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J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?

DigiTrad:
BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR (1)
BONNY FARDAY
DOWN IN YON FORREST
I LEARNED ABOUT HORSES FROM HER
LASS FROM THE LOW COUNTRY
THE SMART SCHOOLBOY
VENEZUELA (PASS AWAY TIME IN)


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(origins) Origins: Queen Eleanor's Confession (Child #156) (57)
John Jacob Niles recordings (8)
Lyr Req: Black Oak Tree (John Jacob Niles) (22)
Lyr Req: Go 'Way from My Window (22)
Lyr Req: Down in Yon Forest (from John Jacob Niles (60)
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Lyr Req/Add: He Hey! Why Do We Pay? (J J Niles) (7)
Lyr Req: I Wonder as I Wander (John Jacob Niles) (24)
Lyr Req: Go Way From My Window (7)
Lyr Req: I Wonder As I Wander (13)
Proselytizing (55)
Lyr/Tune Add: The Deceived Girl -Child9 (1)
Lyr Add: The Smart Schoolboy (Child #3) (1)


Rick Fielding 26 Mar 02 - 10:30 AM
Hollowfox 26 Mar 02 - 01:39 PM
Jon Bartlett 26 Mar 02 - 01:59 PM
Bill D 26 Mar 02 - 04:06 PM
GUEST,Bill Kennedy 26 Mar 02 - 04:17 PM
GUEST,Bill Kennedy 26 Mar 02 - 04:19 PM
catspaw49 26 Mar 02 - 05:16 PM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 26 Mar 02 - 05:41 PM
Bennet Zurofsky 26 Mar 02 - 06:13 PM
catspaw49 26 Mar 02 - 06:15 PM
Rick Fielding 26 Mar 02 - 06:18 PM
catspaw49 26 Mar 02 - 10:16 PM
Rick Fielding 26 Mar 02 - 10:28 PM
Bill D 26 Mar 02 - 11:44 PM
Deckman 27 Mar 02 - 12:20 AM
catspaw49 27 Mar 02 - 12:30 AM
Don Firth 27 Mar 02 - 03:04 AM
GUEST,allan S. 27 Mar 02 - 12:09 PM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 28 Mar 02 - 06:19 PM
catspaw49 28 Mar 02 - 06:36 PM
Rick Fielding 28 Mar 02 - 10:40 PM
Peter T. 29 Mar 02 - 12:46 PM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 29 Mar 02 - 01:48 PM
GUEST,Kentucky Pat 25 Jan 04 - 09:11 PM
Peter T. 26 Jan 04 - 09:30 AM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 26 Jan 04 - 03:35 PM
Ed. 26 Jan 04 - 03:47 PM
LadyJean 26 Jan 04 - 11:58 PM
Don Firth 27 Jan 04 - 02:04 PM
GUEST,Niles Center 27 Jan 04 - 04:31 PM
dick greenhaus 27 Jan 04 - 06:51 PM
GUEST,GUEST -- FORTUNATO 28 Jan 04 - 10:22 AM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 28 Jan 04 - 06:49 PM
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Subject: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 10:30 AM

One of the truly remarkable things about Mudcat for me, has been the 'fleshing out' of a number of folks that I'd only known through album liner notes, and occasional print snippets. Walt Robertson, and Win Stracke (thanks Art, Bob and Don) are two who immediately come to mind.

I've always been fascinated by John Jacob Niles. He's been written about enough to get a sense of his eccentricities, and obvious huge 'belief in self', and despite his conservative politics was obviously interesting enough to be friends with Charles Seeger.

Some of the anecdotal information about J.J. is quite funny as well: Did he REALLY start claiming authorship of his "Traditional" material only when he noticed those royalties starting to add up in Joan Baez's bank account?

It would appear that he was building his own dulcimers very early in the century, and pictures indicate that these were the size of battleships. Anybody seen one of these "bass babies"?

