Eddie Bond

Appalachian old-time fiddler
Headshot of a man.

Photo by Susi Lawson Photography


Old-time fiddling thrives in Grayson County, Virginia, which many consider the musical heart of Southwestern Virginia and Appalachian old-time music. It is from here that one of the greatest living old-time fiddlers, Eddie Bond, hails. Though he has played on stages worldwide, Bond continues to be a central figure at local music festivals and at picking parties in parking lots, country stores, or any of the other informal settings where musicians gather along what’s become known as the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail.

Bond was raised up in a family of musicians in the Grayson County mill town of Fries. A tiny town of 600 residents, Fries has a strikingly rich musical tradition, producing such musical luminaries as Henry Whitter, Ernest Stoneman, among others. Fries is six miles from Galax, home of the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, the oldest and largest fiddlers’ convention in the country.

Music descends in families in Grayson and Carroll Counties of Virginia. Bond was taught by a maternal grandmother who played guitar and sang music handed down for generations through the Hill family, musicians well-documented in the Library of Congress’ archival field recordings. His paternal grandparents played guitar and sang; his Grandmother Bond was from the same region of North Carolina as Doc Watson and taught Bond many of the old mountain ballads he sings today. One of the most influential members of his family was his great-uncle, Leon Hill, a musician who took him to visit many of the local fiddlers from whom he learned. Family friends included master performers such as Kilby Snow and Glen Smith. Bond first learned the guitar, then the banjo, autoharp, and his signature instrument, the fiddle.

Since 2001, Bond has been the lead singer and fiddler for the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters, among the most respected of Virginia’s old-time string bands. The Bogtrotters are staples at Galax-area community dances and gatherings and frequent first-place winners at the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, where Bond himself has won countless fiddle contests and twice been named Best All Around Performer—arguably the highest honor in old-time music. Bond has performed across the country and overseas, including the “Music From the Crooked Road” tours produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. He regularly performs at festivals from Australia to Ireland, where he trades familiar tunes with local masters.

Bond also remains deeply committed to his local community---performing locally as a solo artist and with others, and teaching a string band course at a high school in Grayson County. Much as the great old-time fiddling masters did for him, Bond never hesitates to take the time to teach, assist, and encourage the next generation of fiddlers.

By Jon Lohman, Director, Virginia Folklife Program


Eddie Bond (Part 1)

<music up>

Jo Reed: You’re listening to the fiddling of 2018 National Heritage Fellow Eddie Bond. And this is Art Works, the weekly podcast produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed.

Eddie Bond is quite simply one of the best old-time fiddlers around. He was raised in the small town of Fries in Grayson County, Virginia, a place known for its extraordinary musical talent. 

But even in that hot bed of music, Eddie’s lineage stands out—he comes from a long line of fine musicians. He was taught by a maternal grandmother who played guitar and sang music handed down for generations. His paternal grandparents played guitar and sang also; two great grandfathers played the banjo; a third played the guitar. Eddie himself plays the guitar, banjo, and autoharp, as well as the instrument he’s best known for: the fiddle. He’s also a terrific clog dancer and a great storyteller. I spoke with Eddie right before the National Heritage Concert—and he’s just so much fun and such a great talker, we’re going to have an extended two-part interview with lots of great music. Next week, we’ll learn about Eddie’s travels as he plays his fiddle around the country and throughout the world, and the work he does back home in Fries. But first, here’s a look at his background, the music he loves and the place he was raised.

<music up>

Jo Reed: Eddie, congratulations.

Eddie Bond: Well, thank you so much.

Jo Reed: Listen, my first question is, what do they put in the water in Grayson County?

Eddie Bond: Well, music. <laughs>

Jo Reed: Apparently, they must. You just grow musicians there.

Eddie Bond: We do, and we’re so proud that we have so many young folks, nowadays, that are interested in learning our music. It was not always that way.

Jo Reed: Yeah, when did that switch?

Eddie Bond: It has kind of switched around, I think—do you remember the movie O Brother? You remember that movie?

Jo Reed: Of course I do.

Eddie Bond: Well, I think that got the spark ignited.

Jo Reed: How interesting.

Eddie Bond: And after that, then, of course, Helen White, who has been a longtime partner of Wayne Henderson, you know, she started a program called The JAM program, which was Junior Appalachian Musicians. And I think she just got that thing started at just the right time, and it’s just kept going. I have taught in the JAM program, but the class that I teach now, in Grayson County, is actually just part of the school curriculum. They have a string band class that’s an elective.

Jo Reed: And is the class packed?

Eddie Bond: Oh, always.  I can only take on 25 students, although I sometimes wind up with a few more. I’ll let a few in, if they’re really good pickers, you know? But I think I had 67 to sign up for the class this semester.

Jo Reed: Wow.

