Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Eddie Walker
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins
Date: June 19, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Blevins: This is June 19, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here in Mountain View, Arkansas, with Mr. Eddie Walker as part of the Lyon College Regional Study Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and Ozark Folk Center. Mr. Walker, where and when were you born?
Walker: July 2, 1921, at Malvern, Arkansas.
Blevins: Did you grow up in Malvern?
Walker: Until I was about ten years old, then went from there to south Arkansas, went to Calion, then to Huttig, and then to Lake Village in southeast Arkansas, where I finished high school in 1940, and immediately - in 1940 - joined the Air Force, volunteered for the Air Force.
Blevins: Okay, and so you served in World War II, then?
Walker: I served in World War II. I came home in 1945 to my folks’ new farm out in Stone County, and I loved it in Mountain View so well that I just stayed here and married here, had the jewelry store here for fifty-seven years, I believe.
Blevins: Well, I’ll be. Before we move a little forward, where did you serve in World War II?
Walker: I first went to Ireland. I was a mechanic for P-38’s, and I served there. We escorted bombers out from there for a while, and then we went to England and serviced bombers from out of there, and then we went to north Africa, and I went plumb across north Africa, from Gibraltar plumb across to Tunisia, and then into Sicily - I was in Sicily - and then went to Italy, up as far as Foggia Air Base. I can’t remember the town there. There’s a big town right on the coast, within view of the Isle of Capri. You can see the Isle of Capri from this town. Can’t call it right now.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, it’ll come to you, probably tomorrow.
Walker: Tomorrow, yes.
Blevins: Now, how in the world did your parents get from the southeast corner of Arkansas to Stone County during those war years?
Walker: We were never satisfied down there with that flat country, and the buckshot land. It was hard to handle, and my father homesteaded a hundred and sixty acres there in 1936 and proved it up, and then he got a chance in nineteen and forty-three - the last days of ‘43 - he sold it and came to Mountain View and bought a farm out in the cove, Bickel’s Cove, and that’s where he was when I came out of the service, and I stayed with him a year there, and then went off to a watch repair school in Memphis, and then I came home here and put in a jewelry store and been working hard ever since.
Blevins: Now, what kind of farming did your parents do out there, out here in Stone County?
Walker: Cattle farming, cattle and hay.
Blevins: And did you ever get into any of the farming with them?
Walker: I stayed with them a year, the first year I got out. I was sort of unwinding from combat, so I stayed with them a year, and then I went to the school in Memphis.
Blevins: So you opened this store about 1946 or ‘7?
Walker: ‘47 I started working in Mountain View. Rented a little place, and then later on bought this place. Been here since ‘55.
Blevins: Okay, so you’ve been in business here in town for over fifty-five years.
Walker: Yeah. I believe it’s fifty-seven. February the 20th, ‘47’s when I . . . or ‘48 when I came here.
Blevins: Okay. Now, what was Mountain View like when you first opened up your business here?
Walker: Very small and very poor, and nothing . . . Everybody worked in timber that had a job, or carried the mail, or something like that. There was nothing for them to do. They went away as soon as they finished high school. They went away and got work, and most of them stayed away until retirement. A lot of them come back since retirement. But we didn’t have anything to do here. There was no industry, just farming, what they got out of that, and the timber work. Some worked in the timber.
Blevins: Yeah. Did you ever have any connection to any of the folk singers? You know, before the 1960’s, did you ever hear any of the folk music?
Walker: Oh, yes. It’s been here all the time - square dances and all those things, those round dances and the fiddlers and the banjo pickers and the mandolin pickers and singers and so forth - dancers - they’ve been here all the time, you know. That was the biggest pastime they had back in those days.
Blevins: Yeah. Now you eventually were elected to the state legislature.
Walker: I was elected to the state legislature in 1960. I served in ‘61, ‘62, ‘63, and ‘64. I served two terms down there, and the first time I went down, of course I was 39 years old and I was willing to learn, but I didn’t know anything, so I set quietly and did a few little things, and the main thing I helped to do that I was so proud of through the years is that - outside the county - I got Highway # 9 paved, and I got a bridge at Calico Rock, helped get that, and then I got a promise of a bridge here at Sylamore, so I felt pretty good about that, and then we . . . And after that year, the Teachers’ Retirement Fund, which I’ve always been so proud of, because the teachers needed help, and they got a certain amount of help there that made a lot of difference.
Blevins: Yeah. So you were a member of the legislature when the Folk Festival was getting started.