On a Tradition Records album he's heard telling Liam Clancy (I think) about his ability to lie on his bed and SPIT at the ceiling!! Surely, as hobbies go, this one is unique.

Kytrad suggested I start a separate thread on J.J. and I hope there are a few Mudcatters who may have met the guy and can share a bit.

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Hollowfox
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 01:39 PM

In honor of this thread, I'll put my double album of JJN singing ballads on the Mudcat Auction tonight after work (that'll be in about six hours.)


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 01:59 PM

Yes, some more info would be excellent! I don't have any myself, but I'd like to get a more rounded view of the guy - all I've ever read about him is ultimately insulting and belittling.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Bill D
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 04:06 PM

gee, Hollowfox...you beat me to it...my JJ ballad album has not been out of the cover for 20 years, I'll bet..I 'may' have played it twice.

Niles was sure a one-of-a-kind character...I view him a bit like the Neanderthals--sort of a side track in music evolution.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 04:17 PM

Mine's been out and played a bit more often, but not too often! I'd not say Niles was a side track, he is definitely right in the tradition, as far as I'm concerned. And there is recent evidence that supports the theory that our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals, some have stated that that is where the gene for red hair comes from. So, a little more respect for our cousins, please!


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 04:19 PM

and I swore I wasn't going to respond to this thread at all, because it should be people who actually knew him, or had more contact with him than listening to his recordings, and now I've done it twice! forgive me all


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: catspaw49
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 05:16 PM

No Bill Kennedy, don't be silly.......Yeah, Rick is looking for something personal, but I think he's looking for any good info as well. We've had a few decent JJN threads in the past and I suppose that it's a good idea to link at least the best one here as well:

JJN Authenticity

I'll be back later when I have more time. Hopefully Kytrad and Sandy show up on this one.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 05:41 PM

Rick, if you get to Lexington, KY, there's a newly-made John Jacob Niles Center on the UK campus, curator is Dr. Ron Pen, of the Music Dept. His handcrafted instruments, sheet music, etc. are there. I think Dr. Pen would send some printed materials if you wrote to him.

As to his beginning to claim his work, and copyright it, that happened some years before Joan Baez came along. I remember there was an article he wrote (for Saturday Review of Literature? Not sure now) where he did admit to his authorship for songs he had beforehand said were old ones collected on his travels. I would think this article appeared in the mid to late forties.

He saw his first dulcimer in Perry County, Kentucky, when he came with Doris Ulmann on her historic photographing journey through our area. Dad looked out the door one day and saw him coming up the branch, carrying Miss Ulmann piggyback, over a mudhole. She took many photographs of our family, they stayed all day. We were told to call him, "Jack." He had us sing for him and told us about having seen a dulcimer at Homeplace Center in Ary, KY. Dad got down his own dulcimer and played him some tunes, and I guess he went home from that trip and started building his dulcimers (around 1930 or 31, that was).


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Bennet Zurofsky
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 06:13 PM

An eccentric personality to be sure, and rather loose on issues of attribution and authorship, but, judging from his recordings, well worth listening to. As is the case with John Langstaff or Richard Dyer Bennett, it sometimes helps your appreciation if you think of him in the context of classically trained and educated singers rather than traditional of singers. I always enjoy his recordings.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: catspaw49
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 06:15 PM

There is an excellent website for the Niles Center at UK that Jean referred to above:

John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky

.......and BTW, it was also Dr. Pen who did the introduction/induction speech for Jean at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 06:18 PM

Thanks Jean. What was your general perception of him? He looks amazingly elegant in pictures.

I was SO fortunate to find a five minute newsreel clip of Bascom Lunsford REHEARSING a small country trio. He had his fiddle and was sawing away on a variant of Cumberland Gap, while admonishing and cheerleading three very low-key mountaneers to "Let's get it right boys, and I'll...er We'll win this here contest"! He seemed like a little fat ball of energy.

