excerpt from Jody Stecher and Kerry Blech (www.fieldrecorder.com)
I agree with the faction that posits a Scandinavian provenance to the tune “Soldier’s Joy” and that it seems to me that two of the alternate titles, “Payday In The Army” and “The King’s Head” are paraphrasing the concept of a soldier’s joy. Historically, a king’s head was depicted on a coin, and a soldier was rarely paid on time. Hey, I actually got paid this time!
Printed versions of “Soldier’s Joy” are found as early as the mid eighteenth century and it seems the tune is older than that. The most intriguing version I have heard was played by Fulton Myers, a modest man from Five Forks, Virginia, a little place not far from Galax and Hillsville.
Everyone who has written about him says the same thing, that he lived simply and had no electricity. I would have hoped to know more, he’s a unique fiddler and worthy of discussion and attention. All the recordings of Fulton Myers and all the descriptions of his music pair him with his brother Sidna (pronounced Sidney), who is one of the most creative old-time banjo players I have heard. Recently the Field Recorders Collective has issued a CD of the Myers Brothers which was recorded in the 1960s. For those who are familiar with what has become known (for better or worse) as the Round Peak repertoire, hearing it will be a real revelation as this music is so similar yet so very different.
Fulton Myers’ ornamentation of the second part of the tune would be commonplace anywhere between Bulgaria and Rajastan but I’ve never heard another Appalachian fiddler play this kind of grace note nor integrate bowing and ornamentation in quite this way. Sidna’s banjo playing occasionally had an exotic tinge as well. Could these brothers have been Gypsies? Did they indulge in listening binges to Radio Ankara on a short wave radio? Were they aliens from a parallel universe?
James Fulton “Jimmy Natural” Myers was born about 1895 and died in 1979. According to Blanton Owen, who recorded him in the mid-1970s, he was born near Woodlawn, Virginia, between Galax and Hillsville. He farmed, worked for the WPA during the Great Depression, and was a mason’s helper. He learned to play from his father, who played banjo, and from “Old Man Mack Farmer” who gave him a fiddle when he was about 8 or 10 years old. He also went to Logan Lowe’s house in Round Peak where he would meet Ben Jarrell and Ben’s son Tommy. Owen went on to say that Fulton played a lot of tunes associated with the Round Peak and Hillsville areas and likes to ‘anticipate notes.” I have not been able to locate much biographical information about Sidna Myers, other than his basic vitals, born 1890 and died in 1972.