Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Glen Branscum
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins
Date: June 18, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Blevins: This is June 18, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here in . . . You consider this Onia? Well, where are we here?
Branscum: I would say we’re into Mountain View.
Blevins: Mountain View area?
Branscum: Yeah, in the Mountain View area.
Blevins: We’re in between . . .
Blevins: Okay, that’s right.
Branscum: We’re not near Timbo..
Blevins: Right. Yeah. I’m here with Glen Branscum. This is part of the Lyon College Regional Studies Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. Mr. Branscum, could you start off by telling us when and where you were born?
Branscum: Well, Okemah, Oklahoma, in nineteen and twenty-eight. We moved here, my father moved here, probably I was about eight years old, but he and my mother was . . . They grew up here in Stone County, over near Onia, Arkansas - near here - and so . . . Okemah. Same place as Woody Guthrie.
Blevins: Okay. Well, I knew I’d heard the name of that town before. I bet that’s where I’d heard it.
Branscum: Yeah, probably so.
Blevins: Now, when you moved back to Stone County, did you settle over around Onia?
Branscum: Yes. Well, it’s between here and Onia. A place there, three mile maybe [from] Onia.
Blevins: Did you grow up in a musical family?
Branscum: Yes. My father, he taught a lot of singing schools, and he was also a Baptist preacher, and he rode a horse. He never drove. Rode a horse all over the country and preached in these little Baptist churches, and at that time, there wasn’t very many churches that wasn’t Baptist churches. They was mostly Baptist people in this part of the country at that time. That might be interesting. If I get stuff that’s not too interesting, you let me know.
Blevins: Yeah, well, anything’ll count, I think.
Branscum: All right.
Blevins: And so, did . . . Was he a fiddle player, or just a . . .
Branscum: No, I tell you. He liked quartets, liked gospel quartets, and he sang in those, and he could sing lead or could sing bass, you know. The tenor, he didn’t have much of a tenor voice, because I don’t remember him ever trying to sing tenor, but he was a good bass singer. Sang bass, and he also led songs for our church, and he taught singing schools. I have a sister, too, that teaches singing schools. All of my brothers and sisters, they all took part in the singing in church, you know, and we grew up in church a-singing. Never was bashful, getting on the stage, never was backward about that. My father always made us kids get right out in front of crowds.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, I guess, now that I’ve thought of it, you’ve mentioned your dad was a Baptist preacher, and I know a lot of Baptists thought fiddle playing was a sin. He didn’t think fiddle playing was a sin?
Branscum: No. No, he didn’t think that. Well, now he didn’t . . . Wild square dances and stuff like that he wouldn’t have agreed with it. I mean, he wouldn’t have did that stuff, but fiddle playing and music - any kind of instrument - he was really for it. Banjo and guitar and mandolin, fiddle. Lot of that stuff he played. He wasn’t no hardshell Baptist; he was just preaching Baptist right out of the Bible.
Blevins: Was your mother musical in any way?
Branscum: Yes. Her folks were really, really singers. My grandmother Gammill, she was a Cooper, and so she was one of the real good singers on the old British ballads and all that stuff, because see, at that time, her folks hadn’t been in this country that far from England, you see, and so the Coopers, they come from England and the Branscums, they come from England, so she was a good singer, and all of my mother’s folks were good singers. I heard my mother sing very little, but what she did do, she was good at it, you know. She didn’t do a lot of it, you know, but what she done, she was real good at. Remember the old song, “Cowboy Jack”? She used to do that, and some of the old western songs, because so many people here in her childhood would go out west to work, like in Texas and places, to work on the big cattle ranches out there, and there was some at that time in Oklahoma, too. A lot of people don’t know that, but they was quite a lot of big cattle ranches in Oklahoma, and so they learned them old western cowboy songs, “Cowboy Jack” and a bunch of that stuff.
Blevins: Brought ‘em back here and sung ‘em.
Branscum: Yeah, yeah, back here. “Utah Carl,” you know. That’s a . . . (?) . . . tells a story. They all tell stories. You know, they didn’t sing them much for the glory of just the music part, the story meant as much in those old songs and still do now. If the song don’t . . . I don’t like a song that you can’t understand the words to it. I want to understand what they’re singing. Your students will probably think I’m crazy for that. [laughs]
Blevins: No. No, I kind of like to understand them, myself. Now, what did you do as a young man, career-wise? What did you do for a living?
Branscum: Oh. I was a builder, stonemason and a builder, most of my life. I worked on the railroad when I was young, and in Indiana; I went to Indiana when I was young. Also went to California when I was fifteen, you know, and I worked out there in the dates. That was during World War II that I worked out there, and I worked in the date fields out there.
