Country Characters

“Dear Listener, This album is dedicated to the wonderful images of the wild and crazy characters who appear in these tales of...



    Dear Listener,
    This album is dedicated to the wonderful images of the wild and crazy characters who appear in these tales of the country life, and to the mountain folk who shared them with me. A mean old blacksmith and his devil, a death stroke fiddler, an ambitious railroad brakeman, a circuit riding preacher, and an unsuspecting hungry boy, are all a part of this storytelling experience.

    These characters have long been immortalized by the raconteurs who have handed them down generation to generation though written and oral traditions. Now we can listen and enjoy them again.
    Thank you for listening.

    The Story Lady
    jackie Torrence

    1) Wicked John And The Devil (17:38)

    This legend probably originated in England as Mean Jack or The Legend of the Jack O’Lantern. English settlers who migrated into the mountain areas of the New World adapted the Jack Tales to fit their wilderness environment, using imagery of the country hills to attain a more “down-home” feel in their stories. Old Mean Jack became Wicked John the blacksmith in just such a manner.

    I first heard this story in elementary school when the librarian read it to the class, probably from Grandfather Tales by Richard Chase. Many years later I heard it again from a real mountain teller near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. What you hear on this record is a little bit of that teller, and a lot of Jackie Torrence. In this tale, Wicked John—a sly, greedy old blacksmith—uses three wishes bestowed on him by an angel to bargain with the devil, who comes to take John’s soul.

    2) The Maco Station Light (6:07)

    The legend of the Maco Station Light is one of the more haunting folkloric tales of North Carolina. It has been written about in countless books and newspaper articles, and passed down by word of mouth over many generations, as people have sighted the light on dark nights.

    Joe Baldwin, a radio brakeman, died in a train wreck in Maco Station, North Carolina, in 1869. According to local legend, ever since that dark, ghastly collision, Joe has trudged up and down the tracks restlessly waving his lantern. With each sighting of Joe Baldwin’s light his spirit endures, but only the bronze plate on his grave tells the whole tale.

    3) Sop Doll (11:42)

    Sop Doll is one of the oldest Jack Tales I have ever heard. An old woman from Banner Elk, North Carolina, spun it for me, and I later unearthed it in a book of English folk legends about Jack. In that version, the imagery and the language were more archaic than in other Jack Tales. The origins of Sop Doll remained mysterious to me, so I added my own touches and slightly updated it.

    The term “sop doll” in mountain jargon refers to a cat’s paw. In this eerie, atmospheric, witch’s tale, Jack, a teenage country boy, seeks work because he’s hungry, and encounters the owner of a grist mill who hires him on the spot. During his first night on the job, Jack receives a visit from a strange brood of black cats who set out to do him in, but, wondrously as usual, Jack ends up a hero.

    4) Old Dry Frye (15:57)

    The humorous story of Old Dry Frye has been told to delighted audiences for years by every storyteller working in the mountain lore traditions. You see: everybody knows Old Dry Frye! From its origins in the days of circuit riding preachers who worked hard journeying from one church to another in rural mountain areas to scrape out a living, this yarn took on with each retelling the characteristics of some teller’s recollections.

    Poor Old Dry Frye – he lived and he died doing his favorite pastime, but his circuit ride continues, as not one person said anything about burying his body!

    5) The Fiddler’s Dram (9:35)

    This noteworthy tale belongs in my personal collection of fiddler stories. Every such tale I’ve heard tells of mysterious, troubled, cruel, and even silly fiddlers. This bizarre encounter is no exception. I learned it from a senior gentleman in a Missouri nursing home, who swore it was true but recalled no specifics of its origins.

    The “fiddler’s dram” refers to a measurement of the amount of whiskey a fiddler swigs from a jug after he performs. In this grave instance, Pleas Haslock, a community legend on the fiddle, keeps a promise to his townsfolk that reaches far beyond death.

    1. Wicked John and the Devil 17:38
    2. The Maco Station Light 6:07
    3. Sop Doll 11:42
    4. Old Dry Frye 15:57
    5. The Fiddler’s Dram 9:35
  • Release Date: May 18, 1985

    © P 1986 Earwig Music Company, Inc.

    Produced by Michael Robert Frank, Earwig Music Company, Inc. and Jackie Torrence
    Recorded, Edited and Mixed at Acme Recording Studios, Chicago, Illinois, July 11, 1986
    Engineered by Michael Rasfeld, Edited and Mixed by Glen Odagawa and A.F. Wittek
    LP Cover artwork by George Hansen
    Photography by Phil Hyman
    CD Design by Al Brandtner