Friday, October 31, 2008

Music in the Hills: Music Makers

Music Makers Part 2 of 3

All through the 1700s and 1800s the music played in the Appalachians was truly 'folk'.
Voice, fiddles, dulcimers and later banjos were used for personal and group enjoyment.
Musicians considered food and drink and enjoyment payment enough.
Contact was limited to the immediate area as travel was difficult,
so the musicians and their sounds were local.
But in the late 1800s transportation was becoming easier,
and the advent of recorded sound in the 1920s brought commercial popular music to the hills.
Mail order and mass production made instruments more accessible.
Radio stations started barn dances with live performances of local talent, and styles began to cross over.
.cc.c.c.c.c.~ Paraphrased from Appalachian Traditional Music: A Short History by Debby McClatchy

.It is at this point, in the early 1930s, that this entry begins..

The cover of the Jan, 1941 issue of Promenade: A Magazine of American Folklore

by David Parmer

In the 1930s and ‘40s in the Oil Creek watershed musicians performed for enthusiastic audiences of family and friends on the back porches of an evening, at square dances in homes, even occasionally outside the busy stores and restaurants in downtown Orlando. They also traveled to take part in evetns like nationally broadcast Major Bowe's Amature Hour and the Gilmer County Amateur Musical Talent Show. Some of the performers that we remember today are the Cole brothers Harold, Elzie, Slim and Dana, who were from Three Lick. On Clover Fork were fiddler Marion Blake and his brothers Emery, Bunk, Amos and Ed. Their musical cousins, including Sarah (Blake) Singleton, lived south west of Orlando, on Bragg Run near Gem in Braxton County. James, Charles and Olive and Forrest Henline lived on Oil Creek. Cousin Red Henline from Upshur County played the fiddle in the area.

The Musicians

Marion Blake (b. 1888)
“WMMN wanted my dad to come to Fairmont and play music on the radio,” Wayne Blake related, “but my mother said ‘No,” because she didn’t want him to leave home.” Many old timers sang the praises of Marion Blake, the fiddle player. “He played by ear. If he heard a piece once, he could play it,” said Marion’s son Lijah "Dock."

Left: Marion Bake and his future wife Ethel Skinner
Right: Bunk Blake, musician and Marion's brother

Marion was the son of Stuart Scott and Ivy Jane (Riffle) Blake of Clover Fork, which was the hotbed of fiddle playing. “All of my dad’s brothers could play: Emery was a fiddler; Amos played the fiddle and guitar; Orville, also known as “Bunk” played fiddle, and Ed played the guitar,” Wayne Blake recalled.

Master fiddler Marion Blake had two serious bouts with typhoid fever. This may have been the cause of the poor eyesight which plagued him most of his life. When he was asked to play at dances which would last until the wee hours in the morning, he had to have a “pair of eyes” to get home. His sons, including Wayne and Dock, would go with their father to the square dances to carry instruments and a lantern and also to guide their father's way. Doc said that his father played at many venues, from beer joints to the annual high school alumni gatherings at Burnsville High School where Doc graduated in 1948.

According to his son Wayne and Harold Cole's daughter Marilyn (Cole) Posey, young Harold Quinton Cole would visit senior musician Marion’s home and play into the wee hours of the morning and make it home just in time to get ready to go to work. Marion and Harold probably didn't know they were third cousins, sharing their Blake heritage through grandparents Lucy Alice Blake (Harold's grandmother) and Stewart McClung Blake (Marion's grandfather) who were sister and brother.

Jack (b. 1872) and Biddie (b. 1878) Blake
and their Family

Jack and Biddie Blake

As ducks take to water, the John Jackson and Biddie (Bragg) Blake family took to music. Jack was himself a fiddler and Biddie b. 1879, was an inveterate jaw harp player and singer of country ballads. All fourteen children of this family played music on multiple instruments with uncanny skill from an early age. Several were also skilled in making the wooden instruments of the hills: ducimers, fiddles, guitars. This line of the Blake family was settled near their mother's family on Bragg Run, about ten miles southwest of Orlando, between the towns of Gem and Copen.

