Friday, October 28, 2016

More Dwight Diller focused projects

In April 2016, McFarland Publishers issued my book, Dwight Diller: West Virginia Mountain Musician, Number 39, “Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies,” Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., April 2016).  Since then, I have become involved in several post-publication projects, including an ongoing series of articles on Dwight’s banjo playing for Banjo Newsletter, entitled “Dillerology.” 

Archival Work:  I accumulated about seven inches of CDs and DVDs representing field audio and visual recordings of Dwight at festivals, in jams, at concerts, as well as video and audio recordings of his banjo workshops, and other media records of his playing from 1980 to 2000 or so.  I’m transfering these to the Yew Pine Mountains non profit, now relocated to West Virginia, where Dwight Diller and Michael Brooks will make these available to interested folks. 

Early Tunes CD:  During my work on the book, many people provided me with tape cassettes of Dwight’s music captured at jams and gatherings, in banjo workshops, band practice sessions and elsewhere, as early as 1970, over a decade before Dwight began recording his music.  Gene Bowlen, who runs Bearcade Recording and Sound, harvested tunes from old, informal field recordings and converted them to a CD format.  My “liner notes” will be made available – electronically - to those who elected the “early tunes” CD dividend during Gene’s Kickstarter campaign. 

Diller Field Collection Work: The Hammons Family:  Between July 1969 and July 1970, Diller conducted at least 30 separate visits to the homes of the Hammons family members to record them telling stories and playing tunes.  In late 2015 Carl Fleischhauer and I collaborated on a manuscript that attempts to determine the manner in which tapes were archived, protected, and utilized following the completion of the Library of Congress project in 1973 through to the points in 1988 and 2005 when Diller called upon this collection as a resource for his own projects intended to depict the lives of the Hammons family members. 

Diller’s Repertoire and Musical Development:  I wrote a manuscript that attempted to define the contexts that contributed to shaping Dwight’s earliest music, discern the trajectory of his musical development, sort through the influences that helped shaped the way he thought about and practiced old time banjo and fiddle, discuss his notion of the manner in which his own sound emerged from these influences, look closely at his repertoire, and comment on the nature and character of West Virginian traditional music.  This, and the co-authored piece, are currently under review for possible publication in two different periodicals.

Diller’s West Virginia-ness:  One final, ongoing manuscript project:  Dwight experimented with all manner of notions intended to shed light on the content of the West Virginian character.  He looked hard for a way to express the spirit, energy and wisdom of people who had survived everything life had thrown at them.  One concept, formulated in the context of these projects to preserve the stories and the music and the images of the old people, was the notion of “cultural messages.”  These were inherent in, and integral to, the music, the poetry, the writings and the simple acts of living life that make up the West Virginian way.  I am working on a paper that will speak to the way Dwight thought about his West Virginia-ness.

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If the work on the biography of Dwight underscored one thing to me – the research, the detective work, the interviews with nearly 90 friends and fellow musicians – it was that many in Dwight’s generation of old time musicians, including those between 65 and 75 years of age now, have lead productive, inventive, creative musical lives that have to a considerable extent gone undocumented.  And, perhaps to a similar extent, the musical communities that these musicians either spawned or encouraged have similarly gone without book-length studies – with a few exceptions (such as John Beale’s incredible book on Bloomington, Indiana).  I’m finding plenty of work to be done in these areas – both biographic and community-focused profiles. 

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