Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Percy Copeland
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins
Date: June 23, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Blevins: All right. That was “Home Sweet Home,” huh? Did you learn that off the radio, or where did you hear that?
Copeland: I first heard that one while I was growing up.
Blevins: Where did you hear it from? Did you hear it off the radio, or what?
Copeland: Oh, I didn’t hear it on the radio. I picked it up and started playing it when I was a kid. When I first started, I was nine years old. That’s when I first started. [Plays a little] The first part everybody knows. [Plays some more]
Blevins: That was “Wildwood Flower.”
Blevins: All right.
Copeland: I think I must have first heard that one, I don’t know, from the Carter family. I believe I did. Not too sure, but I believe so.
Blevins: Heard it on the radio from them, or on . . .
Blevins: [Louder] On the radio from the Carter family?
Copeland: Ah, just heard them whenever they was singing, listening on the TV [probably means radio]. I believe that was right now, as fur as I can remember. I might of learned it different. I don’t know whether it’s changed that to a different tune or what. I play a lot of gospel tunes, too, you know.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, let me ask you a few questions, and then we’ll let you play again. Mr. Copeland, your name is Percy Copeland, right?
Blevins: And where were you born?
Copeland: Henderson, Arkansas. Ten mile east of Mountain Home.
Blevins: Okay, and I guess the place where you were born is probably under the lake [Norfork] right now, isn’t it?
Copeland: Yeah, the lake’s right the edge of it. They got a bridge clean built over it now. I ain’t been back since they built the bridge, but I was there when they was running them big ferry boats. I worked on them before I left there.
Blevins: Well, I’ll be. Well, what year were you born?
Copeland: 1914. 24th of August.
Blevins: You’re 88 years old.
Blevins: Okay. Now, did you grow up in Henderson?
Blevins: Did you grow up on a farm?
Copeland: Eh, all sorts of it. Anything come along, I worked at it, farming and making shovels, crosscut saws, and . . . Just name it. . . . (?) . . . Never did turn down nothing. Even worked on that Norfork dam they built.
Blevins: Did your parents have a farm over there?
Copeland: Oh, yeah. Well, we didn’t have no farm. We worked for another big outfit that had a farm and had them old-time ferry boats a-running across the water. They owned a big bunch of land. They’d hire us to work for them, you know, and we’d work for fifty cents a day, a dollar. Oh, that was tough.
Blevins: Well, did you ever travel across the country, go to Washington or anywhere like that?
Copeland: Oh, with Jimmy Driftwood, yeah.
Blevins: Before you met Jimmy, did y’all ever go pick apples or anything like that?
Copeland: No, never did.
Blevins: Y’all just stayed there in Henderson?
Copeland: Well, once in a while we maybe might go down in the bottoms to pick cotton or something like this, you know, but that’s all. As fur as these other places, I didn’t get to travel till I got with Jimmy.
Blevins: Now, did your family play a lot of music when you were a kid?
Copeland: Well, some of them could play a little. My wife could play the guitar, she could play the violin, and play on the organ. Several of the kids could play it, but they didn’t play too long and quit. I don’t know whether they got lazy or what you’d call it.
Blevins: Well, how did you end up up here around Mountain View?
Copeland: Well, I guess we just happened to hear about the place, and . . . (?) . . . we just moved over here. Jimmy Driftwood was playing up there at the courthouse when we moved here that year. Somebody said that was the sixties. I don’t know what it was, what year he was playing upstairs, you know, at the courthouse. After I moved over here, it wouldn’t too long that he grabbed me then.
Blevins: Did you just go up there and listen to them and then . . . ?
Copeland: Well, yeah. I got up there and listened to ‘em, and he found out what I could do because he tried me out a little.
Blevins: So he just made you one of the group, huh?
Blevins: When they had that first Folk Festival back in 1963, did you play at that first Festival?
Copeland: Yeah, I guess I did. I played all of them, rode that float back and forth on ‘em and play.
Blevins: Yeah. You remember what you would have played at those early festivals back in the sixties, what tunes?
Copeland: Oh, I played a lot of them. Dancing tunes and these kind of tunes. “Crooked Stovepipe”, “Soldier’s Joy”, “Eighth of January,” and all them sorts of stuff. Played all them. Of course, “Soldier’s Joy” is one that I was in the movie playing the tune. I done that. Me and an old fiddler, played that “Soldier’s Joy” in it. That bootlegger movie? [Bootleggers, 1974]
Blevins: Oh, yeah. You remember the name of it?
Copeland: Made about a year or two after the Folk Center was built.
Blevins: Yeah, but the one they made down around Calico Rock . . .
Copeland: Yeah, Calico and another place on the other side. Slim Pickens was in it.
