Bob Fulcher Conversation

>>Elizabeth Peterson: Hi there. I’m Betsy Peterson, director of
the American Folklife Center. It’s September 19, 2019, and we are doing a
special interview today with Bobby Fulcher, who
is donating his collection from of music and traditions
from the Cumberland Plateau. And we’re having a
special interview and have invited two individuals
who have worked with Bobby over the years to
conduct the interview. So today, you’re going to
be hearing Bradley Hanson, who is the director of
the folklife program at the Tennessee Arts
Commission in Nashville. You’ll also be hearing
Tom Rankin, the director of the MFA program
in experimental and documentary arts at Duke
University, and Bobby Fulcher, who is park manager for
the Cumberland trail, Tennessee State Parks. And both gentlemen, Bradley
and Tom have worked for Bobby at different points in his
career and their careers. So that’s the background.>>Tom Rankin: So Bobby,
I’ve always wanted to see if you could talk
about those, like, when you were really young,
define that any way you want. But what your — your
interest in the natural world and your interest in
culture just generally, is that something when
you think back on the 10-, 12-year-old Bobby
Fulcher, you see any — any threads, any baseline?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, one
thing that I have thought about over the years was
my family structure in that of course I had a mother
and father and sister. But we were a military
family and lived in a — communities that were transient. That required a move every year.>>Tom Rankin: Every year.>>Bob Fulcher: Until my father
retired from active duty. And then we moved to a
community where I was able to go through middle school and
high school, but even so, I wasn’t in a community that I
had been born in or lived in. And I think I had a great
curiosity about older people. It developed in high school,
I think, as I was able to learn more about folks
in the way that they thought and was intrigued by it. And I think when I began to
encounter the older generation that really occurred in college that I was attracted
to immediately. Wanted to be acquainted
with that generation. And that’s one thing. I was always interested in
people and personalities. Like, I suppose that’s
universal, you know, collected baseball cards.>>Tom Rankin: Yeah, no doubt.>>Bob Fulcher: Thought
about these people’s lives. Who these folks were
on each card.>>Tom Rankin: You wrote to
a lot of baseball players.>>Bob Fulcher: I wrote
to baseball players for their autographs,
started asking them to write me letters back. Some of them did. Harry Hooper played at
the turn of the century with several good
teams [laughter]. And those were thrills.>>Tom Rankin: That was a kind
of collecting without a doubt.>>Bob Fulcher: It
was and it — that — I had a passion for that,
too, and was thrilled too with the stories
of early baseball. And whenThe Glory of
Their Times
came out a set of interviews, oral
history interviews, that had no great precedent in
terms of a book publication, I was enthralled with that too. And it seemed so
natural as a listener to hear these stories
told in a different way than a sportswriter
would ever deliver them. And I’d say that had a big
influence on my way of thinking about — about stories.>>Tom Rankin: What
took you to Tennessee? Why did you go to UT? Knoxville.>>Bob Fulcher: Well, I had lived mostly
in Texas and Florida. And in — when I was
an eighth grader, my church at a church camp
gathering, not that — well it was actually
in a Lake Junaluska, and that place is ringed
with little churchy sort of organizations
or opportunities.>>Tom Rankin: Methodist.>>Bob Fulcher: Yes. And so we went there
and found the mountains to be beautiful,
exciting, thrilling. A place of cool weather. And at that point,
I wanted to go back. We — I had an opportunity
early in high school to help organize our next
church trip and we went to the north Georgia mountains. Booked into private camp
there, got into real trouble. You know, there was
damage to the facility. There were other things that
were in appropriate activates.>>Tom Rankin: We
won’t get into that.>>Bob Fulcher: I
was not involved with any of those, you know.>>Tom Rankin: Sure.>>Bob Fulcher: But again, those
were the viewpoints that I had on the southern mountains. And when it came time to
look at colleges, my mother, who was very conservative with
her money, even though she, you know, never had a big
job or anything like that, but she wanted to give
my sister and me as — what education we wanted,
and I wanted to go to school in the mountains,
southern mountains. I looked at several but
the one that was closest to the mountains with
the biggest library, and the cheapest, was the
University of Tennessee.>>Tom Rankin: Is that right?>>Bob Fulcher: Those were the
three things I was looking for.>>Bradley Hanson: Were you
playing guitar in high school or did that start in college? And around Jubilee
Community Arts?>>Bob Fulcher: My parents
bought a Kent guitar for me, $12 guitar, when I
was about 12 and — and they arranged for me to have
guitar lessons from this fellow who was in a well-known
youth rock and roll band. I was very interested
in and being able to follow up with this guy. I took lessons from
him for quite a while. But all that he taught me was
jazz that his father was playing on the early morning shows. This guy’s father
was there, you know, with the little morning band.>>Tom Rankin: On the
television station.>>Bob Fulcher: A
television station. I wasn’t really into that, but I mean I can play you know
the 13 flat seven flat five chords, you know, real
easily now [laughter]. I can — I never learned
to rock [laughter]. Not really. Not really. I don’t know why that was, but
it put a block in my playing by having this Mr. Weaver. He didn’t want to give away
the good stuff [laughter]. Bradley Hanson: But you
found the good stuff. Later you started taking lessons
in college again, is that right?>>Bob Fulcher: I
went to take lessons, you know, I did very early on. I saw a poster on the
halls, well in the — in the student visitor center, offering lessons
at an institution. I didn’t really know
what it was, but it was in the Fort
Sanders community. And so, I showed up to take my
guitar lesson, John Sundown, was teaching the
lessons and trying to earn a little extra money. And he was there part of this
sort of social experiment, you know, that was
being funded, I think, in part by a Methodist
initiative for social justice,
and social action. That was a bit of an experiment
based there in Fort Sanders. And he was the music director
for that — that initiative. And while I wanted to try to
learn some of Dylan’s licks, you know, better than I had been
able to imitate them on my own. Very poor imitation that I
had, except verbally, you know. I think I had that alright. I was — I listened to
him give a banjo lesson. Claw hammer banjo. I loved it. I never heard it before. [Inaudible] and so we went
over some Carter Family licks, my first guitar lesson. I asked him about