A student of mine brought me a much copied video of Dr. Helen Creighton visiting her Dad's farm in Nova Scotia. Helen records him (outstanding in his field!) singing some nice old ballads (Fred Redden was the name) and then she goes to a quilting Bee and the accompanying songs. I got a sense that she was very gentle with her informants, and it was fascinating to see the recording machine she had to lug around (seemed to be the mid-40s).

Hi Bennet, did you get to meet him during your association with 'Sing-Out'?

Rick


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: catspaw49
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 10:16 PM

I've got but one short personal story of my only "live" performance of JJN and this was in I think '67 though I may be off by a year either way.....it was Spring in one of those years though because we rode in the bed of Barry's pickup from Berea to Richmond where JJN was playing at Eastern Kentucky University. Almost all of us had just recently begun the discovery of "real" folk music having come to folk through the then usual route of Dylan, PPM, Baez, the Kingston Trio, etc. I remember the excitement (if being a sponge can be exciting) of sucking up the sounds and songs of people like Niles, Homer Ledford, and Billy Edd Wheeler, all of whom had some form of connection to Berea and of others like Jean, and especially Jean, who gave voice to the roots of the music we were learning.

It seems so odd to be here at the 'Cat with people I was just "discovering" then and to know they had been at it so much longer........But the discovery I suppose is all a part of it and it comes to all of us at varying times, so I try not to feel too bad about my ignorance then. Anyway, prior to the Niles date, Berea had had a display at the Library of Niles stuff and also photos and books from several others. Seeming quite odd to me now, I had only just been introduced to the Appalachian Dulcimer. This had been about maybe a year before I guess when my friend Neil (Rick--Neil is your friend Arnie's brother-in-law) showed up with one and we were all scrambling around trying to play it and getting our own. So now on to the concert.

Perhaps it was because I was still learning and not too sophisticated in the folkie sense, but I really didn't like him much. That voice put me off right away and my main remembrance outside of that had to do with the instruments themselves. His dulcimers were soooo outlandishly outsized and I thought the sound was less than desirable. Now on THAT point, I think I'll blame Jean. You see I had also "discovered" Jean Ritchie who, for me, then and now, defined the true mountain sound of the instrument.

I think the only other thing that became obvious that night was that he had some "Chromatic" and/or "Semi-Chromatic" instruments. These included more than a 6 1/2 fret......a lot more. There seemed to be one that had a completely chromatic fretboard and most had several additional frets....all had a 1/2 fret before #1. Here again I was put off because although it did extend the capabilities of the instrument, I kinda' felt it took something away from it in the process.......what, I'm not sure but thinking about it I suppose it has something to do with the "purity" of the instrument. After the consert I also can tell you that the main conversation revolved around both of those things....his voice and the instruments....with general agreement that we didn't much care for either. (I accept the 6 1/2 but I still don't care much for other chromatic additions. I don't like chromatic Hammered Dulcimers either)

So Rick, I can't add much on a personal level except those thoughts, but I do like this thread and I'll add a couple of links to things mentioned in it that are worthwhile in the hopes we eventually come out with a sort of "definitive" thread we can call up as additional comments or questions arise about JJN in the future. Thanks for starting it.......it's a lot of what the 'Cat is about.

Sandy? Art? Bob? Don? Bill D.? More from Jean? C'mon group we need you!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 10:28 PM

Thanks for that Spaw. The stuff about JJ's 'extra' frets is exactly the kind of information that interests me. Never once have I read about that in any of the articles I've seen.

Rick


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Bill D
Date: 26 Mar 02 - 11:44 PM

awww...I've said enuf already,'spaw--JJN just ain't my cup o tea! It would have been interesting to actually meet him, I 'spose, but I'll just listen to those who did...


