Old Tommy Kimpleton

Mac Traynham's Tune of the Week

For this week’s tune I have decided to share a rare and unique tune called Old Tommy Kimpleton. It was recorded during the LP era, I think, by the long running group from Franklin County called the Original Orchard Grass band. I have never seen the LP and have tracks from it in my files with no information. I wonder if anyone has it. 

I do remember that this group was consistently winning the Galax Fiddler’s convention old time band contest back in the 70s when I started going to Galax regularly. I really couldn’t understand why, but the more I learned about the politics of contests in general and how the results are ultimately not very serious. The Moose surely wanted to keep groups with Virginia connections favored in the money over groups of young people (hippies/yankees) from Philadelphia and New York. However, some non ‘local’ groups would actually place just high enough to keep them wondering and hoping and, therefore, keep them coming back and playing in the contest and putting on the show for their admission money at least. 

The Orchard Grass Band was in those days the token old time band of the mostly bluegrass oriented Roanoke Fiddle and Banjo Club who put on monthly shows in an auditorium in Roanoke to allow the members to get more experience playing before a live audience. It was a bit like the original Grand ol’ Opry with live broadcasts on local radio with local sponsors. No one got paid and the show was free to the public with a collection plate passed occasionally for the club’s coffers.

Original band members included Bill Cannaday on fiddle and Ted Boyd on banjo. I don’t have info on the others backing them up, however, after Ted Boyd’s death Rhoda Kemp became the banjo player and her sister, Iva Sue Stillwell, played bass. Gary and Jackie Ferguson joined on guitar and autoharp and vocals at some point.

This 1970’s rendition of Old Tommy Kimpleton (I am pretty sure) features Bill Cannaday on fiddle and Ted Boyd on clawhammer banjo. It’s likely a dance tune from the era before guitars came into this part of the Blue Ridge. One chord tunes are harder to appreciate and harder to back-up effectively as you can tell.

Old Tommy Kimpleton by Orchard Grass Band

Comment from Matt Kirwin

Great pick, Mac. The band members on that album were Bill Cannaday (fiddle), Ted Boyd (banjo), Gerald Simpson (guitar), Mack Beasley (guitar), Betty Waldron (autoharp), and Charlie hunt (bass). With Rhoda Kemp later, they arranged Old Tommy Kimpleton so that fiddle and banjo started the tune by themselves, and then the rest of the band joined in on the high part. Rhoda has told me at least once or twice that she doesn’t like Old Tommy Kimpleton because it was too simple. Pretty sure Rhoda also told me that Bill Cannaday used to sing some words to it.

Comment from Mac

Thanks for that info, Matt. I am sure others on this list appreciate it as well. I know nothing about the guitar players and the bass player.  I have mixed feelings about this tune but appreciate the fact that it is so rare. I guess Rhoda was sensing that it was a tune that had almost no chord changes implied in the melody. That could be a bit boring for the back-up players.  I would love to hear the words.

Scroll to Top