September-October 2011

“My God, French Carpenter
Can Fiddle”

By David Bragger

French_CarpenterTwo of the great old time music dynasties from West Virginia are the Hammons Family and the Carpenter Family. I’ve rattled on and on to students and FolkWorks readers about the greatness of the Hammons Family, especially Edden Hammons. However, now it’s time to discuss a very special Carpenter family member. Since I started playing old-time fiddle I was hearing endless praise about the fiddler David “French” Carpenter. He was born near the turn of the century in Clay County. He learned the tunes from his preaching fiddler father Tom Carpenter who learned them from French’s grandfather, the fiddle legend Solly “Devil Sol” Carpenter. In Gerald Milnes’ book Play of a Fiddle, you’ll get a great introduction to the wild oral history of this family, not to mention the Hammons family as well! It is highly recommended.

I started hearing French’s tunes second hand from the playing of many great modern fiddlers. From the great recordings of WV fiddler Wilson Douglas to the more recent recordings of Dan Gellert, the mesmerizing melodies and subtle bowing of French kept me on the lookout for original source recordings. In fact, Dan Gellert’s recent version of French’s Old Christmas Morning sealed the deal. It captured the modal, crooked archaic qualities that I love in old-time fiddling. So I had to get my hands and ears on some of French’s recordings. Very recently, through a secret society of field recording collectors, I did. I think my brain slightly expanded upon hearing these tracks.

This issue’s old-time fiddle lesson will be French’s Old Christmas Morning. Enjoy and bow carefully!

French Carpenter's Old Christmas Morning-Moderate Tempo

French Carpenter's Old Christmas Morning-Taught with bowing

David Bragger is a Los Angeles-based instructor and player of old time fiddle and banjo music. He also photographs, films, and collects the lore of traditional artists, from puppeteers in Myanmar to fiddlers of Appalachia


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