Frank Proffitt of Reese, NC CD-1 :
New On CD
Archie Fisher lands honour
CD & Song List
Bok, Muir & Trickett - TURNING TOWARD THE MORNING
Ed Trickett - The Telling Takes Me Home
Helen Schneyer - Ballads, Broadsides and Hymns
Bok, Muir, Trickett - A Water Over Stone
Bok, Muir, Trickett - The Ways of Man
Frank Proffitt of Reese, NC CD-1
Cluck Old Hen
Bonnie James Campbell
Cluck Old Hen
Going Across the Mountain
Gyps of David
I'll Never Get Drunk No More
I'm Going Back to North Carolina
Song of a Lost Hunter or Love Henr
Tom Dooley (Dula)
Wild Bill Jones
Frank and his wife, Bessie (nee Hicks), have six children. Oliver, the eldest, is in the Air Force; Ronald, next in line, is studying at Kentucky's Berea College, which leaves only Franklin, Eddie, Gerald and Phyllis at home. This is not a large family by mountain standards, but Frank has had to work hard to keep them all well-fed and in school. The mountains of North Carolina are beautiful, and Frank loves them as only a mountain-man can, but they are hard and rough as well. Although tobacco is a good cash crop, the small mountain farm can produce only so much, and Frank has sometimes been forced to leave his family to seek work elsewhere. During the war he worked at Oak Ridge. ("I was just a carpenter, working on the buildings. I didn't have any idea what they were making over there.") For awhile he worked in a spark-plug factory in Toledo, Ohio. During what he calls "Hoover times," he built roads with the WPA. ("That was when a pound of fat-back cost three cents and when you wanted to send a letter you'd take an egg to the Post Office to swap for a stamp.") Things are much better now, oF course. His tobacco crop, some strawberries, and his carpentry work make it possible for him to stay at home with his family. His home-made banjos and dulcimers help out a lot, too. Last year, an important part of his income came from the sale of these handsome instruments, fashioned along the patterns learned from his father. Working in the old house (once his father's) on the hill behind his home, it takes Frank nearly a week to hand-carve, fit, and finish an instrument, but the result is well worth the effort. His appearance with Frank Warner at the 1961 University of Chicago Folk Music Festival did a lot to stimulate sales in that area. And little wonder ? anyone who hears him coaxing such fine music out of his home-made, fretless banjo will readily understand why Chicago's banjo-pickers were anxious to try their hand at it.
Most of Frank's songs have come to him through his family. His father, Wiley Proffitt, used to sing to Frank as they worked together in the fields or up in the woods, cutting timber. Wiley Proffitt was the proud son of a "Southern Yankee" ? a Tennessee man who went "across the mountain to join the boys in blue" during the Civil War. Frank's aunt, Nancy Prather, was another fine ballad singer. Frank took care of her in the months preceding her death and, at that time, made a conscious effort to learn all of her songs and ballads, for Frank was interested in his people and their history. He not only loved the old songs, he was aware of their value and deliberately set out to preserve them.
It was in 1937 that Frank and Anne Warner went to visit Bessie's father, Nathan Hicks, on "the Beech" ? Beech Mountain, North Carolina. They had heard that Nathan made dulcimers and sought him out in their quest for old songs and ballads. When they made plans to return the next year for more song-swapping, Nathan made sure that his son-in-law would be there for the occasion ? a truly exciting event in the lives of these isolated mountain folk. This, then, was the first meeting between the two Franks ? Warner and Proffitt ? and the beginning of a lasting friendship. It was during this first meeting that Frank sang "Tom Dooley" to Frank Warner, the version of the song which, later, was to sell several million records and become, perhaps, the best known folksong in America.
We, of Folk-Legacy Records, consider Frank Proffitt to be one of this country's finest traditional artists. We are proud to offer this as the first in our series of authentic field recordings.
Our friend and business partner, Lee B. Haggerty, president of Folk-Legacy for thirty-nine years, loved Frank Proffitt's music. Indeed, it was hearing tapes of Frank in 1961 that inspired Lee to suggest that we start a record company together. Lee passed away in March of 2000. We know how happy he would be that this recording of Frank Proffitt, our first release, is now available as a compact disc. This one's for you, Lee.
