Few places in the United States are more associated with traditional music than southwest Virginia. It’s the home of the Stanleys and the Carters, with a rich history of old time fiddlers and string bands. One of the latest “new” groups to embrace these historic sounds is the Grayson County Daredevils. Old friends Jerry Correll and Tom Mylet, who first met playing old-time music in the early 1970s, have joined together with Kyle Dean Smith for Staggerin’ Blues, a debut album for Mountain Roads Recordings that honors and celebrates the traditional music of Appalachia in fine fashion.
The group packs 19 numbers, mostly instrumental and traditional public domain tunes, into the album. The sound is decidedly old-time, particularly Correll’s fiddling. While the album is heavy on fiddle tunes, the group has pulled from the repertoires of traditional fiddlers from all across North America, giving listeners the chance to hear a number of tunes other than jam favorites and old standards.
Bad Liquor, the first of two tunes here that Correll learned from a 1976 field recording of Oklahoma fiddler Uncle Dick Hutchinson, opens up the album on a cheerful, upbeat note. It’s obvious from the start that Correll is a skilled fiddler, with his playing on this track even and smooth. Smith’s solid rhythm guitar work stands out on this track. The title track is the other Hutchinson tune, with a melody that fits its title well.
Other fiddle tune highlights here include the well-known Apple Blossom (inspired by Byron Berline’s playing and with a touch of a bluegrass feel), the sweet Ellie’s Waltz (written by Smith in honor of fiddler Ellie Kirby), and Tom and Jerry (an old time Texas breakdown that, according to the liner notes, has long been a favorite of Correll and Mylet).
One of the most interesting numbers here is the banjo duet medley Old Dad/Miss McLeod’s Reel, played by Smith (using Scruggs tuners) and Mylet (using a fretless banjo). Smith’s arrangement is unique, and the two banjos complement each other well. Pretty Little Indian is also done as a duet, this time between Mylet on banjo and Correll on fiddle. Those who are familiar with the tune through Curly Ray Cline’s version of it may be a bit confused, however; Mylet and Correll’s rendition is slower, lonesome, and haunting when compared with Cline’s recordings.
Three of the songs include vocals. One is Little Brown Hand, a bouncy fiddle tune originally learned by Mylet and Correll from well-known Whitetop, VA fiddler and luthier Albert Hash. The Grayson County Daredevils have changed things up a bit, adding lyrics telling a love story with a happy ending pulled from versions of the song by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and Jim Eanes. Smith sings lead on the Spring of ’65, the story of a drunken gathering which the band gives a dark, ominous feel. Smith is joined by Jina Rosencrans and Donna Correll on a easygoing version of the familiar Katy Cline.
The Grayson County Daredevils certainly know their stuff when it comes to traditional music. The core of the group – Correll (fiddle), Mylet (banjo, banjo uke, guitar, mandolin, vocals), and Smith (guitar, banjo, vocals) – is joined by an assortment of talented family members to round out the album’s instrumentation. Guests include Smith’s father Snake (banjo and guitar), Mylet’s daughter Chloe (bass), and Correll’s wife Donna (bass and vocals). They all come together to make an album that old-time fans will surely appreciate.
For more information on the Grayson County Daredevils, visit the Mountain Roads Recordings website at www.mountainroadsrecordings.com. Staggerin’ Blues can be purchased from a variety of music retailers.