By Mark Humphrey

Fiddlin John CarsonLabels are necessary components of the ideas and experiences we fit into our lives. With labels, we differentiate. Where would marketing be without them? Some labels have the ability to be simultaneously pleasing and/or pejorative, depending on one's point of view. Such a label is ‘old time music.’ We may interpret it to denote (A) hopelessly outdated music or (B) deeply authentic music. Could it be both, music rooted in pre-video (even pre-radio) rural America and thus heroically anachronistic?

Old time music may suggest sounds rooted in pre-mass media Americana, but it is no less a marketing label than is ‘urban’ (contemporary black music) or ‘young country’ (post-Garth Nashville pop). It's just an older sales hook. This one can be traced to 1923, when Georgia’s Fiddlin’ John Carson waxed The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane and The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow for the OKeh label. Legendary A&R [Artist and Repertoire]-man Ralph Peer deemed Carson’s performance “pluperfect awful,” but enough rural Americans disagreed to make the record a hit, the first in the history of what’s now called country music. (Ever the pragmatist, Carson remarked at his first whiff of success: “I’ll have to quit making moonshine and start making records.”) Carson’s paean to barnyard fertility rites and bucolic cabins initially appeared in OKeh’s popular music catalog, where it kept uneasy company with slicker stuff. 



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Why Old Time? By Mike Seeger, David Holt

Sprout Wings and Fly - Tommy Jarrell [VHS] by Cece Conway, Les Blank and Alice Gerrard - Flower Films 1111
DVD available from Les Blank

Melvin Wine: Old Time Music Maker by Robert S. Boles

“One More Time” The Life and Music of Melvin Wine by Margo Blevin and Gerald Milnes.

Legends of Old Time Music - Features performances by Pete Steele, Tommy Jarrell, The Walker Family, Jean & Edna Ritchie, Sam McGee, Doc Watson, and more. VEST-DVD13026

American Patchwork - Appalachian Journey: From the Original Ballad of Tom Dooley to the Origins of Bluegrass. VEST-V13079

Clyde Davenport: Shades of Clyde Cedar Glade 007

Shady Grove: Old Time Music from North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia featuring Kilby Snow, rare footage of Dock Boggs and more. VEST-DVD13071

Traditional Music Classics - Doc Watson, Kilby Snow, Roscoe Holcomb, and Buell Kazee YAZ-DVD516

Elizabeth Cotten In Concert 1969, 1978 & 1980 VEST-DVD13019

New Lost City Ramblers - Always Been A Rambler by Yasha Aginsky

Four American Roots Music Films by Yasha Aginsky


Learn to Play Old Time Fiddle- Lesson 1. Taught by Brad Leftwich

Learn To Play Old Time Fiddle-Lesson 2. Taught by Brad Leftwich

Southern Old-Time Fiddle Tour. Taught by Bruce Molsky

Singing with the Fiddle-Accompanying Old Time Songs and Ballads. Taught by Bruce Molsky

Great Fiddle Lessons: Bluegrass & Old Time Styles. Taught by Brad Leftwich, Kenny Kosek

A Fiddler's Guide to Waltzes, Airs and Haunting Melodies. Taught by Jay Ungar


Old-Time Banjo Styles. Taught By Mike Seeger

Southern Banjo Styles #1 Clawhammer Varieties & more. Taught by Mike Seeger

Southern Banjo Styles #2-Early 2-and 3- Finger Picking. Taught by Mike Seeger

Southern Banjo Styles #3- Holcomb, Mainer, McGee, Bluegrass Influences & more. Taught by Mike Seeger

Clawhammer Style Banjo: A Complete Guide For Beginning and Advanced Banjo Players, Vol. 1 & 2. Taught by Ken Perlman

Great Banjo Lessons: Clawhammer Style. Taught by Bob Carlin

How To Play The 5-String Banjo. Taught by Pete Seeger


Legends of Traditional Fingerstyle Guitar - Merle Travis, Elizabeth Cotten, Mance Lipscomb, Brownie McGhee, Doc & Merle Watson, Rev. Gary Davis and more.  VEST-DVD13004

Legends of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. 1 - Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Mance Lipscomb, and more. VEST-DVD13003

Legends of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. 2 - Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Mance Lipscomb, and more. VEST-DVD13016

Legends of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. 3 - Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Mance Lipscomb, and more.  VEST-DVD13037

Early Southern Guitar Styles. Taught by Mike Seeger

DVD-Guitar Styles Of The Carter Family. Taught by Mike Seeger


The Carter Family - Will the Circle Be Unbroken by Kathy Conkwright

Vocal Techniques For Old-Time Mountain Music by Cary Fridley

From Augusta Heritage Recordings

“One More Time” – The Life & Music of Melvin Wine DVD/CD-ROM

Reel 'Em, Boys, Reel 'Em - A Documentary of Traditional West Virginia Dance, The Mountain Dance Trail.