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Deckman
Date: 27 Mar 02 - 12:20 AM

Rick ... thanx for posting this thread. I will timidly mention one contribution. No, I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. I'm born and raised on the West Coast. But, having said that, I DID learn a great deal from his records. I learned the great art of PHRASING from listening to John Jacob Niles, and also to Burl Ives. I believe that ballad singing does require some unique skills. And phrasing is at the top of the list. I was able to have a couple of conversations, and letters, with Burl Ives on this subject. Still today, when I want to hear how a ballad SHOULD be sung, I go back to these two greats. CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: catspaw49
Date: 27 Mar 02 - 12:30 AM

LOL Bill........Well he ain't exactly mine either.

Rick, Niles wasn't by any means the first to go the chromatic route and it's probably something he picked up somewhere along the line. I had (emphasize "had"--don't ask) a great book on the "Pre-Revival Dulcimers" and it covered a lot of ground on the subject. Jean did the intro to the book BTW. In looking for some info about the book (outside of the fact that I can't afford to replace it at the moment) I found some other interesting info on a mail list:

In L. Allen Smith's book, "Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers", we see instrument D16 (page 52). Built by S.F. Russell in 1933, this instrument was bought and re-fretted by John Jacob Niles (age 41 at the time). Niles added partial frets at positions 1/2 and 1 1/2 . On page 76, we see dulcimer D62, built by W.C Singleton in Viper, KY on June 8, 1933. This instrument, now in a museum at Berea College, was also re-fretted by Niles. Here, he added the 1/2, 1 1/2, 3 1/2, 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 frets! In other words, he made the first octave fully chromatic. He did this at about the same period as D16.

Next time I go through Berea I'll look that one up. My guess is it's in the museum at the Center for Appalachian Studies there. I'm equally sure Jean knows W.C.Singleton(:<))

Spaw



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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 Mar 02 - 03:04 AM

Other than a few thoughts, I'm afraid I can't add much about John Jacob Niles other than the usual stories and rumors that most people have already heard. I never met the man, nor did I ever have an opportunity to hear him in person.

I listened to a lot of opera before I fell in with dubious company (Walt Robertson, Dick Landberg, Sandy Paton, et al) and got turned on to folk music (circa 1952). I was familiar with Burl Ives and Susan Reed before then, so I'd heard a few songs and ballads, including Lord Randal. Once prior to '52 I heard a well-known operatic tenor singing Lord Randal on the radio. He gave it the full Italianate treatment, making it sound like the final act of Lucia di Lammermoor. Sobs, gasps, rolling on the floor, the whole schtick! I didn't know squat about folk music at the time, but I did think, "that's not the way to sing that song! That's really overdoing it!" When I heard Richard Dyer-Bennet for the first time, I figured, "That's more like it!" Beautifully phrasing, perfect diction, and although he sings with feeling, he uses a certain emotional restraint, making the songs all that more powerful.

I have to admit that undoubtedly due to my earlier listening habits, some singers—for example, Leadbelly—were a bit of a jolt and were something of an acquired taste, but I did recognize the power of his singing right off. I alos knew that my problem was mine; a problem long since resolved. It took me awhile to grasp the idea that there is more than one kind of singer of folk songs. Richard Dyer-Bennet, for example, was an interpreter, not a "folk singer," and what he did was to present the song as a worthy work of art, without necessarily attempting to demonstrate the way it was sung "in the field." Many folk music enthusiasts don't like him because of his obvious training and professionalism, which he made no effort to hide (whereas more than one "folk singer" I can think of has gone to great lengths to hide the extent of their musical training). As a trained concert artist who sang folk songs and ballads, he was without peer.

The first time I heard John Jacob Niles, I didn't know what to think! Strangest singing voice I'd ever heard: he went from full voice to high falsetto and back again, with odd changes of timbre, all of which he seemed to have well under control. As far as I could tell, his voice was untrained, but what he did, he seemed to do with reasonably good vocal technique. If you could handle the fact that he spent a lot of time singing in falsetto (his unabashed use of falsetto accounts for his phenomenal range), it actually had a rather nice quality to it. But—talk about an acquired taste!! Emotionally, his singing seems to have been totally without restraint, and I've heard from those who have seen him in person that his ballad performances are real mini-operas. He'd writhe all over the stage and make the most histrionic operatic tenor look positively stiff. I would have liked to have seen him, just to say I'd had the experience. I have several of his records, but I can't say they get off the shelf very often.

