Tom and Tammie McCarroll

Tom and Tammie McCarroll are bloodline heirs to a pure and fabulous aesthetic empire—the repertoire and style of Jimmy McCarroll, the brilliant and influential fiddler of the 1920s Roane County Ramblers Columbia sessions. Son and granddaughter, Tom and Tammie both took up McCarroll music in early childhood, abided in it, and renewed it. Unnoticed by old-time…

Ema Lou Wilson

Here is a strong farm woman with a holy voice, supplely curving through old mountain song lines, quiet with immense strength, perfectly confident and true. Lou Wilson loved fun, too, and had a schoolgirl fancy for the great radio singers who created early country music in East Tennessee.  Her life was hitched to the greatest…

The Rocky Toppers

At the time of the release of the Cumberland Plateau anthology in 1980, the Rocky Toppers were the only working old-time band in the region. Their followers appreciated both their familiarity with favorite breakdown tunes and the fact that the tempo was always right for dancing. According to dance caller Elmer Hurst, who often accompanied…

Retta Spradlin

Surrepta (Retta) Spradlin, like her two sisters and brother, never married and never left the home of her parents. She lived with her brother and sisters from birth to death (1903 to 1978) in the tiny community of Bell Farm, Kentucky, which eventually became no more than 6 homesteads surrounded by miles of undeveloped wilderness,…

Jess Young

Born just south of the Tennessee line in Paint Rock, Alabama on October 23, 1883, Jess Young found himself at the coal mines of Whitwell, Tennessee at the age of thirteen. After twenty years working in the mines, Young developed black lung and left to pursue a career as a professional musician in Chattanooga. With…

Chris Ryan

Georgia-born Chris Ryan was eight years old in 1995 when he moved to Hiawassee, one of the last addresses on the state map shared by an 85-year-old master of old-time fiddle and banjo, the tobacco-splattered, high-spirited Ross Brown. The Hiawassee Opry was the kind of place where a kid could admire an old man, and,…

Jim Fagan

Jim Fagan (1932-1984) was born in southwestern Kentucky, moved to Coalfield, Tennessee as a child, and eventually settled in Clinton, Tennessee, where he lived until his death. He joined the Air Force in the early 1950s and served two stints in Japan. There he met and married his wife Eiko. Their son Dudley was born…

Russ Wilson

At age 51, Russ Wilson, of Speedwell, is one the youngest musicians in Tennessee to have learned old-time fiddling from a family member. Tutored during annual visits and on a flow of reel-to-reel teaching tapes, young Russ learned almost note-for-note from his masterful third cousin, Fiddlin’ Bob Rogers, who emigrated to Los Angeles where he…

Charlie McCarroll

Charlie McCarroll is a strong, serious, and powerful fiddler. At age 74, he continues to play expertly in a style reminiscent of an earlier generation of musicians. Since the recent reissue of the classic 1928 recordings of the Roane County Ramblers, Charlie is attracting attention for his own mastery of the repertoire of his father,…

Bessford Hicks

Bessford Hicks, like his older brother Dee, inherited a vast knowledge of traditional songs from his father, Daniel Hicks. Daniel and his brothers were raised in the Fentress County backwoods as hunters, rather than farmers, and made little effort in any other endeavor, except singing and tale-telling. Those also became Bessford’s average joys, and he…

Louie Jones

Louie Jones used to sing to pass the time, as he lived alone in an abandoned schoolbus near Chestnut Ridge in Morgan County. His unrestrained performance of “The Corn Song”, his only recording to be released, contradicts the notion that traditional Anglo-American singers deliver their songs with detachment. His version of “The Young Man Who…

Clyde Troxell

Clyde Troxell was born November 13, 1911, the grandson of medicine-show entertainer Al Davenport. His father, Jasper Troxell, a roughneck teamster for the oil and stave companies, and a lively fiddler, married Al’s banjo-playing daughter in 1907. Clyde’s first instrument, which he still owns and plays, was a homemade fretless banjo just two feet in…

Bob Douglas

    Fiddlin’ Bob Douglas‘ of Rhea County, TN was a celebrated musician in the lower end of the Cumberland Trail corridor for over eight decades. He began his musical career as the guitar accompanist for his father, fiddler Tom Douglas, and the two played for local square dances throughout the Sequatchie Valley region and…

Dee Hicks

  Dee Hicks’ father, Daniel Hicks, epitomized the unambitious mountaineer, as described in Sir Thomas Hughes’ 1880 writings: Most, but not all of them, own a log cabin and a minute patch of corn round it, probably also have a few pigs and chickens, but seem to have no desire to make any effort at…

John Sharp, Sr.

John Sharp often woke up his family before daylight with a cheerful imitation of the cardinal’s song, a fiddle tune named “Redbird.” Their bedtime would just as likely be preceded by fiddle music, or put off for hours if music-loving friends or relatives stopped to visit. Fiddlin’ John Sharp loved music with emotional intensity. A…

Clarence Ferrill

During his life (1908-1977) Clarence Ferrill led a number of popular square dance bands in Alpine, Tennessee. The son of a minister, his music training first came in church and singing schools. Hymns and gospel songs remained among his favorite pieces. In the late 1930’s Ferrill teamed up with a guitar-playing neighbor, Homer Ledford, at…

Don and Earl

Don and Earl was a Knoxville, Tennessee-based white gospel duo that was nationally broadcast throughout the 1960s. Don, the founder of the group, was born Ladonuel Williams on June 18, 1924 in Briceville, TN. After serving in World War II, he began broadcasting as a singer at a local station in Knoxville Tennessee. In 1950,…

Virgil Anderson

  Photograph by Roby Cogswell     For someone with the impossible task of selecting a most exceptional, traditional banjo player, Virgil Anderson’s nomination would be as easy as any to defend. The evidence – two LPs featuring Virgil’s music (“On the Tennessee Line,” County 777; and “Music of Tennessee,” Heritage 042) – demonstrates his superb…

Clyde Davenport

  “I was nine year old. My daddy wouldn’t let me have his fiddle – He’s afraid I’d break it. So, you seen these boards like they used to cover barns with, made out of white oak? I got me one of them. Just shaped it out like a fiddle, put me two keys on…