Blevins: What part of California?
Branscum: Indio. Indio, California. Lakeside, also. There wasn’t no dates around Lakeside, but at that time, around Indio was a lot of date ranches there, and . . . But most of my life was building and stonemason work. I like to do rustic work on houses and stuff. I built quite a few of the houses here, and also a lot of the stone work in this county.
Blevins: How did you get into that line of business?
Branscum: Well, just starting, mainly. I had a good friend that he was a good stonemason, and I started personally working with him, you know, and I just picked it right up real easy, so it’s not a hard thing to pick up. If you got a good strong back and a weak mind, you can do it. [laughs]
Blevins: A weak mind, that’s important.
Branscum: And a good strong back, yeah. And don’t worry about sweating.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, now how did you get to know Jimmy Driftwood?
Branscum: Well, I knew Jimmy all my life, you know.
Blevins: Back before he was Driftwood.
Branscum: Oh, yeah. Jimmy Morris, yeah. And Neal Morris, I knew his daddy. Actually, really, the first job I ever had just as a kid was for Neal Morris - that’s Jimmy’s father - and he was a timber man, cut timber, loved to cut timber, and he bought big cedars over here on this side of Sylamore Creek, what they call North Sylamore, and he bought a lot of the big cedars in there from somebody had a lot of land in there, and he bought all this cedar timber from him, and so I helped cut that cedar, me and a kid friend. We got a job with Neal cutting cedar, and I remember he said, “Boys,” said, “It don’t sound like much pay,” but said, “If you-uns really get in there and work - work steady - ” he said, “end of the week, you’ll have quite a little bit of money,” so we had enough to buy our girlfriends chewing gum. [Laughs] And that’s one of Jimmy Driftwood’s sayings. I take that from Jimmy there. Yeah, I knew Jimmy all my life, and I really liked Jimmy, and Jimmy and I got along fine and dandy, you know, he’d want to take me everywhere he’d go, you know, when he was taking someone. Jimmy done an awful lot by hisself, see, and he, you know, he was a one-man band, and the first, I guess, country and western or folk musician that ever played in Carnegie Hall up there, the highest stage. And I think James, his son, went with him up there, because I had a picture, and once somebody said that was James at the Smithsonian, but I didn’t know James had went, his son James? But he might have went with him and helped him on some of them , sometimes backed him Jimmy up. Most of the concert there was just him alone, and they really loved him. But he would entertain. Jimmy Driftwood was quite an entertainer.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, back in the early sixties, when Jimmy and some other people first started getting people together to play, right before the start of the Folk Festival, were you involved with that?
Branscum: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I moved back here from Indiana in, let’s see, in 1956. I’s telling you I lived there?
Branscum: About forty year ago, and I moved back here, and I joined the Rackensack Folklore Society right away. Jimmy and Cleda . . . Cleda kindly . . . she was kindly their scout for players, and the type of music that Jimmy and I could do was folk music, you know, or the old country and westerns. It didn’t have to be just right down . . . (?), but he liked the old country and western folk music. He wanted to keep it old-timey here like it was back whenever he was a child and his father was singing, and that was kind of the early part of this country, really, in that time. It’s not been that long, but it was kind of the early time of this country. So she wanted me to join the Rackensack Folklore Society, which I did. And I’d go with Jimmy, you know, when they was getting the Folk Center, like to the fair, and quite a few places I went with him to promote the music here in Stone County, to tell everybody about it, you know. And of course, Jimmy, then he had a hit of the “Battle of New Orleans,” you see, and it was sung there in Indiana big time, and then Johnny Horton recorded it, and man, it just went sky-high, some of the biggest sales on an album that ever was at that time, “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton. Never was very much said about it, you know, but at that time, you didn’t get the news like you get it now. It was so much different, you know. If it would be this time that something like that would happen, it would really be big time news, but then it wasn’t all that big. Hope they understand that.
Blevins: Yeah. Now, there in the early sixties, there was a . . . Was it a doctor’s office that they would gather at?