banjo classes and he — he encouraged me to get a
banjo and so we ordered one from Manny’s of New York. The Baldwin I still
play, that’s what came. And it came with a case, but
it was a long neck banjo case, you know, something that
they had in surplus, so they were kind of
dumping this case on me. But I used that case until
it finally just broke down and that extra length
of it, I put clothing and they are sometimes you know,
whatever I needed to carry. So I –>>Tom Rankin: Did you know
the Carter Family music before those?>>Bob Fulcher: A bit. Not much, but just a bit. Now, as soon as I fell into
that community of people, I expanded my universe when it
came to that very, very quickly. I started going to their
weekly square dances that were held there, to — to
the concerts that would come through and Anne Romaine would
bring people through there, Bud Garrett came through. That’s the first place that I
saw Bud and Robert Lockwood Jr., people like that of
tremendous quality.>>Bradley Hanson: This
is like 74 or five?>>Bob Fulcher: Yes. Even earlier, maybe 73. 72 was, you know, a year
I was very much involved. From my entry into
the University of Tennessee was connected
to that institution.>>Tom Rankin: What are
you studying at the time?>>Bob Fulcher: Forestry. And that’s essentially
what I studied.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: That
was my degree. I was able to study of
course, many other things that you would get in a
liberal education on my own and as requirements,
but I was able to do — the honors program allows,
you know, to do any project that you could have
approved by a faculty member and I enjoyed that very much. I did one in religious studies
and — and read, you know, the five or six principal
holy books of the different
religious faiths. The Buddhist texts et cetera. The Book of Mormon. I put that in there. The Bible, et cetera. The Quran. And would meet to discuss
those things and — and then also, you know, I’ve
used that experience also through my, you know, I guess
my whole life to do that. I was very interested in — in
that in high school as well, but this was an opportunity to
have a more academic exercise in discussing other
cultures and religions. I did an ethnographic study
on the use of native plants. And, you know, I
use that a lot Tom. I eat a lot of things.>>Tom Rankin: So you did
the native plants there in the realm, Knoxville?>>Bob Fulcher: Well through — mostly through the
eastern tribal groups, but I tried to look through
the historic literature. You know, it was not
consolidated at that time. You really did have to
spend some time in archives to put together a
real compendium of — of how people have
used native plants. But, you know, I had
started again in Panama City, doing things like going
to the beach and — and just with just a little
sock of rice and then trying to eat everything, you
know, that you could eat.>>Tom Rankin: Oh you did —
when you were in high school?>>Bob Fulcher: Oh yes. Yes, as soon as we
had transportation.>>Tom Rankin: So were you
reading environmental writers?>>Bob Fulcher: Yes. Well, the principal
environmental writer that made an impact on
me was Henry Thoreau. And that started with my
mother who was a New Englander. So we had a copy ofWalden. And I was introduced to
that in middle school. And when it was discussed
in high school, you know, I felt like I was extremely
knowledgeable [laughter].>>Tom Rankin: You’re —
you’re out front [laughter]. I’m not surprised.>>Bob Fulcher: That’s
what I felt like. But I continue to read. I mean, I was reading the
journals just last week. You know. His language and
his insights were tremendous. And I just noticed in a
journal entry his admiration for the guitar, that he
was writing in the 1840s. And he waxes as you say,
eloquently about the tones of the guitar in the music and how he’s being
carried away by it.>>Tom Rankin: Where
did you jump? You’re looking like you’re –>>Bradley Hanson: Oh no,
I was just thinking about, how did you — your cultural
ethnographic work develop? Did it develop out of that
scene in Fort Sanders initially?>>Bob Fulcher: The thought
of interviewing someone and documenting it with tape
recording, I believe so. I don’t believe I did
anything like that until I was around others and became more
exposed to albums of recordings, you know, which were
there in the UT library and the Knox County Library. I would go down there to listen
to the Library of Congress. collections. And you know, that’s where I
encountered Jabbour’s American fiddle music set. And I thought the project
was like 30 years old because of the graphics
on the cover.>>Tom Rankin: Lack of
graphics [laughter].>>Bob Fulcher: Yes, right. Minimalistic approach. It made me think this was
an ancient government secret project [laughter]. And but I loved it so much
and there’s where I, you know, heard things, Luther
Strong and William Stepp, that I hadn’t heard
anything like that, you know, at the Laurel Theater
or anywhere else.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: And when I
heard it from Clyde Davenport, I knew that Clyde was
carrying something that was indeed very
special in American music. And –>>Tom Rankin: Do
you remember the — I mean the first time you
went to Clyde’s and why?>>Bob Fulcher: Yes, I do. Very much so. I went to Clyde’s following
a visit to Dick Burnett and Dick Burnett was in
his early 90s, about 93. Blind of course as he
had been his whole life. I had been advised to go there
by a man named Doral Jones, who played music all
his life in Jamestown. He played sort of
slap guitar style, ’40s music was his favorite,
you know, ’40s country music. But he followed it
along and he — his memories went back to
players from the ’30s and such, but he was a great enthusiast. And he told me about
Dick Burnett. I didn’t know anything
about Dick Burnett.>>Tom Rankin: You hadn’t
heard [inaudible] stuff?>>Bob Fulcher: I
had not heard it. He told me that — he
told Charles Wolf about it and I didn’t really
know who that was. But I had decided, well
I’d go to, you know. As a banjo player I wanted
to learn about the banjo and went down, knocked on the
door and Dick Burnett opened it, you know, and came in
and we sat down to talk. I got my little tape
recorder out immediately and recorded my only
interview with him that day. I went back to see him a time or
two but that was just to knock on the door and say
hello and try to keep — not a real relationship,
but just so he would — I would be recognizable. My voice would be
recognizable to him. And he died from an accident
not so long after that. He fell and broke his
leg and never recovered. But on that first visit I asked
about fiddle players and just as he had suggested to
Charles Wolf and Mike Seeger on their visit, he
said Debbie O’Gregory and — and Clive Davenport. They’re playing my music. Music that me and
Leonard played. And so I said, well, how
do I find these guys? And he gave me some clues. You know, he said Clyde
was keeping a little fiddle shop downtown. And I went there. It was just a couple blocks
