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Field Recorders' Collective: An Ohio Old-Time Connection

Don't you just love tax return season? While the bulk of this year's IRS and state tax refunds went to pay for grownup stuff, I squirreled a little bit away to use on new music. I got my own copy of the new Dan Gellert CD/DVD set from Old-Time Tiki Parlour, and then kept the Ohio old-time connection going with four albums from the Field Recorders' Collective, referred henceforth as the FRC.

Great Ohio old-time.
Those four albums were:
Hicks was recorded by Kerry Blech and Joe LaRose. The Goehring disk includes members of the legendary Red Mule String Band, as well as other notable musicians. The Seymour and Plum recordings come from Goehring's field recording collection.

As an Ohio boy, born and raised, these four albums have been on my wishlist for a long time.

Well, OK, the Hicks album, "Sugar in the Morning," is a more recent addition, as it was released last year. He was recorded during the 1970s and early '80s in Akron, current GBB headquarters, where he moved in the 1940s to work for Goodyear. Hicks was originally from Calhoun County, West Virginia, and learned to fiddle from his older cousin Laury Hicks and the iconic Ed Haley. The recordings here are melodically complex but feature that strong rhythmic drive.

Aside from the four discs mentioned here, the FRC has a number of other Ohio-based musicians, including Arnold Sharp, John Hannah, Jimmy Wheeler, and Ward Jarvis — all of which come from the collection of Jeff Goehring, who visited with these fiddlers to inspire his own playing. Their influence is clearly displayed on his FRC album, which lists his source for nearly every tune.

Goehring also appears as interviewer and accompanist on the Seymour and Plum albums I received1. You can hear his enthusiasm in the interviews, as each fiddler tells their stories.

Seymour was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, and appeared on local radio station WBEX with the band, the Ross County Farmers. The recordings were made in the mid-1980s and feature Tony Ellis on banjo. Goehring apprenticed with him through an Ohio Arts Council program, and the recordings were made as a learning tool. Bonus recordings of Seymour also appear at the end of the Plum album.

Plum lived in Massillon, Ohio, but was originally from Tunnelton, West Virginia. During the late 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s, Plum played with a number of groups on radio stations in West Virginia and Maryland and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry. He moved to Ohio in 1954 and gave up the fiddle until the 1970s. Goehring recorded him in his home in 1983.

Goehring's fiddling is heavy on the groove and stands as a strong representation of my ideal modern string band music. Sadly, he died in 2001, but I'm so happy to have these recordings to hear his infectious music. The recordings stem from two events. The first being a Thanksgiving jam from 1993 and includes Paul Brown, Bruce Molsky and others. The the final three tracks were recorded in 1995 with the Red Mule String Band at the Augusta Heritage Center's Old-Time Week, where he was an instructor. The core of the Red Mules was the trio of Jeff on fiddle, his wife Susie on guitar and brother Rick "Wally" Goehring on banjo.

Susie Goehring now lives near my hometown of Kent, Ohio, and while I don't know whether the two of them lived there together, I do feel a local connection to his music. Susie curates her late husband's field recordings and acts as treasurer of the FRC. She's also the one who handles orders and whose email address is the main contact for the group.

The FRC was formed in the 1990s by Ray Alden, whom Paul Brown described as a "connector" in the old-time music community. Alden died in September 2009, but ensured that the FRC would continue forward by restructuring the group as a not-for-profit with new leadership that, in addition to Goehring, includes Ambrose Verdibello as executive director and Lynn Frederick, another Ohioan, as secretary. The seven board members include the officers, as well as Ray's wife Diane Alden, Jim Garber, John Schwab and Kilby Spencer.

Although some the recordings offered by FRC have been shared informally among collectors, they have never been commercially available otherwise. According the group's website, the FRC "hopes to 'democratize' these collections and see them form a public archive," as opposed to becoming part of a university or government archive and disappearing into a "black hole" where it is "difficult to gain entrance to or at worse, only for those with credentials for accessing them."

The FRC attempts to keep the cost of its CDs and shipping economical by using environmentally friendly cardboard sleeves instead of bulky jewel cases. While the minimal packaging limits the ability to include extensive liner notes with each CD, the FRC does provide additional information about its collection in the "Notes" section of the website.

The FRC online catalog dates back to 2004 and includes a diverse selection of big names and more obscure old-time musicians. There are steadfast sources like Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Wade Ward, Dock Boggs, and Banjo Bill Cornett, as well as the younger revival musicians like the Horse Flies, Chirps Smith, and the Plank Road String Band.

There are so many albums to choose from that there truly is something for everyone. As a bonus, some of the profits from these recordings go to the families of the musicians featured. It's a good cause for great music.

1 Full disclosure: I only ordered the Rector Hicks and Jeff Goehring albums, but also received the Seymour and Plum disks at no charge. I have no real explanation as to why, other than Susie Goehring is incredibly generous. I was in touch with her in the past about volunteering some time or writing/editing for the FRC, but I neither expected nor requested any freebies in return. The opinions here are my own, and I have not been paid or asked to write any of this.


  1. Not apropos of this current blog, but Caleb Finch of the Iron Mtn. String Band came across a 2013 comment you made about his fiddling and was mighty pleased. The band alas is no longer active, but he is still fiddling, if only for friends and loyal spouse. Good to know you understand the power of raw.

  2. Wow, thanks for the comment, Doris! I'm happy my post could reach the right eyes.


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