Hills & Heroes
Straight from North Carolina's high mountains, comes this great CD by one of the area's VERY BEST fiddlers, with musical snapshots of his many fiddling influences from all over the mountains and beyond - - a tribute to his musical heroes, if you please. SO, WHO IS ROGER HOWELL? - - - Being a fan of The Grand Old Opry and the Saturday afternoon TV shows of Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, The Wilburn Brothers, The Stoneman Family, and Porter Wagoner of the early 60's, Roger's uncanny fascination with early country, bluegrass and "old-time mountain" music began by teaching himself guitar at age 12, and learning clawhammer banjo from elderly neighbors only shortly thereafter. In his community of Banjo Branch, in rural Madison County, many homes had some form of string music for entertainment, and it became clear that this child prodigy would make music his life-long ambition. His sense of perfect pitch and ability to play anything with strings on it soon made Roger popular at local house parties, and led to his eventual fascination with what would later become his main instrument, the fiddle. Living through the "Folk Scare" of the '60's, and tuning into the "Woodstock" era for a time, he became well-known as a proficient guitarist, but eventually returned to his first love - - mountain music. He began to study the unique fiddle playing and repertoire of local fiddle legends Tommy Hunter, Byard Ray, and Woodrow Boone, while also perfecting his own frailing and two-fingered banjo styles. In the late 70's, Roger began performing at local events and regional festivals, turning heads with his stellar banjo and guitar work. WHAT ABOUT THE FIDDLE? - - For years, Roger was known mostly as a top-notch old-time banjo player, but all that changed in early 1990, with the help of his new friend Ernest Smith, son of legendary Grand Old Opry star "Fiddlin' Arthur Smith". Smith especially admired and encouraged Roger's fiddling by sharing his vast experience, knowledge and recorded library of material of his famous Dad, and of many other early Opry legends with whom he had worked over the years, while introducing Roger to some of his legendary musical friends, such as Benny Sims and John Hartford. After appearing on a 1991 recording by Smith & Sims entitled "Time Goes On", and a couple of banjo projects by Ivy Creek Recordings, Roger soon found his way to the professional stage by joining the great "Carroll Best String Band" as fiddler, and began to develop his own unique, fluid bow style. Then, in 1994, he produced his first commercial fiddle recording, "A Plain Tale Simply Told", along with two others featuring local fiddler Woodrow Boone, all to rave reviews. Since then, Roger has headed two of the region's top bands, the popular 'Carolina Old-Timers' and the "Bailey Mountain Ramblers", winning dozens of regional & state championships, and has become a very respected part of the Asheville area's music community. In 1999, he was awarded the prestigious Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award for his many contributions to the region's traditional music. A favorite at many festivals and on local radio, he's become a very sought-after session musician, appearing to date on over 35 recordings of various regional artists, as well as a few of his own, and his fiddle even appeared in the movie "Songcatcher" in 2000. A prolific writer and historian, Roger has published articles about the region's musical heritage, is active in promoting area music festivals, and has collected hundreds of rare fiddle tunes. These days, he's considered a Master fiddler, still performing regularly with many of the region's best artists. If that wasn't enough, Roger is also a well-known luthier, and when he's not performing you'll find him in his shop repairing and restoring old fiddles, which are known for their remarkable tone. (UPDATE: In late 2007, Roger completed his "Memory Collection" of over 350 fiddle tunes (13 cds), which have been donated to Mars Hill College's Lunsford Archives, as well as several other major universities in the US.) SO, WHAT WILL I HEAR ON "HILLS & HEROES"? - - Pure musical history! Tunes like "Chinky Pin", which came from his elderly banjo-picking neighbor Pearl Ball, (actually an old Robert Burns tune adapted to the fiddle), "Rambling Hobo", an early solo banjo piece from Doc Watson, and "Lady of the Lake", a rousing fiddle tune from the Crook Brothers of the early Grand Old Opry. There are several exciting banjo/fiddle duets with his Scruggs-style banjo friend Tom McKinney, including Charlie Acuff's "Two O'clock", Sam & Kirk McGee's "Lafayette", Fiddlin'Arthur Smith's popular "Blackberry Blossom", and the classic two-style banjo duet "Soldier's Joy". Roger's pristine guitar work is featured with Cathy Arrowood's fine bass on a moving version of John Hartford's "Presbyterian Guitar", alone worth the price of admission, as is the lovely Thomas Moore piece "The Minstrel Boy To War Has Gone", with Jim Taylor's exquisite hammered dulcimer work. Of course, there's plenty of old-time string band favorites, like "Jimmy in the Swamp" and Roger's trademark "New Five Cents", with banjo by old friend & Grammy-winner David Holt. You'll also hear sounds from Roger's earlier Carroll Best days, with the Danny Johnson String Band's luscious twin guitar harmonies on "Hog Trough Reel" and "Little Stream of Whiskey", and Roger's own Bailey Mountain Rambler's on "Flop-Eared Mule", the smokin' "Polecat Blues", and the French-Canadian favorite "St. Anne's Reel". Lap dulcimer master Don Pedi even makes an appearance on a couple of tunes, including the rare "Newport Breakdown". And, in a special moment, Roger's old pal Will Keys makes a rare appearance with his unique 5-string style on the banjo duet "Wreck of the Old '97", a poignant tribute to his late mentor and friend. There's even a lovely guitar version of A.P.Carter's "Diamonds in the Rough", with vocal by Carol Mallett, and Roger's soulful fiddle on probably THE most requested and beautiful version of "Amazing Grace" that you'll ever hear - - period! Add the wonderful bass accompaniment of talented friends Cathy Arrowood & Frank Pomeroy, and solid guitar backup of Leonard Hollifield - - along with informative liner notes & photos - - and you'll end up with a very personal 57-minute trip back to the mountains, through the eyes of a remarkable musician. WHY SHOULD I BUY THIS CD? - - Really now - - - WHY NOT? Need more convincing? - - READ THE REVIEWS & LISTEN TO THE SOUND CLIPS!! If you're a fan of GREAT traditional string music featuring some mighty fine fiddling, shining guitar and banjo pickin', then you'll simply LOVE this recording! BUY IT! - - and find out why Roger Howell has been called "The Best-Kept Secret in the Mountains". You simply can't go wrong! " - - - Roger Howell has an ear for a great melody, and a sense of rhythm that is irresistible. You can hear his Blue Ridge Mountain roots echo through everything he plays!' - - - David Holt.