Carroll County, Mississippi PDF Print E-mail

 

This cd was inspired by the great 78 rpm recordings of Narmour and Smith and is the result of my years of curiosity and supposition about 1920's fiddle music in Carroll County, Mississippi. - Harry Bolick



REVIEWS:

"Carroll County, Mississippi" is a compelling insight into an important musical genre, and Harry Bolick is to be commended for keeping alive a vital segment of American culture. - Bluegrass Unlimited

"Harry Bolick, whose new cd, "Carroll County, Mississippi," offers homage to old-time musicians Willie Narmour, Shell Smith, Mississippi John Hurt, Gene Clardy, and others from his ancestral county, wielded his own fiddle bow on the porch of the Valley Store near Avalon during a trip back a couple of years ago." - Winona-now.com

..."Bolick and BLoom's version of "Jake Leg Rag" sounds just great! I imagine the sound of a good old-time Warner Brothers cartoon when I hear this one. I can only say that this cut just makes me feel happy." ...."In fact, I would say that Harry seems to bridge the line between too smooth and too rough with amazing grace. There's just enought edge there without gutting the music or Harry's own playing style."..."This is old-time music with a true link to the past, but enjoyed and played as we like to today. If you are open to the reality that old-time music is more than many of us would think, I believe you will enjoy this disc as much as I do." - The Old Time Herald Winter 2004/05

"...the pure playing pleasure with which he makes this music accessible to a new audience is very contagious. If you like fiddle music this is an absolute must have album." - Holly Moors (www.moorsmagazine.com)

"...Not everything works, but most of it does and one con only admire the very creative musical intelligence at work here and hope that it continues to explore these less-travelled roads." - Dirty Linen

"A very different old-time record that will grow on you." - County Sales



The background of the cover photograph is based on the photo of William Thomas Narmour, c. 1958, Carrollton, MS. Photo courtesy of Mr. Norman Mellin.
The photograph of William T. Narmour (1889-1961) was taken by Clayton Tyler (d. 1986) of Winona, MS approximately three years before "Willie" died. Clayton asked Grover C. O'Briant (1912-1995) of the Friendship Community, MS, to go with him to take the photograph since Grover knew Mr. Narmour and his whereabouts. Grover C. O'Briant knew all the old-time fiddlers in north-central Mississippi. He helped to keep the Old-Time Fiddler's Contest alive that is held each year in Kosciusko, MS. Mr. O'Briant preserved the only known original print of this photograph until he gave it to Mr. Norman Mellin who has been researching old-time fiddlers in the state of Mississippi since 1990.


