Archive for the ‘Weems String Band’ Category

Help Wanted: Weems String Band

June 30, 2015


from an exchange on
Granddaughter of Dick Weems: My great grandfather is Dick Weems (Dickson Augustus Weems) was his full name and he was part of the Weems String Band.  My grandfather is his youngest Son.  My uncle still has Dicks original fiddle, I don’t know that my Aunt owns all the musical rights to their music and I am sure that if a CD is being put together she would know something about it.  If I can send you any of that information please feel free to send me an email at…

Respondent:  You are descended from royalty.

Their recorded songs are, at least to many of us in this subculture, among
the most astounding and great bits of music ever.  They had a
hard-to-describe sound that’s not quite like much of the mainstream of
old-time recordings of that era — there’s something a little more scary and
less cute about their sound than many of their recording contemporaries,
probably due in substantial part to the cello.

There’s only one problem that I’m aware of: one of their two recorded songs
(Davy) requires you (at least if you hang out with the sort of folks I hang
out with) to give a short mini-dissertation about history, and how the use
of what we now call “the N word,” and the indulging of a certain racial
stereotype regarding dancing prowess, didn’t really necessarily mean, at the
time they were recording, that the user was a bad person.

At the risk of being accused as being one of those Soviet-era photo-retouchers who
airbrushed Kremlin figures out of old photos when they fell into disfavor,
maybe somebody with good digital editing technology could remix a version of
Davy with those vocals taken out???

Greenback Dollar

September 19, 2012


Weems String Band
“Greenback Dollar” (Columbia 15300-D, 1928)

“Greenback Dollar” is one of only two songs – two sides of a single record – ever documented from this Tennessee family string band. That seems unfathomable considering how good it is, and how unique. The band played rural music unlike any other captured on record. Brothers Dick and Frank Weems played their fiddles with advanced fingering positions usually employed only by classically trained musicians. Another brother, Jesse, played cello, an instrument also typically reserved for classical music.

While all of this created a sophisticated sound, the band was still using these instruments to play “hillbilly” music, and the unexpected juxtaposition was exhilarating. The cello, for example, shifted between a thumping, staccato beat and a low, brooding drone. And brother-in-law Alvin Condor added banjo and down-home vocals for a clear mountain music touch.

The lyrics are simple and spare, but classic. Condor delivers them in a voice that starts as a yell and ends as a statement: “Over the hills and down in the holler / All I want is a greenback dollar.”

Adding to the excitement was the way the band members improvised variations and created a tapestry of interlocking melodies, all while keeping a steady rhythm. While everyone appears at first to be playing regular, repeating themes, as the song progresses, one notices frequent, subtle variations. At times, they add a few unexpected notes, and at other times an instrument will drop away completely, its presence still somehow felt as the rest of the band fills the gap seamlessly. Sometimes an instrument will even play out of key for a few notes, heightening the tension of the moment and then snapping back into the familiar pattern. All together, the band exhibits a tremendous sense of awareness; if they were playing jazz, you would call it “swing.”