To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
20 messages

Quills: African-American panpipes

02 Aug 10 - 07:20 AM (#2956593)
Subject: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Jack Campin

I'd never heard of this till today:

Bull Doze Blues

linked from

Pan Flute Worldwide History

Good example of the old saying that you can play the blues on anything.

02 Aug 10 - 11:39 AM (#2956736)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: GUEST,leeneia

Thanks, Jack. That's a fine site and an enjoyable blues tune.

The quills are surprisingly sweet and crisp for a reed flute.

02 Aug 10 - 11:59 AM (#2956753)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Mary Katherine

Not sure whether it's still in print, but there were some great recordings of Joe Patterson playing quills on the Newport Folk Festival 1964 LP called (I think) Traditional Music at Newport - or it might have been one of the 1964 Evening Concerts at Newport LPs on Vanguard Records. Anyhow, he was wonderful.

02 Aug 10 - 11:22 PM (#2957125)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Kent Davis

Here's Dom Flemons, of the Carolina Chocolat Drops, performing Henry Thomas's "Fishing Blues" on the quills (panpipes)

Here's Henry Thomas himself, from the Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by Harry Smith and released in 1952


02 Aug 10 - 11:50 PM (#2957133)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Janie

Thanks, all!

02 Aug 10 - 11:53 PM (#2957134)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Janie

And it has been good to see you posting again Ken, after a long hiatus. Welcome back!

03 Aug 10 - 12:36 AM (#2957146)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Kent Davis

Thanks, Janie.

Here's Henry Thomas (1874-1960s?) singing and playing the quills on "Bull Doze Blues" He was apparently recorded in the late 1920's, according to Wikipedia .   


03 Aug 10 - 12:49 AM (#2957150)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Kent Davis

I'm sorry. This is what should have posted above: Henry Thomas's Old Country Stomp

Jack Campin, of course, has already posted "Bull Doze Blues".


03 Aug 10 - 01:41 AM (#2957163)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: GUEST,Jon Dudley

Henry Thomas. Wonderful, and one of the most enigmatic of the early country bluesmen. Wasn't Canned Heat's hit 'Goin' up the Country', pure Henry Thomas even down to the pipes?

A personal fave is Thomas' 'Fishing Blues' check it out.

04 Aug 10 - 11:09 AM (#2957992)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: GUEST,Dom Flemons

Thanks for referencing my version on there. I'm glad I can be used as an example of quills playing. Nevertheless, you can find an interesting article on the quills and a compilation focusing on quills playing at The Old Werd America site here:

Quills article:

Old Weird America (look under the "Old Country Stomp" section):

The Joe Patterson recordings are on Traditional Music at Newport pt.1 LP put out by Vanguard. He also makes a few appearances on several other complilations (Back Roads To Cold Mountain, Old Mother Hippletoe (LP)).

I've gotten to see a little bit of Joe Patterson footage working with Murray Lerner in New York on his extensive Newport Folk Festival footage from 1963-66 (released in the form of the movie "Festival"). Though it is not available (no release time as of yet either sadly) commercially I was blown away by the manner in which he played. Patterson does make rwo appearances in the film. The first is audio. His music is the fanfare that starts out the film as the title shows up. It is a great recording (also on the Vanguard LP) of Patterson with the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The second dreadfully short final appearance is as the fellow being interviewed who says "That's memories of me and my daddy...". I wish there was more available. But its there in the archives.

Some of you might be familiar with the way Mike Seeger played the quills and shaker which he based on Patterson's style. It was amazing to see that Patterson used a long plank instead of a handheld shaker. Imagine, he's sitting down and tapping his leg with the shaker (imagine a plank like a limberjack with bottle caps half drilled into it tapping the right leg) and playing a ten-hole set of quills on a long stick appartatus of some sort. Its crazy.

Anyway, that's a little bit of quills stuff for you guys. Great strain so far. Later,

Dom Flemons

04 Aug 10 - 12:11 PM (#2958027)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Bobert

Pipes and African music go hand in hand... On my first trip to Mississippi I was fortunate to have a real life guide to areas back in the northern hill country where fife and drum are part of every country picnic... The late Otha Turner, who lives outside Como, Ms, was probably the best known of the pipers... All the folks back in them parts make their own fifes outta wild cane that grows along the creeks...

As fir the "panpipe"??? I just might have to look into getting me a couple to add to my one man band thing...