I thought his assigning "Niles" numbers to the ballads in his The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles was rather pathetically pompous and self-serving (who could possibly take this seriously?). I've learned a few pretty good songs from his records. Can't say I do them the way he does, though. No guts, I guess. But I wouldn't trust what he says about the songs any further than I could throw him.

One of a kind.

I'm looking forward to reading more from people who knew him.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: GUEST,allan S.
Date: 27 Mar 02 - 12:09 PM

Back in 1954 I was stationed in Wash, DC and had the run of the hobby shop at Walter Reed Army Hosp. I became interested in building a Dulcimore having heard JJN on a LP record. Went to the library of Congress or the Smithsonian [dont remember which] and asked the lady at the desk if they had any information on the App.Dulcimer. In return she said what are they, My answer was that thing hanging on the wall behind you. Enough said.

I finally got the address of JJN and wrote him about his instrument His reply was that he used the body of an instrument in the Violin family and added the fret board and the tuning head. [Something bigger than a Viola and smaller than a chelo]. Somewhere in the Attic I have the letter complete with the tuning and how it was strung but It would take me days to find it Allan


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 28 Mar 02 - 06:19 PM

Rick, there's a book in progress now, written by Dr. Ron Pen, a JJ Niles biography, so that should answer many of your questions and wonderings. Ron is the curator of the Niles musuem, but he is honest and I'm sure will give JJ his due, both plus and minus!

I was a young girl in the KY Mountians when Niles was coming into his prime as a performer. I can only tell you what all our neighbors around, thought of him. He described himself, in performance, as 'a mountain tenor,' and everybody thought that was about the funniest remark they had ever heard. The men all laughed about him 'huggin on his dulcimore,' when he sang (acted out) the Hangman song. The women all thought he was good-looking but stuck-up and couldn't sing worth a pin. My opinion is that he actually enjoyed being unique, and a showman- he really did not WANT to sound like his informants, but intended all along to make his own brand of art songs from his collected ones; he also rewrote many of them, even as he re-fretted the dulcimer to make it uniquely a "Nilesumer," as my neighbors called it.

My feeling is that as a showman and an art singer, he was quite successful, but that he failed dismally as a traditional singer- and, since that was not his aim, he was satisfied.

I do have many more stories and memories; we saw each other often, and were really quite friendly. He wrote a lovely review of my first book, SINGING FAMILY OF THE CUMBERLANDS. His wife Rena was a lovely lady and a good friend. SO,I have more in my thoughts, but I think I'm going to wait until Pen's book comes out, and see what is left to tell! Jean


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: catspaw49
Date: 28 Mar 02 - 06:36 PM

Only peripherally related here, but Jean, in an ealier post mentioned Doris Ulmann.   The Doris Ulmann Foundation is headquartered at the Berea College Art Department.

There are a few photos of hers online at the Berea College site with one that has Niles in 1934. Click Here

Jean, just being nosey, do you have any idea when Dr. Pen's book is due out? I'm sure that's likely to be quite a "read."

Spaw


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 28 Mar 02 - 10:40 PM

Thanks folks. Great site Spaw. Lordy, I'm enjoyin' this thread.

Rick


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Peter T.
Date: 29 Mar 02 - 12:46 PM

Completely irrelevant question, Jean. I was wondering what people in the mountains thought about caring for their instruments in those days. I cannot remember in any of the books on people hunting the music down any discussion of whether people treated the instruments roughly, with care, let them warp, treated store bought differently from instruments they made, treated them like they were a tool, treasured them.... Your mention of your father taking his down off the wall made me wonder. Of course some working farmers of my acquaintance never care for their tools at all, while some are meticulous about all their equipment. Obviously personal in many cases. Just wondering.

