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,
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
The cover of the Jan, 1941 issue of Promenade: A Magazine of American Folklore
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.
Right: Bunk Blake, musician and Marion's brother
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 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."
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
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.
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.
And the Brothers Joined In
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 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.
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
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ~ words by Charlie Henline
Also, see the entry for Sep ‘07 Continuing a Musical Tradition
Right: Lijah "Dock" Blake
Left below: 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 of.......my mother and dad have the "best seat in the house" when Slim Quinton Gospel performs.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Comment 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.