away and he was there. Clyde Davenport was downstairs in this dark basement
area, very small area. There was a table in there,
a worktable, and a few pieces of fiddles and a few chairs, and
one of them was being occupied by this little guy
named Rufus Dick. And Rufus was a character,
you know. And Clyde like to
have him in there. Of course he liked
anybody that came in to talk while he
was fiddling around and whittling on fiddle parts. And of course I asked
Clyde about his fiddling, and he denied, you know,
to have much involvement with anything like
that [laughter]. And he — he suggested
several names that I put down right away,
that were fiddlers. And so, I thanked him
for his help and went on to find these real fiddlers. And [laughter] — and you
know, I recorded some of them. They all of course told
me that Clyde was –>>Tom Rankin: The real fiddler.>>Bob Fulcher: He
was a real fiddler. And so, when I went back to see
Clyde, he — that was, you know, a few weeks later, he just
gave his little laugh, that self-satisfying laugh. You know. Clyde often would
state things to people for his own satisfaction
[laughter]. He didn’t care if
anybody else ever got it. He — he needed to satisfy
his own — his own needs. You know.>>Bradley Hanson:
Were you setting off on these visits already
from Pickett State Park, were you working there then?>>Bob Fulcher: Yes. I was working that summer.>>Bradley Hanson: Still in
college but it was a summer job.>>Bob Fulcher: Well,
no, I had — that summer job I had
graduated from college and — and then spent the next — the
next year substitute teaching and working at an
environmental education center at Cumberland Gap, the
Union College Environmental Edge Center. And, you know, I got into
some good stuff from there. But I continued to use
what time I had to go back up to Fentress County
and record these folks. The Dee Hicks and Clyde
Davenport in particular that seemed to have an
endless body of music in them. And it was at the
end of that term, my living at Cumberland Gap
National Historical Park that I believe that I
wrote to the library and gave him those two lists
of tune titles, song titles. And it turned out those lists
of course, were very incomplete.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: But they
were early enough in the — in the program, the new
program by the library to loan equipment, that
although I didn’t know that, my request was number three
or four, so I was told. I think it’s Joe Hickerson
that looked that up. And that was very fortunate
for me because of course, I had no credentials,
no real association. And early on though they found
a way to loan this equipment me, provided that I had
sponsorship and a guarantee from an institution
for the equipment.>>Tom Rankin: And what
institution were you using for that then?>>Bob Fulcher: Well,
I’d been — I was — I was at Union College
Environmental Education Center.>>Tom Rankin: Okay.>>Bob Fulcher: And so I
contacted the college and asked if they would sponsor me and take responsibility
for this equipment. They said they would
provide I provided to them full responsibility, my personal responsibility
for the equipment. And I did that. I’m not sure how. Maybe I gave them my mother’s
social security number. But they loaned me the
equipment, you know. And that was –>>Tom Rankin: And those are the
— the types that are now here.>>Bob Fulcher: Yes.>>Tom Rankin: Many of those.>>Bob Fulcher: Right, right.>>Bradley Hanson:
How did you know or when did you develop the —
the ability to draw these tunes out or start thinking like a — like a collector,
like a folklorist? Were you just self-taught
in that way or did you start to think about it
systematically?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, there
were — I don’t — I don’t know. I guess with Dee
Hicks I was able to work somewhat
systematically, eventually. Not for this first
set of recordings. They were so full of music that
it was just a matter of time. And prompting Clyde
to play certain tunes, that didn’t happen very much. He told me he was playing things
that no one had asked about, you know, and hadn’t
shown any interest in. I was prompting him, you know,
to playthings from his father and older people,
because I thought that those would be works that might be the most
important for preservation. And Clyde was so young then you
know, from my perspective now, he was 55 years old,
54, 55 years old. But he came forth continually
with pieces and they were things that he brought to mind himself. He continued to do that for
at least the next 20 years, come up with things
that I had not heard from that first round
of recordings. One thing that I’m most — has bothered me tremendously
is my tape number three and tape number six
of Clyde Davenport, I loaned those things out. To me they were the most
important recordings because they were the ones
most like, Luther Strong’s, William Stepp’s style of
solo, cross tune, fiddle tunes that had that unpredictable
qualities about them, you know, broken measures, changes
in time signature, all those wonderful things
when the fiddler was free to create how he so wished
in putting a piece together, reinterpreting something else. Well, I don’t know
where those are today. I don’t even have — can’t
even get a cassette copy. So if either of you have those,
I’d like to get them back.>>Tom Rankin: What
— do you think it — so when you met Clyde
and — and — and the Hicks it
wasn’t like you had a — you know, you were a
performer, you had a fixed idea of what’s more important,
you know, where — where everything really — the
richest part of the vein is. Do you think that
was helpful in — in not approaching them as
somebody with already a sort of a curatorial sense of
what’s — what’s best?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, I — my prejudices were
there to some extent, but I did not have a deep
knowledge like somebody like Archie Green
or Alan Jabbour and they may have done a
much better work with — with Clyde Davenport than I did. But, you know, Clyde
had been circulating to some extent beyond
his community by going with W.L. Gregory. Clyde was in that
role not really by — it wasn’t his first choice. I think he felt it
helped him a little bit because he got some
money for it. But he — in terms of
feeling this sense of self, I think when he went out and
played the banjo and saw people, you know, getting excited, you
know, mostly about W.L. Gregory, he may have felt like, hey,
those people don’t know who the real fiddler is. That’s on them. And he just didn’t pull his
fiddle out and show off. Or if he did, he would play his
fancy version of Sally Gooden. And didn’t impress,
you know, that crowd.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: Bruce Green
was there to listen to him. But, you know, Bruce, I
think he’s remembered — he told me he remembered
Clyde playing something that was fascinating, but
there was no follow up on it, you know, if Clyde had done so. And I don’t think he — he treated those people like
he did me I think [laughter].>>Tom Rankin: Well, I guess
what I was trying to get at is, you’re — you’re sort