Blevins: And you were playing . . .
Copeland: Buddy Carmichael and an old guy that played the fiddle played the fiddle together with. We done a good job together. [laughs]
Blevins: Well, I’ll be. Now, you mentioned that you went a lot of places around the country with Jimmy Driftwood . . .
Copeland: Oh, went everywhere outside of across the water. Everywhere, yeah.
Blevins: Now, you went to Washington, D.C., with him, and . . .
Copeland: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Blevins: Did you go along with that very first trip, when he took a bunch of people to Washington?
Copeland: Took a bunch of people, me and my wife and one or two of the kids, and . . . Oh, yeah. That’s when it was, yeah.
Blevins: Did he ever take you up to the Smithsonian with him?
Copeland: No, I don’t guess he did. I don’t guess. I don’t remember.
Blevins: Did you ever go up around Boston, or New York, or anywhere up there with him?
Copeland: Well, I don’t know. Went so many places I don’t know where all we was. Went everywhere seemed like. I enjoyed a lot of them. The oldest place I been is the old . . . St. Joe, I believe it was, in Missouri? With them old big buildings.
Blevins: Yeah. When the Folk Center first opened thirty years ago, did you play when they first opened?
Copeland: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Been ever since.
Blevins: So you never did leave the Folk Center when Jimmy Driftwood left it? You just kept playing out there, even after he left?
Copeland: . . . (?) . . . Driftwood . . . (?) . . . like that. Take and go over and then come back and go to work.
Blevins: So you’ve been playing at the Folk Center every year since it first opened?
Copeland: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I first played it the first day it opened, the first night.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, are you the only person still playing out there that’s been every day since it opened?
Copeland: Well, I’m the only one of my bunch, yeah, my bunch, but a lot of people, you know. Other people played. I played with Glen and Nellie Branscum. I played with a lot of different people, and they finally quit, and then I’d play with somebody else.
Blevins: Well, who’d you first play with when the Folk Center first opened?
Copeland: Well, me and my wife played with two guys, one named Bookmiller Shannon and Lonnie Avey. Them’s the two we played with for several years.
Blevins: Now Bookmiller Shannon was a banjo player, wasn’t he?
Copeland: Yeah, he was a good banjo player, he was.
Blevins: And Lonnie Avey was a guitar player?
Copeland: Oh, he was a guitar outfit, but he was kind of a cut-up. I don’t know. Try things I didn’t like.
Blevins: What, did he show out up there?
Copeland: Aw, he got up on stage, you know, he’d try to twist, you know. I didn’t like that. No, I didn’t like that. Well, it’s the wrong thing, furthermore.
Blevins: Was he from here in Mountain View?
Copeland: Lonnie Avey?
Copeland: He lived out at Timbo, him and Bookmiller Shannon both. They got one boy working for the county judge now up there at the courthouse, he’s a county judge.
Blevins: Now would you mind playing “Soldier’s Joy”? You mentioned you played that one in the movie.
Copeland: Let’s see what I’d better play that on. Something better than that. That’s a good harp, but there’s certain things you want to play them on.
Blevins: You going to pull your good one out for that?
Copeland: A G. I don’t like a G, but I can play it on it pretty well. Let’s see what this thing is. Boy, I have lots of problems with these harps. They ain’t good no more.
Blevins: Is that right?
Copeland: A lot of ‘em ain’t got no tone no more. You can make a tone with a harp if they’re any good, you know.
Copeland: Some of them just like rotten wood.
Blevins: I’ll be. I just thought about it earlier. When you first moved up here around Mountain View, what did you do for a living back in those days?
Copeland: Well, I drawed a little bitty check, you know. I still draw a little bit, you know, because . . . After I got hurt and started drawing a check - disabled check.
Blevins: Oh, you did? How’d you get hurt?
Copeland: I tore my back up . . . (?) . . . Had to quit then. So I got into playing with this.
Blevins: So you hurt your back when you were still living up Baxter County?
Copeland: Well, I guess I must have done it when I was working on that Norfork dam there. There was a lot of heavy stuff to handle, and all that stuff. I handled it a little, manpowered it. That’s one thing about it, I never turned nothing down, you know.
Blevins: Well, they probably had people waiting to take your job if you did.
Copeland: Oh, yeah.
Blevins: Well, did you start working on that dam when they first started building it?
Copeland: Well, pretty shortly, I believe it was. They hadn’t been working on it too long till I went to work on it. I started to quit before it got done, but I didn’t. I like to fell one time on the durn thing. That kindly got me shook up a little bit. I had a son-in-law got killed on that same night. Fell down in one of them man-holes. He was wadded up, why, they could put him in a basket, and he was a big guy, bigger than I was. It smashed him. I was working that night, too, but I’d quit the night shift and went to work in the daytime just before he done that. Somebody left one of them holes uncovered, so he went through it. So that done that. So that scared me off. I told them I was going to work somewheres else.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, what kind of gospel songs do you usually play?