Eddie Bond: So, you see, we can never accommodate. And they’re trying to figure out, now, how that I can maybe teach two blocks of the string band. But the problem is, I teach—my other class is a precision machining class. So, I’ve always been a factory worker, and I’m a machinist by trade. I enjoy that, too. I’ve always worked with my hands, and I love to teach young folks how to work and do things, you know, other than play video games. <laughs>

Jo Reed: Bless you. Before we talk about the music, specifically, because the music is so much a part of Grayson County and Fries, I want you to describe Grayson County and Fries.

Eddie Bond: Well, of course, we are on the New River, which is the world’s second-oldest and longest river, and one of the few rivers that flows north. So it’s a very ancient river, and I feel like I can always find some good vibes near that river. And Fries itself is a little cotton-mill town. It was founded around 1903, by “Colonel” Francis Henry Fries. And it’s spelled F-R-I-E-S. And we call it Freeze in the winter, and Fries in the summer.

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: Although, if you’re from a very hot locale and you came to visit Fries in the summer, you would probably disagree with that. We always have a nice mountain breeze flowing in some fresh, cool air, usually, even on the hottest of days. So I know, when I was in the military, and I would—I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and I would come home for the weekend, and I’d have to wear a jacket <laughs> on the weekends, because it just felt so nice to me. But it’s a small place, and we have about 600 folks that live in Fries now. The cotton mill shut down in 1987, tragically. Fries—we were kind of sheltered for many, many years, in a way. Especially through hard times like the Depression years, folks who lived in Fries, the cotton mill, Washington Mills, kept going. Even when they weren’t able to sell cloth, they stored it in warehouses, and during the Depression, they kept people working, and they kept people fed, and it was a great place to be at that time. And my family was there, on both sides of my family. And, of course, my family goes back farther than Fries. We were there long before Fries was there. We were there all the way from the Revolutionary War days. So, you know, it works out that if your family has been in one place for that many years—so that’s my family. And let’s say your family’s been there for that many years, we’re probably cousins, you know?

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: So finding somebody to date was sort of a problem. My wife, we went to high school together. As a matter of fact, her mother was a foreigner, you see, so that cut down the odds of us being cousins. And I say “foreigner” because she was from Nebraska, you see.

Jo Reed: Oh, that is foreign.

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: But it’s a great place to grow up. And, of course, there was just so, so many musicians that came out of Fries, especially in the early days of country music recording. We had Henry Whitter and Pop Stoneman, all worked in the Fries cotton mill, and Kelly Harrell. And you know, you would have to be kind of an old-time music nerd to know some of these names, I guess, but they all recorded. Henry Whitter, of course, we’re so proud of Henry in Fries, because he was actually, we believe, the very first country music recording artist that made a record, and he went to New York City and made his record.

Jo Reed: Can I ask a lame question?

Eddie Bond: Yes.

Jo Reed: And that is, can you tell me the difference between country, bluegrass, and old-time?

Eddie Bond: Well, yeah.  I can sort of answer that question. What we call old-time music today, I would say, is, on the family tree of all that stuff, is the grandfather. That’s kind of where it all started. Our unique American music, all of it, came from other countries, of course. America has always been a melting pot, and the Appalachian Mountains were no different. Folks came from Ireland; they brought the fiddle. They came from Africa, they brought the banjo. They came from Spain, they brought the guitars. And they all met here in the mountains, and they wanted to play music, so they started playing music together. And it sort of meshed into a new sound—you know, the syncopation of the banjo, and the timing of it, and all. You know, Mick Moloney, a dear friend of mine who plays Irish music—and well known, of course in those circles—he’ll tell you that Appalachian music is very, very similar to Irish music; it just has a little swing in it, you’ll say. <laughs> So I think the banjo did that for it. And then, you know, back in the 1940s, Bill Monroe came along, and he sort of took what he had grown up with—the fiddle and the banjo, and all that stuff—and he kind of revamped it into something new. He added Earl Scruggs, and Earl Scruggs was not the first banjo picker to ever use picks. But he did invent a new kind of style—a more driving style of banjo-playing.

<music up>

Eddie Bond: It was hard-driving, and it fit so well with what Bill Monroe was wanting to do, and they became the Bluegrass Boys. And that kicked off a whole new era of music, for us hillbillies. <laughs>

 Jo Reed: Tell me about your growing up, and how music factored into your daily life.

Eddie Bond: Well, music has just been a part of our life for so many years that we don’t really think about it a whole lot, because it becomes ingrained in you. It’s like going to church: It’s just something you do, regularly. And it’s a fun part of life, and it’s a joyous part of life, and I compared it to going to church, because so many folks in the mountains, you know, that’s how we get through hard times, is we depend on the things that bring joy to our lives, like going to church and having the spiritual foundations. And music is the same thing. It’s something that keeps our life stable, and it maybe takes your mind off things, sometimes. And music has taken me to so many places, and it’s been my best friend all my life. It’s been there in the good times and the bad times.

Jo Reed: The first instrument you played was the banjo.