Branscum: Yeah. Dr. Hollister. Martha Hollister, his wife, she loved folk music. She knowed a lot of the old folk songs, the old British ballads and all the old folk songs. She knew a lot of them, and she was a wonderful singer. She could really sing, and Doc Hollister, he liked to play. He wasn’t all that great a musician, but he loved it, and so that made it good. When you love something and you work at it, you’re not going to be no slouch at it, you know. And they’d meet at his place, and other places through there in town, and I never did get in on that much at that time, you know, but I knew all about it. I knew that they . . . Eddie Walker, he was one of the leaders in the thing. There’s others here in the county, you know, still living, but very few are still living. Bookmiller Shannon and Lonnie Avey. Doctor and Martha Hollister, though, they left the country, and they pretty much moved down in Texas. I think they grew up in Texas, and so they moved back. But that was at the first starting of the meetings at that. Of course, I come in then kindly later with the part of it, you know, when I got back here from Indiana, and my job had started in . . . We played up in the courthouse, but you’ve probably heard about this, in the old room up there, the old courthouse where they had their judge, I think, . . . trials. We’d have that thing packed full on Friday night. We played on Friday nights all the time.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, tell me about the very first Arkansas Folk Festival in 1963.
Branscum: And it was a big one. It was . . . I’ll tell you how it got really started, was . . . At that time, Jimmy was really going on to big shows, you know, all over the country, and he’d advertise that thing. Come to Mountain View and see our part of the country. We do the old-time music and folk music there in Mountain View. And lots of times, Jimmy said that they’d say, “Well, is Peter, Paul, and Mary going to be there?” “No. Bookmiller Shannon and Lonnie Avey.” He’d name off some of the old-timers here. They going to be there. They are the roots, see. They are the roots of Peter, Paul, and Mary, and they are the roots of Bob Dylan and all of them. They’d ask about ‘em, and he’d say, “No, no.” It was a big, big festival, and it’s been big ever since. It’s not as big here now as it was back then in the sixties. We had a lot of what they call hippie types at that time, come in on motorcycles. They just finally quit coming. Of course, I think they’re not as big as they was at one time. You’d remember, I guess, when they was going pretty strong. Some of the people around here, they wasn’t thrilled and joyed to see ‘em, you know, some of them, but they didn’t bother me. I about figured out these people are like everybody else. They wanting to be different, you know. They just wanting to be, you know, and now then most of them people is back. Some of them is even in the government, and they was fighting it. [laughs]
Blevins: Did you perform at that first Folk Festival?
Branscum: No, I believe it was the second one that I performed, performed in it, but the first one . . . I wasn’t here at that time. I don’t remember. I was working down in Louisiana some, but see, I was close enough that I could come home on weekends, but I don’t believe I got in on the first one, but if I remember right, the second one. And I don’t even remember the year of the first one.
Branscum: ‘63, okay. See, it was ‘73 when we got the Folk Center, so that’s ten years there that we worked to get the . . . So I’d have had to have been there in ‘74, at the one in ’74 [most likely means ‘64]. Of course, they was all about the same at that time. I believe ‘74 and ‘75 was two of the biggest years that we had in the Folk Center. There was so many people here you couldn’t get through town at all, and there was so many people here that if you was at Sylamore . . . Little place on the river? You know where Sylamore is?
Branscum: Coming up there, it’s probably eight mile from there to Mountain View, and it might would take you four hours to get to Mountain View from there. That was how that . . . was all clogged up with the roads like they had them. It was the same way on the other roads. It was a sight on earth the people that come in there. They come from Chicago . . . They come from everywhere, you know, because Jimmy’d been to all these places, Los Angeles and all these places. He’d been to all these places and advertising big, you know, on his show, and people just come. You can give him credit. Now, you’ll have people around here say, “Ah, that didn’t matter,” but that was the way it was. I mean, I lived through it, and I know it. I paid attention. Some people didn’t pay attention to it, but now then they like to mouth off a little bit about it, you know. [laughs] I don’t reckon it hurt anybody. [laughs]
Blevins: Well, tell me about Jimmy Driftwood, his personality and how was he as a person.
Branscum: Well, I’m going to tell you about Jimmy, how the people loved him. Everybody loved him that come in here. The people here, there was a lot of jealousy over Jimmy. Jimmy made a lot of money quick. He was a school teacher, and just . . . He’d tell a story about whenever he first went into Nashville to try to get something done with some of his songs. Well, he had a hard time there, and they just . . . They didn’t want to fool with any of his songs, you know, so finally Cleda, his wife, told him, said . . . She said . . . He was at Don Warden’s. Cleda told him, said, “Do that song, ‘The Battle of New Orleans,’ for Don before we just leave.” Don said, “Well, I’ll listen to these, see what we might could come up with,” but he said, “Don’t expect too much.” Said, “There’s so many songs out there and all,” and Jimmy done “The Battle of New Orleans,” and he said, “Well, now that song there,” said, “We might do all right with that song.” So, of course, at that time, he hadn’t written, I don’t believe, “The Tennesee Stud” or “The Wilderness Road,” “Long Chains,” some of them songs that made hits, too, and . . . But he had a lot of songs that he’d wrote, you know, that he sung, and . . . Of course, he didn’t do a lot, but he’d have what he thought that they might like, and so he was going to do “The Tennesee Stud,” but he . . . He told me, he said, “I just give up on it. I just decided to just quit and come home, forget about it, and go back to teaching school.” But he said that . . . Then Johnny Horton . . . Do you know the story of Johnny Horton hearing that?
