Much of my musical education came from sitting around with my family
listening to each other sing and play. Mom was a pretty hot ragtime piano
player, and Granddad was an old-time Ozark fiddler. My father just sings...
and I have umpty-ump cousins who bash about on guitars, too.
I also heard a lot of music in the Carolinas...bluegrass and old-time
mountain music, played by the people who live the tradition. People like
Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and "Doc" Watson, and an old black gentleman who
shined shoes in Fayetteville.
When I first read the series of short stories called "Who Fears The Devil," I
read it in one sitting, completely entranced. Here was someone else who loved
the mountains and their people, and who knew the stories and legends....who
truly knew the people....and who crafted their magic into something that the
whole world could share.
I looked with wide eyes on an old copy of "The Long-Lost Friend" that I had
sitting on my shelf....one of the books that the family had always had laying
around the house. I still carry a copy of it in one of my banjo cases.
I read the lyrics to the songs within the tales; the songs that Silver John
would sing, and I heard the melodies....because I recognized the original
songs that Mr. Wellmann had used as models. I sang them quietly to myself,
there in the dark of my bedroom (I was quite young at the time), and swore
that if I ever "made it" as a musician, I'd record them.
This CD is the result of that vow. It took us several years to make it,
just recording when we had the chance, piece by piece. I gave the book "Who
Fears The Devil" (re-released as "Silver John The Balladeer" Baen Books, ISBN 0-671-65418-7) to the
engineer, and he caught fire with the idea, too.
This CD is dedicated to Elizabeth Scarborough, for her Phantom Banjo
novels and stories, and to all the wandering Bards out there who are keeping
the music alive....Jim Conner, "Big Jim" Griffith, Steve Goodman, Pete and
Mike Seeger, Leslie Fish, Trooper, and many others, more than I have room to
name. It's also dedicated to Manly Wade Wellmann, the author of the Silver
John stories, who brought me an ideal, and who helped to show me that the old
music -really was- worth much more than I thought it was.
It's also dedicated to John Benson, who is the best sound engineer in the
known MultiVerse, bar none, and a good friend.
We could have made a very polished, very "entertainment" kind of thing, but I
realized such a CD would not be true to the feel of the stories, nor to the
music as I heard it in the hills. So, we recorded it with the intention of
making a CD that would sound like it had been recorded on-the-spot, almost a
"field recording" of Silver John playing music with a bunch of his friends
after a days work. I think we succeeded. "I'll Fly Away / I Saw The Light"
sounds exactly like the hymns I heard in the little mountain churches.
I threw in some songs that are just traditional mountain things that Silver John would have known, including "Pretty Polly," (which is mentioned in one of the stories) and "Lonesome Water," which probably encapsulates the whole "feel" of Mr. Wellmann's stories the best of any song I know. ( Interestingly, the original lyrics of "Lonesome Water" and the version I sing are not quite the same. Go here for a side-by-side comparison. )
The CD version includes HTML versions of the Appalachian book of spells that figures prominently in the stories, "The Long Lost Friend," and, with the gracious permission of David Drake,
one of the Silver John short stories. They can be read with any good web browser on your computer.
We also tried to use as near to the actual instruments as possible. Thus, you will
hear a handmade fretless banjo, a guitar (Martin New Yorker) that I
outfitted with real silver strings, of the type most often found in the hills
in the 1940's, and a Whyte Ladye #2 banjo, among others. Our fiddler on the
CD is Austin Brooks, and extra voices were provided by Cher Bethancourt,
Coleen Parker, Sharon Bradford and Laura Trimble.
Welcome to the world of my childhood. Pull up here and set a spell on the
porch, and give a listen. Might even be able to find a little "blockader,"
too, if we look hard enough. (You can have it if you want it. I don't
touch the stuff.) And no, my dog don't bite........
Engineer: John Benson
Recorded at: Juniper Productions, Phoenix, AZ
Remastered for CD at: Creative Noise Digital Audio, Scottsdale, AZ
Engineer: Dennis Putscher
Graphic Design: Cher Bethancourt
Thanks to: Bill W. & David Drake
© (p) 1994 White Tree Productions, PO Box 35190, Phoenix, AZ 85069
Austin Brooks: fiddle
Cher Bethancourt: vocals
Coleen Parker: vocals
Sharon Bradford: vocals
Lora Trimble: vocals
A CUSTOMER WRITES:
"What a great CD. You really captured the essense of Silver John on it. I especially like your treatment of Little Black Train-it brought the whole story back to me."
"I first read Who Fears the Devil back in the mid 70's, then lost the book. But it had a great affect on me-I bought first a mountain dulcimer, then a mandolin, and gained a great appreciation for bluegrass and the Appalacian music. Mind you, I had the usual rock and roll upbringing, so this was quite a change for me. I forgot the title and author of the book, and have looked for it periodically over the years at used book stores and after the advent of the World Wide Web, on the internet. For some reason I thought Wellman's stories had been published in the Atlantic Monthly, so I contacted them with of course, no result. Then I googled "John silver guitar strings" (I really didn't remember either title or author) and your web site came up. Halleluiah! I went to amazon and repurchased Who Fears The Devil, and also John the Balladeer. It was a welcome reunion with an old friend. And your CD brings the music home to me!"
"Thanks so very much!"
Tombstone Old West Books