While we don’t have any recordings of Biddie performing we do have Georgie Carr of Gilmer County singing, in the 1980s, an old style ballad telling of the death of railroad worker Gene Butcher in 1912, "The Ballad of Eugene Butcher."

To see a video of a jaw harp being played in the Appalachian tradition click here.

Blake sisters Lona, Sarah and Macel and cousin Mabel Dean

Sarah (Blake) Singleton (b. abt. 1914)

Sarah Blake, whose career as a fiddler was long and celebrated, was the fourteenth of Jack and Biddie's seventeen children. When she was young, she listened to the music coming off the bow of her father.

Sarah is the most celebrated of the children, but by no means the only accomplished. Several of her siblings were fine musicians so there was always a trio available to play for square dances anywhere in her neighborhood and several were accomplished carfters of fiddles, dulcimers and guitars. By the age of twelve, Sarah was playing her father’s fiddle, and by fourteen she was playing for square dances. Like her Orlando cousins, Sarah played in many places -- at Falls Mill, in Weston, for radio station WBUC in Buckhannon and in private homes. During her many decades of fiddle playing, Sarah remembered the principle of music taught to her by her father, “If you don’t have a certain time to the tune, you may as well not play it.” Sarah heeded her father’s advice and always prided herself that the dancers who were dancing to her music never wanted to stop.

Left above: Sarah Blake

Right: Sarah Blake

Left below: Macel Blake

Macel (Blake) Overall (b. abt. 1918),
Another of Those

Incredibly Musically Talented Blake Girls
As the youngest of the Blake children, Macel grew up listening to her older brothers and sisters play music, and watched as they made many of their own musical instruments. Not content to be an observer, Macel could pick out a tune before she started school on Bragg Run, and mastered the guitar and dulcimer at an early age.

With so many older siblings, Macel’s musical skills were not in demand at the many square dances played by her brothers and sisters while she was growing up, so her musical offerings were made primarily at home, school, and at small gatherings.

Cole Brothers
Marilyn (Cole) Posey remembers, “My father, Harold Quinton and my Uncles Alvin (Slim), Dana and Elzie [They were the sons of Charles Quinton and Rissie (Blake) Cole.] all played music. Together they were what we call the old time back porch singers. They went from home to home and played till all hours of the night. The womenfolk got the easy job! Feeding the folks who attended.”
Young Harold (b, 1916) Was First
“From the age of six, my dad wanted to learn to play the guitar,” said Marilyn (Cole) Posey, “but of course he had no guitar and no money.” In the early 1920’s, there was little money to spend on musical instruments in the Cole household on Three Lick and the prospects of Harold reaching his goal of having a guitar were slim. But, at the age of six, Harold managed to get a job working for cash, in a hay field. He earned 50 cents, which was a lot of money for a six year old in 1923. The matter of working in the hay fields was trifling if it could produce a genuine, strings-and-all, guitar. Harold Quinton Cole thus embarked, at the age of six, on a musical career which would last over sixty years.

Although he was the youngest of the Cole brothers, Harold Cole was the first of them to learn to play a musical instrument, and perfect it he did. Harold won the annual Gilmer County Amateur Musical Talent Show many years in a row during the 1930’s, passing on the opportunity to tour professionally with the talent show.
Right: Click on the blue boxes to play the songs. The two Harold Q. Cole songs are the property of Marilyn (Cole) Posey. Please contact her before downloadin either tune.
Left above: Harold Quinton Cole
Left below: The Gilmer County Music Men, Cole brothers

And the Brothers Joined In

In short order, brother Alvin “Slim” learned to play the guitar, brother Elzie mastered the banjo, and brother Dana also learned how the guitar strings worked and the harmonica, also. Although the Cole brothers were first known as the “Gilmer County Music Men,” they soon became known simply as the “ The Cole Brothers.” Their music making became well known throughout central West Virginia. The Cole Brothers played wherever they could find someone who wanted a musical group. Schools, churches, private homes, night clubs, and many a front porch were serenaded by the Cole Brothers. Eventually, Slim and Dana moved to Ohio for employment and played music for the enjoyment of the “West Virginia community” of Akron. While he was in military service in Texas, Dana played on radio station STAR.