Branscum: Okay. Well, Johnny Horton, he heard that. I believe he was going . . . Well, he was going somewhere to perform that night, and Ralph Emory . . . You know who I’m talking about?
Branscum: All right. Ralph Emory, he put that on his radio program that night, and it was late in the night. He thought, “Well, it had hell and damn in it,” you know, and that’s the reason the radio people, the disc jockeys, wouldn’t play it, on account of they was afraid they’d get in trouble with it. Back in those days anybody that happened to have hell and damn in it, you know . . . So Ralph Emory just put it on there anyhow. Johnny Horton, he heard it and heard Jimmy sing it, and he said . . . He called old Ralph Emory up and said, “I gotta get this [one].” Said, “I want that song.” Said, “I’ll tell you what.” Said, “I’ll buy me a new . . .” What do you call a hair piece?
Branscum: Toupee, yeah. He said, “I’ll buy me a new toupee if I can record that song,” and so he told him, said, “Now, that’s Jimmy Driftwood. He lives in Timbo, Arkansas.” So he got in touch with Jimmy and recorded the song, and it was the biggest seller that year . I don’t know how long it was a big seller, but it was the biggest seller for quite a while. Sold a million. That made Johnny Horton. I remember I was back up into Indiana there, and I was up there just for a little while to do just a little work there, and I wasn’t going to be there, but then my brother come by, and there was a Dairy Queen right across the road from where I lived, and they played that thing continuous, and everywhere you’d go, the radio and everything would have Johnny Horton with “Battle of New Orleans,” you know, and I told my brother. I said, “My goodness.” I said, “Boy, that thing is really going big, you know.” I said, “That song there is really going,” and he said, “You don’t know who that is?” and I said, “No, I have no idea.” No, he said, “You know who wrote that?” I knew Johnny Horton was singing it. He said, “Do you know who wrote that?” I said, “No, I don’t have no idea.” He said, “You know him well,” and I said, “Aaw. Really?” He said, “Yeah, you know him.” Said, “You’re good friends.” And I said, “Who is he?” and he said, “Jim Morris.” I said, “Well, I’ll be doggone,” and boy, it just come to me. That’s just Jimmy to write that, because he loved history, you know, and he loved . . .
Blevins: Well, the Folk Center, now that kind of grew out of the Folk Festival a little bit, but it was separate, too, and did you have any involvement with the planning or the early stages of the Folk Center?
Branscum: Not much. What I did, I just went along with Jimmy whenever . . . You know, Jimmy . . . That place there, he really done a lot of work to get that Folk Center set up. He would put hisself all out for it, and he knew the politicians that it would take to get it. At that time, I don’t think there’d been anybody here that they - might would have been like Eddie Walker, or somebody like that - would have kindly knowed, but they wouldn’t put no time to it, you know. Jimmy just put a lot of time to that. He was playing in Nashville then on the Grand Ole Opry and just come home and put his time to getting that Folk Center done, and we thought we’d get it pretty quick, you know, but of course, like you said, it took ten years to get it, you know. But I set in on the meetings and remember how it all went, and at that time, I’d say close to a hundred percent of the people, I thought - I thought then - was backing Jimmy a hundred percent, but then after we got it, well, it didn’t work like that, you know. Had a lot of jealousy, and they wanted to change this, and they wanted to change that, you know.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, now, you probably went to Washington with Jimmy?
Branscum: Not on that trip, but . . . That first trip he went on, that’s the big trip we’re talking about, that Jimmy went . . . I did know all the people that went on that. I don’t know if I can think of them now, but he’d always take Bookmiller Shannon and Lonnie Avey and Poogy (?) Walls, and he took, I believe, Eddie Walker and . . . Gosh, I can’t remember. Do you remember all them people, Nellie?
Nellie [Mrs. Glen] Branscum: Should be a lot of things with their names on it.
Blevins: Yeah, we can find some other names.
