Friday, November 16, 2018

A Little More About John Salyer

John Morgan Salyer and his half sisters Molly and Julia @ 1910 beside his barn on his farm at the head of the Birch Branch of the Burning Fork of the Licking River, Magoffin County, KY. John would have been 28, Molly 20, Julia 13. 
John Morgan Salyer
John Salyer was well know to me my whole life even though he died before I was born.  He was the father-in-law of my dad's eldest sister, Emma Marie Salyer.  My dad's mother, Maggie Patrick Isaac, talked about him a lot and loved to reminisce about dances she and Joh had played together long ago.  Mammie talked about how they would take all the furniture out of the house and put it on the front yard to make room for the dances.

We spent a lot of time with Uncle Grover and Aunt Emma as I was growing up and so the stories of Fiddlin' John were burned in our memories.   The trip to the World's Fair in 1933 was a legend in our family that we never tired of hearing.  I also knew that John Salyer had a fierce disagreement with a recording company after the Fair and was adamant that his music never be exploited for money.  In 1941 Grover bought a machine that he could use to make records of his Dad's music.

Bruce Green was a song catcher who convinced Grover to house the recordings at the Sound Archives at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.  Those recordings can be listened to and downloaded at the Berea College website, John Salyer Fiddle Tunes.
Jennie Get Around recorded 12-17-1941.

This is one of the vinyls that Grover made with his machine.

Bruce also recorded my grandmother's banjo playing, and for that I will always be grateful.  When I was a kid I never really appreciated the fact that my grandmother played the banjo.  I suppose I thought everyone's grandmother played the banjo!  Here's one of those recordings made by Bruce.



My cousin Donnie also made me the custodian of one of my grandma's banjos and so now Mammie and John's music makers are once again reunited after probably some 100 years since they played their last square dance together.





Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Fiddle That John Salyer Took to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

The following was written by my Aunt Emma Ree and her husband, Grover Salyer many years ago for the Pioneer newspaper.

"John Salyer and his two sons, Grover and Glen, were invited by the Sandy Valley Grocery Company to be entertainers on an excursion to the 1933 World's Fair at Chicago, Illinois. The train started picking up passengers in Pikeville, KY and continued to Cincinnati, Ohio. The father and son trio boarded the train early in the morning at Paintsville. Immediately they began making music from car to car. John played the fiddle, Grover the guitar, and Glen the mandolin. The playing continued until they arrived in Cincinnati. There they were joined by the Gibson Girl singers. From there to Chicago, they alternated singing and playing. The trip was uninterrupted until they stopped in Kankakee, Illinois to switch engines. The next stop was Chicago about 10:30 at night. 

In Chicago they were greeted by a bag-pipe band. Most of the passengers had never heard bag-pipes before. They stayed at the Stevenson Hotel. The second night the SALYERS were invited to play for a dance in the million dollar ballroom of the Knickerbocker Hotel. The dance floor was make of glass blocks with many colored lights in it. There were 6500 people there; some wanted waltz music, some wanted square dance, and fox trot, others wanted Virginia reel or jig music. John said to them, "We'll play our kind of music and you dance any kind of dance you can!" 

The Salyer men saw many new inventions from all over the world. One of special interest, and most mysterious, was to break a beam of light to turn on a drinking fountain, or open and close a door in the Hall of Science and Industry. After three days of seeing the wonders of the world, the excursion returned to eastern Kentucky. 

The SALYER trio was back in Magoffin County with blistered fingers and tired hands from playing so many hours. It was a great experience that they relived and retold the story on many occasions. Grover was privileged to attend another World's Fair, in Montreal, Canada and was able to see the sights of the Fair in Seattle, Washington. Both had many wonders but neither could surpass the memories of the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago."

Anya Burgess did a beautiful job on the restoration of this Salyer fiddle.  


Before restoration

A bit of wear and tear, most to be left!

There was a small crack on the top that had to be repaired.  


It's all back together and sounds wonderful.





This is John Salyer's version, recorded in 1941 by Grover.


The Homemade John Salyer Fiddle From His Childhood


The homemade fiddle was given to John Salyer after he broke his leg as a small boy and had to spend many months in bed, this may have been about 1890.  The story goes that this was when he learned to play the fiddle.  It appears that the neck and scroll was machine made and the body of the fiddle was homemade by someone probably there in Kentucky.

Originally I was not going to have the homemade fiddle restored, I was just going to hang it on the wall.  I took it to Lafayette just for Anya to see.  After spending time with her, I decided to see if she could make this fiddle playable too.  Well, she did and it sounds amazingly good!  Here are the before and after photos and a video of Anya playing the homemade fiddle.

The before picture

After Anya worked on the fiddle.



The fiddle has a string tied to the sound post to help position the post.

Probably the neck was machine made and the body homemade.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Trip to Lafayette to see SoLa and Anya Burgess

The John Salyer fiddle probably isn't worth a lot of money, but it is a valuable part of the history of old-time music, so I decided it's restoration should have extra special care.  I reached out to the Old-Time Fiddlers group on Facebook and got lots of suggestions.  Suzy Thompson suggested Anya Burgess at SoLa in Lafayette, and Suzy said, "Good excuse to have a trip to Lafayette".  The more I researched Anya, the more I became convinced she was the best choice.  I learned that Anya after growing up just outside Boston, Massachusetts, completed a violin-making program at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.  She then worked with a luthier in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  After talking to Anya on the phone, I knew a trip to Lafayette was in our future.

In Lafayette I was expecting a dusty backyard violin repair shop but instead found the beautiful storefront on SoLa in downtown Lafayette.  Anya opened up the fiddle and let me look inside and it seems that was the first time the inside of that fiddle had seen the light of day in a long time!  Anya was also great about sending photos of the progress of the fiddle restoration.

Sharon in front of SoLa.
Anya at her workbench.
John Salyer's fiddle unrestored.
Seeing the light of day after many years.


A small crack was found.





Thursday, August 30, 2018

Guardianship and Custody of the John Morgan Salyer Fiddles

Recently I was lucky enough to be made the custodian of two of the John Morgan Salyer Fiddles.  My sister Maggie Helton was kind enough to pass them on to me and deliver them to Texas.  One fiddle is supposed to be the one JMS learned to play on.  When he was 8 years old he broke his leg and spent close to a year bed bound and someone (I never heard who) made him a homemade fiddle.  The second fiddle is the one he played as an adult and the one that he took to Chicago to the World's Fair in 1934.  

Next step - restoration.
The homemade JMS fiddle.

The homemade JMS fiddle.
John Morgan Salyer during the Spanish American War

The later fiddle





Friday, February 15, 2013



2013 is the year I hit 60.  SCARY!!!  William said he wanted to talk to me about my birthday and I said, "I DON'T want a 60th birthday party!  I want to forget it!"  Well, he was planning to give me an Old-Time Square Dance for my birthday.  I'll take it I say.  What a fabulous idea.  It is going to be great and I can't wait.  Lots of friends coming from all over.  And William designed a very nice invite.

My favorite Old-Time String Band will be there, The Barn Owls.  And an Old-Time Jam will happen afterwards.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grover with a Banjo on his knee.

Aunt Emma Ree & Uncle Grover 
Bruce Green interviewing Grover about their trip to Chicago.