Blevins: You mentioned earlier you play gospel music sometimes, or sacred songs?
Copeland: Well, gospel tunes. I never played as many of them as I did during the last few years. I even got them on tape now.
Blevins: Oh, do you?
Copeland: Yeah. These old-time gospel tunes. I’ve got twelve on a tape.
Blevins: Is that right?
Copeland: I got where I like gospel about as good as I do any other kind you play anymore. I do.
Blevins: Do you play a lot of that out at the Folk Center?
Copeland: Well, I play it. Before my show’s over, I play one or two tunes, same way . . . (?) . . .
Blevins: Now tell me again, what nights do you play over at the Folk Center?
Copeland: Well, you can’t tell every week, but this week and last week it’s on Monday and Wednesday. I’m over there whatever time he [musical director] has me. That guy’s so crazy he don’t know whether he’s asleep or awake.
Blevins: Now who’s the musical director out there now at the Folk Center?
Copeland: Well, the main one, you mean?
Blevins: The guy that does the music out there.
Copeland: . . . (?) . . . His name is John [Van Orman] somebody, but I can’t think of his last name, but he . . . I don’t know. He ain’t much, or don’t want to be much. I don’t know what it is. Other boy says he . . . Well, they say he’s from New York. I said, “No wonder. Jimmy knew enough to go up when they went through there on tour trip to play, I bet we played pretty near half a day before people recognized what in the world we were doing. They didn’t know if we’d cut the junk, you know, and the city junk, I mean, playing.
Blevins: Well, now, tell me a little bit about Jimmy Driftwood. What did you think of Jimmy?
Copeland: Well, I think he was all right, funny in some ways, but he still was a good guy, you know, as far as I know. Now, if he hadn’t been too good, he wouldn’t have took me on. [Laughs] I don’t know too much about it. I was talking to a guy there yesterday, I believe, about how he done about the money deal, you know. If you had a few thousand dollars in your pocket, you could go borrow from him, but if you had ten dollars in your pocket, he wouldn’t even listen. I couldn’t figure that part out. I don’t care if he’d know you well, he wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t figure it, whether he thought you couldn’t pay it or what.
Blevins: I guess he probably had quite a bit of money, didn’t he, from all the records?
Copeland: Yeah. But it was like when he give that barn away, that’s where he messed up. He should have give it to some of the players, you know. But he give it to a dad-burn college [University of Central Arkansas]. Now Glen [Branscum] and them have to buy it back. They’s aiming to sell it to ‘em. Charged ‘em fifty thousand dollars to buy it back.
Blevins: That’s what the people have to pay the college?
Copeland: That’s what the college . . . (?) . . . They wasn’t out a dime on it.
Blevins: Yeah. I’ll be.
Copeland: Fifty thousand dollars. And we’re playing for nothing out there, trying to help him out.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, how come him to give all that stuff to the college down there?
Copeland: Don’t ask me. I couldn’t figure it out. A lot of people couldn’t figure that out.
Blevins: Well. Now, Cleda’s still living, isn’t she?
Copeland: Oh, yeah, she’s living, but she’s in a rest home up there that joins that hospital where they always went to. Said she didn’t want to come back. They said she looked good and got around good. Didn’t want to be in Mountain View no more . . . (?)
Blevins: Now you played out at his barn last night, didn’t you, Driftwood’s barn?
Copeland: Yeah. I played out there last night and the night before.
Blevins: Had a pretty big crowd last night?
Copeland: My god, yeah. That barn ain’t big enough. It’s as big as Jimmy wanted it, of course, but it ain’t big enough.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, you got anything else? Anything you played last night you want to play right now?
Copeland: Well, let’s see now. I don’t know.
Copeland: “Angel Band”.
Copeland: If that thing had a little tone to it . . . It ain’t got no more tone to it than rotten wood. Maybe that paint knocks it off.
Blevins: Well. And that was “Angel Band”?
Copeland: Yeah, that was “Angel Band”. I didn’t know about that tune till I’d done made my tape, but . . . I put that other tune on, but I didn’t put that one on. You put a lot of tunes on, you think that’s all of them. Then somebody comes along, you got a hundred more of them you want to put on.
Blevins: Now that’s an old gospel song too, isn’t it?
Copeland: Oh, yeah. I’ll be right back. [Mr. Copeland gets up and goes in the next room to get a copy of his album/tape “Percy Copeland, Uncloudy Day.”] There’s that’n with gospel tunes on it. Glen and Nellie [Branscum] had to help me on that. Them hadn’t been made over a year ago, a little over a year ago. I’d like to try one of the tunes on that.