Branscum: Of course, I’ve been to Washington a couple times with Jimmy, but not in that time of getting the Folk Center at that time. Smithsonian, I played at the Smithsonian once there with Jimmy, and then I went back by myself done some of the old - and this was [bi-]centennial year - done some of the old gospel songs, real old ones. Like it’s not even in the song book or anything, and probably came here from England when this country was settled, the old folk gospel, and I knew a lot of them, because of my daddy. They’d been handed down in our family, you know. My daddy knew these old songs. Him and some more of the old-timers would go to churches here, they’d sing those, and this guy come in here, and he was a talent scout for people would go to the Smithsonian the year of the [bi-]centennial birthday of the country, two hundred years. That was in ‘76. I guess Jimmy was the one that told him, said, “You ought to get with Glen Branscum, because he knows some of the old stuff.” So he . . . I seen him; we was up at our . . . Then, we didn’t have the Folk Center. We wasn’t playing up in the courthouse, but we’d rented an old theater there, forever that had been there in Mountain View, and we was playing there, and he come by there looking for getting people to go on his . . . My booking agent was there, and he said, “Glen, do some of them gospel songs.” Said, “This guy, he’s here from up at Washington.” Said, “He’s talent scouting for the . . . to try to get some people to go to the Smithsonian,” and he said, “He’ll probably want you to go up there,” so I did. I done a couple of them as part of their show. Boy, he was right there with me, and he said, “We’ll pay your way, and we’ll give you a thousand dollars for . . .” Said, “You won’t have to be out nothing. Not one dime.” He said, “You’ll get your meals; you’ll get everything.” Said, “When you get on that plane from Little Rock,” . . . (?) . . . and so, I mean they . . .
Blevins: Yeah. Well, now, I guess it was even before the Folk Center ever opened up that that one group split off from the Rackensacks and formed the Mountain View Folklore. What caused that? How come them to split off like that?
Branscum: Well. Children got along better than that bunch got along. I really . . . I know they got into it over two little girls singing. One group thought one sang better than the other one, got into it kind of like that, you know, over two little girls out singin’, you know, and I thought it was terrible. It was awful. But Jimmy never did have nothing to do with that, and they got mad at him because he wouldn’t take sides, so you know, he didn’t have nothing to do with it, with them getting into it over the girls. Poor old Jimmy, he’d catch the wind, you know, if it ever come . . . You had all the jealousy, you know, and then you had people wanting on the show, like this . . . (?) . . . family. Jimmy, he was the head of all that stuff there, you know, and people’d get mad at him because he wouldn’t put them on the show, you know, and you couldn’t have everybody on, and Jimmy picked the people on. He knew the people, and he knew what they could do, and he didn’t . . . He would have to do stuff that he thought would be best for the show, which he was a genius at, and he could do it, too. I tell you what. Some people don’t realize that. We got people around here right now that they can’t no more carry a tune than . . . (?) . . . they’d get mad and you can’t do nothing but put ‘em off to the side. You can’t have that there or it’ll run your people off that comes to hear it, you know. [laughs]
Blevins: Yeah. Now when the Folk Center first opened, Jimmy was the musical director out there, wasn’t he?
Branscum: Yes, he was. Yeah.
Blevins: For a couple years, I guess.
Branscum: Yeah, yeah. Well, Jimmy, he could . . . See, they went down, just a few people - I don’t know how many there was; I don’t remember now if I did know them all - a lot of that stuff I kind of wanted to forget, you know. You know how it is. But anyhow, he’d go down . . . They went down there . . . David Pryor was governor at that time - one of the dumbest governors we’ve ever had, one of the dumbest - well, he fired Jimmy right while they was there. Called up and said Jimmy was fired. He said while they was there. All right, you take anybody, a governor that dumb, that wouldn’t check in on somebody like Jimmy Driftwood - ‘Course, he didn’t know. He didn’t care nothing about this kind of music, you know, he might play band music. Later on I found out I found he said he’d rather hear a band music than hear . . . (?) But see, he did all that just for a few of these people. He never carried Stone County. And I’m proud he didn’t, because I just . . . And that’s the reason I couldn’t . . . I may be wrong, but I just think that . . . I never was part of his . . . (?) . . . I couldn’t go along with his son [Mark Pryor] being senator when he was here, no way. You know, first place, I couldn’t vote for him was I never had heard nothing about his religion until he run, and he was there with that big black Bible everywhere he went, like Clinton. [laughs] He even had prayer there with his family, was on one of his commercials. You know. Well, after he won, have you heard anything about any prayers or any of his religion, after he won? And I’m not against religion at all, you know, I think it’s fair to say, but - if they want to be religious, I think it’s fair to say - but somebody like that, is that hypocritical or not?
Blevins: It may be.
Branscum: You might not want your students to hear this.
