Archive for September, 2008

Edwin “Edden” Hammons was an outstanding West Virginia mountain fiddler (ca. 1874–1955), and an all-around eccentric, moonshiner, and lazy farmer.

I was reading about him on the “Old-Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame” site. (This is a great online resource I mentioned before in a post about Ed Haley. The site is created by David Lynch, fiddler and graphic designer living in North Carolina.)

One tale from the Hammons bio that struck me touched on the superstitions of the fiddle and its complicated relationship to religion (fiddlers shouldn’t play on Sundays, in church, around preachers, etc.).

According to Lynch’s profile (drawn from John A. Cuthbert’s liner notes in the companion booklet to an LP, Edden Hammons Collection, Volume 1), Hammons wasn’t known to be overly religious but as a precaution, generally avoided playing on Sundays. If playing for a dance, his fiddling stopped “when the clock struck midnight on a Saturday evening.”

But then:

One night, the offer of an extra dollar coaxed Edden to turn the other cheek and play an additional after-midnight set. On the trip home, Edden and his companions saw a bright red object streak across the sky and explode in a thunderous roar. Eddon said “I told you fellers not to play for a dance on a Sunday night. Now I don’t care if you give me twenty-five dollars next time, I’ll never play past midnight.”

Here’s another nice touch: Hammons carried his fiddle around in a flour sack (not uncommon to use a handy sack if a case wasn’t available). And he knew how to play that up for good effect. Arriving for a fiddle contest in Elkins, West Virginia, Hammons was mocked for arriving with his fiddle in a sack, and the crowd’s laughter was uncontrolled when Hammons stepped forward to play, took his fiddle out of the sack, and blew a coating of flour off it.

It was a clever set-up, an homage to his hillbilly lifestyle. Edden promptly turned the tables by shouldering the dusty instrument and dazzling the crowd with his immense talent.


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