Harold's Recording

n the early 1940’s, a young Harold Quinto Cole made instant recordings of three songs. In the February, 07 entry The Cole Brothers Band, Marilyn (Cole) Posey told us of how she became the proud owner of the record made by her father, the master guitarist, and Marion Blake, the master fiddler. One of the songs Harold and Marion perform on the recording is the Chicken Rooster Blues.

Chicken Rooster Blues
Late last night, I went out
To get me a chicken or two
But when I heard the old shotgun
Boys, I sure did skidoo.

Grabbed my sack, made for the door
But I didn’t get away in time,
For as I went around the corner of the barn
Boys, I sure did get mine.

Well the guy that shot at me last night
Must have been a sawed off squirt,
For when the buckshot hit, the seat of my pants
Boys, it sure did hurt.

I went home, went to bed
But I couldn’t sleep at all,
For every time I closed my eyes
I could hear that Rooster squall.

I got up, sittin by the fire
When I heard someone outside,
Come in through the gate, upon the porch
Like to jump outta my hide.

Sheriff come up, knocked on the door
Along about a half past eight,
Said Mr. Sheriff, whatta you want
He said I’ve come for you.

Well, I grabbed my pants,
Jumped out the window, started off to run
About that time he grabbed me by the collar
And said, I got you, you son of a gun.

Was down in jail for 90 days
Its home sweet home to me
I’ll get another sack of them chickens
The day that I go free.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ~ words by Harold Cole

Charles (b. 1919), James (b. 1918), Olive (b. 1914) and Forrest Henline
There must have been something in the waters of the Oil Creek watershed which was responsible for the many musicians who learned the craft of string bending. Or perhaps the common denominator is the genes of the Blake family. The children of cousins Stuart Scott Blake and John Jackson Blake have already been mentioned in this story, as have the children of Rissie (Blake) Cole. The children of Amos and Charlotte (Blake) Henline, Charles and James, with older sister Olive and younger brother Forrest, also inherited the Blake genes, through their mother Charlotte. The Henline siblings entertained many avid fans in central West Virginia during the 1930’s. Charles and James, like Elzie and Dana Cole, continued to perform in southwestern Ohio after they moved there in the 1940’s.

Right, above: James and Charles playing for family.
Left Charles Henline and his mother's brother Walter Blake.

Charles and James Henline began playing string music at an early age and as with all of the musicians featured in this story, loved what they did. Roughly the same age as the Cole brothers, the Henline brothers grew to maturity in the 1930’s and played in many of the same venues under the name Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters. Charles and James, first with their older sister Olive and later with their younger brother Forrest, regularly played for schools, in private homes, private clubs, on radio shows, and for record producers.

Charles and James made instant recordings of several songs during the early 1940’s, which are now part of the musical archive of the State Archives in Charleston.

To the right are several immediate recordings: "Goofus", "Darktown Strutters' Ball". performed by James and Charles in 1943. Note that these were made more than a half century ago and they are quick “snapshots”, not the finished products of studio sessions. Click on the blue blocks to listen to the recordings.

Immediately below the recordings by Charles and James is a recording of Amos Henline's Cow, words by Charles, sung in 2007 by Charles' daughter Jackie (Henline) Bowser.

Like the Harold Cole’s Chicken Rooster Blues, Charlie Henline also wrote a song from their daily life: Amos Henline's Cow. The song was recorded for OrlandoSToneSoup in 2007 by Charles' daughter, Jackie (Henline) Bowser.

. . Amos Henline's Cow
In the big high hills of Braxton County
Lived a cow one time.
She was a cow, A real live Jersey cow,
She belonged to Amos Henline.

