Two legends of old-time Appalachian music—the clawhammer-banjo virtuoso Ken Perlman and the masterful fiddler Alan Jabbour—will play tunes from their highly acclaimed “Southern Summits” CD in Huntsville, AL, on Saturday night.

Just about any diehard fan of old-time (pre-bluegrass) music will be familiar with Jabbour. The former UCLA professor, who apprenticed with Upper South fiddlers like Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Va., and Tommy Jarrell of Toast, N.C., led the Hollow Rock String Band during the folk revival of the 1960s. His cultural credentials include stints as head of the Archive of Folk Song and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and as director of the folk arts program for the National Endowment for the Arts. For his part, Perlman is well-known among banjo-pickers as a pioneer of the 5-string banjo style known as “melodic clawhammer,” a more intricate variant of the gentler, down-picking style of banjo that traces its roots to Africa and was played throughout the South prior to the advent of Earl Scruggs’ supercharged, three-finger technique. Considered one of the top clawhammer players in the world, Perlman draws his material from a wide variety of traditional sources, including the music of Scotland, Ireland, Canada’s Cape Breton and Prince Edward islands, and, of course, the American South. Like Jabbour, Perlman is also a prodigious folklorist. He has spent the better part of the past decade, for example, collecting tunes and oral histories from traditional fiddle players on Prince Edward Island. (He’ll play a few of these tunes in Huntsville as solo banjo pieces.)

Whether you’re already a fan of this music or have never heard a fiddle-banjo duet played in the old-time style, the chance to see Perlman and Jabbour perform together is a rare opportunity to witness traditional music at its best. Their energetic, highly rhythmic performances include faithful renditions of tunes from fiddlers like Archie Stewart of Prince Edward Island, Edden and Burl Hammons of Pocahontas County, W. Va., and, first and foremost, Virginia’s Henry Reed, who was the source for 14 of the 23 tunes on “Southern Summits.” Ever-mindful of the debt they owe to a great generation of fiddlers–now all deceased–Jabbour and Perlman are American treasures in their own right.

Ken Perlman & Alan Jabbour

  • Saturday, Oct. 23 – Huntsville, AL. 7:00 p.m., Flying Monkey Arts, 2211 Seminole Drive Southwest. Admission: $10. Contact: Jim Holland.
  • Monday, Oct. 25 – Louisville, KY. 7:00 p.m., Bird Hall, School of Music, University of Louisville. Contact: Jack Ashworth.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 26 – Goodlettsville, TN. 7:30 p.m., Historic Mansker’s Station, 705 Caldwell Dr. Contact: Laura Blankenship, 615-859-3678.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 27 – Lexington, KY. Noon-1:00 p.m., Niles Center for American Music Gallery, Lucille Little Fine Arts Library, University of Kentucky. Contact: Prof. Ron Pen, 859-257-8183.
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Joel Groover

Joel Groover

Joel Groover is an Atlanta-based freelance writer whose past glories include writing obits at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, enduring a stint as a beat reporter at The Marietta Daily Journal and taking in some culture as a senior editor at Art & Antiques. He earned his journalism degree at The University of Georgia.

9 Comments
  1. Frank Povah

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will have to get myself across to Lexington on Wednesday. You caught my attention in the nick of time.

  2. Alice Murray

    Thanks for the note about Alan Jabbour! I had a chance to hear him in Clarkesville several years ago and I’m thrilled to know he has a new CD out. Sorry I can’t make it to any of the shows, but I’ll certainly find his CD.

  3. If you like all genres of fiddle music, find a copyof thePBS special “Fiddlers Three”. It runs an hour and a half, with four sets. The first three are a set each by Itzak Perelman, Jon-Luc Ponty and Doug Kershaw.
    The fourth set is the three together doing variations on ‘Turkey in the Straw”. It is worth an hour and a half of your time to see the geeky classicist, the jazz impressario and the ragin’ cajun sawing away in haromny.

  4. Frank Povah

    Joel: Thanks again. I went to see them in Lexington and was enthralled by their artistry. As a bonus I was fortunate enough to meet Prof. Pen, director of both the Niles Center and the Appalachian Studies Program. As an Australian of a certain age who has been an ardent lover of this music for more than two-thirds of a lifetime, it saddens me that it is so little known, let alone appreciated, even if only for its heritage value.

    In my not so humble opinion, the American south formed the greatest musical melting pot the world has ever known – in historical times anyway. Forget your Berlins, your Porters and your Hammersteins, your Goodmans and your Millers – they might have been the darlings of the dress circle but it was the 10 cent seats downstairs that paid the bills. Jimmie Rodgers – the real one, not the Uh-Oh version – influenced far more people than Bing Crosby ever did and you could once hear Ireland via “Old Grey Cat on the Tennessee Farm” played under another name by a Tasmanian Aboriginal string band on Cape Barren Island. I learned the Southern Gospel tune “There’s a road of toil and trouble” on that island. Now there’s a story.

    1. Hi Frank.
      Glad to hear you went to the show! I saw them at The Red Light Cafe in Atlanta the day before writing the article. A Tasmanian Aboriginal string band? I gotta get their CD! :-D

      1. Frank Povah

        Joel, there may be one around on a compilation of archival stuff. Do you want me to check it out for you? I have friends ;-)

        If you want to hear the influence of southern string bands and singers in indigenous Australia, check out the Mills Sisters from Thursday Island (TI), the Pigram Brothers from Broome WA, Lester Yamma, et.al. just some in a long line of Southern-influenced indigenous musicians. Sailor Dan’s (or the Mills Sisters’) TI Blues is a classic example.

        The only tiny gripe I have with Perlman/Jabbour is that they, like so many other “modern” documenters of the tradition, tend to be a tad clinical, as if they wish to compete with the “real” musicians. Still I suppose this is the only way people will get to realize that these old tunes, and the people who played them, were every bit as musically sophisticated as the musicians listened to by the soup-and-fish and pearls set.

        1. Yes. They are definitely on the academic, scholarly end of things as far as how they present the music. Well, if you find some recordings, we could certainly do a CD exchange! I had no idea the music’s influence stretched that far!

          1. Frank Povah

            I’ll see if I can track a copy down. Oh the influence stretched worldwide, especially among the working class in the Southern Hemisphere and among Celts everywhere. The Carter family were big in Australia, relatively speaking, and I’d learned fragments “All around the water tank” before I could play the guitar.

            Have you heard the field recording of the African schoolgirls singing to entice Chimmie Rotcha to come down out of the sky and dance with them?

  5. Frank Povah

    Joel: The CD I mentioned may be out of “print” (what are CDs out of?) but I have my Tasmanian scouts out. If you’re interested I have a backyard-produced one of my own I can send you. I don’t like recording, I’m much better on stage than in a “studio”.

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