Blevins: Well, it won’t hurt anything. It won’t hurt.
Branscum: Well, you have a person . . . (?) . . .
Blevins: Yeah. Well, that’s right. That’s what this is about.
Branscum: But anyhow, that’s the way they got rid of Jimmy, but what I wanted to say is that Jimmy wouldn’t have had to do that. If he had listened to me and one or two more . . . I told him, I said, “Let’s don’t go out without a fight with these people. They can’t do nothing but talk about you.” I said, “Parks and Tourism, they got the final say-so of it.” [Driftwood:] “No, no, no, no. Let them have it. I don’t want to touch it.” He said it ain’t worth it. He said, “This is a bad bunch of people.” So people couldn’t believe it when he said to let them have it, you know, and so that’s the way . . . (?) . . . I said, “Okay.” . . . (?) . . . I said, “You’ve been good to everybody.” Said, “You been good to them people, and never done . . .” But now Jimmy was set in his ways. He was . . . You know, we got into it. He give a barn away down there. Some of us had as much in that barn, building it, as he had in it, and he give it away, and I didn’t like that at all, and he thought they’d always keep it and use it - University of Central Arkansas - and he thought they’d always keep that, and I told him then, I said, “I’ll see the day they’ll sell that.” He said, “Oh, the hell you will. You’re always coming up with stuff like that.” He said, “They’ll never sell that.” Said, “They’ll love it as much as we did.” You know. So we had to buy it. But see, I understood at that time, he really thought he knew the people. But he told me, he said, “Well.” He said, “If I keep it,” he said, “I don’t want folks to have anything I’ve worked for.” Said, “And I don’t want Cleda’s folks to have it, because they’ll get into it, and they’ll fight over it.” He said, “I’d rather just leave it to someplace that might do some good.” And so we give it to the University of Central Arkansas. He give ‘em all of his wealth. He give ‘em all of his land, the farm, everything, all of his wealth, he give them, and . . . But he was thinking then that that’d be . . . And he told me then, he said, “It’ll be a good place here. They’ll have stuff down here.” He really thought that, you know, that they’d get use from it.
Blevins: Well, did they end up selling his farm too?
Branscum: Not yet, they haven’t, no, because Cleda’s still living, his wife. She . . . I don’t know what she’d have to do with it. See, I never understood how they could sell the barn and claim they can’t sell that up there, but see, he did these two deals at different times, so this might have been fixed up up here, but it couldn’t be sold until . . . (?) . . . He might have thought that Cleda could take care of herself ‘til she died, or that she’d be there until she died, which she should have been. She could’ve been,you know, but you get . . . Now, there’s a place right there that where he’s got a nephew taking care of all that, and he wasn’t that bad, I don’t think. But see, once you get out of it, you can’t control nothing. The family can come in . . . (?) . . . But anyway, they still got the land, and I wisht somebody’d buy that house and all there and kindly make a museum out of that. Time to come, that’d be worth something, anyway.
Blevins: Well, when Jimmy left the Folk Center - or was fired - and ended up going off on his own, was there a lot of division in Mountain View and in the county about the Folk Center, a lot of people on opposite sides of that?
Branscum: Oh, yeah. The biggest part of the good old-time players went with Jimmy, biggest part of them. It was a very few . . . It almost just went dead at that time, you know, because there wasn’t nobody there to play the music, and they hired everything come in here that could even clip on a . . . anything, and just terrible. Terrible. I went over there, me and my cousin, it wasn’t long after that, and I hadn’t been back over there since they fired Jimmy, since we quit. I quit with Jimmy and Cleda, and all the old-timers like Bookmiller Shannon and all them old people, they quit too. Me and my cousin went over there. He was quite a musician himself, and me and him played for a while in Rackensack . . . (?) . . ., and we set there a little bit, and boy, it was . . . (?), and said, “My god, man, if this is all they got, I’d rather be off just thinking about something.” [laughs] I said, “I kindly feel the same way.” Didn’t have but very few people. And I’m still not happy with the Folk Center. . . . (?) . . . And I know they . . . You can’t bring a person in here from New York, and one from . . . I don’t know where this . . . Well, there’s not none of them from here. They’re from off. And you can’t bring them people in here and do what the Folk Center was put there to do, no way. Now, Nellie and I, we go over there tonight. We do the old-time country and western, and I do some of the old gospel songs . . . (?) . . . The stuff they got over there, so much of it’s pretty bad, but I see, more and more, people really don’t know what they want anyway, and they don’t know what’s good anymore, in music. They don’t even know some of the worst, what I know is the worst in town. I think the crowd kind of feels sorry for them, and they give them as big a hand as anybody. Used to wasn’t like that, you know.
