Stamper (1893-1992) is one of the many older generation Kentucky
fiddlers documented in Hutchins Library's sound recordings collections.
Library of Congress recordings of older associates such as Bev
Baker and Luther Strong, make clear that Stamper was the last known
living representative of what might be called a "classic" eastern
Kentucky style of fiddling. Other 19th century fiddlers that
were particularly influential in the development of Stamper's style
include his uncle, Daniel Triplett, Shade Slone, a Civil War veteran
from the Pippa Passes area (Knott County), "Black" Hiram
Begley (Leslie County), and Si Terry.
This style, with local and regional variations, was probably the
dominant fiddling style throughout the southern Appalachians. It
developed as it did because at the time, the fiddle was mostly played
without accompaniment. This allowed the fiddler a great deal
of freedom in timing and self-expression through idiosyncrasies of
tune structure and variations in the melodies.
The instruments commonly associated with the fiddle - the banjo
and guitar - did not appear much in eastern Kentucky before the Civil
War, and the early 1900's, respectively. The fiddle music of areas
such as southwestern Virginia is closely entwined with the rhythms
of the banjo and guitar. In contrast, Stamper's playing requires
an accompanist to adapt to his sense of timing and tune structure.
Many of his tunes are not well suited to accompaniment at all.
Stamper's bowing was very vigorous and energetic. There was strong
emphasis on the push, or up stroke, giving a strong pulsing beat,
especially when beginning and ending phrases of tunes and between
parts in tunes. Phrases are ended with an abrupt upward motion of
the bow, drawing out the last note as long as possible, then returning
to the tune with a long downward stroke that again would draw out
the melody in a way that gave the rhythm of the tune a pronounced
pulsing, or wavelike feel. He also used long sweeping motions of
the bow interspersed with more explosive bursts of quick back and
forth sawing patterns that often gave a rather syncopated feel. He
wielded the bow with his elbow held fairly high, allowing most of
the bow work to be achieved by his elbow, wrist, and finger movement.
He tuned his fiddle about a full step below standard pitch, and
the bridge was cut with a very shallow curve. Both of these practices
allowed him to play two and sometimes three strings simultaneously,
and gave his playing a very full, deep sound. This, and his sense
of timing, gave many of his tunes a very dark, mysterious quality
which has always been closely associated with older Appalachian fiddling.
Stamper's repertoire of tunes is characteristic of eastern Kentucky
traditional music of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
He played very little music from later radio or recorded sources. There
are marked similarities to his music found in other regional collections
as is illustrated by the presence in Jean Ritchie's repertoire of
such tunes as Betty Martin, Boston, God Bless Those Moonshiners,
Selected Hiram Stamper Tune Recordings
These recordings are mostly the work of musician-researcher, Bruce
Greene, who has documented the repertoire, technique, and lore of
several dozen traditional musicians from 38 southern and southeastern
Kentucky counties. The three 1986 tunes came to Greene from
the collection of Bob Butler. The keys and tunings are described
as if the fiddle was tuned to standard A440 pitch. In reality, Stamper's
fiddle was tuned a good step below that pitch, so when he played
a tune that is listed as key of A, for instance, his pitch was more
like the key of G. A similar consideration applies for the one banjo
tune included. Tuning is to Stamper's preferred pitch. The given
tuning describes the relationship between the strings.
Nation: Key of G, Fiddle tuned gdad. Recorded 01-06-77. Because
of the implications of the title, Stamper considered this "the
oldest tune ever made." This tune is also known in eastern
Kentucky as Betty Baker. John Salyer of Magoffin Co, KY played
a version and called it by both names. His son Grover recalled
a verse, "Went over the hill to see Betty Baker, She was
asleep and I could not wake her."
Fork of John's Creek: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded
01-06-77. Stamper learned this from fiddler Shade Slone,
a Civil War veteran. Slone and others said that the tune was
made by Morgan's soldiers while camped on Johns Creek in Pike
County during the raiding days in the Civil War. This tune was
played with some variation all over eastern Kentucky and western
West Virginia. See recordings by John Salyer, Manon Campbell,
Ferdinand Lusk, and the Hammonds family of West Virginia.
Martin: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 01-06-77.
A member of a tune family including Fire on the Mountain and
Granny Will Your Dog Bite. Known all over Kentucky and the southern
mountains in general with much variation. This version is quite
similar to Jean Ritchie's song Pretty Betty Martin, which she
probably learned in Stamper's native Knott Co. They both sang "Pretty
Betty Martin, tip toe, tip toe."
Baker: Key of A, Fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 1-6-77.
This is a different tune than the one that is a version of Indian
Nation. It is related to a tune known in other areas of the south
as Wolves A'Howling. It is a fine example of Hiram's use of the
typical southeastern Kentucky fiddle technique of jumping from
the open bass string to the open e string to add a nice rhythmical
bounce to the tune.
of Sizemore: Key of D, fiddle tuned adae. Recorded 02-11-77.
