musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Effie Pierson -- 5. "A Gracious and Charming Lady"

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Her daughters grew up, left Owsley County. Effie continued to play the fiddle, to plant a garden each year.

John Harrod, a fiddler and inquiring mind who had been visiting and recording many Kentucky fiddlers, visited Effie Pierson in the early 1980s.

Two musicians, from Booneville, Kentucky, Hargis Goodman and his son Donald, took him out to meet her. “I was just trailing all through the mountains, looking for people… they told me about Effie Pierson, so I went out to her,” John said.
 
They arrived at her house, down a dirt road off little Highway 30, a hilly area but with good land between the mountains for ploughing and planting. Her husband, Ed, was working his bees when John arrived. “He was out there… up in his 80s, there he was, out there with nothing on but a pair of cut-off jeans, no shirt, no socks, no bee hat or mask or anything, working his bees. Most amazing thing I ever saw, them flying around him, one of them would land on him, but they didn’t sting him.”
 
Effie, John remembered, “was a gracious and charming lady. We sat around and played music all afternoon. She told me about her daughters and about playing with Asa Martin. She played some great tunes. She got cross-tuned, and played Little Boy Working on the Road, and then another one that she played, that seemed every fiddler I ever met from Clay County played Hog Skin in C, she knew that one. She was real good on the fiddle and the banjo, and she was… she was very beautiful. She was an old woman [but] she had a very beautiful face and striking features. I always wanted to see a picture of her when she was young.”
 
“She was very gracious,” he remembered. “Maybe a little modest about her own abilities… she played a lot in her day, you could tell. She was maybe a little rusty on the fiddle, but not much. Her banjo lick was just… really solid. I guess she was kind of like Lella Todd, she was just—everybody in that little community knew her, and people who played music all knew her, but she wasn’t playing out…”
 
A recording of that visit is housed at the Berea College Hutchins Library Special Collections, as well as online. It’s the only recording of Effie’s fiddling; WLAP never seemed to record their shows.
 
That visit is a recording of a woman slightly rusty on the instrument, stopping when she stumbles on notes—“I’m making a mess out of it,” she says at one point. But, still, she plays with such vigor—  “frolicking tunes,” in her words, and you can hear the tapping of her foot. She plays a smooth two-finger banjo, as well as an overhand style (often called clawhammer). “I like the banjo best, you know, by myself,” she said of playing the instrument. Her fiddling is steady and clearly developed from years playing dances.
 
Effie played fiddle to the end; “she could still play just before she passed away. If anyone wanted to hear it, she’d get it out and play.” She played the old tunes, even as the music faded from the hands of most of the people around her. “She stuck to what she knew,” Pauline said.
 
She passed away in 1981. Her husband, Ed, lived for another 20 years, still whittling, and passed away just shy of his 100th birthday.