TRACK LISTING

  1. Jake Leg Rag
    - Ken Bloom: minstrel banjo, Dobro, guitar, bowed dulcimer.
  2. Sweet Milk and Peaches
    - Pat Conte: minstrel banjo, Brian Slattery: banjo and pony banjo.
  3. Where the Southern Crosses the Dog
    - Pat Conte: guitar, Trip Henderson: harmonica.
  4. Texas Shuffle
    - Brian Slattery: banjo and guitar, Mark Murphy: bass.
  5. Captain George, Has Your Money Come?
    - Pat Conte: guitar, Trip Henderson: harmonica.
  6. The Sunny Waltz
    - Elsie Berryhill: piano
  7. Avalon Quickstep
    - Pat Conte: lauto.
  8. Limberneck Blues
    - Vicky Gould: accordian /Texas Breakdown - Brian Slattery: banjo and drums/Heel and Toe Polka - Brian Slattery: banjo and drums, Ken Bloom: guitar.
  9. Little Star
    - Brian Slattery: banjo and drums.
  10. The Last Shot Got Him
    - Pat Conte: guitar and vocals, Steve Uhrik: viola.
    The First(Last) Shot Got Him was recorded by Willie Narmour's neighbors: Mississippi John Hurt and the Mississippi Possum Hunters. This recording is a mixture of those versions. Blessed be the Name also comes from John Hurt.
  11. Carroll County Blues
    - Pat Conte: guitar, Mark Murphy: bass.
  12. Someone I Love
    - Elsie Berryhill: Piano, Brian Slattery: Fiddle, Ed Pitaro: guitar, Mark Murphy: bass.
  13. Carrollton
    (©2004 Bolick) - Pat Conte: guitar and requinto, Trip Henderson: harmonica.
    This tune was named after my mother's birthplace and is my attempt to create a tune in Willie Narmour's style. This is enhanced by Pat Conte's unique vision. The website has a more straight forward old-timey rendering.
  14. Charlestons No's 3, 2 and 1
    - Gil Sayre: guitar, Brian Slattery: banjo.
  15. Kiss Me Waltz
    - Gil Sayre: guitar, Brian Slattery: fiddle, Mark Murphy: bass.
  16. Gallop To Georgia
    - Gil Sayre: guitar, Brian Slattery: banjo
  17. Dry Gin Rag
    - Gil Sayre: guitar, Brian Slattery - banjo.
  18. Little Black Moustache
    - Pat Conte: guitar,bowlback mandolin, Trip Henderson: harmonica.
    Little Black Moustache was not recorded by Narmour and Smith, but by their neighbor Gene Clardy and the Ray Brothers. I wonder if Willie Narmour knew the tune.
  19. Mississippi Breakdown
    - Brian Slattery: banjo, Charlie Shaw: guitar and drums.
  20. Avalon Blues/Whistling
    - Ken Bloom: guitars, bowed dulcimer and domra, Brian Slattery: fiddle, Mark Murphy: bass and cello
  21. Blessed Be The Name
    - Pat Conte: guitar and vocals, Pat Schories: bass, Background vocals: Brian Slattery, Trip Henderson, Steve Uhrik and Colleen Kiel

 

NARMOUR AND SMITH DISCOGRAPHY:

William T. Narmour: fiddle, Shellie W. Smith: guitar (reversed on Rose Waltz)

Memphis, Tennessee Feb 15, 1928

  • Captain George, Has Your Money Come?
  • Whistling Coon
  • The Sunny Waltz
  • Who's Been Giving You Corn?
  • Heel and Toe Polka
  • Little Star

Atlanta, Ga. March 11,1929

  • Charleston #1
  • Kiss Me Waltz
  • Gallop to Georgia
  • Midnight Waltz
  • Carroll County Blues
  • Someone I Love

New York, N.Y. Sept 23-25, 1929

  • Charleston #2
  • Carroll County Blues #2
  • Avalon Blues
  • Winona Echoes
  • The Medicine Show Acts 1-6
  • Dry Gin Rag
  • Mississippi Waves Waltz
  • Sweet Milk and Peaches

San Antonio, Texas June 6-7, 1930

  • Take Me As I Am
  • Texas Breakdown
  • Limber Neck Blues
  • Jake Leg Rag
  • Carroll County Blues #3
  • Avalon Quick Step
  • Bouquets of June Waltz
  • Where The Southern Crosses The Dog
  • Texas Shuffle
  • Tequila Hop Blues
  • Mississippi Breakdown

Atlanta, Ga. July 30,1934

  • The New Charleston Part 1
  • The New Charleston Part 2
  • The New Charleston Part 3
  • The New Carroll County Blues Pt 1
  • The New Carroll County Blues Pt 2
  • The New Carroll County Blues Pt 3
  • Midnight Waltz
  • Someone I Love
  • Gallop to Georgia
  • Kiss Me
  • The Dry Gin Rag
  • Mississippi Waves Waltz
  • The Rose Waltz
  • Winona Echoes Waltz
  • Sweet Milk and Peaches
  • Avalon Blues

County Reissues 1998 www.countysales.com

Mississippi String Bands Vol 1 CO-3513

  • Carroll County Blues
  • Charleston No. 1
  • Captain George Has your Money Come?
  • Mississippi Breakdown

