Archive for the ‘Burnett and Rutherford’ Category

All Night Long Blues

January 20, 2013


Burnett & Rutherford
“All Night Long Blues” (Columbia 15314-D, 1928)

Guitarist and banjoist Dick Burnett became a professional musician around the age of 25 after being blinded during a robbery by a gunshot wound. A few years later, he took teenage fiddler Leonard Rutherford under his wing and the two Kentuckians became one of the most prolific and highly regarded country acts of the 1920s.

“All Night Long Blues” is a particularly good showcase for Burnett’s fantastic vocal delivery and the duo’s expert musicianship. Burnett’s down-home voice takes a number of different shapes on the record, and all of them are interesting. He leads with a clear mountain cry, transitions to a low, earthy moan, and then to a heartfelt, tremor-filled plea. Every time he sings, “All night long,” he lays his soul bare, his voice dripping with raw feeling.

As powerful as Burnett’s singing is, though, it is not the only thing on display here. With Burnett keeping a simple, pleasant rhythm on guitar, Rutherford is simply masterful on the fiddle. He never overpowers the vocals, keeping them the main focal point of the song, but he fills the spaces around the vocals with a sweet, pure sound that makes the record all the more gripping. Rutherford’s playing is some of the smoothest country fiddling you’ll ever hear, and a good reason to seek out more of his recordings with Burnett.

W.L. Gregory: “The first time I saw Leonard Rutherford was in 1923. He was sure a better fiddler than I was – – I was young, and he had me worsted by 7-8 years. When I got in with him, got to playing, me with the fiddle and him with the bow, playing tunes together on the fiddle, that’s the way I began. I began to step it up, stepped it up in his style.

I learned most of my style from him. Then I met Dick [Burnett] and travelled with him for a while about 1929-1930, sometimes sort of replacing Leonard; Dick would play banjo, I played violin. We would go out 75-80 miles, be gone a week at at time. We’d set up shows, sell tickets back at the door in those days; didn’t hand out bills, just advertised maybe in stores and restaurants.

Once I remember we was playing in King Mountain and they called out from the audience and asked up to play LADIES ON THE STEAMBOAT and we did, and Dick got in a big way, and slapping the hide you know and playing his juice harp (NOTE: Dick Burnett did and uncanny imitation of a juice harp with his throat). And he knocked the thumb screw out of the neck and hit the string loose and it wound around the neck and Dick, he just kept going through it on four strings and finally wound it up and he laughed real big and said, ‘Folks, I knocked my thumb screw out but I finished for you on four strings’, and the house, well, it went wild.

Dick was a showman, a real comic in his younger days. He was a great entertainer. And he’d fiddle ever once in awhile. He could play good breakdowns, but was a little rough. BUCKIN MULE, stuff like that. TRAIN 45. When me and Leonard played with him, out somewhere, we would always give him the fiddle on those number cause he’d cut up with it, you know, but come to a slick one that had to be slicked up, he’d hand it back to us then. But he could always attract a crowd.”


Leonard Rutherford

March 19, 2012

from the notes to “Monticello: Tough Mountain Music”

It’s been said that no smoother fiddler ever wielded a bow than Leonard Rutherford. Asked to comment on the “smooth” style he learned from Rutherford, W.L. Gregory said. “A regular fiddler will use what you call round notes, try to hit every note in the tune; we used a lot of slide notes, maybe cut out a note or two and put a slur on it. What a singing school teacher would call a circle note, that’s what we use. The main thing is the touch of your fingers, how you dab it to the note. You shove the bow – – the speed the bow goes makes it have the right tone. You have to be a man who uses all the bow for this style – – too many people play with the heel of it, and you have to keep the bow on the strings. You sort of roll off from one note to the other instead of jumping. Lot of the other fiddlers play a zig-zag note. A lot of times in order to get the pretty tone you have to leave off one or two notes and make a long slide – – that’ll make it taste good to you.”

Man of Constant Sorrow: Southern Marvel #3

January 14, 2012

Ed Haley

edited from and

Richard Burnett, of the duo Burnett and Rutherford, is sometimes credited as the composer of the “Man of Constant Sorrow,” which he called “Farewell Song.”   He was born in 1883, married in 1905, and blinded in 1907. The second stanza of  his “Farewell Song” mentions the singer has been blind six years, which would date it at 1913. In later years, Richard Burnett was asked about the song. He himself could not remember, at that time, if he had composed it, or copied it, or — perhaps most likely — adapted it from something traditional.

Charles Wolfe:  What about this “Farewell Song” — “I am a man of constant sorrow” — did you write it?’

Richard Burnett:  No, I think I got the ballet [sic] from somebody — I dunno. It may be my song…”

According to Charles Wolfe, the melody of  “Man Of Constant Sorrow” was based on an old Baptist hymn, “The Wandering Boy.”

Another recording artist Emry Arthur, who was friends with Burnett, also claimed to have written, “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Emry was the first to record the song in 1928 for Vocalion.

Ed Haley recorded a sublime fiddle version of “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Haley was born in 1883 on Hart’s Creek in Logan County, West Virginia. He was a blind professional fiddler, and never recorded commercially during his lifetime; he was afraid that the record companies would take advantage of a blind man. However, there were recordings made by Haley’s son Ralph on a home disc-cutting machine. When Ralph died, the recordings were evenly divided among the five remaining children. It is believed that the 106 sides which remain are only about one third of those recorded.

Ed Haley’s solo fiddle version of the tune can be heard here:

Kentucky Country

December 31, 2011

“Kentucky Country,” by Charles Wolfe (University Press of Kentucky, 1996, 224 pages)

Charles Wolfe on Burnett and Rutherford:

Available here.