Appalachia Music

How ‘Fiddler of the Mountains’ Johnny Mull’s Life Story & Some of His Music Were Preserved

Today’s guestpost was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Fiddler of the Mountains’ Johnny Mull

A Story about ‘Fiddler of the Mountains’ Johnny Mull
and How Both His Life Story and Some of His Music Were Preserved

by Ethelene Dyer Jones

First, know that Johnny Mull, born and reared in the Tusquittee Mountain area of North Carolina, known as “Fiddler of the Mountains,” learned to play fiddle when quite young on a homemade instrument fashioned of an old cigar box with strings drawn tautly to produce music when plucked in a certain way.

Johnny Mull, born May 30, 1922, grew up in a music-loving family, which set him in line to follow his father, Calvin Monroe Mull, and other relatives playing banjo, guitar and fiddle. He heard the music from the time he was born. You could say he was born and raised on mountain music. It flowed through him, his mind and his fingers, like water ripples over rocks in a melodious mountain stream.

Eva Nell Mull Wike with Johnny Carter

 

Author Eva Nell Mull Wike with Johnny Carter, sound engineer, of Rome, GA, who restored the old Johnny Mull acetate records onto disks.

Johnny Mull’s niece, Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike, now of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, but like her uncle Johnny, reared in Clay County in the shadow of the Tusquittee Mountains, wrote the story of her Uncle Johnny. The biography entitled “”Fiddler of the Mountains” was published in September, 2013. But the book is only part of the story. Author Wike discovered that Johnny Mull’s landlady at a time when he worked in Canton, Ohio in the 1950’s had some old home recordings of “Johnny and Friends.” She just might be able to get the recordings together and send them to Dr. Wike. And this is the story of how, more than sixty years later, the recordings were found and restored.

Much credit is due to Mrs. Myrtle Vaughan Steiner (04-23-1922 – 09-04-2013) of Canton, Ohio, her husband, Art, who played there with Johnny Mull and other of Johnny’s friends, also working in Canton, in their off-hours from the Timken Roller-Bearing Company. Mrs. Steiner recorded the group’s music on a home recording device. Dr. Mull received the records from Mrs. Steiner’s daughter, Karen, after Mrs. Steiner’s death in September, and proceeded to get the music restored on disks. Who would believe that some old scratchy recordings more than sixty years old could be restored?

She turned to the knowledgeable sound engineer, Johnny Carter, whose National Recording Corporation Studio is located in Rome, Georgia. He has the technical knowledge as well as the musical expertise to transform old recordings to modern-day disks.

This Johnny, like Johnny Mull of Tusquittee, was “brought up” on music. Some of Johnny Carter’s fondest and earliest memories are of going with his grandfather,the late Mr. Frank Dyer of Blairsville, to shaped-note singing conventions. He also went with his grandfather to churches where he taught “singing schools” using the shaped-note method of learning music.

Johnny Carter gives this account of restoring the “Johnny Mull and Friends” old records: “The recordings of Johnny Mull’s music were early 1950’s direct-cut acetates, recorded at different speeds—33 1/3, 45, and 78 revolutions per minute. Sears Roebuck originally sold the home recorders that cut grooves into blank acetate. These were aluminum discs coated with acetate plastic. At that time, there were no tapes being used generally by the public. Most radio studios didn’t have or make tapes then. People today are used to everything being digital, but the acetate discs on which the Johnny Mull music was recorded represented analog technology going back to the 1920’s. It is rare, indeed, that these old recordings even existed, as acetates were limited to the number of times they could be played. Hearing Johnny Mull’s music preserved now, in digital form, is like going back in ‘sound’ in a time machine.”

Fiddler of The Mountains. Johnny Mull, about 1952

 

 

Fiddler of The Mountains.  Johnny Mull,  about 1952 when he played with a group after his work at the Timkin Roller Bearing Company in Canton, Ohio.

Thanks to the late Mrs. Myrtle Steiner who thought “the boys” were worthy of recording and faithfully cut records on her Sears and Roebuck home recorder, to Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike who persisted both in writing the story and in getting the recordings for restoration, and to Johnny Carter whose expertise made the music into disks, we can now hear and read about Johnny Mull, Fiddler of the Mountains.

The author, Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike, will appear at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC on April 17, 2014, at 7:00 p. m.. She will also be at the Dahlonega, Georgia “Bear on the Square Festival” on April 26-27, 2014. At both events, she will talk about this noted “Fiddler of the Mountains” of yesteryear. Her book is listed on Amazon and other online sellers. She is also available for speaking engagements to organizations.