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 29 Mar 02 - 01:48 PM

Folks I knew who had a dulcimer usually set it on the fireboard (mantlepiece)or hung it on a wall. Not many had cases, but sometimes a cloth of some kind would be wrapped around the instrument. Nobody oiled, waxed, nor especially cleaned a dulcimer (unless something was spilt on it). Care was taken not to bump, drop or bang it on the furniture or floor. Other than these attentions, the dulcimer was just another member of the family...


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: GUEST,Kentucky Pat
Date: 25 Jan 04 - 09:11 PM

This reply goes off on a tangent, too. At least Jean's family kept their dulcimer inside. In 1960, I remember stopping at a General Store/butcher shop in Galax, Virginia. There was a row of teardrop-shaped dulcimers hanging up outside under the eaves on the north side of the building. It was raining at the time. Nobody rushed outside to "save" the dulcimers from the elements.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Peter T.
Date: 26 Jan 04 - 09:30 AM

There is a "Reminiscences of John Jacob Niles" by the lady who sang with him late in life (Rick Fielding has it).

yours,

Peter T.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 26 Jan 04 - 03:35 PM

Peter T-Would this have been Joan Ayre? I remember her as a willowy young girl of about 18 who used to appear in concert with JJN. She came to be very well known especially for her singing of, "I Wonder as I Wander."

One more amusing remembrance of the man: We were both booked at a NC university for a weekend festival. JJN for the Friday night solo concert- me for Saturday night. I arrived on Saturday morning and met Jack in the lunch line at the Student Union. "How did it go last night?" I asked. He stood tall, threw back his head and gave me his best profile, pronouncing, I WAS MAGNIFICENT!"


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Ed.
Date: 26 Jan 04 - 03:47 PM

He stood tall, threw back his head and gave me his best profile, pronouncing, I WAS MAGNIFICENT!"

Thanks for sharing that, Jean. Suddenly, I'm less keen in my pursuit of tracking down his recordings. I guess that I should have known that that was what he was like, however.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: LadyJean
Date: 26 Jan 04 - 11:58 PM

I was a freshman at Transylvania College, falling all over myself. I had a cousin in Lexington, a very prim spinster named Kitty Caldwell. Her father was my great grandfather's brother, but, in Kentucky, that's family.
Kitty loved the theater. We often saw plays together. On our first evening at the theater, she waved to a short, white haired gentleman, and said, "John! John! Come over here please! John, this is my cousin from Pittsburgh. Jean, this is John Jacob Niles."
I was slightly overwhelmed. I shook his hand, and fell all over myself telling him how impressed I was.

A year later, I met him again at a festival, where he cheerfully informed a group of admirers that, when he was my age, he'd been a welterweight boxer, and reminiscing about his service in the first world war.

He was shorter than I am. (I'm 5'7.) And his speaking voice was just as high pitched as his singing voice.

Oh, the play we saw that night was a piece called, "What the Butler Saw". It ends with the entire cast in their underwear. I thought Cousin Kitty would have a heart attack. I don't know what Mr. Niles thought of it.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: Don Firth
Date: 27 Jan 04 - 02:04 PM

"I WAS MAGNIFICENT!"

I love it! Rather than putting him down for it, I would say that Niles was one of those few but marvelous people who had the courage to star in his own movie.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: GUEST,Niles Center
Date: 27 Jan 04 - 04:31 PM

Dear Colleagues,
How delightful to follow this conversation concerning Niles and various personal (and not so personal) accounts of him. I can not add much of a directly personal nature since he passed away the year before I moved to Lexington. However, I live very much in the shadow of his life, about 8 minutes walk up the road from his home, Boothill Farm on Boone Creek. Another walk of 10 minutes up the hill would take me to St. Hubert's Episcopal Church where he carved the front doors and where he is buried. I have been traipsing through his papers and music and books for 25 years now. I was also a close friend of his widow, the lovely and remarkable Rena Lipetz Niles. so, while I never met him, I have been surrounded by him.

