Several days ago, a gentleman walked into one of our local libraries and handed the librarian–a dulcimer player–a stack of 22 classic dulcimer records from the 1970’s. All were in stellar condition. The man had seen an article in our local newspaper about a dulcimer class at the library and decided to donate his entire collection of records to our dulcimer club. As we looked through the record jackets, what a treasure this was!
The gentleman had purchased the stack of records, sitting on a table, in Scottsdale, Arizona. That’s all we know about the whereabouts of the records, since the man left as quickly as he came. Just a mystery, I guess.
At the next dulcimer club meeting, Regina, Helen, Mary and I looked through the record albums. We realized that these were some of the best dulcimer players of the 1970’s. Regina holds the “Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project,” produced by a group of very creative dulcimer players on the West Coast. Helen shows the back cover jacket of a record by Janita Baker of California who plays in the fingerpicking style. (Love the dog!) She and her husband build and sell Blue Lion Dulcimers.
Here are several more of the record jackets–Lois Hornbostel, Neal Hellman, Jean Ritchie and Ralph Lee Smith. I recognized that one of the records was by Lance Foldsham of Oregon, from whom I took a dulcimer class at Appalachian State in the 1990’s. Our little “Gator Girls” group is enjoying playing some of the music from his English dulcimer tablature book. And there is a record by Kevin Roth–I have a book with handwritten tablature of songs he wrote. And there are records by Bonnie Carol, Mark Nelson and Jean Schilling
The music is just as good today
As I listen to the music on the record albums, I’m impressed that the music from the 1970’s era is just as technical, melodic and beautiful as the music produced today. There is traditional mountain music along with contemporary songs on these albums. For me, one of the qualities and appeals of the dulcimer is that the music never grows old or tires a person. I purchased a record player that will convert the music to mp3 format. Perhaps, over the next several months I can record and convert some of this music and feature it on blog posts (with permission) telling the stories of the music and dulcimer players.
The dulcimer players are still active–Ralph Lee Smith
Many of the dulcimer players who recorded these record albums are still active dulcimer players today. We’re just a few years older! For example, Ralph Lee Smith is a noted historian and authority on the history of the dulcimer. Here is Ralph today with his Jean Ritchie dulcimer. Ralph Lee Smith has written books about the origins of the dulcimer, especially it’s evolution through western Virginia to Kentucky, Tennessee and beyond. He has researched the music, too, and has authored dulcimer tablabure books filled with history, songs and lyrics. I love to look at the old photos of dulcimers he has collected–one looks like a dulcimer my dad purchased for me at a flea market in Stanton, Virginia! Ralph has assembled quite a collection of old dulcimers, too.
I’m fascinated with Ralph’s stories and connections to westward settlement from Virginia led by Daniel Boone though the Cumberland Gap and the migration of the dulcimer. Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road is how my Shenandoah Valley ancestors traveled “west” to Ohio.
Ralph has given me permission to use the music on his album, “Dulcimer: More Old Time and Traditional Music.” One of the songs on the album is “Cumberland Gap” played in the traditional drone style with fast picking. But I don’t have my mp3 conversion process ironed out yet. So that will be another blog post. In the meantime, I found that someone else has posted another song from this album, “The Storms Are On The Ocean” on You-Tube. It is a beautiful song and well represents the music on Ralph’s album. Enjoy!