Whether or not you are a fan of mountain and country music, the tradition is a well-known part of our heritage. Dr. Wike’s efforts in saving both the fiddler’s story and his music are commendable, and her enthusiasm and determination make us the richer for knowing about people like Johnny Mull whose “fingers did the talking” on his faithful fiddle.

——————-

I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s guestpost-and I hope you’ll go see Eva Nell Thursday night at the folk school if you can!

Tipper

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 16, 2014 at 7:24 am

    Tipper,
    I am just reading yesterdays post. Today is Wednesday…I had to be away yesterday when the story by Ethelene was posted. She sure can tell the story can’t she!
    I just bet’cha she could even pen a poem about Johnny Mull, Fiddler of the Mountains! Then of course, the poem could be set to music and we would have a mountain ballad to go with the book as well as the CD’s…I digress, sometimes my mind sets its ownself in motion!
    Isn’t it strange though, how things just seem to fall into place. Seems like just yesterday I was reading about Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike starting her book and research about her Uncle Mull. A great story of folks of the mountains and one of it’s great fiddlers!
    I wonder was Johnny Mull married and did he have children…hummmm, guess I’ll have to read his life story…
    Thanks Tipper and all

    • Reply
      Don Byers
      February 17, 2018 at 8:48 am

      I wrote one of the liner notes, I believe it was used. “Johnny Mull played fiddle, played it for the smiles”. And he did.

  • Reply
    RB
    April 16, 2014 at 2:08 am

    Dahlonega, GA – now there’s a town I haven’t heard of for a while, though I once spent many weekends there years ago when I lived just north of Atlanta in Woodstock. We use to love to go to the Smith House where we ate wonderful food, served family-style at long tables heavy-laden with various dishes which we shared with strangers. We even in stayed in their hotel rooms a time or two. How we loved that place!!!
    Ever been there?
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 15, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for all who read the post today and commented. I can’t tell you Johnny Mull’s relationship (if any) to the Mull Singing Convention initiators and the Rev. J. Bazil Mull. How well I remember hearing them on radio! Maybe Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike can tell us if there is a family connection to them. Some of the disks of Johnny’s music are available with the books–and copies are available from Johnny Carter’s studios in Rome, GA. Thanks for your visits to Blind Pig! Thanks, Tipper, for making it possible!

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    April 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I would love to hear the recordings. What a treasure. If they were like my people they were “up north” working. I am sure the music made them less homesick.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Tipper,
    And Ethelene,
    Thanks for the history of someone from
    our Neck of the Woods, and the nice
    lookin’ Author who wrote about her
    Uncle Johnny.
    There’s a lot to be said about the
    older folks who once lived in our
    Mountains, and I remember some of them.
    When I was just a young boy, I can
    recall listening to The Mull Singing
    Convention as the radio faded in and
    out. J. Basil played lots of the Chuck Wagon Gang’s songs…Ken

  • Reply
    Sherry
    April 15, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Wonderful post! I remember the Mull Singing Convention when I was a kid. Charline asked and I will add my question also. Any relation to those folks? Also, I am so happy to get the name of the man who made the discs. I want to get some songs our Dad had recorded from an old record like that!

  • Reply
    Tamela
    April 15, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Wouldn’t it be cool if a cd of Johnny Mull’s group’s recordings was sold along with Eva Nell’s book?

  • Reply
    Charline
    April 15, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Mike, would that be the “Mull Singing Convention” on a local Knoxville channel? I remember that.

  • Reply
    Charline
    April 15, 2014 at 9:48 am

    What a wonderful story and review!

  • Reply
    dolores
    April 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

    That was very interesting. So much happened in the mountains many years ago and it is so great that you curious people research it and make it a part of mountain history. My hat’s off to you!

  • Reply
    Shirla
    April 15, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Eva, that’s a story worth telling. It’s amazing how you located the recordings after all those years. What is even more amazing is how Mr. Carter used today’s technology to preserve them in digital form.

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    April 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

    i enjoyed this stoty. He was probably a lot like us except we have advanced and probably much more expensive equipment.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike
    April 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Well, Ms. Tipper, you have made my day! In fact you have made the sun shine on this rainy day in Tennessee.
    Kindest regards,
    Eva Nell, AUTHOR OF “FIDDLER OF THE MOUNTAINS”

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 15, 2014 at 8:14 am

    When I was a kid in East Tennessee in the 50s and 60s, there was a local TV evangelist named J. Bazel Mull. I wonder if there was an relation between him and Johnny…

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 15, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Wow, that’s quite a story. Will those restored recordings be available?
    Thanks to Eva Nell, Ethelene, and Johnny Carter for their parts in preserving this music and story for the world!

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