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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 10/10/14- Pearl Blake's Tune


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/292592

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/10/2014:  13:07:07


 



Today's Tune of the Week is Pearl Blake's Tune, which comes to us from the fiddling of Melvin Wine.






 


I came across it a short time ago, while putting together a list of Melvin Wine tunes after attending Clifftop this year.  Melvin has been gone for 11 years now, but he is still a presence at the festival; one hears his name there often - in jams, during showcases and contests, or just while talking with fellow festivalgoers.  He shared his music with countless people, and his generosity, kindness and patience endeared him to a few generations of old-time musicians.  I unfortunately never met him or heard him play, as I began to get seriously involved in old-time music in 2004, the year after Melvin died.  But each year at Clifftop I tell myself I need to learn more of his music, and this year I am finally devoting some time to adding a handful of his tunes to my repertoire.


 


At the moment I am working on Pearl Blake's Tune.  It first stood out to me because of its title - whenever I see an "eponymous" title like that, I can't help but wonder about the person for whom it was named.  In this case an Internet search turned up no information, but fortunately some people I reached out to helped me fill in the blanks.





 



PEARL BLAKE


 


William Pearl Blake (sometimes known as "Pearly") was part of the very musical Blake family of Braxton County, West Virginia, whose many members were popular and influential string band musicians around the turn of the last century.  Jack Blake (1874-1941), the father, was a good fiddler, and 14 of his 16 children took up music and, in many cases, made instruments (dulcimers, fiddles, guitars) as well.  His daughter Sarah Blake Singleton (1914-1995) was an excellent fiddler and became perhaps the best known of the children.  Jack's son and Sarah's brother Pearl (1899-1922) played the fiddle, but didn't pass on much of a musical legacy, as he sadly died at age 23 in a mining accident, leaving behind a wife and two young children.


 


(Link to Pearl Blake's death certificate:  wvculture.org/vrr/va_view.aspx...ype=Death)


 


At some point during his short life, Pearl taught the tune to another Braxton County fiddler, Robert Lee Wine (1877-1953), who later taught it to his son Melvin.  At that time the tune evidently did not have a name.  In "Fiddling Way Out Yonder: Community and Style in the Fiddle Music of Melvin Wine", Drew Beisswenger writes: 


 


Melvin did not remember the original name of the tune, or even if it had a name. "We never knew no name for it." says Melvin. He called it "Pearl Blake's Tune" because his father learned the tune from Pearly Blake, a Braxton County fiddler who was part of the highly musical family under the leadership of father Jack BlakeIn a 1976 interview, Melvin called the tune "The Pearl Blake Piece" suggesting that the title can vary slightly.


 


In an email to me, West Virginia musician and folklorist Gerry Milnes wrote:


 


From what I know, Pearl Blake did play this tune.  I knew his sister, Sarah Singleton, who was a very good fiddler. Sarah (and Melvin Wine) said that Pearl died in a coal mine accident, and that this was his favorite tune. Sarah also played the tune.  Jack Blake, Sarah and Pearl's father, was a good fiddler and played with Melvin's father too.   


 


So although Pearl died very young and thus remained largely unknown to later generations of old-time fiddlers, at least his memory lives on in the title of his favorite fiddle tune.


 



MELVIN WINE



 photo iu2.jpg



Photo - by Mark Crabtree



As noted above, Melvin Wine (1909-2003) was a legendary figure in West Virginia fiddle music, and in the last decades of his life he performed all over the country, gaining wide recognition both for his music and for his interest in teaching others. 



He was born in Braxton County into a line of fiddlers going back at least to his great-great-grandfather, Smithy Wine.  Melvin showed an interest in and aptitude for music from an early age. On the album "Hannah at the Spring House" he recounted how he first learned to play the fiddle:



I was a little feller and I wanted to play a fiddle.  My dad had a fiddle, and he played on tune that I loved to hear, and I thought that was the only one that I wanted to learn to play.  If I could just play that one, why, that's all I'd ever want to play.  So one day they was all out of the house and I sneaked my dad's fiddler out and tried to play it.  Well, I could play it 'til I could tell what I was a-playin', you know?  So my mother, she was in the house one evening, and I told her I'd like to get my dad's fiddle and play it.  She said, "Well, Bob would kill me if I let you have that fiddle."  I said, "Well, I'll be careful with it."  So she finally agreed to let me have the fiddle to play.  So I could play it 'til she could tell what I was a-playin'.  A time or two maybe after that, I'd got it out and played it just a little while nobody'd be around.  So my dad was a-playin' one evening, and he played that tune.  And she said to him, she said, 'Melvin can play that tune a little bit on the fiddle."  He said "What?"  Just like that.  Well, that excited me bad, 'cause he was awful strict on us kids.  And he was strict about his fiddle - that was this one.  He kept it in a dresser drawer wrapped in velvet. He didn't say no more, he just jobbed the fiddle over to me.  I was expecting to get hit, really.  But he reached the fiddle over to me, and I played 'til he could tell what I was a-playin'.  From that time on, he helped me, helped me learn. I was bout nine or ten; nine I'd say."



As a young man, Melvin tried to make a living playing the fiddle, performing - often with his brother and brother-in-law - at country dances and occasionally on  the radio. Eventually, though, he had to turn to coal mining to support himself and his family.  He continued to play the fiddle at local square dances and in taverns, however, until 1939, when his wife survived a near-fatal illness.  Melvin attributed her recovery to their religious faith and became convinced that playing at venues that allowed drinking, dancing, and fighting contradicted that faith. As he explained:



“Things I once done I didn’t want to do no more…I did not want to get back into square dances and I just quit. I thought I’d seen people killed there, I’d seen people just fall off their feet dead at the square dances and things like that..”



For the next fifteen years he played his fiddle only for his family or in church, while concentrating on his work in the mines and on raising ten children with his wife, Etta. 



Melvin didn't play outside of home or church again until he was about 50, when, the (perhaps apocryphal) story goes, he and Etta were caring for their ten-day-old granddaughter and the only way they could get her to stop crying was for Melvin to play his fiddle. That inspired him to enter the West Virginia State Folk Festival fiddle contest in Glenville, which he won, and he gradually begin playing regularly in public again. Soon he was winning fiddle contests and playing festivals throughout West Virginia and beyond.  By the 1990s Melvin was one of the most respected and documented fiddlers from his state, and in 1991 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the nation's highest honor for traditional artists.  He continued to share his music throughout the country at workshops, concerts, and festivals up until his death at age 93 in 2003.



 



THE TUNE


 


Pearl Blake's Tune is in G.  According to Drew Beisswenger, Melvin called this tune a swing tune, in part because it was played at the amusement swing near his home by a fiddler named Jilly Grace.  Melvin said that clog tunes and swing tunes were popular at the amusement swing.


 


Melvin included the tune on his 1993 album "Vintage Wine", but as far as I can tell that recording is out of print.  The only online fiddle version I found of it is on the Mossy Roof site:


 


http://stringband.mossyroof.com/  (scroll down to "Spring 04", under "G tunes")


 


Banjo tab by Maya Whitmont can be found in the same place:


 




 


There are two solo banjo versions in the Hangout's tune archive, by Dave Douglass and Carl Baron.


 


 


THANKS


 


Thanks to Carl Baron and Gerry Milnes for their generous assistance with this Tune of the Week.


 


Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 10/12/2014 10:40:06

Dave Douglass - Posted - 10/11/2014:  07:12:54


This is a neat G tune. I learned it from Melvin Wine's "Vintage Wine" cassette, I think. I liked the way it laid in fDGCD tuning capoed up two to be back in G better than standard G tuning. I'm attaching what I came up with. Side note: I have a friend that was born and raised here on the left coast that ended up marrying a W. Virginia guy and moving back there. If I remember right, Melvin Wine was her husband's great uncle. They all called him "Uncle Wine" and loved him and his fiddle playing. I went to her wedding in San Diego and met a couple of old gals that were closely related to Uncle Wine and were pleasantly surprised that I knew who he was and had learned a couple of his tunes a'way out here. This was probably 20 yrs ago.