Walker: As a matter of fact, in 1963 I went back down to the legislature, a little bit more knowledgeable, and decided I wanted to do something for Stone County, so I went to the Industrial Development Commission and got ahold of a fellow named John Opitz, and I told John that we needed industry in Mountain View, and he said, “Well, now, you can’t get industry in Mountain View, because your water system up there could not even supply water for a foreign industry if you had everything else cut off of it, so you have to come up with some water first.” I said, “Well, okay, let’s get water,” and he said, “How are you going to justify grants and loans?” And I told him I didn’t know, probably the same way Conway did. I didn’t know what Conway did, but I knew they were successful in getting industries, and that was where he was from. That’s his home, is in Conway. So we had a big laugh about that. He said we’d get together on Saturday morning - that was on a Friday evening - and Saturday morning we’d get together and see if we could come up with something that would justify grants and loans so that we could get water and a sewer system and industry. So I took him to a little . . . Over here at the doctor’s office, in the reception room there - in the waiting room - there was a group over there. There was about six or seven of them. Dr. Hollister was over there - he was the doctor, and he provided the place to play music, and he was a musician, him and his wife both were. He was a guitar picker and she was a singer.
Walker: ‘73. That sounds right. ‘73, and it’s been going real good since then, and I’m sure it’s done real well. We’re all real proud of it, as a state park, and we . . . That is good, but what helps us a lot here otherwise is that people can come to the court square and just play in groups all around, and at Festival time - we still have our Festival. There was a proclamation that I got up there to designate the third weekend in April as Ozark Folk Festival weekend in Arkansas, so that goes every year. It’s the third weekend in April, and now it’s been going real good ever since, but I’m real proud of these people that come - during the Festival, the bunch goes over there to see the Festival . . . They go to attend the festivities over at the Festival, and then they . . . at the Folk Center, and then there’s a bunch comes here, just comes to go out and play on the grounds, and there’s many groups - maybe fifteen or twenty groups - around the courthouse that plays all through that, and then in the summertime when this weather’s okay - just like tonight would be a good time - there’ll probably be some over there tonight, but there won’t be many, because . . . with the threat of rain we’ve had, so . . . But we do have someone around the courthouse most every night, making music. So we feel like we’ve been a real, real success, and now we’ve got industry running out our ears. We’ve got plenty industry. We got anything. Anyone that wants a job here, now, can get a job, and our population’s about doubled since it started in ‘63, so we’re getting along real good.
Blevins: Well, do you happen to remember what year that trip to Washington was?
Walker: That was in October of ‘63.
Blevins: That was the same year the first Folk Festival was.
Blevins: Just later that year.
Walker: That’s right. And before we went to Washington, D.C., we got an invitation to go up to Eureka Springs and bring our musical groups - all that could come - go up there and help them put on their fall festival, so we went up there and helped them out.
Blevins: So that was in the fall of ‘63.
Walker: Fall of ‘63, yeah.
Blevins: Okay. But how come there was such a long period from October ‘63 until . . . You know, there’s ten years in there before the Folk Center actually gets opened. How come it took so long to get it done?
Walker: Well, it took a long time to build it. I guess it was in the building process, best I remember, because that was the . . . It opened in ’63 [‘73] . . . because all those people were here, John McClellan and Wilbur Mills and John Opitz . . . And later we had a sort of a big reunion here, in - I forgot what year - that’s been probably ten years ago, of all of us involved in it. Got on a float came through town, and John Opitz was still living then, but he died pretty soon after that. He never did get to see it. Well, he saw it at full swing all right, and could appreciate his works, but he died pretty young. It was pretty sad for all of us.
Blevins: Now, when you first spoke to John Opitz, was he working for the state or a federal agency?
Walker: He was working for the state. A state agency.
Blevins: And then he later went to work for a federal agency, didn’t he?
Walker: As far as I know, he didn’t. He stayed with the Industrial Development Commission of Arkansas. He worked there as long as I knew him.
Blevins: Okay. I was thinking that he had a federal job.
Walker: No, no, I don’t think so.
Blevins: Okay. Well, you’re probably right.
Walker: George Fisher is the guy that fixed our logo.
Blevins: Is that right?
Walker: For the folk society. The banjo picker sitting in a chair, you know. George fixed that up for us.
Blevins: Now, were you at the meeting when they established the Rackensack?
Blevins: Where was that meeting held?
Walker: I’m not real sure, but I think it happened down here in the Arkansas Power & Light Company’s waiting room there. We had our meetings there for a while. Jimmy Driftwood, I believe . . . If my memory serves me, I can give you a pretty good run of them. Jimmy Driftwood was our president, and I believe that I was elected as vice president, and Cleda was our secretary - Cleda Driftwood - and Glen Morrison was our treasurer. I believe that’s what it was.