Old-Time Music on the Augusta Stage

Kent Lilly – West Virginia’s Old-Time Storyteller

Tribute to the Mountain Dulcimer

Icy Mountain – The Quirky Fiddling of Leland Hall

Music of Heaven – Old-Time Music from Coal River Country

The ‘CC Boys: A West Virginia Legacy

That Old-Time Sound – Old-Time Music & Ways of Central West Virginia

Fiddlin’ Leo Herron

From Arhoolie Records

Down Home Music: A Journey Through the Heartland 1963


Banjo of Ralph Stanley: From Old-Time to Bluegrass - Ralph Stanley - RAL-BJ21-DVD




Fiddler Magazine


ARSC Journal – Association of Recorded Sound Collections



Strings of Life: Conversations with Old Time Musicians by Kevin Donleavy

Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy: Fiddlin' John Carson, His Real World, and the World of His Songs

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber

Country Music, U.S.A.: Third Revised Edition by Bill C. Malone and Jocelyn R. Neal

In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music by Nicholas Dawidoff

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritchie, Doug Orr, Darcy Orr

The Scotch-Irish Influence on Country Music in the Carolinas: Border Ballads, Fiddle Tunes and Sacred Songs by Michael C. Scoggins

Alan Lomax, Assistant In Charge: The Library Of Congress Letters, 1935 - 1945 by Ronald D. Cohen

African Banjo Echoes In Appalachia: A Study Of Folk Traditions by Cecelia Conway

Gone To The Country: The New Lost City Ramblers And The Folk Music Revival by Ray Allen

Traditional Musicians Of The Central Blue Ridge - Old Time, Early Country, Folk And Bluegrass Label Recording Artists, With Discographies by Marty Mcgee

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone: The Carter Family And Their Legacy In American Music by Mark Zwonitzer With Charles Hirshberg

A Banjo Pickin' Girl: The Life And Music Of Ola Belle Campbell Reed by Judy H. Marti

Alan Lomax, Assistant In Charge: The Library Of Congress Letters, 1935 - 1945 by Ronald D. Cohen

Banjo On The Mountain: Wade Mainer's First Hundred Years by Dick Spottswood


Play of a Fiddle: Traditional Music, Dance, and Folklore of West Virginia by Gerry Milnes

Fiddling Way Out Yonder: The Life and Music of MelvinWine by Drew Beisswenger

The Devil’s Box: Masters of Southern Fiddling by Charles Wolfe

Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes by Jeff Todd Titon

The Fiddle Book by Marion Thede

The Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory: 245 Traditional Tunes by R. P. Christeson 

The Old-Time Fiddler’s Repertory Volume 2 by R.P. Christeson

Beginning Old Time Fiddle by Alan Kaufman

The Fiddler's Fakebook: The Ultimate Sourcebook For The Traditional Fiddler by David Brody

Ragtime for Fiddle & Mandolin by Steve Parker

150 Hot Tunes for Fiddle & Mandolin by Steve Parker


Fiddle Tunes I Learned At The Tractor Tavern (And Other Places Around Puget Sound) - The Millennium Edition (Revised) by Gene Silberberg

The Complete - Fiddle Tunes I Either Did Or Did Not Learn At The Tractor Tavern by Gene Silberberg

Fiddle Tunes Illuminated by Alan Jabbour


Ring the Banjar! by Robert Lloyd Webb

African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia by Cecelia Conway

Old Time Songs For Clawhammer Banjo by David K Marshall

Old-Time Backup Guitar: Learn From the Masters  by John Schwab

The Banjo Player's Songbook: Over 200 great songs arranged for the five-string banjo  by Tim Jumper

The Art of the Mountain Banjo by Art Rosenbaum

Old Time String Band Banjo Styles by Joseph Weidlich

Minstrel Banjo: Briggs’ Banjo Instructor by Joseph Weidlich

Wade Ward - Clawhammer Banjo Master (Book/CD Set) by Bob Carlin & Dan Levenson

Kyle Creed - Clawhammer Banjo Master (Book/CD Set) by Bob Carlin

Round Peak Style Clawhammer Banjo by Brad Leftwich

Clawhammer Banjo by Miles Krassen

Clawhammer Style Banjo by Ken Perlman

The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo by Patrick Costello

A Book of Five Strings: Strategies for Mastering the Art of Old Time Banjo by Patrick Costello

How To Play The 5-String Banjo by Pete Seeger

Clawhammer Banjo String Band Favorites by Steve Parker


Old Time String Band Music for Mandolin by Joseph Weidlich

150 Hot Tunes for Fiddle & Mandolin by Steve Parker

Ragtime for Fiddle & Mandolin by Steve Parker

The Mandolin Picker's Fakebook by David Brody


Guitar Pickers Fakebook: The Ultimate Sourcebook for the Traditional Guitar by David Brody

String Band

Old-Time String Band Songbook by Cohen/Seeger/Wood



Ragtime for Fiddle & Mandolin by Steve Parker

Other related interesting books

The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 16 – Robert Crumb

Long Steel Rail – Norm Cohen

Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women – Ricky Jay


Internet streaming old-time music: Sugar in the Gourd

Search for Old Time Music on www.youtube.com

Want to see notes for a tune? JC's ABC Tune Finder

Want to learn about a tune? Fiddler's Companion

Want to hear a tune (or snippet thereof) and iTunes doesn’t find it? Amazon Song/Tune Search

Folk Music Index, useful index for traditional fiddletunes

For all things mandolin: The Mandolin Café

The Old-Time Music Home Page

Roots of American Fiddle Music

Mike Seeger's Website

Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection

Old Time Kentucky Fiddler Clyde Davenport

Digital Library of Appalachia

Old-time Country Blues

Old Time Music in Portland, OR: Bubba Guitar

Sources for recordings:

County Sales

Yazoo Records

Document Records


Field Recorders' Collective

Elderly Instruments