Mississippi String Bands Vol 2 CO-3514

  • Sweet Milk and Peaches
  • Avalon Quickstep

Most of the other recordings are available from Joe Bussard: www.vintage78.com

Mississippi John Hurt's early recordings are available on Columbia
"Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues: The complete 1928 Okeh recordings"
His last recordings are available on Vanguard
"Mississippi John Hurt - the Complete Studio Recordings"

 

CARROLL COUNTY MUSICIANS:

WILLIE THOMAS NAMOUR
Born in Ackerman, Choctaw County, Mississippi on March 22,1889, it was not until seven years later that his family moved to Carroll County, where he remained until he died on March 24, 1961, at age 72. He was survived by his wife, his sons, Coleman and Charles, and daughter, Hazel.

Willie Narmour was one of the most influential early fiddlers from Mississippi, widely known for "Carroll County Blues" and his collaboration with guitarist Shell Smith. They played and recorded together from 1928 to 1934. Narmour and Smith remained rooted in their community and seem to have traveled little other than the recording trips to Memphis in 1928, New York in 1929, Atlanta 1929 and 1934, and San Antonio Texas in 1930.

Willie first learned to play on a cigar box fiddle that his father, John Narmour, made for him. Willie came from a musical family: his father also played fiddle, and his father's brother, Henry, played fiddle, bass fiddle, beat straws, and clogged. Henry's wife, Jimmie, sang. Willie is best known as a fiddler but he also played guitar (as on the recording of "Rose Waltz" which he played in the same style as Shellie Smith).

He did not read music and had little formal education. In an area where men tended to be taciturn, his personality was described as being as engaging as his music. He played music, drove a school bus, farmed, and ran an auto mechanic garage to support his family. He loved to hunt. Though not religious, Willie did occasionally attend the Pisgah church, which was very close to his home in Valley.

(Knowing that dances were rife with drinking and fighting and that Willie was of small stature, I asked Charles Campbell, the deputy sheriff in the area when Willie played for local dances, "Did he ever get into fights at these dances?" He answered, "No, he had friends..." implying large muscular friends, who protected him.)

He continued to play in public after his recording career ended in 1934, although not with Shell Smith. One site was the Alice Cafe in Greenwood, where he was known to play for admirers possibly as late as the 1950's. He had other accompanists at earlier dates also, Lonnie Ellis of the Mississippi Possum Hunters recalls seeing Willie at the 1929 or 1930 Fiddlers contest in Kosciuskio with another guitarist.

SHELLIE WALTON SMITH
(11/26/1895 - 8/28/1968) Best known for his powerful guitar backup on the Narmour and Smith records. He is recorded on fiddle for the "Rose Waltz". He and his wife Lillian both played fiddle. They seem to have been less and less musically active after the birth of their children. Some time after their marriage, Lillian taught herself to play piano by ear. They did not own a piano so she walked across the yard to the Pisgah church piano, which was otherwise unused during the week. Late in Shellie's life when he was too rusty to play, their youngest child, Donald "Sonny" Smith remembers bringing a fiddle home for Shellie. Lillian grabbed it and played a waltz, apparently playing well. Sonny was surprised since after he was born his parents had stopped playing music. His older brothers played just a little on mandolin and accordion. Guy Duke claimed that Sonny was a fine singer.

 

THEIR MUSICAL NEIGHBORS:

MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT
(1893- 11/2/1966) Though they were neighbors, friendly, and played in some of the same settings, I have yet to hear accounts of John Hurt and Willie Narmour playing music together, certainly not in public.

Keith Worrell of Greenwood recalls Narmour and Smith playing a dance at his 21st birthday and John Hurt "spelled" them.

Guy Duke described a Grover Duke being at the general store in Valley when John Hurt came in. John keep eyeing Grover's new guitar, and finally asked to play it, which he did for hours.