of agnostic interests in people’s creativity
seems to be something that has always been there. That everything is important.>>Bob Fulcher: Well –>>Tom Rankin: Where
does that come from?>>Bob Fulcher: You
know, it’s — it’s the naturalist perspective
in a way, because a view of nature, in general, which
encompasses everything that — that small pieces
are — are important. That’s where everything comes
from, from the smallest pieces, and they’re all assembled
in something else. So, I love to learn about things
that were almost beyond sight. Felt like it was
thrilling, the discovery. If it was just by being
taught from someone to look at a plain thing and it became
rich and — and detailed thing, no matter how those
molecules are arranged. So yes, I have always
wanted to be on the — on the path of discovery. But in my early years in
Tennessee I was mostly about other organisms and –>>Tom Rankin: But about
the ecosystem as a whole.>>Bob Fulcher: The whole
ecosystem as a whole. Yes. And when that’s put
together, you know, that is — that is the big picture. Right.>>Bradley Hanson: When did
you start public programming of any kind? I mean, you moved from
doing your own recordings to interfacing with these
institutions, and then slowly but surely, you’re putting
on your own programs,>>Bob Fulcher: Right. I — I never felt like I should
try to become a big performer. You know, I didn’t want to
be the one that was standing up there and, I’m going to
give you a banjo tune here that came from Clyde Davenport. I have done those
sort of things, but I’ve never felt terribly
comfortable about that. What I love is listening to the
man or sitting next to the man or woman that is — who I —
has brought this piece forward. These beautiful things forward. I — I was around musicians as
soon as I — I got into the — the world of the Hepworth
Jubilee Center and played with them and had real
opportunities to — to present musicians and to
present the music, again, with my own interpretation
through Tennessee State Parks. And my first summer of
working at Pickett State Park as a seasonal naturalist I
introduced my first slide program at the visitor center by first playing a couple
banjo tunes in the first week of living in Fentress County. And by the next week when I did
the same thing, word had gotten out and there were a
couple people who had come to hear this boy playing
the banjo the old way. And very quickly, they told
me how — well I asked them, you know, about other
folks and they told me and became the first guide — guidance that I had to
go into the communities and meet people I
needed to meet. I had learned to — well, my
first experience of doing a — being part of a field
recording was with this good friend of mine. We actually became
roommates for a short time. But he worked for the
National Park Service. His name was Nat Kirkendall
and he played the banjo. And he worked in Cades Cove. And he and a couple other
folks started Old Timers Day in Cades Cove. And I went there. One of the very first ones, I don’t think it
was the first one. But it must have
been the second one that they ever did I believe. And the premise was just
that they put the word out for musicians to show
up and play music all day. No one’s going to run you out. And well, Jimmy McCarroll was
there, Charlie Acuff was there. The — Lou Wilson was
there with her brother. You know, that’s where I saw
those people for the first time and I didn’t really know who
they were, but now I was there with my banjo and got to
stand sort of in a circle around them, play a bit. And never forgot them. Had my little tape recorder. I’ve got recordings of very
sketchy quality [laughter].>>Tom Rankin: Of
those sessions?>>Bob Fulcher: Of —
right, those afternoons. Old Timers Day in Cades Cove. Jimmy McCarroll, laughing,
launching into tunes that you know never had
been recorded anywhere else that I know of except
some other people that might have been standing
there with their crummy –>>Tom Rankin: Their recorders.>>Bob Fulcher: Tape recorders.>>Tom Rankin: Right, right. Oh, man, so all that
was exciting and again gave me a sense
that you could do such things. But he took me to one of his
friends’ homes one evening. He said I’m going to go see
Commodore Tipton and record him. Do you want to go? And I did. You know, Commodore Tipton
played old time banjo. He lived in a school
bus in Townsend, and — and I always mention
this, I don’t know, I guess it fits the stereotype
or something, but he — he was impressed because his
only vehicle was a moon buggy which had been converted,
you know, from a dune buggy and was from Pigeon Forge. They had a sale on their
— on their equipment, I guess some venue did. And so, you know,
he was living a sort of a marginal life,
you might say. Didn’t have a lot of
material possessions clearly. And I knew a little bit
about that, had been going up and had never knocked
on somebody’s door. I was with Nat. But old Commodore Tipton
was just a charitable, beautiful man, welcoming. Had a good time,
wanted us to be there. That was a great experience. And how many times have you
heard, and I’ve heard, you know, people say, well, you
can’t just go in there, they’ll shoot you,
they’ll kill you. You know, they don’t want you. Boy, I didn’t run into
that many times, you know. I mean usually people are
so glad to have a stranger, or they were in that
time in the world. So you went and knock on
the door and say, hey, I’d love to get your life story. So, you’ve all been there,
done that, as much as anyone.>>Tom Rankin: How — talk a
little bit about the importance of working for the
Department of Conservation and the state parks
and doing field work. Because it’s — you know, in
your story it just seems matter of fact and that’s how it works. But that’s not the way
folklife field work has been done historically. And — and what did —
you know, you were already in the community in a way.>>Bob Fulcher: Well,
that’s a fact. You’re tied to community,
one or more. People have, very often in those
communities some sense of what that park is and what role
it’s played in the community. And generally the history
of state parks, these WPA, CCC projects, these parks were
put there with the conception that they would serve the local
communities to some extent, and in many cases, I believe
these lodges were built to serve the square dance world. To be places where
dances could happen. Because they began to
happen immediately. And continued in park after
park after park, you know, where we — we have
that history, that — if the parks origin
was New Deal, there was a community
space there. And you know, that was a
time when there weren’t a lot of public spaces owned for
the public by the government, county, or state, or whatever. That just wasn’t a big
part of the landscape. But here was a new
one, you know, and — and that made it for
me the perfect sense that we would invite those
folks again, you know, when we look back
in the archives of Tennessee State Park, in most
every park system that goes back to the New Deal, you’ll see
where they were inviting people to — to weave and