The Songs 1. TRIFLING WOMAN (Proffitt)
Some years ago, Frank was working on a logging job with a fellow who was constantly complaining about the way his wife treated him. In fact, one day he came to Frank, moaning that he was so miserable he would kill himself, if only he had a gun. Frank laughs, "I was just ornery enough that I wanted to see if he really would, so I went and got him one." When the man backed down, Frank decided to commemorate his misery in song. This is the result.
0 Lord, I've been a-working,
Working like a. dog all day,
Trying to make another dollar
For you to throw away. (You trifling woman, you!)
You spend all my money;
You go dressed so fine,
While I wear old clothes
And I don't have a dime.
You won't bake my bread,
You won't cook my beans;
You want to stand by that haul-road
So you can be seen.
Well, I'd rather be a-hanging,
Hanging by an old grape vine,
Than to know I'd have to spend my days
With you all the time.
(You 're running me crazy, woman!)
Well, I've been a-working
Ten long hours a day,
Trying to make another dollar
For you to throw way.
2. CLUCK OLD HEN (trad.)
Popular as both a fiddle and a banjo tune, Frank says he has known this one all his life. He explains that "every banjo-picker in the mountains around here knew that one." Describing the version which later came out of Nashville as a fiddle tune titled "Cackling Hen," Frank says, "They put it on a much higher speed, with lots of running up higher. I kind of liked it, but it didn't have much of the old flavor left." Here Frank makes good use of his home-made banjo, which has no frets. For more on this style of playing, see the note for "Reuben Train.
Cluck, old hen, cluck and squall,
You ain 't laid an egg since a-way last fall.
Cluck, old hen, cluck and sing,
You ain't laid an egg since a-way last spring.
My old hen, she won't do;
She lays eggs and 'taters, too.
Oh, I've got a good. old hen;
She lays eggs for railroad men.
The old hen cackled, she cackled in the lot;
The next time she cackled, she cackled in the pot.
7. REUBEN TRAIN (trad.)
LOMAX II prints a version of this song which has been collated from several "picked up through the years along the song-hunting trail.' He states that it was a harmonica-blower's tune and a great favorite among country banjo-pickers and fiddlers in the South. He adds that "one occasionally meets a singer who knows a few verses of the song," but that he has "never heard it sung in ballad form." It seems quite likely that Frank Proffitt has done much the same thing in gathering his "ballad form" version from various mountain musicians with whom he has played in the past. BROWN prints two versions, one of which contains seven stanzas; Lomax's collation contains eight stanzas, as does the version recorded here. I have not found the song elsewhere in print, although a four stanza version may be heard on the Folkways album mentioned in the note for "Handsome Molly" (again performed by Doc Watson), and Ralph and Richard Rinzler's excellent notes point out its relationship to both "Train 45" and the familiar "900 Miles." They also add a short discography. This was the first tune Frank learned to play on his home-made banjo, and here the fretless instrument may be heard in a style not unlike the bottle-neck style favored by a number of African-American guitarists. Sliding the fingers up and down the neck produces the slurred notes. Frank says, "You can't hardly do this on a fretted banjer; it takes a lot of clearance on the neck with nothing to get in the way."
See: Brown, Lomax II.
Oh, Reuben s coming down the track
And he's got his throttle back
And the rails are a-carrying him from home.
If the boiler don't bust,
' Cause it's eat up with rust,
I'll soon be a long ways from home.
If you don't believe I'm gone,
Look at the train I'm on;
You can hear the whistle blow a thousand miles.
I'm a-going down the track;
I ain't never coming back,
And I'll never get no letter from my home.
Well, the train run so fast
Till I knowed it couldn 't last,
For the wheels was a-burning up the rail.
Old Reuben had a wreck
And it broke old Reuben's neck,
But it never hurt a hair on my head.
Now I'm walking up the track,
Hoping I'll get back;
I'm a thousand miles away from home.
If I ever get back to you,
You can beat me black and blue,
For I'll never leave my shanty home.
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