The porch of the valley store was a meeting place for musicians and the community. The owner, according to his daughter, Dardanelle Hadley of Winona, played ragtime piano (though not publicly) and was friendly to musicians. In her cassette from 1994 she talks about the store:

"The traveling Black musicians came though Avalon and always played on the porch of Daddy's country store. Daddy would hold me up on his shoulders and get such a kick out of my response to the music, some kind of Dixieland. The leader, I remember, was"Big Boy" who played tuba. And they also had trombone."

John Hurt got his chance to record in 1928 after being referred to the recording company by Narmour and Smith. There were two sessions the first in Memphis and the second in New York City. He recorded again in the 1960's.

THE DUKE FAMILY
As close neighbors, the Narmours, Smiths and Dukes got together socially for music on Sat nights.

Mr. Duke played fiddle. His son Grover became a good friend of Willie Narmour's and a professional musician in the next generation playing more modern music. He played Carroll County Blues on guitar. His brother Guy played washtub bass with him in a high school band.

DOC BAILEY of Winona
A veterinarian by trade, he opened a furniture store in Winona that sold victrolas and recordings and was a natural contact for the Victor recording label.

He produced the Winona Fiddle contest in 1927 where Narmour and Smith were discovered by Okeh records, Polk Brockman and Mr. Stevenson. He booked Jimmie Rodgers to play the Winona Auditorium. For a while he also operated a local low power radio station.

As a result of Doc Bailey's activities, The Ray Brothers, The Mississippi Possum Hunters, Gene Clardy, Milner and Curtus, and indirectly Narmour, Smith and John Hurt came to be recorded.

He named the Mississippi Possum Hunters. He also gave a name to one of the Ray brothers tunes "Jake Leg Wobble"

MISSISSIPPI POSSUM HUNTERS
Lonnie Ellis played fiddle and mandolin and was originally from "Friendship" community 20 miles east of Winona. His father was a fiddler. His brother recorded with Milner and Curtis. Lonnie knew or played: Chicken Reel, Old Joe Clark, Sally Goodin, Fishers Hornpipe, Bill Cheatham, Goodnight Waltz and Wednesday Night Waltz. Pete Herring played guitar. John Holloway played cello and fiddle.

They recorded for Victor on May 28, 1930 in the Memphis Ellis Auditorium.

  • MIssissippi Breakown (learned from Leake County Revelers Record)
  • Possum On the Rail(learned from Homer Ellis)
  • The Last Shot Got Him (Also recorded by Mississippi John Hurt)
  • Rufus Rastus (Harry Von Tiltzer sheet music published 1905)

MILNER AND CURTIS
Luke Milner and Luke Curtis on fiddles, Homer Ellis on Mandolin and Leo Ellis on guitar recorded for Vocalion in Memphis during 1930. Their recorded output consists of:

  • Evening Shade Waltz
  • Northeast Texas (Breakdown)

GENE CLARDY on fiddle with STAN CLEMENTS on guitar
recorded these 4 tunes for Vocalion in Memphis in 1930:

  • Sleeping Time Waltz
  • Black Moustache (also recorded by the Ray Brothers)
  • Harvest Home Waltz
  • Moonlight Clog

Clardy (Pronounced Clair-Dee) was killed sometime in the mid 1930's by a dancer at a dance after refusing to continue playing. He read music and could been the source for some of the more standard tunes in the area, such as Fishers Hornpipe, Rustic Dance and Sailors Hornpipe.

There are the unlikely rumors that Willie Narmour learned from Clardy or that Clardy composed Carroll County Blues. Carroll County Blues does share a short melodic fragment with Black Moustache which was recorded by Clardy but overall Clardy's recorded music has little similarity with the style of Carroll County Blues. Narmour however, kept returning to similar themes. He seems to have written the versions #2 and #3 attempting to cash in on the popularity of Carroll County Blues #1. Judging from the recordings, Clardy was a "by the book" player whereas Willie Narmour was creating new music and reshaping standard tunes.

