By Debbie K. Marshall © 1985
Issue: August, 1985
It was my pleasure this month to interview 65 year old Ivery Kimble and her 73 year old brother, Doris Kimble at Ivery's home in Laurel Fork, Virginia. Both were born, raised and still live within one mile of their old homeplace.
Ivery and Doris are two of the four children of the late Taylor Kimble, a well known old-time fiddler from this area. Sometime after the death of his first wife Jumillie Light Kimble, Taylor married Stella Wagoner Holiday, a banjo player and native of Sparta, North Carolina. Both were in their mid 70's when they married, and a record album of their music was produced just a few months later, with four more to come.
Some of their albums are still available for sale, so if you're a true lover of old-time music, I think it would be worth your while to obtain them for your collection. Ivery's guitar playing is featured on all these albums and Doris' autoharp playing is on one.
Two albums that may be ordered from Ivery J. Kimble, Rt. 1, Box 19, Laurel Fork, VA 24352 are: Mountain Music - by the Kimbles of Laurel Fork, VA. 4174B Sontec. $6.00. And 8 Miles Apart - Heritage Records. Featuring the Kimble and Shelor Families. $7.00.
It is unfortunate that both Taylor and Stella have passed on, but I believe their music will live in the hearts of many for years to come. It is certainly very much alive in Ivery and Doris Kimble. I hope you enjoy getting to know them through this interview.
What instruments do both of you play and how old were you when you started playing?
Ivery - "I started out on the autoharp when I was something like 8 years old. We always had a 'harp and a guitar and fiddle in the family. My dad and brothers played so I would watch them. I took a big interest in the autoharp to start with and I got to where I could play a few tunes right good on it. I started playing the guitar a couple o' years later when I was maybe 10."
Doris - "I guess I was between 7 or 8 years old when I started playing the 'harp. That's my main instrument, but I have played the guitar and banjo some. I used to saw on the fiddle a little bit, but I never did really claim to be a fiddle player. We had a mandolin, but we didn't seem to take to it. Dad bought us a mandolin hoping some of us would play it. He liked a mandolin, but we didn't and after a few years, he sold it and got rid of it. But the 'harp has been with me since I'ze 7 or 8 years old and I still play it. I thought maybe if I lived to be a hundred I might be a professional 'harp player."
Do you remember the first instruments you learned to play on?
Doris - "An 8-Bar (chord) autoharp. Then I played on a 5- Bar after that awhile. After a couple of years, I got hold of a 12-Bar and I fell in love with it. I've played on 15 and 21-Bar ones, but I prefer a 12-Bar 'harp."
Ivery - "Well, the guitar I learned on, I believe it was an old Sears one. It was kindly beat up and it had been dropped and glued together. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was a great novelty to me", she laughs. Could you tell a little about how you learned to play?
Doris - "Well, the first tunes I played were very simple. The best that I can remember, the first tune I learnt to play was 'Whoa Mule', and then I picked up another tune called 'Molly Hare'. It was really a simpler tune than 'Whoa Mule'. I played them awhile til I thought I was getting pretty good and then I went venturing into some of the other tunes that played on 2 chords. Then I got to playing some blues that played in, I believe, 3 chords. I like blues, but I never learnt to play too many. My daddy, he did most of the selecting of tunes and he said that ever tune had a particular chord to be played in and it wasn't right unless it was played there. He was very particular about it. He done more tuning than he did playing because when somebody would mention a tune they'd like to hear played, he'd start tuning his fiddle. He'd say, 'Now that has to be played in a dif'rent key from what we'ze ordinarily playing in.' I never was that good, I never studied music to that extent. [Doris plays by ear.] But I learned from him that it did sound better played in the proper chord that it was designed to be played in.
Another thing, we bought all the records we could get a hold of by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers in the 20's and 30's. We had a Victrola that had a speed adjustment on it. We put them records on and tuned our instruments to them records and we could play right along with 'em. Therefore, we learnt a lot of good timing because I think they had the best timing of anybody that ever played in these Blue Ridge mountains. They put great emphasis on timing. After all, music is time and tone. If you don't have time and tone, you haven't got any order and it don't amount to much. When we got a new record of theirs, we'd come home and sit right down and put it on that gramophone and sit there maybe all night or the biggest part of 2 or 3 nights til we learnt the tunes and the timing. That's all the schooling we ever had as far as making music is concerned, just what we learnt from Charlie Poole."
Ivery - "I remember when my brothers would get to playing, I wanted to see their hands, but I wanted to see it from the backside, you know? I couldn't tell by looking at the front. So I'd hang over their shoulder so I could see where they was putting their fingers on the guitar. They'd get real aggravated at me. They'd get mad and push me away or run me off, but I was trying to see where they put their fingers and I'd get behind them and watch and learn chords that way. The first song I learned on the autoharp was "Ole 97" and that's always been a great favorite of mine. Once I ordered a French Harp. I wasn't very old and I had never tried to play one before. I got it out of the mailbox and I was real excited about getting it and I tore into the package, got out that French Harp and I come down the driveway a-blowing that "Ole 97" for the first time! I always like the Carter Family and I'd do some picking on the guitar like they did and I'd try to copy them."
