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Meeting Hedy

Posted by chip arnold on Thursday, December 21, 2006




I used to pick up my Prince Albert at a little one room store owned by an  old lady named Granny West. She played banjo and sang more old songs than anyone else around. Really old songs. She played melody in the 2-finger style and she backed up her voice with a sort of basic frail. She was very old and both her voice and her hands shook but she still loved the music.

She used to fuss about her grand daughter who she said taped her songs and took them up north and made records with them. She said the grand daughter changed them and didn't sing them right. One evening on the way home from work, I stopped in the store and leaning against a shelf was a beautiful Vega banjo with a long neck. It turned out the grand daughter was in town and the Vega was hers. The grand daughter was Hedy West. Other than Granny West's reports, I'd never heard of her before. She played and sang and sure enough, she did all the stuff different from her grandmother! But was it ever good! She gave me a copy of Love Hell and Bisquits which I just recently passed on to her younger cousin who is learning OT banjo. She told me about all the music going on outside of here and how to find some of it. And she encouraged me to keep learning 2-finger.

All this was back around the early seventies. Hedy died last year.

8 comments on “Meeting Hedy”

rinemb Says:
Friday, December 22, 2006 @10:25:21 AM

Chip, nice story.  My grandfather was an Irish fiddler here in Kansas.  I was too young when he died to remember him playing.  Whenever my jam group plays and Mom is around she will comment "I remember that tune when my dad played it."  I sometimes ponder what it would have been like had he lived longer so I could have learned from him early on.  Have a happy New Year!  Brad

stanger Says:
Saturday, December 23, 2006 @12:00:39 AM

Great Story, Chip!! Hedy was a big early influence of mine. I saw her in concert about a year in learning how to play, and thought she was terrific. I wrote her a fanmail email about a year before she died. regards, Stanger

mainejohn Says:
Sunday, April 1, 2007 @12:21:18 PM

Just read your blog. I remember Hedy West quite well. She was very popular up here in Yankeeland during the hey day of the folk boom. What a great story.

chip arnold Says:
Sunday, April 1, 2007 @8:45:31 PM

John, My mother's side of our family was named Colman (no E) and I have a cousin John. They came to Boston from England in 1630 and moved down to Scituate Mass. in 1639. I was born there in '46 and came down here to N. GA. in '72. So I have deep roots in New England.

writerrad Says:
Wednesday, May 16, 2007 @6:19:35 PM

Thanks for that story about Granny West.  I became a fan of Hedy West when I was about 15 or 16 which was back around 1964 or 65.  I really enjoyed the songs she played, especially the more old time ones including Erins Green Shore and the Brown Girl that I used to sing when I was a teenaged folk singer back then.  I never met her but did have a few emails with her about ten years ago around an incident where a neighbor kid borrowed some of her old records, and copied them very crudely to CD and started selling the CD and even had an email as Hedy West!

This was right after I got my first banjo after being a guitar player since I was 13.  I had no idea about banjo playing so I wrote t"Hedy" and asked if Erin was done in mountain modal, and then learned several of her songs that way. Of course a while later I learned the double and tripple C tunings and realized that was how she did things and was also told that by folks who had known her and picked with her.

Last night though I should have gone to bed, I was up playing that banjo. My wife is in Germany visiting her mother so I am like a bachelor again.  The last thing I did was started playing the Brown Girl, and trying to sing it. Course I had forgetten some of the verses, but reading your story, I am going to learn it right.

Keep picking and thanks for adding me

Brian G Says:
Sunday, June 17, 2007 @6:16:13 PM

Enjoyed reading the Hedy West & Her Ma story, now I know who this booklet I have about Hedy and music, 143 pages, was all about, often wondered as I'd no idea, but the booklet is a great piece of work with drawings and songs, and signed with a sketch by her, in feb 1964, really glad I read your blog, having had it refered to by Will Keys, thanks a lot Chip...brian g...

twayneking Says:
Thursday, August 16, 2007 @6:29:45 PM

Hedy's classic 500 miles is one of the first songs I ever did.  I sang it different from Hedy.  Wonder if she'd have approved?  I'm sure Granny West would not have....


meturner Says:
Saturday, September 1, 2007 @10:36:02 AM

Thanks for the great Hedy West story. She was the first woman I ever heard play the banjo, (Sara Gray was next).  That first Vanguard album was and is a favorite of mine. About a year before she died, my sister (another old folkie) was in contact with her and purchased about 10 CDS that Hedy compiled, drew the artwork for the CD's and signed.  I now have those in my collection. One is a live from Cafe Lena, Michael Cooney plays with a variety of other folkies from the early '60s. It is an outstanding collection. Thanks Chip. I'll get those CDs out and give them some more listening time. Hope to see you and Tish at Hagood Mill on Sept 15th.



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