Blevins: That was “Uncloudy Day.”
Copeland: No, it wasn’t.
Blevins: Well, what song was that?
Copeland: “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies.”
Blevins: Oh, okay.
Copeland: Here’s “Uncloudy Day.”
Blevins: That was “Uncloudy Day.” All right. Well, tell me. You mentioned that you’ve been playing the harmonica since you were about nine years old. Is that right?
Copeland: Nine years old. The first tune I played was “Home Sweet Home.”
Blevins: How’d you get your first harmonica?
Copeland: Well, you could buy them for a quarter apiece, or fifty cents, you know. They was easy got, and they’d last a long time. They was good harps, better than you can buy now for thirty dollars.
Blevins: Yeah. Did you buy it just at a store there in Henderson?
Copeland: Yeah, it had a store where they had them, yeah.
Blevins: Bought it for a quarter?
Copeland: Yeah. Some of them, some priced at fifty cents, but no higher than that. It was fifty cents or a quarter.
Blevins: And you just taught yourself how to play it?
Blevins: How come you to buy it? You just decided it looked good?
Copeland: [laughs] Well, I set up my mind, you know, what I was gonna do, I suppose I did. So I just got it in my head when I wasn’t working, kept on till I done it.
Copeland: “In the Sweet By and By.”
Blevins: I was able to figure that one out. When I hear just the music, sometimes I have to look and see. It’s a little hard for me to pick out, but I figured that one out.
Copeland: I wished I could get good harmonicas like they used to.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, how much would a harmonica like that cost now?
Copeland: Ah . . . They’re pretty high. The cheapest ones are over twenty dollars.
Blevins: Is that right?
Copeland: And they ain’t worth a dime.
Copeland: “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.” I had a harp last night blowed good till I got up on stage, and it took a little poot fit there and, boy, made me sick. That’s the way they are, they just junky. Just like something caught in there. Couldn’t get nothing out of there. People knowed what it was, though, because I’d done played once. They knowed it wasn’t me. [laughs] If it was me, I’d have run off, I guess.
Copeland: That’s a Carter record. “Cyclone of Rye Cove,” Rye Cove cyclone, or something like that. I can’t hardly pronounce it.
Blevins: But that was a Carter family song?
Copeland: Yeah. I play some every once in a while. I like them pretty well. But as fur as playing most of it’s awful old songs. A lot of this new stuff I wouldn’t play if I knowed how. It’s the same as gospel. I’d rather hear them gospel tunes as all these new’ns. I got twelve on the tape.
Blevins: You mentioned your wife used to play with you. Ain’t that right?
Copeland: Ah, she played the guitar.
Blevins: She played the guitar, did she? Is that a picture of her up there?
Copeland: That’s . . . Let’s see. His name was . . . He lived in Nashville. He moved up here, and his wife made them there pictures. Mark West, I believe his name was.
Blevins: Mark West?
Copeland: I believe it was. He finally got a little bad where he had to quit playing . . . (?) . . . Something was wrong with him. So I don’t know whether he’s still here or not.
Blevins: Now what was your wife’s name?
Copeland: Idey [Ida]. Idey Copeland. There on them tapes, most of ‘em. I don’t know about that’n, but there on them other ones I’ve got.
Copeland: If I had a harp, I’d learn how to play. I’d play one where I . . . (?) . . . These old ones or whatever Some of it goes pretty good and some don’t.
Copeland: Spent a lot more money than what I’ll make.
Blevins: Yeah, well, a lot of us do things where we spend more money than we make. Before you moved up here to Mountain View, did you play a lot?
Copeland: Well, I played quite a bit over there around. We’d go to one another’s house, people would, and play. Maybe they’d do a little dancing. But it wasn’t no . . . (?) . . . We wouldn’t go to them kind.
Blevins: Well, were your family church-going people, when you grew up?
Copeland: No, they wasn’t really. Me and my wife mostly were the whole deal. We were Pentecost.
Blevins: I believe I know that one. “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”
Copeland: Yeah. Well, I’d like a good tone to one if I could get a good harp, but these here, some of these don’t make no tones. What little they got, that’s all they’ve got. Kind of like the little reeds that’s in there. They’re made out of a little (?) pin, and ain’t no good. We played some last year we’d buy. You’d play one an hour and lay it up, take it up and blow again and about so much of it, just wheeze, wheeze, wheeze. We was having to beat on it for about thirty minutes before we could get it going again, and it done that for a long time. I finally got tired of two of ‘em and throwed them in the trash barrel. That was about $45.00 worth. We had a lot of fun out of ‘em. A G harp, I played them so durn much I don’t like them. That one there, it don’t sound like a lotta G’s. That’s supposed to be a . . . (?) . . . That guy said they’s good harps, but I don’t know whether they are or not. He might not know, because he’s just a banjo player. But we gotta woman plays the banjo, and she’s something, I’m telling you. one would play (?).
