Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, June 24, 2021


Kessinger (1896-1975) was an old-time fiddler and a major influence on modern bluegrass music.  B orn and raised in West Virginia, he began as a child, learning the banjo at age five, and by age seven he was performing at local saloons with his father.  He switched to fiddle and began playing at country dances.  He joined the Navy in 1917.  When he returned to West Virginia after the war, he found his reputation as a fiddler had grown.  He teamed up with his nephew Luke Kessinger and the duo performed at locations around the West Virginia area.  By 1927, they had their own radio show on WOBI in Charlestown.  The following year they went ot Ashland, Kentucky, to audition for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender recording company.  The same day they were hired as "The Kessinger Brothers," they recorded twelve songs for the company.  Within the next few years, their recording were best-sellers for Brunswick.  In September 1930, Clark retired as a recording artist.  Although he and Luke continued to perform, for the next 34 years he worked as a painter.  Luke died in 1944 at age 38, putting an end to their career.  

In 1963, Clark Kessinger was rediscovered by promoter Ken Davidson, who persuaded him to return to performing.  He formed a string band in Galax, Virginia the following year; the band went on to win first prize in the old-time music contest in Galax.  Keessinger continue to appear (and win) in fiddling contests over the net few years.  Davidson released at least four albums on his own label, Folk Promotion Records, of Kessinger's fiddle playing; the albums were later reissued by Folkways Records and Country Records.  In 1971, Kessinger won the World Champion Fiddle Prize at the 47th Old Time Fiddlers Convention.

Also in 1971, Kessinger recorded 12 tracks for Rounder Records for the first of a planned  series of albums.  Before the plan could be finalized, Kessinger had a stroke while at a fiddlers concention in Virginia.  The stroke numbed his left hand and he was unable to play the fiddle again.  He died in 1975.

Meanwhile, in the late Sixties, I was in college.  Most of the other kids there were deeply into Motown, so whenever I was in a bad mood, I'd put a Clark Kessinger album on the recoed player, turn the voolume up to max, and open all the windows in my dorm.  I feel responsible for a whole generation of kids hating Kessinger's redition of 'Turkey in the Straw."

Here's the Folkways 1966 reissue of Clark Kessinger, Fiddler, with eighteen tracks of good old fashioned country fiddling.  Incljuded in this album is 'Turkey in the Straw," in case you want to torment your neighbors.  Just sayin'.

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