I will note several responses to queries that have come through this thread.
1) I am finishing the biography this year under a sabbatical spent at Hindman Settlement School. I expect the book will be available in the Spring 2005 catalogue from the University of Kentucky.
2) The Niles dulcimers were not really dulcimers at all, but Jean's use of the term "Nilesulmiers" comes much closer to fact. They were Niles's adaptation of things he saw and heard, recast to suit HIS personal vision. very much in the way that he recast bits of folk material to suit his concept of what a song should be. The instruments are on display at the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky. we also have some interesting "traditional" dulcimers on display that Niles collected. One very inventive one was crafted at Beach Moountain according to some of Niles's specifications (6 strings, larger scale" by one of the Hicks Family. Niles did not play the instruments in a "traditional" fashion at all, so the traditional lap dulcimer was of little use to him--he required the sound of these "lute" and "cello" like instruments to sustain his pedal point drone that sparsely accompanied his voice. The influence was really tympany heard when he was a child singing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Louisville.
3) I would question just one statement of Jean's (who is really my source for all that is good and right and true in the world). She noted that Niles had not seen the dulcimer afore he came to Viper to visit the Ritchie Family. Certainly, his visit (and there is a good picture of Balis Ritchie and JJN taken by Doris Ulmann) was very influential in JJN's career, but he had seen and played (and even owned) a traditional dulcimer long ago back in Jefferson County when he was just a teen ager. He was not using it to accompany himself at the time, though, since he was mostly a pianist.

Again, many thanks for allowing me to join your discussion concerning John Jacob Niles. I really appreciate the perspective that you all bring to this forum.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 27 Jan 04 - 06:51 PM

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Niles, but He was a marvelous songwriter/adapter of folk materials. Back un the 30s, I'm told he was the only one who came to the financial rescue of a struggling New York City folk dance/folksong group--Margo Mayo's American Square Dance Group.
He was also one of the earliest collectors of army songs.


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: GUEST,GUEST -- FORTUNATO
Date: 28 Jan 04 - 10:22 AM

Like 'Catspaw above, I encourage everyone to follow the link to The John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Pen, a good friend to our kytrad, is a wealth of information, and his own published work on "Jack" is excellent; I know from personal experience. I am looking forward to the biography that is forthcoming in 2005, I'm sure that will be equally excellent.

I am still enjoying the vivid, visual image depicted in the story ky told of "I was magnificent". What a true character Niles must have been, larger than life, and unashamed. Human, flawed, perhaps but enormously talented.

It is always a true pleasure to see kytrad post here on any topic, and a special treat to see "Guest, Niles Center" as well.

cheers, Chance Shiver


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Subject: RE: J.J. Niles. Any personal reminiscences?
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 28 Jan 04 - 06:49 PM

Well...I told that "I WAS MAGNIFICENT") story because he would have liked it to be told. All of us who knew him were always telling "Niles Stories," and anticipating what he'd do or say next. You are right, Don-and Ron- and Fortunato- and all. Niles did "work at" being a character, and greatly enjoyed hearing folks tell of his offbeat exploits. And I guess it was this trait of his that kept us all loving the show, forgiving his (what we thought) lightfingered use of folklore. I think it actually pleased him to fib about a song, its content, its origin, etc., and have it believed, and you know, there were some folks who were RELIGIOUS about him- thouht his every word was pure gold, his singing the measure of perfection for all other singers. Others of course, hated him and put hime down.

He was one of those folks who, when you'd known him a long time, you'd get to like him because he was fun; he wasn't dumb; and you'd smile and say, "Well, that's just how he is!"


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