Mississippi String Bands – Various Artists – Complete Recorded Works Vol 1 (1928-1935)
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Abridged from booklet notes. Mississippi fiddle music of the ’20s and ’30s is a hauntingly unusual dialect of old-time music. It differed from contemporary South-eastern styles in both grammar and vocabulary: it offered almost no role to the five-string banjo and, while it embraced a good deal of standard Southern fiddle repertoire, it had much too that was peculiar to it, such as oddly transformed Old World polkas and hornpipes, and a deep vein of blues.
FLOYD MING & HIS PEP STEPPERS were from Tupelo in Lee County in northeast Mississippi. Fiddler Hoyt Ming was 21 when the band recorded and had been playing for about six years, latterly with his wife Rozelle on guitar and his brother Troy on mandolin – the group heard here, with Andrew Coggin, an older man from nearby Nettleton, calling the dance figures on Old Red and White Mule. The first tune of the session was his speciality, Indian War Whoop, with its ghostly hollering in unison with the fiddle. Over the muzzy strum of mandolin and guitar Ming etched small repetitive patterns, creating a strange and personal music which he was still dispensing 50 years later. Based in the adjoining Monroe County, around Amory and Aberdeen, the CARTER BROTHERS & SON seem to come from a different musical world. Part of the reason was age: George Carter, the lead fiddler, was approaching 60. The second fiddler was George’s brother Andrew. “He was what they call a scientific fiddler,” said Jimmie Carter. “We carried him on account of my daddy thought that he could do the singing and help him out with the fiddling… but the little old microphone wouldn’t take his voice at all. Some wild and magnificent twin fiddling is preserved in these unfettered performances. Leather Breeches was one of George’s best tunes, often winning him a prize in the fiddling contests at the Aberdeen Opera House. An intermission for harmonica and guitar is provided by RED WHITEHEAD & DUTCH COLEMAN. Whitehead, the harmonica-player, was from Booneville in Prentiss County (on the other side of Lee), and was recalled by Harmonica Frank Floyd from nearby Pontotoc. FREENYï¿½S BARN DANCE BAND came from the music-rich Central Mississippi area around Leake County, hailing from the community of Freeny outside Carthage. Fiddler Leslie Freeny began playing in his teens with his cousin Hendrix Freeny on harmony fiddle and guitarist A. F. “Fonzo” Cannon, later joined by a younger cousin, Carlton Freeny, on tenor banjo. These are among the greatest treasures of Mississippi fiddle music, not only because of their rarity. Sullivan’s Hollow was named for a place in neighbouring Scott County about which many ghost stories used to be told – “as a kid,” Carlton Freeny told me, “I used to be afraid to go through the area” – and derives a fittingly eerie atmosphere from the deep, hollow sound of the fiddles over the hypnotic strum of the rhythm instruments. The twin fiddling on the waltz Don’t You Remember The Time is even more sombre, but Mississippi Square Dance is livelier; the second part is the well-known “Sally Ann”. Croquet Habits is a bowdlerised title for the song “Cocaine Habit” or “Take A Whiff On Me”, previously recorded by both the Memphis Jug Band and Charlie Poole. THE FREENY HARMONIZERS were formed about 1931, a show band with brass, reeds, piano and drums, but were stripped down to a trio for the 1935 Jackson session. Ira Ellis is a hot, bluesy fiddler, and the march-like Podunk Toddle has a brash confidence a world apart from the shimmering melancholy of “Sullivan’s Hollow”.