|View from the North Side of Big Walker Mountain|
His mother related the story to his daughter Lena and said, "he always played the songs so fast in those days." One day she asked him why he was playing so fast and Bane told her he had to learn to play as many tunes as he could before his father got home.
|West Virginia Coon Hunters 1927, Standing Left to Right Fred Belcher, Clyde Meadows, Jim Brown, Vernal Vest Seated Left to Right: Dutch Stewart, Wesley "Bane" Boyles, Regal Mooney, Fred Pendleton, Joe Stephens.|
|Front row L to R Bane's sisters Marie, Mable and Annie|
Back row his brother Tom and Bane. Not pictured is brother Brown.
On her way she wanted to drop off a large box of family photos for me. In the box was the picture of the West Virginia Coon Hunters. She just said it was a band that my grandfather had played in. It was a neat photo but I was more interested in the pictures of my great, great, great grandparents just after the Civil War. Talk about a boon to the family history project!
About a year later I was in the doctors office at the clinic and picked up a magazine called Golden Seal about West Virginia history. In it was an article entitled, "On the Trail of a Lost String Band: The West Virginia Coon Hunters" by John Lilly.
I opened the pages and lo and behold was a copy of the picture I had with even more pictures of my grand father with the band and the story of the West Virginia Coon Hunters.
String Band music had become popular in the 1920's. It was different from traditional music in that guitar was added, maybe a mandolin and it had a sort of bluesy quality to it.
Made me wish I could have gone back in time and learned to play the mandolin he tried so hard to teach me. He did teach me a song or two and I am now working on trying to get his versions of a couple of songs recorded because they are not like other versions I've heard. His version of Copper Kettle does not sound like Joan Baez nor Bob Dylan's. Mainly they changed the dialect from the mountain version.
Shortly after recording at the Bristol Sessions Bane was caught transporting and manufacturing illegal liquor and sent to prison thus ending any chances he had of a recording career. The band West Virginia Coon Hunters went on to record several albums and existed for many more years. In those days you had to be pretty clean cut to be in the record business or at least it had to be hidden well. For the family moonshine tales click here.
My mother was in her 40's when she learned the truth when she had to have a copy of her birth certificate. She was so upset she actually rounded her parents up and marched them both before a notary to get the name corrected on her birth certificate.
After prison Bane Boyles did his best to settle down in Bluefield. He learned several trades; he was a barber for a time, an electrical worker and a car mechanic. He just couldn't give up being a rambler playing music and it caused a lot of friction in his marriage with Hazel.
It was said he would work a job long enough to get enough money to hit the road to play music in another town. The marriage suffered between Hazel and Bane because he would travel to every opportunity to play his music, dropping everything, often leaving Hazel with six kids, little money, bill collectors and no word of where he'd left to. As my mother Lena said, "My daddy was a scoundrel, but he could play a damn good fiddle."
Hazel and Bane separated in the 1960s. They never divorced. Bane continued to play music where ever he could. He was invited many times to play at the local radio stations in and around Bluefield WV with various local acts.
My favorite memory of my grandfather Bane was when my dad was in the military and every vacation we would head "Up Home" from where ever we were stationed to visit with mountain relatives. It is one of my first memories of my grandfather. I was 5 or 6 years old. Grand Daddy Bane was living in Ada, WV. My mother and father took me with them to visit.
The house was just a two-room shack with a porch up on a steep bank. Dad parked the car at the bottom of the hill because it had rained and you could hardly walk to the house much less drive to it. We slipped and slid walking up the hill as I heard the sweetest fiddle music I'd ever heard in my life accompanied by a guitar and a mandolin. When we got to the house I could see my grandfather through the screen door standing playing his fiddle. He always dressed very neatly and he was in a pair of dress pants with a white shirt and shoes so clean and shiny they sparkled.
I just thought he looked so out of place in this mountain shack on a muddy hillside. We stayed most of the night into the wee hours of the morning. Momma picked up the guitar and my daddy even joined in with his harmonica. Everyone picked and played all night, saying things like "Do you remember this one?" or "Have you heard this one?" and someone would begin the tune and the others just joined in.
Grand daddy Bane continued to play his music to his dying day. I remember all us relatives in his later years, taking turns to drive him to every fiddler's convention in the area and just dropping him off. Galax, Roncevert, Lebanon, he'd hit them all if we would drive him. He tell us not to worry he'd find a way home and he always did. Might be a week or three later but he would show back up.
I am still looking for some cassette tapes he told me he was making before I married and moved away. His goal was to record every song he knew on this little cassette player he'd bought at a pawnshop. The last time I visited him in a one-room apartment in Bluefield WV he had boxes of these tapes. No one in the family seems to know what happened to them. I pray they are still out there somewhere.
Bane Boyles died in the Spring of 1975. Grand Daddy Bane told my mother he was so afraid he would be found dead alone in his apartment. I remember she said she prayed with him that the good Lord not allow that to happen. He didn't. Instead Granddaddy Bane died on a creek bank, on a beautiful April day, sitting in a lawn chair fishing with one of his best, long time friends at Grose's Bottom in Bland county.
It was one of his favorite spots to fish. He sat in his chair and his friend thought he was asleep when his line went to bobbing. His friend called out to him but he didn't respond. His friend reeled the fish in and said he caught the biggest fish he'd ever seen come out of Wolf Creek. But Wesley Bane Boyles was dead and didn't get to see it.
Now his fiddle playing is being heard the world over on the Bristol Session series along with such greats as Jimmy Rodgers and Mother Maybelle Carter. He didn't get to see that either but at least I can set the record straight that he with others, were a part of something so big and in his part helped to influence so many and give birth to country music.West Virginia Coon Hunters Greasy String And Blue Eyes Make Me Crazy
I would love to hear from the other members families and their stories. Also any comments are welcomed.