Ralph Lewis, Arvil Freeman and Roger Howell
Not only did Madison County musical families produce talented musicians, but it seems that the soil itself seemed to create more. Among them are Ralph Lewis, Arvil Freeman, and Roger Howell.
Another of those famous fiddlers is Arvil Freeman. Freeman was born in the area known as Paw Paw and made his first professional appearance in 1950 on a radio station in nearby Bristol, Virginia, at the age of 14. He toured for a while in the 1960s but has remained close to home since then. In 1974, 1993, 1994, and 1995, he won the fiddle contest at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. Throughout the 1980s Freeman played five nights a week in the Marc Pruett Band, at Bill Stanley’s Barbecue and Bluegrass in Asheville and later performed regularly as a member of the Stoney Creek Boys, the house band for Asheville’s Shindig on the Green. He was one of five fiddlers chosen to highlight North Carolina fiddle styles on the PBS’ Folkways series hosted by four-time Grammy-winning local musician and storyteller David Holt.
Photo by Pat Franklin
Tommy Hunter was the number one mentor to Roger Howell. It was from Tommy Hunter that Roger Howell truly learned to play and was given the experience to play in front of large crowds. Roger grew up on an appropriately named road–Banjo Branch–although he first played the guitar. As Roger described it, “I was just a local boy and played like many other people do in the mountains. After awhile you pick up stuff, and it’s no big deal. Everyone done that around here. They’d farm during the day and they’d play by night.” He has appeared on scores of albums, recording with his friend Doug Phillips on the ground-breaking album Blue Ridge Mountain Music in 1991. As he continued to perfect his bowing style, he also turned to collecting, producing, and documenting many field recordings of local fiddlers, including over 150 tunes from the late Madison County fiddler Woodrow Boone. The Appalachian Archives at the Ramsey Center, Mars Hill College,will be the home of this collection.
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