Blevins: Well, do they have any more local performers besides you-all? [interruption in tape]
Branscum: . . . still a part of it, and I’d have always been there if I hadn’t of . . .
Blevins: Well, I was going to ask you about a few people that you remember that played a role in all of that development . . . A fellow named John Opitz.
Branscum: Oh, yeah.
Blevins: What do you remember about him?
Branscum: Not much. Now see, these people, they’re down there, but as far as . . . I tell you the main men that got the thing. That was Jimmy Driftwood and Wilbur Mills.
Blevins: He was another one I was going to ask you about.
Branscum: And [J. William] Fulbright. Fulbright. Now Jimmy stayed on their tails, you know. I was up there one Sunday morning. I went by there, and he said, “I’m going to call old Wilbur Mills. Would you like to talk to Wilbur Mills?” I said, “Well, I’ll say hi to him,” and so he called him, and he was telling him about it. Said, “Hey, hadn’t heard from you in a while? How’s things going with our project up here in Washington?” He said, “Oh, fine and dandy, Jimmy.” Said, “You’re gonna to get it. We’re getting it. You’re gonna to get it.” And he said, “I got a young man out here wants to talk to you. He’s a Branscum grew up in this part of the country.” And he handed me the phone and I said, “Hello, Wilbur.” And he said, “Hi there.” I said, “We’re still working down here, wanting to get a place, a good place, for us to play our music and to have our crowds and stuff, you know.” He said, “You’re gonna to get it. You’re gonna to get it.” If I’d a known then about Fannie Fox, I’d have said, “Well, lay off of Fannie Fox and get on the ball and get it here,” you know. [laughs]
Blevins: He was busy with other stuff, wasn’t he?
Branscum: Yeah. But old Wilbur was good. I liked Wilbur, you know. He really helped us, you know. He was a good friend to Jimmy. You know, he couldn’t have had anything to do with them a-firing him, if he could’ve had it. But you know, you’d think a senator could do about anything he wanted, but he can’t, you know. He’s got his limits there, you know, and he didn’t want to stick his neck out to go into something like that unless he really knows about you, and they know how to . . . (?) . . . check on you. The government ain’t gonna do it either, something like that, you know.
Blevins: Well, I never realized that Fulbright was involved too. So Jimmy kept in touch with him, too.
Branscum: Oh, yeah. Yeah, Fulbright and Wilbur, they was the main two. Wilbur was up here whenever we dedicated it [Folk Center]. He wanted to plow with a white mule, and Jimmy got his white mule, and we hooked him up, and I could tell that mule, you know, didn’t know nothing about . . . He was kindly nervous, you know. I’d broke horses and I’d drove horses all my life, and I knew what to expect.
Blevins: A little high-headed?
Branscum: Yeah. I thought to myself, “Boy, this kind of risky.” And he put them lines down around himself, something we’d never do when we were breaking horses. When we’s plowing him, breaking to plow, we’d have these lines out here and hold ‘em and hold the plow handle. And I come within a little of telling him, saying, “Let’s put these lines down, tell him to take ‘em off from around him.” When I seen him put ‘em on, and I thought, “Well, he’ll probably be all right.” . . . (?) . . . And when he said, “Get up!”, you know. He knowed what to say there, you know. That old mule, boy, he made a big lunge and jump, you know, it scared him, and people started clapping - you know, cheering and clapping - big crowd all around there, and when he done that, that mule, I seen he was going to start to running, and I grabbed one side of him and Jack Morris - that’s Jimmy’s nephew - he grabbed the other side, and we held that old mule until we got the lines off of him. Well, we held him to we calmed him down, got him unhooked. And I get to tell everybody that I caught Wilbur Mills’s mule. [laughs] I get tickled at this guy over there that . . . He’s a . . . folklorist over there. Useless. Never been worth nothing. Bill McNeil. You know him?
Blevins: Yeah, I know Bill.
Branscum: All right. I never seen a man as useless as he is, you know, and dumb. He’s one of the dumbest to have a job like he’s got. Of course now, the state, you know, you can figure that with the state, state workers. [laughs] But anyway, he told me . . . See, he wouldn’t let us do Jimmy’s songs [at the Folk Center]. He hated Jimmy Driftwood like everything. Jimmy knowed so much more about folklore than he knew, and see, the Smithsonian sent him down here to get with Jimmy Driftwood to learn folklore. You know, sitting right there, see, you could learn a lot of folklore. Jimmy Driftwood. Well, I guess he didn’t . . . He thought he was smarter than Jimmy or something. He never did meet Jimmy, never said hi to him, never met him. He wouldn’t even come to see him. He went over to the Folk Center, and they’d tell him about the Folk Center . . . (?) . . ., And they told him over there, “Well, if you’ll stay here and just keep Jimmy Driftwood out, you’ll have a job here the rest of your life,” and Jimmy’s dead now, but he still thinks he has to keep him out, I reckon. Anyhow, they wouldn’t let ‘em do Jimmy’s songs over there.