 

THE NARMOUR AND SMITH RECORDINGS:

It was at the Winona Fiddle contest Doc Bailey organized in 1927 where Narmour and Smith were discovered by Okeh records, Polk Brockman and Mr. Stevenson. Their Recording of "Carroll County Blues"/Charleston #1 was "One of the biggest selling records of 1929" according to a recording industry trade paper - "Talking Machine World". Their recording of "Some One I love" was nearly as popular.

Their popularity continued even as the recording industry began to suffer during the depression. Along with the Ray Brothers they were the last of the Mississippi Fiddle bands to record in the period.

They were very popular in Texas, Mexico, and the West. During their recording trip to San Antonio in 1930, the recording agent offered to give them farm land near San Antonio if they would move and settle there.

There are no composer credits from the first recording session in 1928. However most of the remaining recordings are credited to Narmour and Smith.

Interestingly, there are no composer credits at the June 7th San Antonio, Texas session for: Texas Shuffle, Tequila Hop Blues (which sounds like another attempt to rework the Carroll County Blues theme). Other tunes from that session that are credited to Narmour and Smith.

The tune titles were made up at the recording sessions.

  • "Captain George, Has your Money Come" is a line from a black levee work song.
  • The Charleston's 1-3 are named for the town on Charleston, in Tallahatchie county.
  • "Where the Southern Crosses the Dog" refers to the spot near Moorhead where those two train lines cross tracks.
  • "Texas Breakdown" and "Texas Shuffle" were recorded in San Antonio and probably named in anticipation or celebration of the trip, However there was also a "little Texas" community within a few miles north of Avalon. It was a very rough county line spot known for fights and moonshine. Two of the hot spots were "Chambley's" and the "82 Club"

Willie Narmour is credited with composing Carroll County Blues. He is known to have consciously composed fiddle tunes. His daughter, Hazel Wiggins said:

"When Daddy did "Carroll County Blues", he did it all in his head, like with my math problems, but he couldn't write it down on paper. He got to whistling what he could hear in his head and called me, "Sis, listen to me, what I am playing", and had me whistle while he worked it. I'd say, 'why, that's pretty; what is it?' He said, "I don't know, Sis, but we're going to find out. Set here and whistle and fill in."

In addition to or as part of his creative process, Willie Narmour reworked existing local tunes. Comparisons of the following tunes is enlightening:

  • "Charleston #1" in relation to "Done Gone"
  • "Limberneck Blues" in relation to the turn of the century sheet music composition "A rustic Dance" and to Ed Haley's "Parkersburg Landing"
  • "Texas Breakdown" in relation to "Fisher's Hornpipe"
  • "Sweet MIlk and Peaches" in relation to "Belle of Lexington" recorded for the library of Congress by Emmet Lundy of Virginia
  • "Winona Echoes" in relation to southern standard "Over the Waves"
  • "Boquets of June waltz" in relation to "Wednesday Night Waltz"
  • "Mississippi Wave Waltz" in relation to the Ray Brothers "Honeysuckle Waltz"

HARRY BOLICK BIOGRAPHY AND NOTES:

I've been thinking a good bit lately about where I think of as home. We moved many times when I was young and I've been up North for decades. I've come to realize that Mississippi, specifically Carroll County, is where I keep the image of home and family roots. After all, I keep going back there.

Until very recently all my trips there had been to "see about my family" , Mom, Dad, and my grandparents, Ernest and Bessie Bole. Since they have passed on, I've had more time for myself on my visits to Mississippi, and I finally thought to ask in Carroll County about Narmour and Smith. I was startled to find that Avalon and Valley are only about 10 miles from where my mother was born in Carrollton. Narmour and Smith had played in my backyard. I just never realized it before.

In 1954, I was born in Greenwood, Mississippi on the banks of the Yazoo river a few miles east of the crossroads juke joint where Robert Johnson was poisoned.