Blevins: Okay. Well, tell me about Jimmy Driftwood.
Walker: Well, he was worth a lot to us, but we all had to work together, you know.
Blevins: He was, of course . . . As time went on, it seems like he got to be more and more of a controversial figure. Was he hard to work with?
Walker: I liked Jim. He was a good man to have, but Jim was a fellow that ruled or ruined, and he actually caused two breaks, one before we got the Center fixed - before we got the Center built - and then another one after we got it built. He was set up as the program director over there, and Tommy Simmons, the ex-mayor, was the head man at the Folk Center, and they had a dispute over something. I think it was maybe the bass fiddle or something like that, I understood. Driftwood did not want a bass fiddle there, and the rest of the group wanted the bass fiddle. I believe David Pryor fired both of them, and Driftwood, of course, he came home - he had a farm and everything - and Tommy Simmons went with the park system over into eastern Arkansas, northeast Arkansas, and has retired from there, so it’s worked out good for both of them. But Jimmy was . . . He was pretty hard to work with.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, I guess it was kind of . . . For the people that had to work with him, it was kind of a tricky affair, because he was famous and could bring a lot of people in and . . . But at the same time, I’ve heard several people say that he was . . .
Walker: He was hard . . .
Blevins: . . . difficult.
Walker: Yeah, difficult. He made some bad judgments, I’m sure. I know he made some bad judgments, decisions.
Blevins: Well, tell me. Of course, John Opitz isn’t around anymore, and never was from Mountain View, but I’ve heard a lot about him. What kind of fellow was he?
Walker: Just a great guy. He was a great guy. Young man. He was a young fellow. As a matter of fact, he was, at that time, a year or two younger than me, and back when I started that I was about thirty-one or something like that. But John was younger than I was. Lived in Conway, and a great guy. Him and his wife were both fine people. I never heard of any problem. We never had any problem with John. He had tried hard to help us, and he came up here a lot. He was worth a lot to us.
Blevins: From what you said earlier, it sounds like he was, if not the one that had the idea, he was certainly one of the ones that helped develop the idea for a folk center.
Walker: Yes. Oh, yes. He was the one that brought it up. You know, we wasn’t thinking about that, and so then he came up with that . . . with a place to make the music, so that’s the place we made the music.
Blevins: Yeah, and you mentioned Wilbur Mills earlier. How important was having Wilbur Mills as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee for that project?
Walker: Very. He was it. I figure that’s where we got all of our help - most of our help - and when we went to Washington, D.C. we had a big . . . They fixed us up a night on the town, and they fixed it up . . . There was a place up there where we took some of the musicians, and they brought their instruments along, and had a dance up there and all that stuff, and everybody talked and visited and everything, and it was really, really, a nice thing, real fine. I was awful proud of it.
Blevins: Yeah. Did Mills come out and dance?
Walker: No, he didn’t come to the party. If he did, I didn’t see him there at the party. But he might have been there. Took Gathings and then maybe another one or two was there, I remember seeing.
Blevins: Was Fulbright there?
Walker: He might have been there. Fulbright might have been there. He was interested in us. It was great. It was really great. There was seventeen of us went to Washington, D.C., and there was three cars, and then three of them went on and flew out there: Buddy Lackey and Driftwood and Harold Sherman. They flew over there and flew back. The rest of us drove three carloads. We had a big time.
Blevins: Was that the first time you’d ever been to Washington?
Walker: Yeah, that’s the first time I’d ever been to Washington. I’d been to New York, but never had been to Washington before. I shipped out of New York.
Blevins: I guess some of those folks, that’s probably the first time they’d ever been to a big city, wasn’t it? Some of the musicians?
Walker: Probably. Probably so. The ones that hadn’t been in the military service might not have been anywhere. But we had a great time. Sure did.
Blevins: Well, do you play music?
Walker: Yes, I play the fiddle and the guitar. That was my involvement.
Blevins: Okay. Did you learn that from your parents?
Walker: Oh, I just picked it up. I cut weeds [to earn money] and bought a fiddle in 1936, I guess . . . ‘35, and I started in a-sawing on it and sawing on it, and finally I struck a tune, and I learned to play it. I can play fairly well, not no professional, but I enjoy it, and I have a son now that’s a musician. He’s a real good guitar player.
Blevins: So that’s really why you were involved in the Rackensack group from the beginning, isn’t it, from the music standpoint?
