Wes Carver still thinks of himself as a fiddler, even years after his ability to play was taken from him. Music was akin to salvation for Wes, and brought him closer to faith than perhaps anything else in the world; its loss threatens to destroy him. Music plays an important role in the lives of most of the other characters, as well.
Most of the music Wes plays in the novel is old-time or bluegrass, but he is influenced by hymns, traditional music from the British Isles, and even the classical pieces his father loved.
While writing Black River, not only did I learn to play the fiddle, but I also listened to music constantly, and like Wes, I was influenced by a wide range of styles and traditions. I'd like to share some of the music that played a role in the creation of Black River.
Photo Credit: Rick Singer Photography
Five Favorite Fiddle Tunes
1. Over the Waterfall This was one of the first fiddle tunes I learned to play. Like many old-time tunes, it's possible to play it either very simply or very elaborately, and there are quite a few variations out there.
2. Lost Girl I first heard this on Chance McCoy's old-time album Chance McCoy and the Appalachian String Band, and I still like his version best. It always gets stuck in my head, and that's not a bad thing.
3. Whiskey Before Breakfast Ask any fiddler or other folk musician to play this tune, and they probably can; it's very popular. It was popularized by Canadian Metis fiddler Andy de Jarlis in the mid-twentieth century.
4. Elk River Blues A wonderful little tune with a sad story behind it. It was written by West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter after his home was flooded when the Elk River was dammed to create Sutton Lake.
5. Swannanoa Waltz A newer tune that sounds much older than it is. Rayna Gellert wrote this lovely waltz and included it on her 2000 album Ways of the World, and it quickly became popular with old-time fiddlers. One of my favorite tunes to play.
Five Favorite Fiddlers
1. Tommy Jarrell A very well-known old-time fiddler who also played the banjo and sang. Born in 1901, he died in 1985 and still influences Appalachian-style fiddlers today. Because he was recognized as a great musician while he was alive, there are plenty of recordings and even videos of him playing.
2. Matt Brown A younger but very traditional old-time fiddler. Brown teaches folk music on a variety of instruments and pays a lot of attention to fiddle bowing. His version of "Horses in the Canebrake" introduced me to the tune and has become a personal favorite.
3. Kenny Baker A Kentucky-born bluegrass fiddler best known for playing with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. He once referred to bluegrass as "the hillbilly version of jazz," and his "long-bow" style of playing has had a lasting influence on bluegrass fiddling.
4. Chance McCoy Currently a member of Old Crow Medicine Show, McCoy also plays traditional Appalachian-style old-time fiddle. I saw Old Crow Medicine Show live during my time in Wisconsin, and the songs on which McCoy and Ketch Secor played twin fiddle were my favorites.
5. Rhiannon Giddens A founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens also performs as a solo artist and with other projects. In addition to the fiddle, she plays banjo and sings--she even studied opera in college! A wonderful musician with a deep appreciation of and talent for a variety of musical styles.
Note: These are not intended to be exhaustive lists or lists of the best, most authentic, or most influential fiddle tunes or fiddlers. They're simply a few of the tunes and musicians I enjoy listening to!