Her name was June, her color was maroon,
But on one fine day
She strolled down to the B & O track,
Just to pass the time away.

In the high hills of Braxton County
On the rails of the B & O line,
She tried to carve her name in a big freight train.
When it hit her, it was a shame –
Oh June, into pieces she flew
Into small enough chunks
That would make hamburger stew,

Oh, they found her horns in the hog pen,
And her tail a’hanging on a clothes line.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ~ words by Charlie Henline

Earl “Red” Henline (b. 1923)
Another virtuoso on the fiddle with Orlando roots was Earl “Red” Henline. The grandson of Lloyd and Virginia (Slaughter) Henline, Red learned fiddle playing at an early age. His grandfather Lloyd, who was more commonly known as “Tank” and had a reputation for trading knives, also played the fiddle. Red’s Orlando cousin Bill played a little fiddle as did his cousin Betty Henline who was first married to a Fox and later married Francis “Sweet Milk” Blake, son of Marion and Ethel Blake.

Left: Red Henline and his wife Theresa
Right: Tank Henline

According to Red’s daughter, Charlotte (Henline) Reger, “Music seems to have been a pure gift with him all his life.” Red performed on Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour,” was the champion fiddle player of five different states and played with the Sons of the Pioneers. Another member of the Sons of the Pioneers was Leonard Slye, who is better known as Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy. Red appeared on local radio and televisions shows with Little John Graham and Cherokee Sue. Red lived most of his life in Upshur County but was a frequent visitor to Orlando. He was generally acknowledged as the best fiddle player in Upshur County.

Later Generations
Descendents of Oil Creek Musicians musicians continue to love and perform music. Below are three examples of how the heritage of folk music continues in the twenty-first century.

Descendents of the Tongue Twisters
Music making continues in the blood of the descendents of these musicians. Olive (Henline) Brannan’s daughter Joyce was a music teacher and Joyce’s son Donald Lambert continues with the fiddle/violin.

Earlier in this entry Charles Henline's daughter, Jackie (Henline) Bowser, sang her Uncle Charles' song, Amos Henline's Cow

Left: Don Lambert, Jr. rehearsing with his grandfather's violin
Also, see the entry for Sep ‘07
Continuing a Musical Tradition

Lijah “Dock” Blake
Dock Blake, who grew up in Orlando, said he learned to play music from his dad, Marion, and really enjoyed attending dances with him. “It was a great experience, everyone had a good time, and I guess that is why I love it so much.” Dock plays at the Lewis County Senior Center on Tuesday nights at six o’clock p.m.

Right: Lijah "Dock" Blake

Left below: Stanley Blake

Stanley Blake

Stanley Blake recently passed away He was the son of Vayden Blake, mentioned in Part 1 of this series on the music of the Oil Creek area. Stanley enjoyed attending the Blake-Riffle Reunion and would sometimes sing at the reunion. He usually selected a song by Ernest Tubbs, who was his childhood idol. After the Vayden Blake family moved from Orlando to Cowen, Stanley was a member of a musical group from Craigsville.

The Slim Quinton Gospel

Two children of the Cole Brothers, Marilyn (Cole) Posey, daughter of Harold Cole, and Charlie Cole, son of Alvin “Slim” Cole, find their fathers’ love of music and performance flowing in their veins. First cousins, Marilyn and Charlie, adopted portions of their respective father’s names and formed the Slim Quinton Gospel to carry on their love for music.

Instruments of choice for Marilyn and Charlie in their musical presentations are the mandolin and guitar. A late comer to playing an instrument, Marilyn indicated that she first wanted to learn to play the guitar but found that instrument too big. So, instead she adopted the mandolin as her instrument of choice. Charlie has been playing a guitar for fifty-five years.

