Monday, November 10, 2008

Uncle Zeke Reports on Orlando's Music Scene

Music was a part of daily life and Uncle Zeke often mentioned music in the every-day activities of Orlando. Here are a few of Uncle Zeke's reports.
. Uncle Jack McElwain
In his December 8, 1927 column, Uncle Zeke commented on the visit of a champion fiddler to Orlando.

“On Friday of last week, as Uncle Jack McElwain of Erbacon was returning from an old-time fiddlers contest at Elkins, he stopped off at Orlando, and while waiting on the Richwood train, delighted several folks with some of his favorite tunes on his “Strad” violin, which he claims was made in Italy in 1730. Uncle Jack, not being very well at the time of the contest on account of a sudden attack of rheumatism, failed to win the prize. He was champion of the state at a contest held in Charleston some time past and also at Clarksburg. It was our first time to hear Uncle Jack play. Considering his old age and physical disabilities, let me say, in the language of neighbor Scrapewell, to do him justice he plays extremely well. He was accompanied by his brother, Burb McElwain of Removal.”
Right, above: The area of the Orlando train depot, where Jack McElwain would have been changing trains.
Left: Lewis Johnson "Uncle Jack" McElwain. This photo is from the book Play of a Fiddle by Gerald Milnes. Permission to use this photo is presently being sought.

Central West Virginian Lewis Johnson "Uncle Jack" McElwain was indeed an extraordinary fiddler, winning competitons at the national level and being invited to perform at the World's Fair. His occupation on his death certificate is listed "farmer."
Fred Riffle
Fred Riffle of Posey Run, according to Uncle Zeke, liked to dabble in all sorts of activities. Musically, Fred learned to play the fiddle tolerably well. Uncle Zeke also mentioned that Fred learned to play the accordion under the tutelage of Bill Edgell. Uncle Zeke was noncommittal regarding the success of that venture.

Fred Riffle has purchased a left handed German made violin from Sears Roebuck. Dick Skinner declares it looks and sounds exactly like a fiddle.”

Fred Riffle, who is an expert fiddle player, can almost start a tune on his incubator.”

Fred Riffle plays the fiddle just about as good as Ray Fox plays the violin. Ray would swap his violin for an automobile and take the difference in fiddles.”

Left: a Sears & Roebuck catalog violin: the back of the scroll.
Right, above: A violin bow for sale in the Sears & Roebuck Catalog
Other Orlando Musicians
In his July 7, 1932 column Uncle Zeke reported that “The Orlando Hill Billies gave a musical entertainment at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Amos L. Henline last Saturday night. The boys, with violin, banjo and guitar sure made fine music. When called upon to render music for dances they are always “Johnny-On-The-Spot.” Their music has taken on the air from Fairmont broadcasting station. To hear them means hear them again.”
The members of the Orlando Hill Billies were Sam Bragg, Walter Blake, Howard Wymer and Clarence (Brownie) Riffle.
Among other Orlando musicians mentioned by Uncle Zeke from time to time in his Buzzardtown News were Bill Dolan, “the noted musician from Grass Run,” P. N. Blake (Uncle Zeke), jaw harp player; Jim Green, fiddle player; “Oley Buck” Blake, son of Stewart Blake of Chapman; Forrest Henline, son of Amos Henline; “Bunk” Truman, fiddle; “Uncle Joe” Blake, brother of Stewart Scott Blake, French harp [harmonica] and singer; Ed Blake (brother of Marion), banjo and fiddle. Uncle Zeke was quite complimentary of the skill of J. T. McCartney of Rocky Fork on the fiddle strings when J. T. was 88 years old. Uncle Zeke called him “a number one fiddler.”

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