Mountain State Fiddler
West Virginia has produced a number of noted traditional fiddlers ranging from such legendary figures as Blind Ed Haley and Clark Kessinger to the performer on this disc, Glen Smith. Although born in Carroll County, Virginia, Glen spent nearly half his life in West Virginia, mainly in Wirt County. For more than thirty years, that county was known in the world of traditional music as the home of Glen Smith, champion fiddler.
Glen Smith was born in Woodlawn, Virginia, on April 11, 1923. Woodlawn is only a few miles from Galax, the town that ultimately gained fame as the old-time music capital of the world. Glen grew up in a rich musical environment where his father Creed Smith and grandfather Mal Smith both played the old-time banjo. Glen started to play fiddle when he was about fifteen, and the first tune he mastered was “You Are My Sunshine,” a big country hit at the time. In about 1942, he played his first of many square dances. In the later 1940s, he worked with string bands at such radio stations as WBOB in Galax and WKBC in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. In 1954, Glen moved to Ohio, where he worked for several years painting school buses. In 1964, the timber business brought him to West Virginia, first to Grantsville and then to Elizabeth.
After settling in West Virginia, Smith organized a band he called the Mountain State Pickers. This group initially included his son Delano Smith on guitar, Kenny Kendall from Grantsville on bass, Hal Cotrell from Elizabeth on mandolin, and Mike Wade from Parkersburg on banjo. During a thirty-seven year residence in the Mountain State, Glen performed often with this group, as well as with various other noted West Virginia musicians. He also competed in many fiddlers’ contests, where he won numerous prizes. Glen Smith died on April 5, 2001, a week before his seventy-eighth birthday.
Glen Smith recorded two albums with the Mountain State Pickers, one for Kanawha Records and a second on the Blue Tick label. Glen also recorded an album in 1989 for the Augusta Heritage series with Dwight Diller on banjo and Gerald Milnes on guitar.
The album he recorded for Kanawha is reproduced here. In addition to Glen on fiddle, the musicians include Delano Smith on guitar, Kenny Kendall on bass, Dave Douglas on banjo, and John C. Martin on harmonica. With the possible exception of “Crazy Creek,” the tunes on this disc are all well established in tradition. They demonstrate the prowess of a traditional Appalachian fiddler in his musical prime. These tunes also pay tribute to a man who once summed up his life and legacy with the light-hearted comment, “I started out to be a millionaire, but I found out fiddling was . . . a lot more fun.”
Ivan M. Tribe
University of Rio Grande
The life and career of Glen Smith is more fully explored
in Jacqueline G. Goodwin, “I’ve Always Loved Music: Champion Fiddler Glen Smith,” Goldenseal: West Virginia Traditional Life, 16:2, summer 1990, pp. 18–22.
I also wish to acknowledge the aid of John Lilly
in the preparation of these notes.
Bee Balm 310