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What the heck is Old-Time Music?

A short introduction by Reinhard Greß

Almost everybody knows Country Music, whereas only few are familiar with Bluegrass (e.g. as a background music to road movies). Old-Time Music is barely heard in Germany (with a few exceptions of the "Muppet-Show" or in "Nashville Lady". Only a small community is familiar with this music "over here".

Old-Time Music is a precursor of Bluegrass and the Granddaddy of todays Country Music. Geographically and historically it traces back to the southern states of America namely the Appalachian Mountains and to the first three decades of the 20th Century, respectively, meaning the time before the big roads and introduction of mass-media.

Because of their isolation playing music together was an important social factor the people living in the mountains. The "Hillbillies" mostly immigrated from the Ireland, England and Scotland brought their musical heritage in their new homeland and played it in their sporadic meetings. Thus many fiddle tunes and ballads have their origin in America whenever they are often based on tunes of the European tradition. Upon the introduction and commercialization of the radio and the new medium "record" a very interesting development is observed. The Hillbillies were confronted with new music like Jazz, Blues and namely Swing and adopted some Elements of these styles in their own music. After some time a distinct style emerged which replaced the monotonous previous music.

In 1922 the record industry encountered this phenomenon and tempted them into their recording studios. In 1922 and 1923 the first records were produced with artists as Eck Robertson and Fiddling John Carson (citation: I'll have to quit making moonshine and start making records). A boom began with groups as Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers, Gid Tanner and The Skillet Lickers, Henry Whitter, Uncle Dave Macon and many more reaching high sales numbers. It was a happy music often called Good-Time Music. IN addition to the traditional fiddle and banjo mandolins and guitars were subsequently added. With the beginning economic depression at the end of the twenties the high time of the Old-Time Music declined. A few artists like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were the only guests in the recording studios and Old-Time Music returned to its origin in the rural regions and was only further documented by recordings of the library of congress.

Old-Time Music had its first revival in the fifties with three young New Yorkers who gathered to form the New Lost City Ramblers and re-play the of recordings.Mike Seeger (born in 1933), brother of Pete Seeger, his brother in law John Cohen (1933) and the professor for mathematics Tom Paley (born in 1928, later replaced by Tracy Schwarz) recorded numerous records for the Folkways label and sold them in their shows. the tragic circumstance for these musicians was the fact that many of the listeners would have preferred the originals rather than having their imitation. Thus, the old recordings were newly pressed by the County and Rounder label and sold with big success. At the festivals Musicians like the fiddler Tommy Jarrell and banjo players as Fred Cockerham and Kyle Creed performed, which had had retired for a long time. However, the Olt-Time community was not satisfied with listening to old scratched records but wanted to have a lively music. Thus, in the seventies groups like the Highwoods String Band, the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, the North Fork Rounders and the Red Clay Ramblers gave a new spirit to the Old-Time Music with previously unknown precision and dynamics. With the trend back to the acoustic music the Old-Time Music enters its third springtime. Young artists as Dick Powell, Bruce Molsky and the Freight Hoppers offer Old Time Music in prime quality which can now be listened to in digital recordings. You can find a few hints to my favorite recordings here. Drawing a borderline here between Old-Time Music and Bluegrass would not be wise here, as they have lots of things in common and their fans are strongly linked by their love to the music.

The BlueNa Bluegrass World
Copyright by Rudi Vogel 17.4.1997©