Blevins: Who’s that?
Copeland: Her name is Becky somebody. I can’t get her last name. Plays over at the Folk Center and the barn. Lives down on number [highway] five a little ways. Oh, she can do that now.
Copeland: I wish this thing would play better.
Copeland: “Eighth of January.”
Blevins: That’s a . . . Jimmy Driftwood helped make that tune famous, didn’t he?
Copeland: Yeah, I know it.
Copeland: “Bile them Cabbages Down.” I sold tapes yesterday. Played all day, and sold seven is all. People like ‘em, though. I tell ‘em to mail order when I get a new one. Oh, got tapes everywhere . . . over in Germany. If I ever get all the ones I’ve got sold out, I’m going to quit the job.
Blevins: That’s going to be it for you, huh?
Copeland: Well, yeah. These recordings, when you get out and go to different towns, you sell a lot, you know. Here I’ve got to wait. Ain’t nobody to take me.
Copeland: “Buffalo Gals.” I don’t play that tune much. Pretty good tune. I like it when I fool with it. “Casey Jones”. That’s an old . . . (?) . . . tune. He sings that’n.
Blevins: That one there was “Casey Jones”?
Copeland: Yeah. That’s “Casey Jones”. Old . . . (?) . . . could really sang that. I heard him one time at the world’s fair up in Michigan. He was there, him and Barbara Fairchild. Boy, that son of a gun could sing.
Copeland: Oh, “Raggedy Ann”, “Raggedy Ann”.
Blevins: I don’t guess I’d ever heard that one.
Copeland: “Raggedy Ann”. “Ragtime Annie”. Some calls it “Raggedy Ann”. Yeah, it’s a real old tune.
Copeland: “Liberty”. “Liberty”. Usually play it on a fiddle all the time.
Blevins: Now what’s the name of that again?
Copeland: “Liberty.” She plays that. She’s a good fiddler . . . (?) . . . a good banjo player too, but . . . (?) . . .
Copeland: “I don’t want your Greenback Dollar.” I’ll play another’n. “Little Log Cabin in the Lane.” You don’t hear that too much anymore. A lot of people don’t . . . They get . . . (?) . . . on that junk stuff.
Copeland: “Little Log Cabin in the Lane.”
Blevins: “Little Log Cabin in the Lane.”
Copeland: That’s real old.
Blevins: Yeah. When do you reckon you learned that one?
Copeland: Oh, it’s been the last several years. First time I ever heared it, I guess. I don’t remember what year that’d been. But I just know about 275 [songs].
Blevins: Is that right? That’s all you know.
Copeland: I guess. [laughs] That’s all I need to know. I don’t get to them.
Blevins: Yeah, that’s a lot of songs.
Blevins: Now what was the name of that one again?
Copeland: “. . . (?) . . . Blues.” That’s real old, too.
Copeland: I like to blow one hard. Can’t blow it hard. It won’t work.
Blevins: What was the name of that song?
Copeland: “Wreck of the Old 97”. Yeah, I like to . . . (?) . . . At the festival they had ‘em. I messed up no telling how many harps riding that parade and blowing. They said, “Now, blow it where people can hear it,” and I did all right. I bet they could hear it a half a mile. [laughs] And when I got back to the courthouse there, I had to play an hour and a half on that besides. I could tell I played all right, but I reckon it was good for me. . . . (?) . . . you rest up right quick.
Copeland: “ Durain’s Hornpipe.” This old guy used to play the fiddle up here - had his funeral - for the square dance. Hubert Kendrick. You probably heard of him. He played the fiddle and I played the first tune, “Durain’s Hornpipe.” I’ll learn it. Oh, you can learn anything. You learn one tune, you can learn anything you want to now. A lot of them won’t . . . They can’t learn one. They want to try a dozen. They can learn now, they’ll try it again. Never learn it thataway. I know a little old boy; he’s about that high. He’s playing all right, but he ain’t got it like he wants it yet, either. Wrong way, got a little bit of hum in there. That don’t work. You don’t hum in a harp, you blow. You go to humming, you’ve got to hum without the harp. I don’t know whether he’ll ever notice it or not. I hope he’ll do it.
Blevins: He’s just trying to help it along there, singing a song for it.
Copeland: Well, . . . (?) . . . I didn’t want to make him mad about it. I hoped maybe he’d catch that after a while and then learn what he was doing.