make crafts and to — to sell crafts, all that happened throughout
American in state parks. And it happened in national
parks too of course. And so I had some awareness of
that in starting out, but — and heard about it
almost immediately at Pickett State Park from
the very first people I met. They’ve been dancing at
Pickett State Park, you know, since the 30s and 40s. Really got going in the 40s. And so it felt like
the right thing to do, and one I very soon had a
regional role in state parks, began to learn more about those
park systems and seeing yes, that they have historically
invited that part of the community in and — and then the Tennessee State
Parks folklife project gave me an opportunity at the same time
that you guys were learning, you know, you were teaching me about what you were finding
throughout the entire system in West Tennessee, and
— and East Tennessee, and Middle Tennessee to get
a much greater understanding and confidence that we
were doing the right thing. And I don’t know about your
experience entirely but — but didn’t you find
people feeling come — some comfort level
with their parks?>>Tom Rankin: Yeah.>>Bob Fulcher: Now you were in
West Tennessee where there was, you know, some more — maybe
more severe segregation.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: And
parks were segregated. So you may have encountered — because you worked a lot in
African American community — some sense of separation
from the park system. But is that true?>>Tom Rankin: Yeah. Although I think what — what
the opportunity provided, at least when I was working
there was to say we’re going to have a program that’s around
African American gospel singing, and we had it and it may
have advanced the notion that this is a public space. But yeah, that it’s true that I mean [inaudible]
there were black fishermen and white fishermen. But most of the music
that might have gone on would have been white. But you — it’s the
folklorists there to — to change that in some —
I mean, it always felt — and I guess this is a question. Did you realize how much the
Tennessee State folklife project would educate the
parks in the — the importance and need to
be committed to culture?>>Bob Fulcher: I think there’s
some good examples of it. And there are many instances where the education
didn’t stick. Government often creates
unstable workforce, because things are
managed politically and change administration
to administration. And so there’s some transience
and that makes it harder to establish an institutional
culture. And so I think some of — much of what was done
by you guys stuck and has left our park system
with continued opportunities to — to give local people a
chance to express themselves through their art or through
their traditional knowledge of any sort. And there are some
parks where the work that was done, I’d
say is unknown. And this opportunity
that — that we — we always have an opportunity
to try to — to do — to get it done, and to
institutionalize what we’ve done and to make it strong
enough so that it is taken up as understood to be
part of our mission. I’m not sure how
that’ll turn out. But we’re still trying and what
you guys have done is there. It’s getting a little
more attention now from the state library
and archive.>>Bradley Hanson: Can
you describe the project a little more? Because it’s fascinating. I mean, even how — how challenging it was
to get it off the ground. The behind the scenes part of creating a public folklife
project in the park system then and what years did it run? And how did it evolve?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, you know, what I did at Pickett State Park
wasn’t — it wasn’t difficult. All I did was imitate
really my friends’ premise of let folks know to show up one
day and — and play their music. And we’ve done that ever since.>>Bradley Hanson: It
still works that way.>>Bob Fulcher: It
still works that way. It’s still the biggest day
of the year for the park. New park rangers, whether
they like it or not, the musicians are
coming [laughter]. And that is true in
many of the parks where we’ve had work
done by, you know, great folklorists like you guys. And they — Louie Blue
is an example, you know, that you guys participated
in and work that you made has stuck there,
that is still an amazing event. The biggest one and the only
one of its kind, you know, for any of the surrounding
counties. It’s remarkable. Well, so — what
was your question?>>Bradley Hanson: Just to get
on — on the tape, you know, kind of your description
of that program.>>Bob Fulcher: Oh, the process. Well, I would say this. After I received this
equipment loan from the Library of Congress, I got on the
list somehow to be invited to participate in the Blue Ridge
music fieldwork initiative — [inaudible] music or Blue
Ridge folklife survey, I think would be the right name. And I was so glad for that. I found there a model
for a very broad survey. Now this was a little bit
different than what we did. But, essentially, a
bunch of folklorists from around the country
gathered up with a set of forms that allowed a field worker to
develop sort of baseline data, demographic data, personal data
on performance and then launch into special fields
of knowledge. And, this was maybe their first
sort of experiment in that. They did a couple
others of course. I’m not sure, but it — it
may have been the first one that they tried, the first big
initiative under Alan Jabbour. To do a big fieldwork survey
with a bunch of folks. And so, I adopted a couple
of their forms and, you know, thought about our system
and felt like we needed to immediately work in
the three grand divisions and to spread our work in the
first year as far as we could. In the first few years, so that
the folklorists who came to work with us could have more impact
than if they just worked with one park, and
maybe with two parks. Both of them would catch
fire, or if just one did, well it meant that, you know, we might not have gotten
it had we just had it work in one place. And so, I think that worked
very well for us and I was able to get loans from the
Library of Congress for Nagra field recorders. I went on that and
discovered what a Nagra was. And I’ve told this story
many times, you know, that when I went to
check in, got my uniform, well I’d already gotten
a Nagra loan of course to do this fieldwork
when I was a seasonal, and when I got a permanent
position and walked down to the arms locker, not
to get, you know, a weapon, a service weapon or
anything like that. But to — I guess to get a
piece of uniform or something. I don’t know what we
were in there for. But, the Nagra recorder
was sitting in there.>>Tom Rankin: It was a
state surplus thing or –>>Bob Fulcher: It was
just state property stuck in the corner. They didn’t know what it was. But I knew what it was,
you know, I asked them to put it on my inventory. They said it was a
piece of equipment that they had purchased for
making films some years ago. And no one was making
films then, so I got it, and you’ve all used it.>>Bradley Hanson: You