Stamper said this was a Civil War tune about a soldier who was "taken
up a holler and shot". He often confused its name with another
tune, Last of Callahan, which he played in the key of A. It was
also played by Santford Kelly of Morgan Co, Ky.
Mountain: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 02-11-77.
A well known tune all over the southern mountains. This is a
good example of the way Stamper takes a commonly known tune and
adds very individualistic touches by holding on to notes and
phrases, varying the tune each time through it.
Goose: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 02-11-77.
Similar to a version by the same name played by Manon Campbell
of nearby Magoffin County. This name is attached to different
tunes throughout the South, the unifying feature being the imitation
of the cry of the goose by the fiddle, often using harmonics
on the low string, as Stamper does on this version.
Eyed Man: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 02-11-77.Stamper
learned this from Shade Slone. It is a different tune than one
by the same name as played by Luther Strong for the Library of
Congress. Strong was a contemporary of Stamper, and they played
against each other in contests. Stamper sang this verse, " How
you getting long with your hog eye, hog eye, how you getting
long with your hog eyed man? Sally in the garden sifting sand,
Sukey upstairs with the hog eyed man."
All Over: Key of C, fiddle tuned gdae. Recorded
1980. This tune has been found more frequently in West Virginia.
Stamper may have learned it later in life, possibly from
the radio. It was, however, traditional in eastern Kentucky.
Stamper sang,"Hey, hey, the fun's all over, Hey, hey, the
fun's all over, Jumped in the bed and the bed turned over."
Horse: Key of G, fiddler tuned gdae. Recorded 1980. A
common tune throughout the South. In eastern Kentucky it has
also been played as Buck Creek Girls.
On John: Key of D, banjo tuned gDGBD. This banjo song
was well known in eastern Kentucky. It was recorded by banjo
player Buell Kazee of Magoffin Co, Ky, and there is a recording
of John Salyer playing it on the banjo. The tune more recently
has evolved into the popular bluegrass number, Roll On Buddy.
Edward: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 03-20-77.
This is an old song, The Drunkard's Dream, turned into a fiddle
tune. Stamper sang bits of the song but could not remember it
all. It is a version of Lonesome John, a very popular tune in
the Magoffin / Morgan County area.
Gal: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 03-20-77. This
is possibly the only time Stamper ever played this tune on the
fiddle. He normally played it on the banjo, but was asked to
try it out on the fiddle for this occasion. He sang a verse, "Went
to see my yellow gal, went last Saturday night, I asked her to
marry me, She fell and broke her pipe. Fell and broke her pipe,
oh Lord, fell and broke her pipe." It was also played on
the banjo by Sanford Kelly.
in the Meeting House: Key of E, fiddle tuned edae,
the low string an octave low. Recorded 03-20-77. Stamper considered
this his showpiece, and said he had won contests with it over
the years, It was a popular tune in southeastern Kentucky, and
there are recordings of it by Luther Strong, Bev Baker, and Boyd
Ann: Key of G, fiddle tuned gdae. Recorded 03-20-77.
A well known tune throughout the South, with a great deal of
Gap: Key of G, fiddle tuned gdae. Recorded 01-21-89. A
well known tune throughout the South
Me Quick: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded 06-18-86.
The full name is Kiss Me Quick My Papa's Coming. The name is
found throughout the South and, as in this version, a kiss is
imitated by plucking a string or sliding on a string. Stamper's
version is more commonly known in Kentucky as Cluck Old Hen.
A similar version by that name is played by Jim Bowles of Monroe
County. Buell Kazee and others in Magoffin County played a similar
version on the banjo.
Hunting: Key of A, fiddle tuned aeae. Recorded
06-18-86. Stamper knew this as a Civil War tune, saying that
during starvation times during the war, people gathered these
wild nuts and ate them to survive. It is a rare tune in eastern
Kentucky, although it seems to be related to Huldy in the Sinkhole,
as played by Birch Patrick of Magoffin County. Other tunes by
this name have been found in Virginia and West Virginia.
Little Indians and One Old Squaw: Key of G, fiddle
tuned gdad. Recorded 06-18-86. Known more often in eastern Kentucky
as The Indian Squaw. It was played by Alva Greene of Elliot County
and Ed Haley. Stamper sang, "Way down yonder in the Arkansas,
Two little Indians and one old squaw, Sitting on the banks of
the Arkansas." He said the remainder of the verse was then whistled.
Goodin: Key of A, tuned aeae. Recorded 01-06-77. Stamper
was quite proud of his arrangement of this tune, playing it often
in contests. He said it was originally named Boating Up Sandy but
renamed to honor a woman who during the Civil War lived
along the Sandy River. Her husband had been killed in the war,
and she opened up her home to soldiers passing through and "took
care of them."
Written inquiries may be addressed to Harry S. Rice, Sound Archivist,
Hutchins Library, Department of Special Collections and
Archives, Berea College, Berea,
KY 40404. Phone: 859-985-3249. E-mail:
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