Skip to main content

The Year of Ward Jarvis

Ward Jarvis at his home
in Athens County, Ohio,
c. 1977. (Photo by Kerry
 Blech. Source: Slippery-Hill)
As mentioned last time around, my new focus for old-time music is the Ohio River Valley, primarily Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Musicians such as Ed Haley, John Salyer, Burl Hammons and many others. As an Ohio boy, born and raised, my natural inclination is to start with some Ohio fiddlers, like Lonnie Seymour, Arnold Sharp, Jimmy Wheeler and Jeff Goehring. But first up is Ward Jarvis.

Jarvis was born in West Virginia in 1894 and is said to have been influenced by Ed Haley. Jarvis then moved to Ohio for work in the 1940s, settling in Athens County. He was recorded by a few different people, including Jeff Goehring, Davis Brose and Ray Alden. His music appears on a release of Goehring's tapes by Field Recorders' Collective (FRC402), two LPs produced by Brose, "Traditional Music From Central Ohio" and "Rats Won't Stay Where There's Music," and one produced by Alden, "Visits."

My goal for the next year is to track down copies of those last three albums and other available recordings.

Jarvis died in 1982 and served as a mentor to more than a few old-time musicians still active today. He is the main source for tunes such as "Icy Mountain" and "Banjo Tramp." He provided an old-time rendition of Tommy Jackson's "Tomahawk."

For my purposes, I've decided to focus on six tunes to learn this year, as I try to pick up a little of the magic in Jarvis's fiddling. They are:

  1. Head of the Creek
  2. Icy Mountain
  3. Tomahawk
  4. Three Forks of Reedy
  5. Pretty Little Indian
  6. Cattle in the Cane
I'll be using the FRC album as my main source, working with slowdown software for all of the tunes and getting help from the Milliner-Koken book where possible. Anyone with additional resources, please chime in down below in the comments. I'd love to hear from fellow Jarvis fans.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Getting Blitzed with Tom Collins

A little more than a year ago, Salem, Massachusetts-based banjo player and teacher Tom Collins embarked on a yearlong project he called Banjo Blitz. The weekly YouTube series provided short banjo lessons on technique. Each video is about five minutes long, give or take, and presents a short pattern — or “ostinato” — designed to teach and improve a specific aspect of banjo playing.

The mission was to get the audience “to practice clawhammer in discrete chunks every day without the burden of trying to memorize tunes,” Collins says. He wanted to build skills rather than repertoire.

“Let’s take the tune off the table,” says Collins, who has been teaching banjo for 11 years. “Let’s focus on a simple, mantra-like ostinato that can train your body how to execute a technique properly, while training your ears how to hear it properly. Let’s also make it so that you can do this every day without it sucking every spare minute from your life. The big dirty secret about learning how to play an ins…

Clawhammer Picks and You: A Review

Clawhammer picks are a useful tool for increasing volume or to overcome fingernail challenges, such as broken, too short or weak nails. There are all sorts of commercial and homemade solutions available for banjo players, but it can be difficult to decide which options to choose. Thankfully, I've already done some of the work for you.
Just to be clear, I prefer my natural fingernail for frailing. However, there was a time when I experimented with regularly using a pick, and there are instances now where I find that a pick is necessary. Today, I'll take you through the five options I've tried. These are all available online at prices ranging from about $1 to $13.

Reversed/Reshaped Dunlop Pick ($0.75)
This was the most common suggestion before other companies started addressing the gap in the clawhammer pick market. Take a bluegrass pick, flatten it out and wear it backwards. The problem is that it's hard to get the fit right. While Dunlop picks are cheap and readily avai…

The Ongoing Search for Ohio's Old-Time Fiddle Repertoire

Since the beginning of my journey into old-time music, I have sought to find a connection to my home state. After studying the recorded repertoire of a dozen old-time fiddlers who spent a majority of their lives in Ohio, I have compiled a master list of more than 300 tunes. By cross-referencing this list, there were 12 tunes that I identified as “common,” based on their appearance in the repertoire of at least three fiddlers. The results of my findings follow.

This is far from a scientific method or academic study. I do not claim to be a musicologist or folklore scholar. I welcome any feedback.

Common Tunes:
Arkansas Traveler BirdieCumberland GapDurang’s HornpipeForked DeerGrey EagleJune AppleLeather BritchesMississippi SawyerRaggedy AnnTurkey in the StrawWild Horse At some point I would like to put together a list of tunes that are unique to Ohio or have a particular connection to an Ohio locale, such as Lonnie Seymour’s “Chillicothe Two-Step” or Arnold Sharp’s “Anna Hayes.” However,…