Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Beachard Smith: A Fiddlin' Virtuoso

     Beachard Smith was a tobacco farmer most of his life, and he didn't amass a pile of money. But he had plenty of friends in Scott County, and plenty of others who felt they knew him because he had gotten them up on their feet and dancing.

     Beachard was a fiddler, maybe one of the best, but he spent most of his life within two miles of the place he was born on Big Moccasin Creek.

     Beachard didn't seem to mind; he wasn't after that sort of thing anyway.

     Fiddling, like all of music, is one of those activities that a person would be best advised not to get into unless they enjoy it a great deal. Beachard liked music that way.

     Beachard played the fiddle for 50 years, ever since he saw his brother-in-law playing and "took a notion to play it."

     He taught himself to play, "You about have to," he said, and he played on the same fiddle that he learned on. He had got it from Wash Powers of Coeburn, who was 75 years old when Beachard got the fiddle, and "said it had been his granddad's

     If you've been to hear the music at Carter's Fold more than once, you've probably seen Beachard playing with the Home Folks, a four man group that was almost the unofficial house band there, and definitely the most likely to bring large numbers of folks out onto the floor to clog or buck-dance or stomp or whatever.

     But if you've lived anywhere near Scott County long enough, chances are you may have heard Beachard at a smaller scale event in the 1940's or 50's.

     The Nickelsville fiddler's convention and fox run was one of those fine ole-time gatherings, and in 1937 Beachard, married about a week, was the winner.

     "I won it over some awful good ones," Beachard said, "that's what encouraged me." Beachard sang along with his rendition of "Reuben's train," and although some of the other fiddlers in the contest didn't think that singing in a fiddler's contest smelled exactly right, Beachard won. From then on he was in demand as a fiddler and a singer all over Scott County and most anywhere near by.

     But in those days a fiddler played "for fun and for supper - maybe," and a man had to make a living someway.

     Beachard raised tobacco.

     But when cold weather came and the tobacco was out of the way the fiddle playing always got serious.

     Beachard remembered playing square dances for three weeks before Christmas and three weeks after "every night except Sunday."

     These dances were usually in someone's house where they would "clean the furniture out of one room" and dance all night.

     "They enjoyed themselves back then," Beachard remembered with a chuckle.

     More than occasionally there would be a gallon of moonshine to pass around. The gathering would often run to 50 to 75 people, and it was standard not to leave until after breakfast.

     "A many a time" Beachard could remember Mother Maybelle Carter playing guitar "until she'd have blood blisters on her fingers."

     But then television came along and the popularity of mountain music waned for a time. Beachard just quit playing for about 15 years.

     Then years later his son began playing guitar.

     "If I had me a fiddle I could learn you something," Beachard remembered saying to him, and he was playing again.

     Beachard credited John McCutcheon and Joe and Janette Carter with getting him out and playing in front of audiences again.

     McCutcheon, repopularizer of the hammer dulcimer and a stirring performer himself, collects mountain music and mountain instruments, and has done a great deal to promote interest in mountain music.

     McCutcheon took Beachard with him to play at the University of Illinois one September, and then to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.

     Beachard "had the best time" in Illinios, enjoyed it, but "wouldn't want to live there." The Smithsonian was all right, but there wasn't enough string music to suit Beachard.

     Beachard was among the first to play at the A. P. Carter Store when it reopened in 1974, and may have played the first night.

     "I don't guess I ever called on him," said Janette Carter, "that he didn't come." "He' just loves music," she said, and added Beachard was a "good man and a good friend ... one of the best friends I've had on earth."

     Janette Carter, who heard them all, called Beachard of the best old time fiddlers ever seen."

     When Beachard couldn't come to the Carter Family reunion due to his poor health it made a difference, both in the music and in the feeling there.

     "It was just like one family was missing."

     Although Beachard's health was poor; he and the Home Folks were able to make a record that summer. Produced by June Appal Records in Whitesbilrg, Kentucky, some fine work on it, and old mountain tunes. The Home Folks consisted of Beachard Smith (fiddle), Paul Davis (guitar), Will Keys (banjo) and Tom Bledsoe (guitar).

 

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