William Kinneth (W. K.) McNeil was a prominent folklorist and historian of Arkansas and Ozark regional folk traditions, especially their folk music and songs, speech, tales, and legends. He published books and articles in both popular and scholarly outlets and produced widely disseminated recordings.
McNeil was also active in producing recordings and writing liner notes. He received acclaim for his box sets such as The Blues: A Smithsonian Collection of Classic Blues Singers (1993) for the Smithsonian Institution and Somewhere in Arkansas: Early Country Music: Recordings from Arkansas, 1928–1932.
Here is an edited excerpt of McNeil’s review of one of the greatest old time LPs.
Back Home in the Blue Ridge: Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell & Oscar Jenkins. Recorded by Charles Faurot & Richard Nevins. Produced by Richard Nevins. (County 723)
Back Home in the Blue Ridge consists of four instrumentals and eight vocal numbers. Most of the tunes presented here are often recorded traditional numbers. There are, however, a few rarely recorded pieces, like the Primitive Baptist hymn “When Sorrow’s Encompass Me Round” which, to me, is the high point of the album.
The main emphasis of Back Home in- the Blue Ridge, however, is on the contrast between the more rhythmic, and probably older, style of fiddling represented by Tommy Jarrell and the mellower, less rhythmic playing of Oscar Jenkins. If’ it can be assumed that the selections on this album are representative of the traditional material found in the sections of northwestern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia where Jarrell, Cockerham and Jenkins live then then folk music repertoire there is composed almost entirely of post-1860 items.
It would, however, be incorrect to assume that such numbers have been in local tradition for the past one-hundred and thirteen years. For example, “Cumberland Gap” was not known in the region until about 1915 and “Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down” did not “come around” until about 1925. A number of other old songs and fiddle tunes were first introduced to this section during the decade after 1915. Their arrival then was perhaps facilitated by improved roads and transportation.
While one can hear the interplay between Fred Cockerham’s clawhammer banjo and Tommy Jarrell’s fiddle on “Sally Ann” his appreciation would undoubtedly be heightened if he could also see the musicians in action. And we can listen and enjoy the skillful usage of double stops and open string harmonies used by Tommy Jarrell on “old Joe Clark” and “Breaking Up Christmas ” and yet never fully comprehend Jarrell’s technical brilliance or ever achieve the excitement of seeing these feats accomplished. But, given the limitations of a record, this is an outstanding sampling of traditional music and unquestionably one of the best albums of its type on the market today-.