Poplar Pole

Mac Traynham's Tune of the Week

I was impressed by one our young clawhammer banjo players in our local JAM program, Hannah Cantrell from Floyd County. She played this tune for me at a gathering this past weekend on my  fretless banjo. She told me she had learned this tune Poplar Pole secondhand from banjo player and fiddler Mike Gangloff who knows a lot about the music of our local “unknown” players of the past. Hannah and her family are the most recent additions to my list to receive these emails featuring the Tune of the Week. I am hoping Hannah and her musical siblings will continue to carry on the local tunes and sound into the long range future.

The late Dent Wimmer of Floyd County is the primary source of this tune. He was recorded by folklorist Tom Carter back in the 1970s in a couple of visits that Tom made as part of the Old Originals project. Dent recorded several tunes in those visits. The only banjo solos that made it on the final LP were “Shootin Creek” and “You’ll Never Miss Your Mama til She’s Gone.” Dent was paired with his fiddlin’ buddy Sam Conner for some great banjo/fiddle duet playing as well on that collection. I will feature them on a future Tune of the Week.

Along with folkloristBlanton Owen, Tom was on a mission to find “unknown” players of the Blue Ridge region who never had been recorded but still played old time music that they had known from their youth. They were asked questions about how they learned to play and how their music was shared in their “local” community. There is a short biography in the liner notes to help the listeners understand the background of the musician whose music was featured on the individual tracks. I along with some others who live or have lived in the region have been heavily influenced by the music from this effort.

I have two takes to share. There are some bits of conversation that were included in the original unedited tracks. Note the full sound (4th string can be heard in his rhythmic brushes) of Dent’s playing style which was developed before guitars came into Floyd County in the 1920s.

Here’s Dent Wimmer’s Poplar Pole:

Poplar Pole Version 1
Poplar Pole Version 2

Comment from Steve Kruger

Henry Reed also played a great version of this tune, which sounds a little different, more like Going Across the Mountain (or Sea) or Handsome Molly. According to Alan Jabbour, Henry Reed learned it while working in Floyd County, so it may have a common ancestor with the Dent Wimmer version.

Here’s a link: https://www.loc.gov/item/afcreed000197/

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