Blevins: So you give lessons?
Copeland: Well, I can tell ‘em what they’re supposed to do. That’s just like . . . I don’t know what date that is. Some woman . . . And old woman and man going to bring a bunch up here from some place, want me to try and learn ‘em how to play the harp. I think she’s crazy. I didn’t say nothing, but you don’t learn ‘em. You can tell them. That’s all you can do. If I’s to learn ‘em, they’d be okay. You can’t learn ‘em. You got to tell them what to do and how to do it. Pick out one tune, don’t do nothing else till you learn that one tune. Some of them, they’ll try this, and if they can’t learn it, they’ll try something else. They never learn that-a-way. Got to stay on that one, because any tune you want - no matter if it’s gospel, or any other kind, either. I don’t need to play another . . . (?) . . . [laughs]
Blevins: Now what’s that one called?
Copeland: “Snow on the Mountain.” An old guy used to play the fiddle played that - Seth Mize. You might have heared of him when he lived round here.
Blevins: I’ve heard of him, yeah. Seth Mize.
Copeland: We played it at Dogpatch together. Seth Mize and his wife - she made soap - and my wife and him played.
Blevins: So you played at Dogpatch.
Copeland: Yeah, played there back and forth. Played everywhere, I reckon. Silver Dollar City. Just back and forth, you know.
Blevins: Just got to make a living from it, huh?
Copeland: Yeah, though I wasn’t worried about the living as I was just the playing, you know.
Copeland: “Old Joe Clark”. I ain’t playing like I should really. Could play a little better. Oh, you do better with a guitar helping you than you do by yourself. You can do it by yourself, but it’s different.
Copeland: “Red River Valley.” Right up the hill there’s where that guy killed hisself lived, . . . (?) . . . name was Barry. Killed hisself, let the tree fall on him. You heard about it didn’t you? Name was Barry. Falling down a tree and let it fall on him and kill him.
Blevins: Huh. Did he do it on purpose?
Copeland: I guess so. His wife, she’d left him for about so many months, you know, and he was worried about that and so on, and I guess that’s what done it. I wouldn’t have done that, though. But he did. They said he just walked into it, let it fall on him. Could have got away from it, but didn’t.
Blevins: Well, I’ll be.
Copeland: That’s a nice place, but she’ll never sell it, probably. I don’t know. He done a lot of work on it and made a nice home out of it.
Blevins: Lived up that road right there?
Copeland: Lived up on the hill just a little ways there.
Blevins: I’ll be.
Copeland: Their land’s plumb down to the road here, goes with it. Might sell it, but I don’t know. Land’s selling pretty slow right now. Pretty place that was.
Blevins: This just happen here a while ago?
Copeland: Well, it might have been two or three months ago, something like that. A little ago. It ain’t been too long ago. Sawing down a great big tree for somebody. Instead of getting out of the way of it, he got in the way of it. Fell right across there and smashed all to pieces. He was a pretty big guy, you know. He knowed all about them and how to cut them. . . . (?) . . . Yeah, he done it on purpose, just over her. Now she come back, stays there most the time. She told somebody she didn’t like it. Well, why she living up there in that house if she didn’t like it?
Copeland: “Tennessee Waltz”. No, I ain’t gonna kill myself. If I do, it’d be an accident. I’m gonna live as long as the Lord’ll let me.
Blevins: You’ve made it several years already, haven’t you?
Copeland: Yeah, quite a few. I’d still like to make a couple more at least. Just wait til he says it.
Copeland: “Over the Waves” waltz.
Blevins: Now what was that one called?
Copeland: “Over the Waves” waltz. “Over the Waves”. I’ve got that on my other tape. Didn’t make it this time. I had four different kinds. I cut it down to two kinds. I cut it plumb down, I’m getting so old. Why, it’s a lot of fun to do it if you’ve got a way to get around places. But getting around, you’ve got to go places, take a case about that long plum full of ‘em - eight-tracks then, way back then.
Copeland: “Golden . . . (?) . . .” . . . (?) . . . that’s what messed me up. Used to I wasn’t that-a-way til the honeybees all got killed out. That’s what done it. They kept all that junk off the trees, you know, the pollen. Now they ain’t no honeybees. Some little old outfit killed ‘em not any bigger than a gnat. Little black looking bugs.
Copeland: “Bird in a Gilded Cage.” That’s what that guy called it at the Center. He made out like he knowed it, all the tunes people’s played. But he didn’t. He got fooled there. I played two that he didn’t know.
Blevins: What’s this fellow you’re talking about?
Copeland: Ah, Bill McNeil.
Blevins: Oh, Bill, yeah.
