traditional in eastern Kentuckyy. Stamper sang,"Hey, hey, the
fun's all over, Hey, hey, the fun's all over, Jumped in the
bed and the bed turned over."
Key of G, fiddler tuned gdae. Recorded 1980. A common tune throughout
the South. In eastern Kentucky it has also been played as Buck
Key of D, banjo tuned gDGBD. This banjo song was well known
in eastern Kentucky. It was recorded by banjo player Buell Kazee
of Magoffin Co, Ky, and there is a recording of John Salyer
playing it on the banjo. The tune more recently has evolved
into the popular bluegrass number, Roll On Buddy.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 03-20-77. This is an old
song, The Drunkard's Dream, turned into a fiddle tune. Stamper
sang bits of the song but could not remember it all. It is a
version of Lonesome John, a very popular tune in the Magoffin
/ Morgan County area.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 03-20-77. This is
possibly the only time Stamper ever played this tune on the
fiddle. He normally played it on the banjo, but was asked to
try it out on the fiddle for this occasion. He sang a verse,
"Went to see my yellow gal, went last Saturday night, I asked
her to marry me, She fell and broke her pipe. Fell and broke
her pipe, oh Lord, fell and broke her pipe." It was also played
on the banjo by Sanford Kelly.
in the Meeting House:
Key of E, fiddle tuned edae, the low string an octave low. Recorded
03-20-77. Stamper considered this his showpiece, and said he
had won contests with it over the years, It was a popular tune
in southeastern Kentucky, and there are recordings of it by
Luther Strong, Bev Baker, and Boyd Asher.
Key of G, fiddle tuned gdae. Recorded 03-20-77. A well known
tune throughout the South, with a great deal of variation.
Key of G, fiddle tuned gdae. Recorded 01-21-89. A well
known tune throughout the South
Key of A fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 06-18-86. The full name
is Kiss Me Quick My Papa's Coming. The name is found throughout
the South and, as in this version, a kiss is imitated by plucking
a string or sliding on a string. Stamper's version is more commonly
known in Kentucky as Cluck Old Hen. A similar version by that
name is played by Jim Bowles of Monroe County. Buell Kazee and
others in Magoffin County played a similar version on the banjo.
Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 06-18-86. Stamper knew
this as a Civil War tune, saying that during starvation times
during the war, people gathered these wild nuts and ate them
to survive. It is a rare tune in eastern Kentucky, although
it seems to be related to Huldy in the Sinkhole, as played by
Birch Patrick of Magoffin County. Other tunes by this name have
been found in Virginia and West Virginia.
Little Indians and One Old Squaw:
Key of G, fiddle tuned gdad. Recorded 06-18-86. Known more often
in eastern Kentucky as The Indian Squaw. It was played by Alva
Greene of Elliot County and Ed Haley. Stamper sang, "Way down
yonder in the Arkansas, Two little Indians and one old squaw,
Sitting on the banks of the Arkansas." He said the remainder
of the verse was then whistled.
Key of A, tuned aeae. Recorded 01-06-77. Stamper was quite
proud of his arrangement of this tune, playing it often in contests.
He said it was originally named Boating Up Sandy but renamed
to honor a woman who during the Civil War lived along
the Sandy River. Her husband had been killed in the war, and
she opened up her home to soldiers passing through and "took
care of them."
Written inquiries may be addressed to Harry S. Rice, Sound
Archivist, Hutchins Library, Department of Special Collections and
Archives, Berea College, Berea, KY 40404. Phone: 859-985-3249.