26 November 2018

Bill Hicks - who knows the Irish connections?

Bill Hicks c.1971 (photo: Tom Carter)

The BIB reported last week the death of North Carolina fiddler Bill Hicks, a major figure in the revival of old-time music in the last fifty years. We learn today that information is sought on his connections with old-time musicians on this side of the Atlantic - specifically in these islands, and even more particularly concerning musicians from Ireland.

The FOAOTMAD news blog carries a letter of today's date from Lew Stern in Virginia, banjo player, banjo teacher, and author of the admirable 2016 biography of Dwight Diller, who had told him, 'if any one of those North Carolinian musicians deserved a book, it was Bill Hicks.' The whole letter is well worth reading, but note this part:

One thing that I've not been able to discern is whether Bill's fiddling had an audience with Friends of American Old Time Music and Dance.

Bill traveled to Europe several times with the Red Clay Ramblers in U.S. State Department organized tours. He reached out and built friendships with Irish musicians who found their way to Chapel Hill. For example, the Red Clay Ramblers had a musical link with Trionna N'Domnhil
[sic; i.e. Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill], an Irish musician who lived in Chapel Hill for a good part of the 1980s and fronted a band called Touchstone, along with Zan McLeod. Her late brother played professionally with John Burke.

I'd like to ask FOAOTMAD friends whether Bill Hicks ever achieved traction on your side of the world, whether old time - or new time - musicians in the UK listened to Fuzzy Mountain recordings, or followed the music of the Red Clay Ramblers, and whether Bill's fiddling did anything for old time musicians or old time music fans in your universe.

Having played old-time music in Ireland since the 1970s, the BIB editor can certainly confirm that the Fuzzy Mountain String Band's recordings on Rounder were extremely influential; the Sackville String Band might not have been founded without their impetus. Anyone who can help with Lew Stern's questions should contact him by e-mail.

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At 9:36 pm, Blogger Lew said...

Mr. Hawkins, many thanks for posting this, and for your own very helpful recollections of Bill playing on your side of the Atlantic. I'd be grateful for anything people might be prepared to push this way. V/R, Lew Stern


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