Copeland: He’s got now to where he’s down poor as a snake. Something’s wrong with him.
Blevins: Yeah, he’s been a . . .
Copeland: He guessed pretty good on a lot of ‘em but he didn’t guess them two out.
Blevins: Is that right? He didn’t know that song right there?
Copeland: Yeah, that’s one he told. I didn’t believe it, but he told that one’s name. And that’s right. Oh, let’s see. I forgot what the name of it was. He said, “Play it and I’ll tell you what it was.” I played it and he didn’t know. The other guy up here at town one day . . . (?) . . . can’t put a name to. He put a name to it, the “Redwood Waltz.” It’s a waltz tune, but I don’t know what it was. Fiddle playing. He called it “Redwood.”
Blevins: “Redwood Waltz.”
Copeland: So we just went with that. Bill didn’t know it. Ain’t nobody knows all those tunes. I don’t care who it is.
Blevins: Yeah, he knows a lot of them, but can’t know all of them.
Copeland: Yeah. But you can get fooled on them, you know.
Copeland: “Redwood Waltz.” Wish a feller could find a place where you could get good old-time harps, in good shape. Boy, a man could play now. They was good. Playing ‘em didn’t hurt ‘em. Now you can play these little harps and walk away, and pick ‘em up and they won’t even play maybe. [laughs]
Blevins: Well, they’ve got to still have some good ones around somewhere.
Copeland: I guess so. I don’t know what happened to that woman aiming to send me three. She didn’t do it. I don’t know what happened, whether she lost the address I give her last year, or what, when she started home. Said, “I got three good ones [harmonicas] at the house and I’ll mail ‘em to you,” and I never did hear no more out of her. I don’t know whether she lost the address or what the deal was. I allowed maybe she’d come back and bring ‘em. I didn’t ask her for her to tell me that. . . . (?) . . . One woman told me and Bill what-you-call-him up here she had one she’d mail it to him, send it there to the store. Never did send it.
Blevins: Well, have you got a favorite song? You got one that’s your favorite?
Copeland: No, I don’t guess too much. I play that “Home Sweet Home” more than any of them, really.
Blevins: Yeah, that first one you played.
Copeland: Yeah. Well, I just like it for some reason. You know, that old guy at them harp players at the national played that, too, that one that used to come up here all the time.
Blevins: What was his name?
Copeland: I forgot his name. He was the last’n that died a year or two ago. Big black guy, he was ninety something years old. He’d come up here once every year to the Folk Center.
Copeland: I play that one a lot, I don’t know why. You can play it on a harp if you give a good tone to it, it really sounds good then. Some of these harps, you can’t make a tone on some of them. You’re supposed to, a good harp. You’re supposed to make a tone out of ‘em. Some people was asking me how you do that. I said, “You just do it.” They didn’t know how, you know. I figured all that out as I’s going along. [laughs] Some of ‘em’s got so fast. Them people, they’re getting wild. . . . (?) . . . That’s the best we ever heared in our life on the harmonica playing. I think they’re crazy.
Blevins: Was that on some of those trips with Jimmy Driftwood?
Copeland: No, that was yesterday up here at the barn.
Blevins: Oh, yesterday.
Copeland: Yeah, that’s people from California and Oregon and everywheres else. Yeah, bought the tapes and all that stuff. Said, “Boy, that’s the best I’ve heared in my life out of a harmonica player.”
Blevins: Well, it may have been.
Copeland: Yeah, I didn’t know. I just didn’t say nothing. I started to ask if he was crazy. I didn’t want to, you know. [laughs] I don’t know why they get to thinking I’m better than anybody. Ah, bull.
Blevins: Well, you’ve been at it about as long as anybody else.
Copeland: Seventy-nine years. Yeah, if a feller had something to play on, you know, like you used to have. Ain’t no . . . (?) Somebody tried to tell me . . . I don’t remember where that place was, off someplace where they keep all kinds of harmonicas, have to keep them in the place. You could buy ‘em and play ‘em. I didn’t have any idea . . . (?) . . . I tried to get there. Old harmonicas and all, you know, they’d sell ‘em.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, where do you buy your harmonicas?
Copeland: I buy these kind up there at old . . . (?) . . ., at the store there.
Blevins: Does he keep them in there for people to buy, or does he order them for you?
Copeland: Oh, he keeps a lot in there to buy, but his company he can order ‘em from won’t make ‘em up if they go bad. I wouldn’t trade with that company. That one out there . . . (?) . . . outside of town, they’ll make ‘em up. You send four in; they’ll send you four more back. This son of a gun won’t. I don’t know why. He don’t care. He’s got plenty of money, so he don’t care for the guy buying them. He ought to, he ought to care enough about the guy buying ‘em.
