Published April 13, 2020

mooreA masterful songster recorded by two folklorists, fifty years apart.

When the late folklorist Alan Lomax set out on his now infamous “Southern Journey” in 1959, he stopped in Chilhowie, Virginia to record a tobacco farmer named Spencer Moore.   Spencer was quite well known locally for his weekly appearances on the “Farm Fun Time” radio program out of Bristol, and for his spirited singing and guitar playing.  Spencer enthralled Lomax with his playing, and with the sheer breadth of his repertoire.  Spencer still lives in Chilhowie, and while he no longer farms tobacco, he plays regularly at weekly jams and dances throughout the region. No one can say for sure how many songs Spencer Moore knows, but suffice it to say that it is well into the thousands.

One of my greatest thrills as a folklorist was pulling up to Spencer’s house some fifty years after he was visited by Lomax. I recorded Spencer playing numerous songs from his vast repertoire, including Lomax’s favorite “Old Jimmy Sutton.”

In this tune, Spencer is essentially calling a dance. The tune is for dancing, for people enjoying each other and entertaining each other. And Spencer’s still doing that. At 88 years old, he’s going to fiddlers’ conventions and jam sessions all over southwest Virginia.

Jon Lohman’s full recording of Old Jimmy Sutton

Music Credits

Tracks: “Jimmy Sutton”
Artist: Spencer Moore
Album: AFC 2004/004, tape T857, tracks 3-5
Label: Alan Lomax Collection at the Library of Congress
Release: 1959

Tracks: “Jimmy Sutton”
Artist: Spencer Moore
Album: Unpublished recording
Label: Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Release: n/a

Learning Experience

Virginia History in Song

What can songs teach us about history?