Left: Slim Quinton Gospel: Charlie Cole and Marilyn (Cole) Posey

Marilyn says that the Slim Quinton Gospel likes to give a human touch to music and let it touch the heart. Marilyn and Charlie enjoy playing at the Lewis and Braxton County Senior Centers, at churches and family reunions. “The more you can get the audience involved in the music, the more meaningful it is,” said Marilyn. She mentioned asking elderly Sarah Wilfong to come on stage with them to sing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” in a performance at the Lewis County Senior Center, and what a thrill it gave Sarah to be asked to participate. It was all the more poignant because Sarah died the following week. Marilyn also thinks that senior citizens who grew up with gospel and country music are those who most enjoy of their performances. Marilyn reflected on a performance at the Red Lick Methodist Church, too. "We sang 'Mountain Railroad' and when we were finished a lady in the audience stood up with tears in her eyes and said that her mother had passed away and that her mother always sang that song. So, when we went the next time to the church, this woman was present again and we asked her to come and sing her mother's song with us." It was a powerful experience.

One of the chief rewards of these music makers has been bringing joy to those who listen and for most it is their great reward for a lifetime of practice. There are often very personal reasons as well. Marilyn (Cole) Posey shares this story. "My mother, Mary Lee (Bee) Cole, died in May 2007. At our 2006 Cole reunion, Cousin Charlie and I sang some gospel music. When we were finished, my mother came up behind and put her arm around me and said, "Your Dad would be so proud of you right now, and I want you to know I am proud of you too." No one will ever know what this statement meant to me, coming from my mother who didn't care for gospel music.

In 2007, my mom had known I was learning to play the mandolin and I had asked her if she wanted to hear me. She said "No, I want you to surprise me at the Cole reunion this year." I said 'Okay Mom!' She died 5 weeks prior to the reunion, so she never got to hear me play. These two memorys will remain with me forever. But one thing I am sure mother and dad have the "best seat in the house" when Slim Quinton Gospel performs.

Musicians in the
Irish Community
The musicians named above were the descendents of the Oil Creek watershed’s pioneer settlers. The Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine and formed a community in the Oil Creek watershed after the Civil War brought their own traditions with them. How much the two traditions shared and blended is hard to say.

John Kilker Carney recalls that his cousin John Vincent Carney Sr. played the fiddle and was a good vocalist. John Vincent’s sister Margaret was a good piano player. Kilker was also quite impressed at the number of Irishmen who played the harmonica. When asked the names of those who played the mouth harp, he said, “Everyone.”

Left: John Vincent Carney, Sr.

According John Michael Moran, his father, Mike Moran, once said that another Irish virtuoso on the fiddle was his brother-in-law Mike McDonald of Canoe Run, and later Weston, who “had the best bow of any one I’ve heard who played the fiddle.” John Michael recalls that his father, Mike Moran, was also a good fiddle player and could play the harmonica. John Carney, Jr. also recalls that his uncle, Mike Moran, played the violin and his aunt Marge (Carney) Dolan played the piano at a gathering at the Dolan home at the Sunnycroft Golf Course near Clarksburg.

John Michael Moran remembers that for many years, the three Catholic churches, St. Bridget’s, St. Bernard’s, and St. Michael’s, had a dance featuring plenty of Irish music at the Bright Star Skating Rink at Roanoke. One year in the late 1930’s, the dance was held at Mike Moran’s Wholesale building in Orlando. John Michael, who was a pre-teenager at the time of the Orlando dance, said that his mother, Marguerite, loved to dance, as did his father, Mike, and his godfather, John Brice.

Left: John Michael Moran

Reminiscing about violins, John Michael Moran recalled that his dad sold a violin to Byrne Dolan of the Hotel Dolan when Byrne was young, and when Byrne died, Mike went to Byrne’s estate sale and bought the violin back. His dad knew a good violin when he saw it. And Mike Moran loved the music of the Emerald Isle.

Right: Thomas Bernard "Byrne" Dolan

Also according John Michael Moran, his father Mike Moran once said that another Irish virtuoso on the fiddle was his brother-in-law Mike McDonald of Canoe Run, and later Weston, who “had the best bow of any one I’ve heard who played the fiddle.” John Michael recalls that his father, Mike Moran, was also a good fiddle player and could play the harmonica. John Carney, Jr. also recalls that his uncle, Mike Moran, played the violin and his aunt Marge (Carney) Dolan played the piano at a gathering at the Dolan home at the Sunnycroft Golf Course near Clarksburg.