Pearl Blake's Tune

   

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/11/2014:  11:32:35


quote:

Originally posted by Dave Douglass

This is a neat G tune. I learned it from Melvin Wine's "Vintage Wine" cassette, I think. I liked the way it laid in fDGCD tuning capoed up two to be back in G better than standard G tuning. I'm attaching what I came up with. Side note: I have a friend that was born and raised here on the left coast that ended up marrying a W. Virginia guy and moving back there. If I remember right, Melvin Wine was her husband's great uncle. They all called him "Uncle Wine" and loved him and his fiddle playing. I went to her wedding in San Diego and met a couple of old gals that were closely related to Uncle Wine and were pleasantly surprised that I knew who he was and had learned a couple of his tunes a'way out here. This was probably 20 yrs ago.







Thanks very much for your version, Dave.  That's a neat story about coming across some of Melvin's family - in San Diego of all places.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/11/2014:  11:37:56


Janet Burton just pointed out to me that there are actually two recordings of Pearl Blake's Tune in the Hangout's own audio archive (I looked for the tune over on the Fiddlehangout, but somehow managed to forget to check our own archive).



Those versions are by Dave Douglass (banjohangout.org/myhangout/med...archived=) and Carl Baron (banjohangout.org/myhangout/med...archived= ).  Dave's is included in his post above.



I've added them to my original post.  Thanks for the heads up, Janet.



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 10/11/2014 11:50:43

Dave Douglass - Posted - 10/11/2014:  15:36:08


I've been talking with Janet Burton about Pearl Blake's Tune and when I told her that I got the tune from an old Melvin Wine recording she asked me if I could get it on a file for her since his "Vintage Wine" recording is long out of print. Here it is.

Dave

Dave Douglass - Posted - 10/11/2014:  15:45:26


Woops. Let me try this again. Here's Melvin Wine playing Pearl Buck's Tune.   



Dave



 



 



 



 



 



 



 




Melvin Wine's Pearl Blake's Tune

   

JanetB - Posted - 10/11/2014:  20:19:02


Thanks, Bret, for locating a rare Melvin Wine tune and for its interesting history.  Also thanks to the generosity of Dave Douglass who shared the original source recording.  I also benefited from Maya Whitmont's tab, linked above.  I like Dave's version of Pearl Blake's tune in an alternate tuning--it has a nice mountain modal sound.  Carl  Baron knew Melvin Wine personally and listening to his version was helpful.



I'd been reading about Sarah Singleton Blake, Pearl's sister, in a great book called Mountains of Music, West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal, edited by John Lily and highly recommended with its many interesting articles and biographies.




Pearl Blake's Tune (TOTW)


Pearl Blake's Tune tab

Tamarack - Posted - 10/12/2014:  06:19:00


Every week I am amazed at the human stories behind great tunes.

BrendanD - Posted - 10/12/2014:  23:29:24


EggerRidgeBoy, thanks for posting this fine old tune from Melvin, and for all the great history accompanying it! I remember playing this tune with Melvin on one (or more) of the visits by my wife Maxine and myself to Melvin's house. Janet, Maxine and I knew Sarah Singleton, and visited her several times. I don't know if she played this tune, though it seems likely that she may have once upon a time. Her repertoire (and style) was quite different than Melvin's, even though they lived only a few miles apart and had known each other for many years. But she certainly could have learned this tune from her brother Pearl. I wish I'd thought to ask her about this tune, and if she knew its real name!



As it happens, I very recently acquired an excellent, very hard-to-find Nakamichi cassette deck which I had completely refurbished with the intent of finally beginning the arduous process of digitizing my 30+ years of cassette tapes at the highest quality possible. I have recordings of many older (and now long-gone) musicians from many places, but a large proportion of them are from West Virginia. Among those recordings are many of Braxton County fiddlers, especially Melvin Wine but also some of Sarah Singleton and Ernie Carpenter. Other West Virginia musicians in my tape collection include Burl Hammons, Maggie Hammons Parker, Mose Coffman, Wilson Douglas, Jenes Cottrell and his sister Sylvia O'Brien (who was an excellent banjo player who lived well into her 90s), Ira Mullins, and probably a few more. It's going to take me a while to assemble the rest of the equipment and software to begin this project in earnest, and no doubt a good while longer to digitize, catalog, and edit even a portion of this material, but when I do, I hope to share some of it with the Field Recorders' Collective and get it out into the world where other people can hear it. I'll probably post some bits and pieces here on the BHO as well. Maybe I'll start with a few tunes from Melvin Wine and Sarah Singleton!