still have it don’t you?>>Bob Fulcher: We still
have it in good shape. Still using it, yes. RecordedSergeant York’s
on it not long ago. And so, all of those
things helped us — helped us get going. But — but it was the Blue Ridge
Parkway project that allowed me to meet other folklorists and to
see what a survey looked like, and to observe them
conducting interviews. And so, I’m indebted to that.>>Bradley Hanson: How
many summers — sorry.>>Tom Rankin: Oh, go ahead.>>Bradley Hanson: I
was just going to say, how many summers did you have
that program going full force?>>Bob Fulcher: I would
say for five summers that model was in place. Although, by year five instead
of working in two parks, you know, we had — I had two
folklorists that worked in — focused on one park only. And that worked —
that worked very well, but the resources were
dwindling, you know, for the NEA, applying
for a grant meant that if you had the
same project going they as a premise thought you
should only be funded for three years on a project. And so for those ensuing
years when Brent worked and when Lisa Breslin
worked, and Drew Byswinger, I had to get resources somewhere
else to put them in place. Probably had some
left-over supplies that I — that was the way we did it.>>Tom Rankin: So there’s
this survey of Tennessee that the archive has,
but the area of Tennessee that you’ve spent a huge
amount of time is the plateau. Cumberland Plateau. And, so I mean, you’ve talked
a little bit about how that — Pickett State Park starts
that out, but — but why — why should any — you know,
what is it about the plateau? Besides the fact that
Bobby Fulcher has been there [laughter]. You know, what — what is it
about the Cumberland Plateau that — that’s kept you
there and that’s done — that you’ve done so much work?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, the
reassignment kept me there in that I was given position
to work as a uniformed officer on the Cumberland Plateau for the Cumberland
Trail project in 1999. The work group that I was with
was being disbanded really because I think we’d
gotten involved in some political question, you
know, regarding the structure of government and governance. And our work I suspect
was not appreciated and so our work group, which
had many great professionals in it, was disbanded. We were offered other positions. And for me to take a
position, you know, I had to go to the police
academy, which I had not done. So I did that and
— and took up a –>>Tom Rankin: You were a
civilian ranger up till then.>>Bob Fulcher: That’s right. And I was in uniform, but — but
was not a commissioned officer. So, from that point on, I had other serious
issues to deal with. The Cumberland Trail project
was envisioned but was in an embryonic phase. And since then, the effort
to grow this project, 300 miles in length, that has
been a consuming interest. And so I could not devote
my own time any longer to — to meeting community
members in a way that would give me an
opportunity to really follow up and — and learn from
them as, you know, my own in place personal
involvement. But as with the Tennessee State
Parks folklife project I felt like we could surely
get the resources to put other people in place. And this was a perfect way
to hammer into the premise that our institution must be
devoted to cultural conservation with the parameters that
include the documentation and presentation of traditional
knowledge and traditional arts. And we’ve done that. And almost every year since then
I’ve been able to employ someone who has been able to
focus on just that. It’s been a wide
variety of people. You know, Rachel Borya, who came from your program was
not an ethnographer. But she was a documentarian
with extraordinary skills and devotion to it and — and she has followed up
with very important projects that have gone much deeper with
some, you know, family members and places and then anyone
has ever been, you know, from all the years that we’ve
been working in the regions where she worked as well. So our work on the
Cumberland Trail has — has always included that
aspect of meeting people and being certain
that we protected some of their knowledge and —
and got hold of their voice. And we’ve also tried
to present to our — our visitors, our partners in our communities those
traditional voices too and arts. And that was — would be
through small programs sometimes for our volunteers who
may be coming from Maine or they may be coming right out of the communities
where we’re working. And — and so I felt very
comfortable and I’m very proud that the Cumberland Trail
has — is evolving that way. And, you know, as far as
having faith in the future, that this work means something. It never — in my opinion, it
will never take hold of — of — completely, will never have an
identity that’s entirely merged of the trail and
the local voice. Because I don’t think that
it’s going to be the thing that strikes many of our users. And I see so many of
them come with their — sort of with their heads down. Who — we — we haven’t found
a way to reach them yet. Now, if someone comes to
the museum of Appalachia or some cultural institution,
you know, they’re there for that purpose, and
they get to reach every — every one of their
constituents, you know, every one of their customers
or however you would term it. And I hope that we could find
more ways, whether that’s through podcasts or, you know,
small bits that travelers and hikers can use as
they use media to — to orient themselves
to this big trail.>>Tom Rankin: Find
their way, right.>>Bob Fulcher: To find their
way along with these voices. Now, that’ll take a
lot of production, a lot of work on its Tom.>>Tom Rankin: It will Bob.>>Bob Fulcher: You have
to — a lot of dig in. Can we find the workers
that can –>>Tom Rankin: We’ll
work on that.>>Bob Fulcher: But
wouldn’t that be fine?>>Tom Rankin: It would
although some people get on the trail just
to [inaudible].>>Bob Fulcher: Some get on
it just for — well, they do. And some just for exercise,
you know, and they — they can’t think of anything
except how many steps they’ve made.>>Tom Rankin: Right [laughter]. So let’s — before we go
down that trail too far. Tell me, Virgil Anderson. How did you find — run
into Virgil Anderson?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, I
remember it very well.>>Tom Rankin: And
why should people care about Virgil Anderson
[laughter]?>>Bob Fulcher: I
remember that very well. Our first Old Timers Day — well, actually the day before
our first Old Timers Day was the Sharp family reunion. And that’s been the case
every year since 1976. And the Sharp reunion always
have music and dancing at it and playing there
along with some of the Sharps were
the Troxel brothers. Well, I’d never met
them, you know, but of course I was inviting
them to come the next day. We’re going to have
music here all day. Clyde Davenport said
he might come. Yeah, well, you know. And so while the Troxel brothers
were playing old time duo, as you know, with the —
well a whole string band, this jolly man is buck dancing. Comes right across the floor. They asked me to play
