Archive for the ‘French Carpenter’ Category

Remembering French Carpenter

November 10, 2011

Jenes Cottrell, unknown, French Carpenter

by Wilson Douglas (from “How I Became a Fiddler” – in liner notes to   Wilson Douglas: The Right Hand Fork of Rush’s Creek [Rounder CD0047])

French Carpenter was an interesting man.  Had been a bugler in the World War.  He was not a large man at all.  And I guess he could have put on a flour bag and it’d look good on him.  Had been a handsome man.  Fair complected, hair combed straight back.  And big blue eyes.  Fair every way.  And he was a man you couldn’t hear him walk on nothing.  And this don’t make no sense: he was a feller could walk in the mud, but yet he wouldn’t get his shoes dirty!  and walk across the floor, it was like cats!  And dance.  Lord have mercy!  that man could dance!

And right after the war and when I got discharged, why, after I found out Ed Haley was dead, well Carpenter came back in the country and in 1958 he retired – lived in a little old house over here right where Rush Fork and Otter meet, house is still there.  And he’d take that fiddle out about dark, you know, and all them frogs hollering – you know in the spring of the year.  – I thought that was the lonesomest dang thing I ever heard.

So I practically stayed with him.  Oh, I was with him off and on for eight or nine years.  And we’d get together from one to three times a week to play the fiddle.  And he had a first cousin was a hot banjo player.  And we’d play all night!  Play the god-blessed night!  And he’d make me tune my fiddle with him.  And he’d say, “Now,Wilson, don’t you try to copy me, for you can’t.  That’s ruined a many good fiddler.  We have a different time.  If you happen to be something like me, fine.  Play yourself.  So we got to be so doggone good it just sounded like one fiddle, you know.  I’d miss a note, he’d stop, he’d say, “Now, play that over again, you missed it, Wilson.”  He’d make me get it – wouldn’t let me see no peace till I did – he was that way.

And Carpenter and me’d play, and Carpenter had his time, you couldn’t push him, he had a certain time.  And if he got with a musician didn’t suit him, he’d say, “Well; I don’t feel good, I’m going to quit for tonight.”  You know?  He wouldn’t offend nobody, he was very kind.

Oh, I worked every day.  And I’d go up there, I was all out of steam!  I’d work six days a week and I was always up to one or two o’clock in the morning with that fiddle.  Well, I’d come home and I’d go to bed and that fiddle tune would keep pushing me; I couldn’t sleep, I could just almost put my finger on it.  And I’ve got up at four o’clock in the morning and played that tune.  And after I got it, I’d go to bed.  Carpenter drove me all the time and he kept telling me he had a bad heart condition and he said, “I want to push you all I can.”  And the man died in 1964 and had a couple of tunes I never got to learn.  He was a wonderful old time musician.

Elzic’s Farewell

November 9, 2011

Elzics Farewell: French Carpenter & Jenes Cottrell – Old-time Songs and Tunes from Clay Co. WV.

This classic LP was reissued by

French Carpenter was one of the finest fiddlers I have ever heard. His versions of ‘Yew Piney Mountain’ and ‘Elzic’s  Farewell’ are alone worth the price of the recording. Many of the central WVa fiddlers played Yew Piney Mountain. I liked all their versions, but French’s was the one that touched me. I have dreamed that my fiddling would approach what he did. Btw, re the liner notes: Harvey Elswick [bn approx 1839] played that tune for his mother on her deathbed in Maldon?? WVa in the early 1890s. I was born a mile from there. Yew Piney Mountain – I live at the base of them here in Pocahontas county. This mountain range is made up of Droop, Caesar, Viney, Kennison, Black, and Cranberry Mountains. This tune was also called Frank Santa by James Hammons, Edn’s son. Frank was the uncle of Carroll Hardway, now deceased banjo player from Braxton county, WVa.  The other musician from Clay county WVA was Jenes [pn Gene’-us] Cottrell [pn Cot’-tral]. Jenes was an extra good singer in his style. He had worked out a banjo style that fit his singing.  There are some good liner notes to go along with this recording. The historical setting gives a bit perspective as to what drove this music. If you want some really good central WVa fiddling, buy this.  (from