Roots of American Fiddle Music - Early Fiddlers

Leonard Rutherford & Dick Burnett 
Liner notes from Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 reprinted with permission from Charles Wolfe, author of many fine books on early country music.  Most of them are available at Amazon.

"Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford travelled throughout the South from 1914 to 1950, spreading their good music, collecting good songs, and building a reputation for musical excitement that still holds today throughout the region. People from widely different geographic areas remember the singing of "Blind Burnett," the "blind minstrel of Monticello," and fiddling Leonard Rutherford, "one of the smoothest fiddlers ever to take a bow." Burnett and Rutherford travelled nearly everywhere, by Model A, train, bus, and even on foot; they crossed paths with nearly all the greats of old-time music: the Skillet Lickers, the Carter Family, Mae and Bob, George Reneau, Charlie Oaks, Byrd Moore, Arthur Smith, Emry Arthur, and many others. They recorded some of the classic sides in old-time music, and their popularity on records kept them recording steadily throughout the 1920's. Their appeal on radio allowed them to broadcast from places like WLW in Cincinatti and from the famous Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Their influence on the development of old-time music is even today not fully assessed, but countless fiddlers, singers, and pickers learned from them, either via records or through their many personal appearances.

Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford both came from south central Kentucky, a few miles north of the Tennessee border and about 60 miles west of the coal mining belt. They spent most of their lives in Monticello, Wayne County, in an area rich in musical heritage. John Lair's Renfro Valley settlement was only 50 miles to the northeast,and many of his musicians were drawn from the southern Kentucky region. Emry Arthur and his brothers, prolific recording artists in the 1920'sand 1930's, were raised "just up the road" from Dick Burnett; other musicians from the area included banjoist Marion Underwood, singer-guitarist John Foster, the Walker string band, and fiddler Elmer Stanley.  Monticello itself boasted a stately old courthouse with a big shady front lawn which was the Saturday gathering place for musicians from miles around. Even yet today the people of Wayne County have a strong appreciation of traditional music, and the songs of Burnett and Rutherford are still very much alive in the community in spite of the fact that fiddler Rutherford died in 1954 and Dick Burnett, now over 90,  lives in retirement.In fact, the music of Burnett and Rutherford has no mean historical significance for anyone interested in native American art. In Dick Burnett the team had one of the great natural songsters, a man who collected, codified, and transmitted some of our best traditional songs. Dick was also a skillful composer and folk poet of considerable skill; his "Man of Constant Sorrow" remains one of the most evocative country songs. In Leonard Rutherford,  Burnett found a fiddler par excellence, whose smoothness  and  'bowing technique was widely admired and imitated throughout the1920's and 1930's. The pair often played in musical styles that are among the most archaic and musically distinctive preserved for us; their "unison" fiddle banjo style dates well into the 19th century, and Dick's guitar playing seems to pre-date the pioneering styles of Riley Puckett, Maybelle Carter, and Sam McGee. And finally, the Burnett-Rutherford era began in the age of the broadside "ballet" (pre-World War1) and spanned to the age of electronic media. In a sense, their career capsulizes the development of traditional folk music into commercial country music. In short, both their enduring popularity and their historical significance form the rationale for this album-the first full retrospective of one of the most colorful and rewarding groups of the 1920's."

Thanks to Kerry Blech and Jim Burns for additions and corrections.

The following is in part from Jane Keefer's Folk Song Database.

Burnett and Rutherford
   Appearance as principal performer

  1. All Night Long Blues
    • Mountain Songs,County 504 (), cut # 5 
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 12
  2. Are You Happy Or Lonesome
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 8
  3. Billy In The Low Ground
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 12
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 14
  4. Blackberry Blossoms - (Burnett-v & Ruttledge-g)
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 6
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 24 
  5. Bonnie Blue Waltz - (Burnett-v & Woodard-g)
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 22
  6. Cabin with the Roses at the Door
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 2 
  7. Cumberland Gap
    • Old Time Fiddle Classics, Vol. 2, County 527 (1973), cut # 3
    • Fiddle Band Music from Kentucky, Vol.1, Wink the Other Eye, Morning Star 45003 (1980), cut # 8 
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 19
  8. Curley Headed Woman
    • Mountain Blues, County 511 (), cut # 10 
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 9
  9. Going Around The World
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 3 
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 20
  10. Going Across The Sea
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 21
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 13 
  11. Grandma's Rag
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 18
  12. Green Valley Waltz - (Burnett-v & Woodard-g)
    • unissued
  13. I'll Be With You When The Roses Bloom Again
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 4
  14. Knoxville Rag
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 1
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 9
  15. Ladies On The Steamboat
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 13
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 1
  16. Little Stream Of Whiskey
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 2
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 16 
  17. Lost John
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 1
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 5
  18. My Sarah Jane
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 11 
  19. My Sweetheart in Tennessee
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 1
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 7
  20. Pearl Bryan
    • Old Time Ballads from the Southern Mountains, County 522 (197?), cut # 4 
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 6
  21. Ramblin' Reckless Hobo
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 8 
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 10
  22. She Is A Flower From The Fields Of Alabama
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 15
  23. Short Life Of Trouble
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 5
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 14
  24. Sleeping Lulu -(Burnett & Ruttledge)
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 23 
  25. Sleeping Lula - (Rutherford-v, Burnett-b, & Moore-g)
    • unissued
  26. Taylor's Quickstep
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 4 
  27. There's No One Like the Old Folks
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 7 
  28. Two Faithful Lovers
    • Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 (), cut # 15
  29. Under The Pale Moonlight
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 16
  30. Weeping Willow Tree
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 3
  31. Willie Moore
    • American Folk Music; Vol. 1, Ballads, Folkways FA 2951 (1952), cut # 10
  32. Willie Moore
    • Burnett & Rutherford "1926-1930", Document Docd-8025, track # 11
Dick (R. D.) Burnett
   Side Performer Appearance
    Old Time Ballads from the Southern Mountains, County 522 

    Old Time Fiddle Classics, Vol. 2,County 527 

    Burnett and Rutherford / Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rounder 1004 

 

 

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