banjo, you know, too. And I was playing the
banjo and he comes up while I’m playing the banjo and he would have some
special moves where he kind of swings his arms around, you
know, and put his belly out and he was a great
dancer, amazing dancer. And laying his head
back and laugh, and say, this boy playing the banjo
the old way [laughter]. And he said, I play
the banjo like that. I said, you do? He said, yeah, I do. So I asked people about him. I asked Clyde Davenport
about him. You know, he — [inaudible]
didn’t come the next day to Old Timers Day,
but Clyde was there. He said, well, he can’t
play much [laughter]. And I asked the Troxel’s
about him and they sort of said the same thing.>>Tom Rankin: Wow.>>Bob Fulcher: But
he was so jolly. I thought, well, I bet he
knows some really cool verses to old tunes. If he can’t play much
that’s all right, you know, but he might have some lyrics
that would be very clever. And so I followed directions to
his home and crossed the bridge, went there with my recorder
and he started playing and I of course had never
seen anything like it.>>Tom Rankin: Yeah.>>Bob Fulcher: I didn’t know. I knew what to make of
it in terms of the power of his music and
his personality. But I sure couldn’t
figure out exactly –>>Tom Rankin: Where
it came from.>>Bob Fulcher: What
he was doing, you know.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: And he
very early began to talk about the Bertram boys from
— they’re from [inaudible]. Their family actually live right
next door to the York family. I think their properties
may have joined. But his love for the Bertram’s,
for Cooge, he expressed that his whole life
as long as he lived, and Cooge Bertram being an
African American fiddle player, that was widely admired and
thought of as a real influence on Leonard Rutherford. He was a great influence
on Virgil. He and his brothers,
and Virgil played a lot of their repertoire. But Virgil played
anything he wanted to play. You know, his boys got
involved in rockabilly. So Virgil got his
rockabilly licks together, and he played some of
their tunes, you know. And his — his style of playing
with a little finger flip. It was, I think it was
maybe a little more — more sophisticated than
the Carter scratch. But it had some of the
same elements of it. Of course, the fifth
string gave you a chance to do something special
with a banjo. And he used the whole thing.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: To
make his music. Up and down the neck
using that fifth string, fretting the fifth string
on just a piece, you know, but just showing that he
was going anywhere he wanted to with it and doing things
that other people didn’t. Now, I think there were
probably banjo players like that scattered around
that just died out, of course, our opportunity to know anything
about them except by reputation. But Virgil, certainly,
as far as the banjo — banjo, it’s living into
the late 20th century. Had some qualities of
excellence, and creativity, and individuality that
make him stand out is one of the most remarkable banjo
players that I think we know about in traditional music. He certainly earned his
own individual place. And I wish we knew more about
some of those, you know, where we only have a few
examples of their music, who clearly were — were
extraordinary and — and beautifully skilled, but I
have many of Virgil doing things that sometimes that are just so
simple and rhythmic and driving. He plays this tune,
well, a little chant song that I think he would attribute
to being the kind of thing that was played there
at the stave camps. Where it just goes on and on. It’s one of the most simplistic
things you’ll ever hear. Except that in it, you know,
there are shifting rhythms, and everything is a
little bit different kind of life waves coming
in, you know. You can say they’re the same but every one really is
breaking a little bit different, you know, and but that kind
of incessant background and singing, this chant —
meanwhile he’s starting to talk through the whole process
of a crap game, you know, and absolutely [inaudible] it’s
like he’s there, yeah you know, all the little chants, you
know, for throwing the craps. And I’ve never heard another
piece like it recorded in American folk
music [laughter].>>Tom Rankin: Very cool.>>Bob Fulcher: Yeah.>>Bradley Hanson:
He worked with — you got to work with quite a
few African American musicians of that same generation. That had quite different
experiences.>>Bob Fulcher: Oh, I wish I — that’s one of my biggest
regrets is, you know, I didn’t devote more time during
their — their lives to them, and, you know, I’m
ashamed of it. And with other musicians
too I think, how could it be that I was breathing
and not heading back to their home with
a tape recorder? How is that possible? What could have kept — kept
me from doing that other than selfishness [laughter]. And distraction,
evil distraction.>>Tom Rankin: Well,
on the other hand, I mean my recollection of —
of Bobby, of you, is your — in those — is that
you never stopped. So how — how do you see —
I mean, I think that’s true, the relentless kind of
programing, you know, ecological concern for
the job, the cultural, the desire to play some
music, to return to people, to check on, you know,
Burnett, see if he’s all right. To check on Clyde. To take Clyde — I mean how —
the energy and the commitment of time, unbelievable. How do you see that?>>Bob Fulcher: Well, it’s
not unbelievable to you guys, you’re living that life. You know, why would you
do anything different? What’s on TV [laughter]? You know, that’s a life
of excitement, thrills, and love because we really
did get to love these people. And they love you back. Who doesn’t want to be
bound in the arms of love? And you know, some folks
that you meet, work with, obviously that connection
doesn’t get there. It may be fascinating and
wondrous, but you know, it still can be very important. Now in the case of the
African American musician, Cooge Bertram was
a long way away. He was in Indianapolis. And I told folks up there about
him and no one else ever went. So there’s just the
one interview. I always felt like the
opportunity was there and they were good folks in IU that could have gotten
even more of the story. Cooge would have talked for
days and days, and every bit of it would have
been fascinating. Think of Shell Coffee, I
did visit him several times, but why not 15 times, you know? He told things that people
were able to record more of that you’d hear in
the slave narratives in the work of the 1930s. Well, he was telling the
same kind of creation tales. His parents had both
been born in slavery. He told things that were
absolutely so deeply rooted with this reserve, with such
intelligence, and dignity, and played, you know,
as best he could. He was infirm. He was bedridden at
the time I met him. He had no fiddle bow. I gave him a fiddle bow. You know, I had extra one, and
his family I think still has it. And years later I was at,
you know, a mini mart there in Monticello and there’s a
