American Fingerstyle Guitarist

Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes

Jeff Todd Titon
Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes
The University Press of Kentucky
245 pp. ISBN 0-8131-2200-7

There are two basic types of tune collections; one seeks to simply deliver as many pieces as it can, while the other presents fewer with text regarding history, tune type, biographies of informants, etc. The prototype for the latter is the work of Samuel P. Bayard, while examples of the former would include Cole’s 1,000 or the recent collections bearing Stacy Phillips’ name. Some purists abhor the scattergun approach of the bigger collections, while beginning players may prefer the higher tune-per-dollar ratio they offer, but most of us probably feel that both kinds of book have their place. Jeff Todd Titan’s collection is a fine example of the more thorough kind of study. An introductory chapter gives biographical information about some of the musicians represented, especially John Salyer, Clyde Davenport, Buddy Thomas and Roger Cooper, as well as some history of Kentucky fiddling and related subjects. The meat of the book is the 170 tunes, which are laid out very much along the lines of Bayard’s classic “Hill Country Tunes”, with references to other print and recorded versions of each piece and mention of related tunes. The concluding section consists of thumbnail bios of all the fiddlers whose tunes are included.

The focus here is primarily on Eastern and Southern styles, presenting a body of unusual but highly attractive tunes, many never published before. The critical eye may detect the occasional awkward phrase in the introductory text, but generally Titon writes very well, with a keen understanding of his subject, good ear for the telling anecdote, and, as far as this writer can judge, impeccable scholarship. If Bayard’s lofty standard represents a 10, this book will be an 8 or 9, more than enough to make it a must for for any lover of traditional fiddle music. And Titon provides something that Bayard didn’t, in the form of a CD with 26 performances that are notated in the book. (Does anyone know whether recordings of the Bayard material exist?) The CD on its own would be one of the best old-time records of the year. The book-CD combination constitutes an event.

– Duck Baker