McClurg Jam

McClurg Jam

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ripley County Missouri Fiddlers, Father and Son

I lived in Ripley County Missouri back in the mid 70's and while it was only about three years, it still seems like home for me. My children still live nearby. The place seems to have a pull on me. Ripley County is a Ozark foothills area. A small part extends into the Mississippi delta. This finds a blend of the Ozark and Delta culture with the Ozark dominating. Compared to other Ozark areas, Ripley County is a bit less than spectacular with the exception of the Current River valley that cuts through it. Most of the land is rolling with few large promintories of note. I have been keeping my eye out for information on Old Time musicians from that area with a special interest in historical figures of local note. I have not been all that successful. The one exception was finding a picture and some brief information on James Franklin Sloan.(1881-1944) The other was the young man on my title box. One of the fun things that happens with doing this blog is hearing from the family members of some of the old time fiddlers I have commented on. I have heard from the Lonnie Robertson family,the Walters Family and a couple others as well. A about a week or so ago I was contacted by a granddaughter of James Franklin Sloan who has been kind enough to provide yet more information on him. I posted a bit on him previously in January of 2011. This all gets even more interesting when we see that James Sloan had a son,Lee who suceeded him with the fiddle and carried on his legacy. Here is a link to an article about him. Lee Sloan Here is a youtube of Lee with one of his fiddle students that he is backing up on guitar. I would suspect Lee picked this tune up from his Father. The teacher did well because this young lady does a fine job here I noticed what I think is a french canadian influence in this students style and I think you see it here particularly well. I would not call this missouri fiddling. I look forward to hearing Lee's fiddling to see if he retained (if he had it) the Missouri style. Or was he more in line with Tennessee? As for James Sloan, it seems he was a Barber and lived out his life at Oxly Mo. just a bit east of Doniphan and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetary with his wife. Below is a family photo taken at the family place in the thirties.
Here is another photo of James as a boy.
No recordings exist from James Sloan. He lived well before the days when folks had access to that kind of equipment to record a rural barber who played the fiddle for local folks. No youtube then. Lee Sloan however did and there are recordings that are being digitized which I hope to post here at some point. Below is a biography the family sent me. "Ernel Lee Sloan (1916 – 2010): Fiddling in His Father’s Footsteps The late Lee Sloan was considered “one of the best damn fiddlers” in Michigan Ernel Lee Sloan, commonly known as Lee, was born in 1916 in Milan, Tennessee and grew up in Southeastern Missouri.. He was the fifth child of James Franklin and Bela Sloan’s six sons and one daughter. Of Scots-Irish descent, Lee’s family was steeped in Old Time fiddle tradition. Every family member played one or more instruments. Lee readily picked up banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and mastered what he admired most - his father’s specialty, the fiddle. He and a few of his musician siblings went on to play professionally as adults. When Lee migrated to Michigan after WWII, he took with him his fiddles and guitars and maintained the Sloan fiddling tradition. After retirement, he settled in Traverse City, Mich. where he actively participated in the Original Michigan Fiddler’s Association (OMFA), established in 1986. He became well known throughout the state for his fiddling and playing rhythm guitar at hoe-downs, jamborees, square dances and other occasions. Lee spoke often of the strong influence his father had on his fiddling style and repertoire. “My dad was the best fiddler I have ever heard,” he states in his biography for the 1986 OMFA membership directory. “If I ever sneaked his fiddle, he always seemed to know even when I was very careful to return it exactly as I found it. I still have my dad’s fiddle.” In his early 90’s, his shoulder joints hindered his ability to hold the fiddle, so he began tutoring in his Old Time style, imparting the widely recognized jigs and country ballads learned from his father. Luckily, Lee played into the digital age so that some sessions featuring him accompanying his students on guitar exist on video. One dedicated student, a local Ojibwe woman, faithfully captured the fiddle just as Lee taught her. They appeared together in duets at hoe-downs, jamborees, powwows and local radio programs, this time with his student fiddling faithfully as he taught as he played guitar. At his life’s end in September 2010 at age 94, he left behind a noteworthy legacy of the Old Time fiddle and a widespread dedicated following. The family has preserved numerous recordings of Lee Sloan’s distinctive fiddling for aficionados and learners to enjoy into perpetuity and hope to make them available soon." As they mentioned, the family still has Lee's fiddle and the still have James Franklin Sloans fiddle. I will try to get some pictures of them if possible. One source says he made one of his fiddles and the other came from Mississippi. It seems the Sloan family was a musical family. There were others that played too and I may mention them later. For my final comment, take note the common movement patterns of people.North Carolina to Tennessee to Missouri to Michigan. (long term family history pattern) The music moved this way too. Lee Sloan is a great example of the cross fertilization of the old fiddle music as it moved across the land. However, I would just bet Ripley County did not ever leave Lee's musical heart. I understand there are remaining members of the Sloan family in the Ripley county area and are in fact meeting this weekend to renew those family ties. Let me just say, Howdy ya'll! Much thanks to Pamela Sloane (she spells it different) for much of the information provided here. Thanks for contacting me!

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