The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #167850   Message #4122357
Posted By: cnd
08-Oct-21 - 11:36 PM
Thread Name: Manly Wade Wellman
Subject: RE: Manly Wade Wellman
I was reading the liner notes to an album I recently purchased and was struck by how similar they were to the Silver John stories for at least a section of it. It's got the silver-stringed guitarist, similar language, similar characters, and even Hosea's Hollow (from "Nine Yards of Other Cloth", among others), etc. Importantly, the album is by "White Lightnin'", a band composed of Obray Ramsey (one of Wellman's closest Appalachian friends and informants) and his cousin, Byard Ray. Thought others may find it of interest.

From the "White Lightnin'" album Fresh Air:
That's what's happening here. Byard and Obray have been picking and fiddling at Saturday night square-dances up on Bald Mountain in the Carolina Smokies for the past forty years or more -- "Now, we wouldn't play Liza Jane before it got after midnight," says Obray, "The spirit of Liza Jane doesn't rise up till after midnight," -- rise up! -- that's the hoedown spirit he means. There are an untold unseen number of spirits hovering about in the Smokies, in all those deep dark hollows in the pines like Hoseah's Hollow, whore they say there's a man playing a jetblack fiddle he got from the Devil in barter for his eternal soul, and he plays so-o-o sweetly, and with such malevolent power and amazing grace, that he can lure young girls into his den, fiddle spells on people, and only the wandering mountain minstrel with his guitar strung with strings of purest silver can play him down. You hear a lot of queer tales down there, half-history half-myth, they talk about the dead in present tenses up in Madison County, way up in the Smokies on the very edge of your imagination, where Byard and Obray live -- Bloody Madison, they call it, because there's been a lot of bad bloodthirsty feuding up there; during the Civil war Obray's grandfathers fought on different sides; and still today when you cross somebody's property line he'll make it a point to tell you; there's still a deep-bred suspicion and mistrust between the clans -- the Smokies are haunted, often misty, and there's this thick blue haze that hangs in the valleys but, somehow, whenever you got near it, even when you head straight into it, it vanishes; it's mysterious ghostly territory, and people who've lived there for generations, like the Rays and the Ramseys, have got a faraway gleam in their eyes... what makes the music so wild and misty and narcotic, whether it be a sassy sizzler like Cumberland Gap or Liza Jane, or one of those chilling lonesome laments like Little Margaret that Obray sings in his high mournful tenor like a banshee in the dark, or whether it be a country hymn like Farther Along, what makes Byard and Obray's music not just tunes but trances is the lunacy that's in the air up in Madison County, all those restless spirits prowling about in the moonlight, the spooks of murdered moonshiners and the girls who died of heartbreak. Obray once told me about this old black cat he had that caught a fever, so he took it out into the woods and he was going to shoot it -- he shot once, but the gun jammed; the second time it jammed again -- the cat didn't move -- and it jammed the third time too; so Obray took the old cat back home, but just before he did he fired a couple of wild shots into the pines, and the gun worked fine, there was nothing wrong with it at all... and Obray grins his foxy, deeply inscrutable grin, like George Raft's grin, and his pale eyes shine just a shade brighter than the city folks around him. They say the only fiddler who might've held his own with the demon down in Hoseah's Hollow is Byard Ray.
--liner notes by Michael Thomas