young African American girl and I was just [inaudible]
as she finished her work at the counter I said, you
know, I’m sorry to bother you but I’m — I haven’t been
in Wayne County in years and I wanted to ask if you could
help me with a family here. I once knew Shell Coffee,
who’s an African American man. He played the fiddle. And [inaudible] said, yes,
that was my great grandfather. And I said, well you
know, I recorded him. She said, you did. She said, I just wrote my
senior paper on your tapes.>>Tom Rankin: Wow.>>Bob Fulcher: You know, I was so glad I’d gotten those
tapes back to the family. But anyway, you know,
the fact that no — that more wasn’t done, I
still feel some guilt on that. And — and his cousin Charlie
Buster lived in Lexington and again, I told
folks in Kentucky, this guy is for real, you know. He’s a really handsome fiddle,
way of playing and body of tunes that in the three, you know,
hour and a half of tape I made of him, you know, was just
scratching the surface and I never could get
back before he passed. He was first cousins. Born 1894. Cooge and all of them,
and so, and you know, I recorded one other African
American player who — who had been the maintenance man at the Environmental Edge
Center where I worked. And I never even met him there. I never saw him. I heard about him but I — I
came back when I had a reel to reel recorder and — and
got — got to record him. Jerry Helms. And he — he had so much to say. And I feel wonderful about
the time that I got to spend with Clyde, with Virgil, with
a few folks, but you know, I know you all know that feeling about wishing there were more
time, more ticks on the clock that you could have had with
somebody who you admired.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: So immediately. But how do things get in
the way of fulfilling that.>>Tom Rankin: Well, don’t
let it happen again Bob.>>Bob Fulcher: I have no
good excuse [laughter].>>Tom Rankin: We —
how we doing on time?>>We’re about one fifteen
now, so if you want to wrap up.>>Tom Rankin: okay.>>Yeah.>>Tom Rankin: Well, I
guess I mean we don’t have to — we never wrap up. There’s never an ending. There’s always one more take. But — that we could have. But I think I want to go back
to get you to return to this — sort of where we started —
this idea of the ecosystem. Of — because it
is a distinctive — within public sector folklore,
in the last 25 years, there’s — I can’t think of
anybody else that comes at it quite the way you
came at — at the work. You came at it; you
could say naïvely. You might say naively. That is, you know,
without formal training. But with a very distinctive lens on how culture is
situated in place.>>Bob Fulcher: Well,
you know, the — the Cumberland Trail’s been
a great opportunity for that because again, we are
digging through the — the grounds that were covered
by loggers and coal miners and folks who were taking
from the forest fir, and meat, and all that sort of thing. And so we have great
opportunity to — to understand our park project
through their experiences and their eyes, and the whole
landscape around this, you know, we have to interpret
it that way.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: Or
we’re just blind. And the Tennessee River Folklife
project was absolutely aimed to accomplish those very goals. And you were the
perfect person to do it. You know, you were a
pioneer the year before on the Tennessee River. You’ve been a river man
[laughter] from the time that you were doing you –>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: Duty. The time that you were doing
your readings up in Kentucky. And so you brought
those things to us. And I think you know; we
were somewhat prepared to take advantage of
that and — and you — you got a strong start
on documenting things from every aspect
of life and death. The shallow mounds,
the shallow graves. Of food waste, life waste,
and the music related where people interpreted the
river through their music, or they just interpreted
life through their music. And improved their
life with music. And those all meant
something to us. And those are some of the
most astounding things that has happened for
Tennessee State Parks. Now, the Tennessee
Folklife Center, has it met our expectations? It did at that time. And, what was there
was perfectly, I think, fulfilled what we had
hoped for as a start. And you know, we followed along with several other
folklorists there. Nancy Michael worked there
and a few others, you know. Folks did very important things. Followed up. But again, the institutional
knowledge could not be maintained at the site. Now, I hope that we’ll
have an opportunity, maybe with this administration,
to dig back into that project. And everything that she did, and
I did, and Nancy Michael did, and Joe did, Joe Ferguson,
that was there will play a role in the future at that site. That’s one of my great
hopes for the future of Tennessee state parks. Is up and down the river
that project will — will come to roost for good. Well, hopefully maybe have a
few chicks along the way too. And keep going.>>Tom Rankin: Blue Jays.>>Bob Fulcher: Blue Jays, yeah. Yeah, that’s the — that’s the
case of that project, you know. Some people couldn’t
listen to the jay.>>Tom Rankin: Did you — you know, many people that did
the kind of work you’ve done, have — have eventually — you know, they’ve had
established themselves and so then they’re had
opportunities to move — move up, move out, move to
Nashville, move to Washington, move to — and you certainly
could have [laughter].>>Bob Fulcher: Well –>>Tom Rankin: Last day
on the same ground Bobby.>>Bob Fulcher: Oh
gosh, I — I don’t know. I guess my focused stuff has
always been a little narrow, you know. I like to know something. Feel like you ought to get
the job done [laughter]. It’s still not quite done. I don’t want folks to throw
away the things that you did, or Betsy did, or Bradley did. That — that sort
of thing can happen.>>Tom Rankin: Right.>>Bob Fulcher: And if
you’re going to be custodian, if you’re going — you
[inaudible], you’ve asked people to go into it all out, and
you guys did, I mean lived it. You better take responsibility
for it back at the house.>>Tom Rankin: So it’s
never crossed your mind to get too far from the house?>>Bob Fulcher: No,
I love Tennessee. You know, there are a lot of — every place is a
beautiful place. I do believe that,
so [inaudible]. And I had a little
chance, you know, to travel around and
see other things. But mostly it’s been the
context of accompanying folks from our region,
speaking for our region. And I think it’s — it was
certainly the right decision. Not enough of an
administrator to do much more than I keep a little logbook
and go back and figure out where I messed up
the account [laughter].>>Tom Rankin: That’s great. Thank you, Bobby.>>Bob Fulcher: Thank you Tom.>>Tom Rankin: We
could do this for –>>Bob Fulcher: Yeah.>>Bradley Hanson:
Thank you Bobby.>>Bob Fulcher: Well, let’s
just continue this afternoon, you have all this [inaudible].

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