Walker: The music standpoint. Yes, that’s true. Yeah. I was strong for this movement here because of being a musician, and I thought, well, a place to make music would be great. So then we needed a water system bad, so we went to the river for the water, and it . . . Right on the beginning, they asked us, “What do you think it would cost you to go to the river and get a water system?” so we’d already talked to an engineer out of Little Rock, years ago, and we just sort of played dumb on that and said it would cost a million dollars. He said, “You’re close to the right amount.” So we got a good water system and a good water supply, so we got plenty of water.
Blevins: Well, did you have any dealings with that company that come in and built the Folk Center, that company out of New York?
Walker: No, I didn’t. No, I figured they had enough advice over there without me.
Blevins: So by the time the Folk Center opened, you kind of got out of the loop, I guess.
Walker: Out of the loop a little bit, yeah.
Blevins: I was talking to Van Rosa earlier this afternoon about the impact the Folk Center made on Mountain View. What kind of impact did you see on the city of Mountain View?
Walker: A big impact. There’s so many people moved in here just for that reason, and there’s new houses built all on this . . . what we called wasteland then, and it’s selling at a minimum amount of a thousand dollars an acre, there where you could build a house, so it’s done great for us. It’s really made Mountain View a bigger town, and it’s still a-growing, and it’ll keep a-growing. People still come in here to retire. They like the attitude of the people here, and everything suits them. These mountains are beautiful.
Blevins: Yeah. Of course, the Folk Festival, I guess, maybe peaked in terms of the number of people who came in the seventies, probably. Wouldn’t you think in the mid-seventies?
Walker: Eh, probably so. But we have a good crowd, about as big a crowd as Mountain View could handle. We have plenty of beds now, where we didn’t have at the start. They just had to do the best they could. Some of them would rent a room over at Batesville or Calico Rock or any other town, where they could find one, but now then I think we can take care of pretty well everybody that comes.
Blevins: I was talking to somebody earlier about when the hippies started coming in, I guess in the early seventies.
Walker: Yeah, I guess so.
Blevins: And then, of course, a lot of them wanted to play music as well . . .
Walker: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Blevins: And I guess that could have caused some problems, too.
Walker: Well, it don’t seem like it caused much - that part of it didn’t - but they were pretty rowdy with their dope and motorcycles and so forth and disregard for other people, so then we had a little problem with that for a year or two, but that didn’t last too long, so we was over that.
Blevins: Now Leo Rainey . . .
Walker: He had a hand in. Leo was with us some. He helped us some. He wasn’t over here as much as I thought it would be great if he was, but I don’t know why he wasn’t here. Maybe there was a reason. Might have been a reason that he wasn’t here. He went on up to Hardy there, and Ash Flat and that country, and they fixed up a musical thing up there, and it was successful for a long time, but I think it finally went out. I don’t think they’re having it now.
Blevins: No, I think it went out of business several years ago.
Walker: Yeah, several years ago. But they were doing real well for a long time. That helped Hardy, too. Hardy’s growing, and they got a big superstore now there at Hardy, and things are growing up. They’re doing real good.
Blevins: Yeah. That’s right. You’ve already talked about this a little bit, but what do you think the overall effect of the Folk Center has been for Stone County in general?
Walker: Well, I think it’s been worth a lot to us. It’s been worth a lot to us. There’s a lot of people employed over there, musicians plus help around the place and so forth. That helps. That has several jobs, and of course we’re proud of that. It’s helped us a lot. We’d miss it if it was not there. You hear very little criticism, you know. You get a certain amount for anything like that, but everybody’s pretty happy, pretty happy.
Blevins: I guess there’s always been a little segment of the population that was unhappy about the Center for some reason or another.
Walker: Well, you get off into that, and that’s probably . . . I lay that onto politics, because when I was trying to get all these things around here, I had to fight people, and when I wanted a bridge put in or something, I’d make a state law. I asked the highway commission. They said, “Well, go ahead and make you a law requires to do it. That’s okay. We understand.” So I got a ferry down here, and had to have a law to fix that. I don’t believe we did one at Calico Rock, but there was other things that I was real . . . I knew my opponents - my opposition - would do what they could to cut me down, so I explained it to them, and then it come out all right. They had no trouble with that.
Blevins: Yeah. Now after that first visit to Washington in 1963, were there other groups that went from Mountain View up to Washington after that?
Walker: Well, yes. I think Driftwood took a delegation to the museum or something up there in D.C.
Blevins: Oh, yeah. The Smithsonian?
Walker: Smithsonian. Went to the Smithsonian Institute. He took a group over there. I never did know the reason for it or anything else, but I’m assuming that he probably paid for it himself, because he was wanting a little notoriety and I guess that he figured that was the best way to get it.
Blevins: And that was before the Folk Center opened, I guess.
Walker: Oh, yes. Before it opened. There was a lot of us . . . it was real active in this thing. We didn’t know anything about it then, ‘til it was over.
