edited from Bruce Greene (http://www.fiddle.com):
There was one man I learned a lot from out in western Kentucky, who really played more like what people think of as an eastern Kentucky style. It’s hard for me to generalize a style… Eastern Kentucky is known for having that dark, modal sounding stuff, a lot of solo playing, a lot of cross-tuning, things like that. And western Kentucky, at least when I was around there, didn’t have too much of that… It was close enough to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry and all that, I think it was influenced a lot by radio. One thing I would say is that there wasn’t the kind of isolation in western Kentucky that there was in eastern Kentucky, so I think they had more influences passing through. Whereas in eastern Kentucky, there were a lot of people that really just were there and were never really affected by much outside their own region.
When I was learning to play, when I was living around there, as a tradition, it was really on the decline. The people that got together and played really did more kind of newer music –– bluegrass, and stuff they got on the radio. There were very few people that got together and just played the old tunes. As far as a living tradition, I think it had pretty much evolved into bluegrass and more modern music. So with a lot of the fiddlers I’d get together with, they always said they hardly played at all except when I’d come around, and then we’d play the old tunes.
Kentucky’s funny, because it had an incredibly strong music tradition, and it kind of has this mystique, and yet it never really got discovered much. A lot of bluegrass and country musicians came out of Kentucky, but as far as their old traditional music, so little of it really got any attention paid to it until it was almost gone. If you compare it to places like Missouri, and Texas maybe, places where there’s a real active fiddling community, Kentucky, when I was living there –– that was mostly the ’70s –– there was nothing like that, really. There were just little isolated pockets of people that got together. There were lots of fiddlers, but they were all scattered around, and most of them wanted to play newer music. So you really had to beat the bushes to find the old people who knew the old-fashioned stuff, which was what I was after.
One thing I’ve thought a lot about, if you talk about Kentucky style, is I think, especially with eastern Kentucky, a lot of the style is not so much to do with that region as it is to do with being an older style. Recordings I’ve heard of real old fiddlers from other parts of the country seem to me very much like the eastern Kentucky style fiddlers, and that made me think that it’s more something to do with how far back in time the style goes, more than what regions they’re from.
So what you think of as a classic eastern Kentucky style, to me is just really more of an older style that was probably a lot more widespread in the old days, and it just kind of hung on in eastern Kentucky longer. People like Marcus Martin and Bill Hensley, the old fiddlers down here in North Carolina, they could just as well have been from Kentucky, the way I knew Kentucky music. Some of the Mississippi fiddlers that people listen to, it’s the same way. It’s pretty vague stuff, because we have so few examples of the older players, from back in the 1800s. There are really just isolated little examples of playing from that time. So it’s awful risky to make too many generalizations….