Blevins: You talking about here at Mellon’s Store out here?
Copeland: That’s it, that little old store there.
Copeland: . . . (?) . . . “Frankie and Johnny.”
Blevins: What’s the name of that?
Copeland: “Frankie and Johnny.” Well, if I played all I know, it’d take me from now til I don’t know when.
Blevins: Yeah, we’d finish up tomorrow sometime, wouldn’t we? If you know two hundred . . . How many’d you say, two hundred and seventy-five songs?
Copeland: At least that many, yeah.
Blevins: Do you read music, or you just remember ‘em by ear?
Copeland: No, I don’t read music. Like Jimmy [Driftwood]. He said it wasn’t no good. All he does, he teaches it to get some money, but the music part wasn’t worth a dime - the kind you read. And it ain’t as good as this other kind like people, you know, hear. A lot of people says that, if they’re any good. I’m not any good and ain’t supposed to be, I don’t reckon. Finally got good enough to win the award last year and the year before. Award and a hundred dollars in money.
Blevins: Oh, did you get the best harmonica player or something last year? What kind of contest was it? Was it just a harmonica playing contest they had?
Copeland: Yeah. Old-times harmonica playing. Of course, if they’s new I wouldn’t been any account. They didn’t make me believe I’d done it. I told ‘em they wasn’t gonna make me feel . . . I said, “Now I thank you for this here, but you ain’t going to make me feel big about it atall, a big shot.” I said, “Cause I ain’t. I said I’m just about knee-high.” They looked at me funny, and .. . . Well, they ain’t gonna to make me feel big about nothing. I don’t care what it is. I wasn’t raised up to feel big about things, but some people . . . (?) . . ., you know, but not me. There’s always somebody in the world must be better than I am. Never know.
Blevins: Well, there wasn’t that day, was there? That day you won it, there wasn’t anybody better than you?
Copeland: No, I guess not. There was a whole lot of playing, but they played in a different style than me, you know. They quit. I don’t know why they didn’t play no more. I don’t know why they quit. I didn’t cause them to, I know. [laughs]
Copeland: That’s Grandpa Jones’s . . . (?) . . . “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” [laughs] I pick me out a good harp when I go to the Folk Center, make sure it’ll play. That’s the first one I made on eight-tracks years ago. When the eight-tracks played out, I went to making the little ones [cassette tapes].
Copeland: “. . . (?) . . . Over There.” Yeah, that’s something you got to do. You’ve got to pretty well play a pretty good harp when you’re playing like that. Sometimes you get fooled on that. You’ll be playing good and all, whoop. I was playing good on a harp last night up there, sitting back there where we’s playing . . . (?) . . . and the damn thing started to poop. Wasn’t a thing wrong with it when I first got there. They knowed what it was because I had played before. If they hadn’t they mighta said, “That guy wasn’t worth a dime.” They didn’t. They knew what it was. Harp went buggy. Been good, just go bad all at once, you know. That’s the way they’ll do, these junk harps do . . . (?) . . . cause they’re made out of tobaccer cans. They get so hot and then they quit working. And them . . . (?) . . . reeds, they don’t do that. They just keep working. That’s what this other harp’s got in it like I played so long. They got . . . (?) . . . Star Performers, yeah. Like them there. Them’s got . . . (?) . . . reeds in them. . . . (?) . . . But I bought them way back there when Bookmiller and Lonnie Avey was playing together, all of us. I bought a whole bunch of ‘em. But I bought the same key, because they wouldn’t play nothing but D. D’s all they’d play. They’d play D and we’d quit. I don’t know if that’s all they knowed or what it was. They just played D chord, D chord, D chord.
Copeland: But over there at the Folk Center, the sons of guns they’ve got to where they don’t turn the mike up any. Just leave it down where you can’t hear it.
Blevins: What was the name of that one you just played? That song you just played, what was the name of that?
Copeland: Well, I done forgot. I can’t keep ‘em in mind up there. That’s the Carter family, what it is.
Copeland: Well, I know it, but I thought I could figure it out, but I can’t.
Blevins: Can’t think of the name?
Copeland: I bet you know it, too . . . (?) . . . The Carter family’s the one that sings that.
Blevins: Carter family? Yeah.
Copeland: That’s about the only one I’ll play a little after the Carter family. I like them best of the whole bunch . . . (?) . . . That is, the women deal. George Jones’s the best in the man deal. That guy’s the best’n they got there now. His voice never did change. It stayed the same good, you know.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, I thank you, Mr. Copeland.
Copeland: Well, we done a little of the . . . (?) . . . at least.
Blevins: Well, we did.
Copeland: Not as good as I should have.
Blevins: Well, I appreciate it.