Nothing is Simple



by Bruce Molsky (from interview at

Old-time music is what people played in their communities as part of everyday existence. It wasn’t meant to be performance music. But when radio came along in the ’20s that approach wasn’t well–suited to a professional performance medium. For one thing, in old-time music you just start a tune and everybody plays until they’re done. There’s not enough structural diversity to keep it interesting on the radio—that’s my personal theory.

What we call old-time music was the ballads your mother sang in the kitchen. It was what people played for square dances or for their own entertainment. It was just as much about the musician as it was about the listener. Old-time music was community music. That’s why, when it became popular in the early 1950s, the music immediately became associated with left-wing politics, because it wasn’t meant to be owned.

It’s a visual thing. If you’ve ever spent any time in parts of West Virginia, it’s dark, it’s lonesome. The mountains are really high and steep and block out light half the day and the hollers are kind of dank and it’s just got a really strong vibe, and that very lonesome music. That’s the kind of image I see when I’m playing.

The picture I see can evoke people, or a story, or a color, or a time and place, even if it never existed—so much of what initially attracted me to this music was my perception of a simple world that probably never was, but the music pointed to that, you know? Simple life and hard labor with good rewards. Peace in your life and spiritual fulfillment. I liked this kind of music because it had a really simple message. Nothing is simple, I learned later. But that’s what the music has always meant to me. Even though I’m old enough to know better, I still like feeling that feeling I had when I first heard it.

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