In Closing
Music has blest the human condition from time immemorial. There are songs to praise birth and songs to lament death. There are songs to announce the pathway to a hereafter. Uncle Zeke, in one of his tongue-in-cheek columns, announced that a certain coon hunter would no doubt ask St. Peter if it were permissible to bring his faithful coon dog and gun with him through the pearly gates. Undoubtedly, St. Peter would not consider frivolous a request that fiddle, guitar, or claw hammer banjo, and maybe a pair of clogging shoes, be allowed to cross to that beautiful shore.

. . . . .

Comment by David Parmer
On December 3rd, 1937 a school carnival was held at the Orlando School and was attended by over two hundred people. One of the features of the carnival was a fiddle playing contest to determine who was the best fiddler. The contestants were Mike Moran, John Gallagher, Marion Blake and Edward Blake.

And the winner was ………….Edward Blake.

by John Allman
My grandfather, Gaver Allman, played violin with the Knights of Columbus band in Orlando sometime between 1905 and 1915. His love of music transcended his strict Methodism and some of its strictest adherents who kept Catholicism at arm’s length. Another member of the Knights of Columbus band was Mike Moran who also played the violin. My grandmother, Mishie (Mills) Allman, gave piano lessons in Orlando during the 1910’s and 1920’s.

Comment by Luella (Cole) Ferri and Hazel (Cole) Riffle
Our father was Jesse Cole, son of Henry Harrison Cole and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole of Three Lick.
Our father learned to play the fiddle when he was young. When we lived on Oil Creek, our dad used to play music with the Henline brothers, James and Charles, and also with Fred McCord who played guitar. Our father also played music with his brothers, Chuck and Dane, and with cousins, Clarence and Philip Dolan.

Some of the tunes we remember them playing was “The Twelfth of January,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “The Blue Danube Waltz,” “Red Wing,” and “Sally Gooden.” The musicians on Oil Creek would go to each other’s homes at night and play music and also played for square dances.

Our father was a very good fiddle player and to our ear was just as good as the fiddle players on the Grand Old Opry.
In 1935 our family moved to Gassaway. Although our father still played the fiddle after moving to Gassaway, he usually played by himself and for his grandchildren.
Our brother Larry still has our father’s fiddle.

Right: Jesse Cole

Comment by Donna Gloff:
The first mention of music in Orlando lore is from a letter written by little Ethel Posey, age 10, in 1894. In it she says that when she stayed with her Uncle L. M. [Lucian Minor] Hopkins in Gilmer County they “had music and a general good time.”

Comment by David Parmer
An interesting tidbit arose during the writer’s interview of Marilyn Posey concerning her choice of the mandolin as the instrument she elected to master. Marilyn indicated that her first choice of an instrument was the guitar but she found it “too large.” John Blake, son of Vayden Blake, mentioned that all of his sisters played the fiddle, except for Betty Lou, who did not play because she was left handed. People who do not play instruments for the most part are unaware of circumstances which affect the choice musicians make in selecting their career instrument.

Left: modern, manufactured instruments: Banjo, Guitar, mandolin.

Note: The following sites provided background info which was particularly useful.


  1. I was doing a Google search for John Graham and Cherokee Sue when I came across your site. Little John Graham sang at my father's funeral in Clarksburg. Little John and Cherokee Sue lived across the hollow from my grandmother Jackson in Clarksburg. I used to play with their son also named John when I would go to my grandmothers.

    John Graham made several casette tape recordings which I have but the quality now is poor. I was hoping I could find his music on CD's. I know in his final years he lived in Bridgeport. If you can help me I would sure appreciate it. Your blog sure brings back old memories.

    1. Hi, Just happen to find this while looking for family history, my husband is a nephew of uncle John. We have his cd's. willing to share if we can make copies. T.D. Graham--------