Blevins: Well, I guess Jimmy, as he got older, he eventually got to where he would at least go back to the Folk Center, wouldn’t he? Didn’t he make a few appearances at the Center later in life?
Branscum: I think . . . He never did play over there much. He never played much. He’d go over there. He’d go over there and eat in their restaurant. He’d go visit the . . . (?) . . ., but he never did play. As far as I know, he . . . Well, I know he never did. All the time . . . If he’d played there, I’d knowed it. Of course, he had a funeral there, but that was a funeral. You know there wasn’t none of them people that . . . head of that Folk Center at his funeral? Bill McNeil, none of ‘em was at his funeral. That’s a sorry bunch of people that’ll do something like that, you know, not show no respect. And he’s [McNeil] still just as bad. Whenever they told him he had to do Jimmy’s songs up there, he put down sixteen songs that we could do there. A few. And a lot of people don’t know them songs, and then a lot of people . . . Songs they do know just not on that list, and they’re afraid to do ‘em over there. I tell ‘em, “Do ‘em.” I say, “They [Parks and Tourism] told me down there to do his songs up there,” and I said, “If he gives you any trouble, just come and tell them or call right down there and tell ‘em what’s going on.” I said, “I’m not bothering ‘em since they told me that. But anyway . . . He never . . . He needs to be out of there. I bet he didn’t work forty hours last summer, because he was sick in the hospital in bed all summer. Still got his job over there. He ought to be fired. If he’s not able to do it, need to get him out of there. And he’s never going to make a star out of Glen Ohrlin. He just as well to forget that, you know. [laughs] Ain’t none of them around here going to be stars, I’ll tell you that for sure. Well, I lived through that stuff, and it made me kindly different towards people, really, to see how people could do. I’ve never had anything come up like that, you know. Get out there and find somebody . . . (?) . . .
Blevins: Well, do you have any other memories about the Folk Center or the Folk Festival you want to say something about before we stop?
Branscum: Well, I think we’ve covered about everything. Our Festival is going real good. It’s a . . . We’re still getting lots of people coming. Of course, they got the Bean Festival now. Have you ever been to it?
Blevins: I’ve never been to it.
Branscum: It’s good. I believe this year they was as many at it as they was at the spring festival. It’s got big too. But it helps the little town here at home. We have people here in this town, though, and business people that still think that music never had nothing to do with how much it’s growed anyhow, but it wouldn’t have. It’d been about like Leslie or Shirley still, you know. The music has brought lots of people in here. Lots of people that lives here . . . (?) . . . People that don’t think it has ever done any good just don’t know what they’re talking about.
Blevins: Well, I reckon I’ve about asked everything I planned on.
Branscum: Can’t think of anything else. I thought I’d tell you that story about the Smithsonian. That was a good thing for me, that trip there.
Blevins: Yeah, I didn’t know about that . . .
Branscum: Of course, I went . . . You know, Jimmy and I, we played a lot of good places, you know, and every big university in the country, you know, we’ve been in. We got a lot of people come in here . . . You know, Jimmy . . . A lot of people that been done like they done . . . (?) . . . at the Folk Center would have been out like that. “Well, don’t never go to the Folk Center.” A lot of people said, “Come down the mountain and see what we got. We’ve got a Folk Center down there, and you own part of it. “Because,”he [Driftwood] said, “the government built it.” And he’d say, “Come and see our music now.” Of course, we had the barn and a lot of times he’d mention the Folk Center and never would mention the barn. And I asked him one day, I said, “Jimmy, when you’re up there talking to people, why don’t you mention the Jimmy Driftwood Barn.” And he said, “Well, if they come to Mountain View, they’ll find it all.” [laughs] That shows you right there - people would come. Of course, you know, something like that, it don’t take long for people to forget, and then, too, that’s been a few years back, and it don’t take very many years till you don’t have the people that knows about these things. At my age, I know I can look back and see pretty different times. Why it ain’t like it used to be. . . . (?) . . .
Blevins: Well, Mr. Branscum, I thank you.
Branscum: Well, I thank you, too. I want you to know I appreciate you.
Blevins: All right.