Emmett W Lundy
Grayson County, SW Virginia
Emmett Lundy was born in Grayson County, Virginia on May 9, 1864, one of nine children of Churchwell and Caroline Ward Lundy. From family records, we know that the Lundys emigrated from England in 1687, settling first on Pennsylvania lands purchased from William Penn. Emmett’s great-grandfather John Lundy moved to Grayson County around 1787 and acquired the land the family still holds near Dalhart, just south of the present town of Galax.
During Emmett’s early years, the Virginia mountain area around his home was largely an agrarian, traditionally integrated frontier society. As a young man, Emmett became absorbed in the music which he heard around the community at dances, log rollings, pumpkin peelings and other excuses for having a little fiddle music. Evidently there may have been fiddlers in the Lundy family, but no one knows for sure. It’s not really important to this story, for young Emmett’s main musical influence came from outside his home. In his late teens, Lundy started the fiddle (the main instrument found here at this time), and immediately took up with an older fiddler named Green (for Greenberry) Leonard.
Green Leonard lived in Old Town, just a few miles north of the Lundy home place. Leonard was a pretty old man when Lundy met him, probably born in the early decades of the 19th century, though the exact date and place are unknown (to me). It is a fact, however, that he secured a Grayson County marriage license in 1833 and from all accounts thereafter was a lifetime resident of the county. Leonard must have been an extraordinary fiddler, for most older Grayson County fiddlers, even today, acknowledge him as the “best there was”. The legend might endure more strongly than actual fact, but it’s compliment enough that his memory remains alive some hundred years after his death. According to Lundy, Leonard was about “65 to 80” during the time he knew him, a period roughly datable to the 1880s and ’90s. These could be assumed to be Lundy’s learning years, though it appears from the interview (“Talking About Green Leonard”, track A2 on the String 802 LP), that Lundy had to work awfully hard for his “lessons”, and only by constantly hanging around could he actually “catch” many of Leonard’s fiddle tunes. It’s a safe guess that most of [the pieces presented on the String 802 LP] were learned directly from Green Leonard’s playing, for neither Lundy nor his family mentions other specific sources. So though these tunes come from a rather late recording date, [Alan Lomax recorded Lundy in August of 1941 for the Archive of Folk Song, Library of Congress], they appear as the earliest recorded documentation of fiddling in the area – fiddling traceable through Lundy’s association with Green Leonard back to the early 1800s.
Though an excellent musician, Lundy never attempted to make a living with his fiddling. His music was an amusement. He invariably played the fiddle at night following supper, carrying on this practice even when he was very old. Lundy was primarily a farmer, but helped support his large family of 14 by blacksmithing, repairing watches and pulling teeth. A member of the Primitive Baptist church (a denomination which frowns upon the use of instruments), Emmett refused to believe that there was harm in his fiddling. Although some say that he himself never played for a dance, his music was in fact heard at various community events such as celebrations, school breakings, work gathering and fiddlers’ contests. He is reputed to have won, some time in the early ’20s, the first $10 gold piece ever presented at a Galax fiddlers’ convention. We shouldn’t think that old-time music was only played at social gatherings, for then, as now, musicians got together just to play some and perhaps to swap a few tunes. Though Emmett’s music was individual in nature (he never regularly performed with a band), he played often with many of the musicians around his home. Isom and Fielden Rector, two old fiddlers who lived close by and are remembered as being among the best, were close friends and musical cronies. Lundy also played with Crockett Ward of the Bogtrotters Band. These sessions are described by Fields Ward as sometimes lasting more than a day or two at a time. Eck Dunford, musically associated with both the Bogtrotters and Ernest Stoneman, often came to Lundy’s for a tune or two. Dunford is said to have been one of the first people around who became proficient on the guitar, an instrument he often used in backing up Lundy’s fiddle tunes.
Lundy’s one commercial venture involved perhaps the most well-known Grayson County musician, Ernest V. Stoneman. Stoneman chose Lundy to travel with him to New York for the Okeh session of May 1925. Kelly Lundy remembers that the Lundy household was pretty excited about Emmett’s trip and his opportunity to make phonograph records. On May 27, Stoneman and Lundy recorded two harmonica-fiddle duets: “Piney Woods Gal” and “The Long Eared Mule”, issued as Okeh 40405. It seems doubtful, according to Lundy family members and other folks who are acquainted with the music of the time, that Lundy ever played regularly with Stoneman. Stoneman was, of course, much younger, and the two men differed considerably in their musical preferences. Stoneman probably picked Lundy for the session because of his reputation as a fiddler. These two Okeh sides are Lundy’s only contribution to hillbilly recording. When the discs were released, Lundy didn’t care much for their sound (he felt the fiddle couldn’t be heard well enough), and declined to pursue his recording career any further.