Were your other brother and sister musical too?
Ivery - "Yes, my brother Marvin was a guitar player and my sister Hazel was a piano player. She was good too. She could play about anything, but when we was going to grade school, she played the fiddle all the time. We had a girl's string band in grade school. There was a neighbor girl who played the banjo and her sister played the guitar, so we organized a girls band and we had a lot of fun. We would play for the draftees during World War II. They'd always take the draftees to Hillsville and they'd spend the night up there and they thought they had to have some kind of entertainment. So, we'd get on a squeaky old school bus, one that was just about to fall to pieces and they'd take us to Hillsville to play at the courthouse. We'd have a right good time doing that."
Tell me about the dances where you used to play.
Doris - "They was in community homes. I guess we've been in ever home for no-telling how many miles square here in this country more than once. Most everybody had a dance during Christmas holidays. Back when I was, say 16 to 25 years old, we'd have our holiday music and there would be usually 2 or 3 weddings during that time. We'd be invited from one dance to another house having a dance the next night. We'd usually have from 1 to 3 week sessions of frolics, dancing and music. We'd do that ever night of the week 'cept Sunday. We usually exempted Sunday night 'cause we had to have one night to catch up on our courting. We'd play at corn shuckings, wood gittings..what they called a working. Now some people liked that, but we [the Kimbles] never had a working and a frolic [at our house]. It didn't appeal to us for some reason, but some of the generations that was older than my daddy, they did. They'd work all day and then they'd frolic til 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning - til the chickens crowed for day. Now that was a all day and all night affair."
Where do you enjoy playing music the most now?
Doris - "I think the best music you can have is to have it in your own community, in the homes of your friends. It just means more to you, it becomes a part of the community. But this professional playing, going out and playing for money, there's just something about it I don't enjoy."
Ivery - "Well, I'm gonna differ with him on it. To me, the bigger the crowd, the better I can play. I enjoy people and after you go to enough of the fiddler's conventions and meet different bands, that is just like a family, but you just got more of them, that's all. You've got a whole field of them instead of just a few! I like picking music at home to a certain extent, but I like bigger crowds. And the people, you meet so many people. You get a chance to see the ones you met the year before and all. It's just more exciting I think to be out there with the crowd."
What one person influenced your music more than any other?
Doris - "I guess it was my father."
Ivery - "I think so too. He could play about all instruments. He played the banjo when he was a boy so small that he couldn't hold it. They'd push two chairs up and put the head of the banjo on one and let him sit in the other and that's the way he played for dances. He was playing when he was 5. Once I heard him say that he was getting real good on the banjo and his brothers were working away in West Virginia or somewhere and when he was expecting them home, he crawled up in a tree and set up in that tree and played that banjo all day, waiting for them to come! He wanted to be playing when they got there.
What about singing?
Doris - "I ain't very much at singing. I always felt like theys a possibility of ruining good string music with bad singing and I was afraid I was a bad singer, so I sing very little."
Ivery - "My sister and me used to sing together. She'd play the piano and I'd play the guitar. I would sing the lead and she'd sing alto, and it went pretty good."
Some music memories:
Doris - "I can remember some of the first playing that we done. When some of the old-timers around the mountain would git down sick and they didn't think they was gonna make it through the winter, they'd want us to come and play them some music. Well, we'd arrange to go some night and play for 2 or 3 hours for them.”
And we learnt to play kindly soft, healing music, something that wouldn't be too rowdy. We'd change away from the frolicking hoe-down style to a little more of a sentimental type and maybe do some ballads. There might be somebody in the crowd to sing a little bit, but mostly it was just music. We'd sit around and play til it looked like they was spirited a little bit. It would lift them a little bit and then we'd go in the kitchen and drink coffee and have chicken and pie and cake til we had to go home. I don't know if it was worth anything to the sick or not, but we got a lot out of doing it.
And then too, we got to playing for dances. The dancers always had a favorite tune and they would tell us about how much pep they wanted in it. They said it had to be right - if it was too fast they couldn't dance it or if it was too slow, they couldn't. Directly we'd hit off on one that would be just what they wanted and you talk about feet a-flying. Now, they danced with their feet. They's not many people 'at dances with their feet nowadays, but back then they sure did."
Ivery - "This neighbor boy, he'd never played too much, but he loved music enough that he went to a strip pile, a sawmill place and he got him a strip and he cut it in 4 little pieces. It was square and he tacked them four pieces together. He pulled a paper flour bag over it for a head and he tacked him a neck on it and found an old screen door in a building and pulled wire out and used for strings on that thing. Had him a homemade banjo! It didn't have any sound, you can imagine about how it sounded. But he come and wanted to join our band, so we let him in on it. He played it and enjoyed it, but you couldn't hear it.
I don't class myself as a musician, but I like to hang in there and I enjoy what I do."
Doris - "I'm still a mountaineer and I love mountain music."