 



Edited by - BrendanD on 10/12/2014 23:37:59

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/14/2014:  15:39:14


quote:

Originally posted by Dave Douglass

Woops. Let me try this again. Here's Melvin Wine playing Pearl Buck's Tune.   




Dave 






 



Thanks very much for posting that, Dave - it's great to hear Melvin himself playing the tune.



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 10/14/2014 15:39:38

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/14/2014:  15:45:29


quote:

Originally posted by JanetB

Thanks, Bret, for locating a rare Melvin Wine tune and for its interesting history.  Also thanks to the generosity of Dave Douglass who shared the original source recording.  I also benefited from Maya Whitmont's tab, linked above.  I like Dave's version of Pearl Blake's tune in an alternate tuning--it has a nice mountain modal sound.  Carl  Baron knew Melvin Wine personally and listening to his version was helpful.




I'd been reading about Sarah Singleton Blake, Pearl's sister, in a great book called Mountains of Music, West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal, edited by John Lily and highly recommended with its many interesting articles and biographies.







Glad you liked the tune and found its history interesting, Janet.  Thanks - as usual - for sharing your version and tab.



"Mountains of Music" sounds like a great book; I realize now that I have seen it for sale at various events, but have not yet purchased it.  It is now on my "to buy" list.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/14/2014:  15:47:15


quote:

Originally posted by Tamarack

Every week I am amazed at the human stories behind great tunes.







Me, too - and as much as I enjoy playing the tunes for their own sake, it always adds something to the experience for me to know a bit about the stories and the people behind them.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 10/14/2014:  15:58:04


quote:

Originally posted by BrendanD

EggerRidgeBoy, thanks for posting this fine old tune from Melvin, and for all the great history accompanying it! I remember playing this tune with Melvin on one (or more) of the visits by my wife Maxine and myself to Melvin's house. Janet, Maxine and I knew Sarah Singleton, and visited her several times. I don't know if she played this tune, though it seems likely that she may have once upon a time. Her repertoire (and style) was quite different than Melvin's, even though they lived only a few miles apart and had known each other for many years. But she certainly could have learned this tune from her brother Pearl. I wish I'd thought to ask her about this tune, and if she knew its real name!




As it happens, I very recently acquired an excellent, very hard-to-find Nakamichi cassette deck which I had completely refurbished with the intent of finally beginning the arduous process of digitizing my 30+ years of cassette tapes at the highest quality possible. I have recordings of many older (and now long-gone) musicians from many places, but a large proportion of them are from West Virginia. Among those recordings are many of Braxton County fiddlers, especially Melvin Wine but also some of Sarah Singleton and Ernie Carpenter. Other West Virginia musicians in my tape collection include Burl Hammons, Maggie Hammons Parker, Mose Coffman, Wilson Douglas, Jenes Cottrell and his sister Sylvia O'Brien (who was an excellent banjo player who lived well into her 90s), Ira Mullins, and probably a few more. It's going to take me a while to assemble the rest of the equipment and software to begin this project in earnest, and no doubt a good while longer to digitize, catalog, and edit even a portion of this material, but when I do, I hope to share some of it with the Field Recorders' Collective and get it out into the world where other people can hear it. I'll probably post some bits and pieces here on the BHO as well. Maybe I'll start with a few tunes from Melvin Wine and Sarah Singleton!




 







 



That is the one small downside to looking into the history and people associated with such old-time tunes - it makes me wish all the more that I could have met and learned directly from them. But I am glad you got to play with Melvin and Sarah - great experiences, no doubt.  And I am very glad to hear that you did so much recording of West Virginia fiddlers. Thanks for tracking down that Nakamichi cassette deck and making plans to get the music out into the world - I know that is an enormous amount work.  I appreciate it, and look forward to those eventual FRC releases.


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