Blevins: Is that right?
Blevins: Now did you know Bessie Moore?
Walker: I met Bessie Moore, but I didn’t know her very well. I knew her when I was in the legislature. I didn’t get to be with her much, because she was busy and I was busy.
Blevins: Yeah. And I suppose she played a pretty big part in making sure the money came, and the Folk Center . . .
Walker: I’m sure she did. Yeah, and she fixed us up a library here we’re real proud of. She’s give us a lot on that.
Blevins: That is a nice library. I was just over there.
Walker: It’s a nice library, nice library.
Blevins: Well, do you have anything else you’d like to say, any other memories you have of the early years around the Folk Festival or the Center?
Walker: Not anything I can think of. It seems like I’ve covered it pretty well.
Blevins: I was going to ask this. Did you play at that first Festival?
Walker: Yes. I sure did.
Blevins: Played there in the gymnasium?
Walker: In the gymnasium. My son was only about ten or so years old, and he played the guitar there, and my wife’s father was an old-time square dance fiddler, and he was there. Another one was Hubert Kendrick, and Willie Morrison from over on the mountain’s an old-time fiddler, and he played the fiddle there. Bookmiller Shannon was a banjo picker, and Lonnie [Avey] was a guitar player. We had guitar players all around, and it was real good. It was real good.
Blevins: And I’ve always heard that the gym was just packed tight.
Walker: The gymnasium, yes. We had the gymnasium. In fact, every time . . . See, we used that gymnasium for our Folk Festival every year until the Center was opened.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, anything else you’d like to add to the conversation?
Walker: Not that I can think of. I was thinking about - back there when we were working on it - we called . . . got a hold of Maybelle Carter, and she came over here and helped us put on a little program one night. She brought one of her daughters with her.
Blevins: Oh, was that at the Folk Center?
Walker: No, that was before the Folk Center opened up.
Blevins: Okay. Now, was that during the Folk Festival, or was this just separate?
Walker: I believe it was separate from that. She was over here. Of course, we was awful proud to get her. I’d never seen her before; I’d seen her on television a lot and heard her on the radio, but it was great seeing her.
Blevins: Did she bring out a big crowd?
Walker: Pretty good crowd, yes, she sure did.
Blevins: Well, did Jimmy Driftwood know her, or how . . . ?
Walker: Well, no, he . . . I don’t think he had anything in on that. I don’t know what connection we had, but we got a connection with her, and she flew to Little Rock. We went and picked her up in Little Rock. That was great, real fine. That was, I guess, just a time we advertised that she was going to be here.
Blevins: Oh, I wanted to ask you one other thing about Lloyd Hollister.
Walker: Dr. Lloyd Hollister. He was the doctor over here where we went to first. He was one of the first group. There was other groups, but this group happened to be over there the night John Opitz was here.
Blevins: Yeah. Now, was he the one that kind of started gathering the group together?
Walker: He helped. Yes, we asked for his help, and he helped, did what he could, and him and his wife, both of them, participated in it.
Blevins: Who would you say was the main driving force behind gathering these . . . In the very beginning, when these musicians started to gather together . . .
Walker: Well, at the start, of course, I was the one, because I was the one that John told what we’d have to do, so I got to contacting everybody, and then seem like it just all worked together, not really any one, any special one. But we had people come from up in this whole area, and they had a big time, a big time.
Blevins: And that was even before the Folk Festival?
Walker: Oh, yeah, that was before the first one, and then after the first one, of course, we went ahead with the Friday nights. Every Friday night we’d be at the courthouse, and everybody would come and have all the parking places taken up, and all the seats at the courtroom. And plenty of musicians. Most times, the musicians’d only get to go on one time, there’d be that many musician groups, so we were . . . It was real successful. Real successful. A bunch of us, we all worked in unison with the thing, and of course cooperated with each other and got everything working nice.
Blevins: Now, the musicians who play out here on the court square now, are they associated with any one group, any one society?
Walker: Not necessarily. They just come up here, and they bring their instruments and get out there, and first thing you know there’s a group together, not necessarily planned. I guess some of it may be planned - you be over there at Mountain View, and I’ll be there to help you - but most of it is just whatever there that plays, and we’ve got a lot of musicians that move in here for that purpose. Retired, and want to live here. And I can understand that, because I want to live here. I’ve enjoyed it.
Blevins: Well, I appreciate you taking the time for the interview.
Walker: Well, I thank you, because I’ve . . . maybe we’ll . . . be enlightening to some people.
Blevins: I think it will. I think it will. Thank you very much.
Walker: Thank you.