My mother was from Carroll County where my grandfather, Ernest Bole raised cattle on his farm a few miles west of Carrollton. During my childhood, I remember the thick cigar smoke at the Winona cattle auctions, picking up coke bottles along the highway to redeem in Winona, and helping with bringing in the hay and feeding the cows. But no music.

After his wife passed away, Ernest let it slip out in conversation with me that he had gone to dances as a youth. He mentioned attending one "just across Pelucia Creek" where the music was supplied by 3 black men. In Carroll County in the early part of the last century, dancing and drinking folks did not mix with the church people like my grandmother. Or if they did, they didn't talk about it. Other relatives later told me that Ernest was an accomplished dancer. I wish I had had the wisdom at the time to ask more about what he could remember...

A few years back when I started taking my fiddle with me to Carroll County, I was surprised when, Ernest, without any prompting on my part, recognized Carroll County Blues from my playing of it. I also played for other elderly relatives who remembered the music from the old days and were happy to hear it again.

After my grandfather, Ernest Bole, passed away, my mother discovered an old windup victrola and one great but cracked record. "Captain George, Has Your Money Come/Sunny Waltz" which hangs on my wall to this day.

When I started to think about music in Carroll County, I assumed that people did some sort of square dancing. And then as I learned more of Narmour's tunes, I began to visualize a bizzare kind square dancing accompanying his irregular tunes. Upon asking members of the Smith and Duke families and my own cousin Anne (Bole) Smith I found that no one knew of any square dancing in the county in that period. Just waltzes and a very simple two step referred to as the "Carroll County Hop". (Willie Narmour's uncle was known to clog.) This explains how Narmour and Smith could be popular for dancing, as a regular beat is necessary but not regular phrases.

Willie Narmour stands out in the history of southern fiddling as one of the most forceful and creative players of his period. His is unusual in the extent to which he would reshape a melody to suit his musical instincts. Carrying that implulse only a bit further he would create new tunes. The confidence that I hear in his music has inpired my own attemps I also share in his fondness for propulsive tunes of irregular phrasing, sweet waltzes and a passionate commitment to the fiddle.

There was a bit of music on my father's side of the family. My cousin Elsie (Moss) Berryhill grew up in Terry a few miles south of Jackson, as did my father, Ed Bolick. She played piano and backed up her father JC "Shorty" Moss on fiddle at local dances in bars and house parties. There were no square dances in their area either. Elsie and I play on nearly every visit that I make to Mississippi, usually just house music, though she has had me play hymns with her at the church where she is music director. She remembers her dad playing these tunes: Carroll County Blues, Alabama Jubilee, Missouri Waltz, Kentucky Waltz, Tennessee Waltz, The Waltz You Saved for Me, Sally Goodin, Under the Double Eagle, Rufus Rastus, Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms, and Rollie Pollie.

Her mother, Matilda Moss, remembers that my great, great uncle on my father's side, Bryand Ervin, once played fiddle at the housewarming party when my dad's family moved into their house in Terry.

THANKS:

Laura Oakes, Willie's grandaughter, was a most gracious host in allowing me to visit with her. She and her husband Richard showed me his remaining fiddle which you can see by clicking on the 1928 button in this website.

Sonny Smith generously agreed to meet with me and share his memories. He sent me to visit Guy Duke who gave me more insight into the social connections among the Carroll county musical families.

Suzie James of Carrollton graciously supplied copies of her newspaper articles on Narmour and Smith. In addition, she has driven around the county to point out sites of interest relative to Narmour and Smith, and helped connect me with their families and people who knew them.

My cousin, Anne Smith, drove with me and helped introduce and guide me around the county. Anne has been my home in Carroll County when I am lucky enough to visit.

Other information on Mississippi music comes from Tony Russell's great issue of "Old Time Music"  number 20, 1976. And Henry Young's article and discography in the JEMF quarterly VII 1, no 21, spring 1971.

 

 
 

Carroll County Tracks