04 Aug 10 - 06:24 PM (#2958390)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Kent Davis

Thanks, Guest,Dom Flemons,

For those who may not be familiar with Mr. Flemons and his amazing work helping to revive old-time Carolina Piedmont music and the Black string-band tradition, I suggest you check out the Carolina Chocolate Drops site:

The quills site he mentioned is here:

The "Old Country Stomp" section of the "Old Weird America" site is here:


04 Aug 10 - 07:10 PM (#2958414)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: katlaughing

Mudcat has scored well, today. A great posting from Dom Flemons one of THE Carolina Chocolate Drops! Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Mudcat, Kind Sir, and thanks for posting the information! There are a lot of us who enjoy your music, very much.

I was thinking of Canned Heat, too, Jon Dudley...don't know if they used panpipes, but it sure sounds like it.

05 Aug 10 - 06:26 AM (#2958658)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Roger the Skiffler

Yes, Bob, Otha Turner, great sound!

19 Oct 10 - 09:30 PM (#3011168)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Kent Davis

Here's "Poor Black Sheep", with Dom Flemons playing the quills and the banjo:

He's amazing


24 Nov 12 - 11:08 PM (#3441801)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: GUEST,hg

Wow, I am just now hearing. Henry Thomas!

25 Nov 12 - 01:54 AM (#3441823)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: JohnInKansas

Lots of people have played pan pipes, included some Africans but I've never thought of them as an African-American instrument. Origins are lost in antiquity, but they've been well known for ~6,000 years(?), with historical references in both Greece and Egypt.

Based on ancient memory, a popularity peak in the US came with Gheorghe-Zamfir sometime around the late '50s or early '60s(?) when he appeared on the "Tonight Show" (Johnny Carson) - - and others. His origins were claimed to be based on Romanian instruments(?).

The article at the link suggests he may have "written a book" on how to play, and it would seem he might have been qualified to have done so, although I don't think I've ever seen his instruction manual at Barnes. It might be worth investigation for anyone really serious about the instrument(?).

There were perhaps a half-dozen others who appeared in the same time frame to cash in on the rather short-lived mass popularity, and most did listenable performances, but that particular spurt of popularity faded about as quickly as Yma Sumac when someone revealed her 6 ft long hair was phony.

I would expect that the instrument has had more enduring popularity in "genre music," perhaps including some folkish stuff, but in that time in my area all one ever heard much was the mass media stuff.


25 Nov 12 - 08:17 AM (#3441909)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Jack Campin

The Romanians got the instrument from the Turks, who got it from the Persians or the Arabs. Who got it from the Egyptians or the Sumerians.

Zamfir was a student of Tiberiu Alexandru, and the standard text on the Romanian style is by Alexandru. I think it's humungous and out of print and I've never seen one. (Alexandru's book on Romanian folk music is wonderful - Bert Lloyd got it translated into English)

The African-American tradition has roots that must have diverged from the Romanian/Turkish/Persian/Arabic one during the time of the Roman Empire or even earlier. So they didn't have a lot to learn from Zamfir.

25 Nov 12 - 12:10 PM (#3442014)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: GUEST,hg

I've been playing with Dr. Sound for years. It's the artemis / pan thing, I guess. That's how old the quills are....But Barry is now playing like Henry Thomas did and he's added ukelele. You have to be a mudcat oldster to know who Dr. Sound is....He taught Dom Flemons to make a set of pipes at Common Ground, didn't he, Dom?

26 Nov 12 - 09:54 AM (#3442392)
Subject: RE: Quills: African-American panpipes
From: Arkie

Here in the Arkansas Ozarks, in the early part of the 20th century there was a gentlemen who played the quills. He was the father of the barber who cut my hair in the 1970s when I had first moved to Stone County. Since I played a little music and sang one of the songs his father had sung, he mentioned his father's quill playing to me one day as he was snipping away. As he described it, his father would sing, play a bit on the quills and give a sharp 'whoop'. At the time I came here there was only one person of African descent in the county. That is also true today, although Toni was sent here a few years back by the National Forest Service. However, some music and customs were influenced by steamboat and riverboat workers. The White River forms an eastern border for Stone County and there was, at one time, active commercial traffic on the river. Steamboat traffic ended around 1900 when the railroad was completed but from what I have been told there were still some riverboats in operation and folk along the river would pick up music they would hear on the boats.

I regret not asking the barber if he knew how his father learned to make and play the quills. Had not thought of it in years, until seeing this thread. And now he is gone. Died earlier this year.