Thus, for the study of American fiddling, the interest which the Library of Congress exhibited in fiddle recording in the 1930s and ’40s is extremely important. Although the commercial companies were the undisputed leaders in placing American folk music on disc, by their accidental nature of discovery, these recordings were necessarily unsystematic, uneven, and entirely lacking in even the most basic documentation. One of two records tell us little about the tastes and influences which shape a musicians’ performance. In Stoneman’s case, he recorded so many tunes that it’s possible to discern the forces at work upon his music, and a casual glance at his recorded repertory reveals his fascination with the popular and commercial aspects of his music. For musicians who recorded only a few pieces, the task is much harder. Without these later Library of Congress field recordings, it would be difficult to even speculate about the nature of Lundy’s music. In the light of the later documentation, the picture becomes clearer.
Looking at the total list of tunes Lundy played, we aren’t in much doubt about the kind of fiddler he was. At the time of the 1925 recordings with Stoneman, Lundy was 61 years old and firmly established in the older Grayson County fiddle tradition which he inherited from Green Leonard…
…From the tune list and by talking with many people who knew him, we know that his music changed little during his lifetime. He viewed his fiddling much the same in 1925 or 1941 as he did in the early days when he was learning. He either chose not, or was unable, to alter the music which was familiar to him. It seems probable that Lundy’s music was in a sense incompatible with that of young men like Ernest Stoneman, men who were heading in new and somewhat radical musical directions. It would be left for Kahle Brewer, a younger, more adaptable fiddler to accompany Stoneman on his many later recordings. This is not to say that what Stoneman was doing was inferior; Lundy’s music was just different. They were men of different historical eras…
…Lundy’s music reflects something of both the older fiddle tradition and the newer ensemble idea. His music parallels the growth of the ensemble, yet he was too much involved in the older style to conform fully to the new. In this way, through his music, a pattern of development and change may be seen.
The most important aspect of a fiddler’s technique is his bowing. As many a fiddler will remark, bowing distinguished individual style. Lundy’s fiddling cannot simply be categorized as “short” or “long” bow fiddling. Like all master fiddlers, he consistently employs both techniques to ultimate advantage – emphasizing the rhythm with syncopated short bows while gliding over difficult musical flourishes with a long bow. His style is tied to his repertory and clearly is indicative of the older Grayson County fiddle tradition. Like his tunes, Lundy’s stylistic patterns also fail to show up strongly in the following generation – those fiddlers who were learning their music in the first decades of the 20th century. The introduction to the banjo probably influenced bowing to the same extent it did repertory. As the tunes were melodically flattened out, the need for complex bowing was superfluous.
A few other aspects of technique need to be mentioned in passing. Lundy held the fiddle under his chin, grasped the bow near the end or frog, and used all four fingers of the left hand in noting (as opposed to what he pejoratively referred two as “three-fingered fiddling”). He also employed triplets, either noted with the left hand or effected by a rapid jiggling of the bow…He tuned his fiddle throughout in the classical manner, G-D-A-E , except for “Bonaparte’s Retreat”. Lundy maintains that Green Leonard also never retuned the fiddle. The use of many fiddle tunings, Lundy felt, was essentially “cheating”.
Biography (with minor editing) taken from the liner notes of the LP “Emmett W. Lundy, Fiddle Tunes from Grayson County”, produced by Tom Carter and Tony Russell.
When the Lomaxes recorded Lundy, sons Kelly J. Lundy and Geedy Lundy provided accompaniment on guitar and banjo respectively. These recordings were reissued by the String label as Fiddle Tunes From Grayson County, Virginia, featuring almost two dozen samples from the historic Lundy repertoire. The fiddler continued passing this material along to many other younger players who studied with him, including Charlie Higgins.
These recordings of legendary old-time fiddler Emmett Lundy were made for The Library of Congress By Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in 1941. Lundy was a venerated fiddler in Grayson County, a region that gave us so many fine musicians (Ernest Stoneman, the Ward family…) and his playing represent an old fiddling tradition of this area.