Eddie Bond: No. No, the first instrument I played was the guitar. My granny was a guitar player, the granny that I stayed with most of the time. My grandpa died when I was five years old, and Granny didn’t want to be by herself. So, as often we do in the mountains, one of the kids will go stay with Granny till she gets used to staying by herself, but mine never did. She... <laughs> she wanted somebody there. And so I would stay during the week, and my sister would stay on the weekends. Which was so lucky for me, because my folks—who I love dearly, by the way—were very religious. And when I got into music more, they really did not want me going to fiddlers’ conventions and square dances in these places. They wanted me to play only in church. But my granny didn’t agree with that, <laughs> so she kind of overruled them on that. And the older I got, the more I wanted to stay with her on the weekends, too, because I had access to those places when I was at Granny’s house. And if I was with my mom and dad, I really didn’t. <laughs> Although, sometimes they would give in and let me go, here and there, with different folks. And when I got to be, I don’t know, 14 years old or so, I joined a clogging team. By the way, my granny was a wonderful flatfoot dancer, and she taught me. I don’t ever remember not being able to dance. Some of my earliest memories are my granny playing the guitar and singing, and I was flatfooting, you know? And I— <laughs> so, a funny story that I tell sometimes, I can remember going out one night, with my—my granny’s brother was Uncle Leon, and he played the guitar in the Whitetop Mountain Band, which was a well-known old-time band around home, and they often played for square dances and different events. And they were having a wagon train—what they call a wagon train—and that’s just where all the horse-riders that had been riding the trails, they will gather up in a certain place, and at night, they almost always have music. So they had got Uncle Leon and the band to come out and play for them that night. And we went out there to hear them, and I can remember they had a little stage, about a foot high off the ground, that they were playing on. And Aunt Louise—that was Uncle Leon’s wife—set me up on that stage to dance. And I did, and folks were amazed because I was so small, and they would throw quarters at me. <laughs> So...

Jo Reed: Oh, my.

Eddie Bond: That was my first paying gig, you know. And—yeah, back then, my grandma, in her store, still sold candy for a penny, so a quarter was a lot, you know? So, anyway, folks were amazed that, back then, that somebody that small could dance. And now, when I dance, they’re amazed somebody this large can dance.

<both laugh>

Jo Reed: Now, you went guitar, banjo, fiddle. Is it in that order?

Eddie Bond: That is the order, yeah. My granny started me, when I was about eight years old, on the guitar. I was in—and the reason I was able to start at that age, on the guitar, was that she had a very small guitar. It actually belonged to her sister. It was a little baby Gibson, which I would love to have that guitar, but I don’t know where it’s at, at this point. But... yeah, she got me started on that. And I can remember that there was some of the chords that I couldn’t quite get, and she would show me these cheater chords, you know, so I had to use those till my fingers got bigger. And I took right off on the guitar. Granny mostly played a lot of the Carter Family stuff, and she actually played in that style, what now is—a lot of folks describe it as the Carter scratch, where you use a thumb and index finger, instead of a straight pick. And that’s how I first learned to play guitar. And then my Grandpa Bond, who ran a pawn shop about a half-mile up the road, he always had instruments, you know. And he really wanted me to learn to play the banjo, because his dad was a banjo player. Now, Grandpa played the guitar, and he could thump on a banjo a little bit, but not a lot, but he mostly played guitar; was a great singer and a great flatfoot dancer, also. And him and Grandma would—Grandma Bond, that’s another whole story. She came from Doc Watson country, down in North Carolina, and a lot of the old ballads that I learned, I learned from her. And some of those are, you know, several verses long. <laughs> And I love them dearly. I try to keep them in my head, but I think they’re there to stay, mostly, you know? <laughs> But anyways, that’s where she was from, down near Deep Gap, where Doc Watson grew up. And a lot of the songs that I learned from her are, if not exactly the same, very similar to the Watson Family versions, also. But Grandpa had a banjo, and he wanted me to learn to play the banjo. Now, he never would right out give you nothing. He would say, “I have this banjo, and you could take it on and play it, and just keep it as long as you want it. But, now, when you get tired of playing it, you bring it back.”

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: Well, I still have the banjo. <laughs> He died in 1999, and... but anyways, though, that went on, and I picked right up on the banjo, no problem. Took right off, and I’d been playing maybe a year or so when I won a blue ribbon at the Fries Fiddlers Convention, on the banjo. So that was going well. The problem I started having was that, whenever I would try to form a band at the Fiddlers Convention, you were always short a fiddle player. It seemed like there was enough banjo players, guitar players around, but the fiddle players were either getting too old to come out and play, or they were already gone. There was quite a few older fiddle players still around at that time to learn from, but very few that actually got out to the Fiddlers Convention. So I started thinking, “Hmm. You know, maybe I might need to try fiddle, because it looks like there’s going to be a shortage.” <laughs> And I was right, because there... my generation has been called the Lost Generation of old-time music. There were so few of us in my generation that wanted to learn to play from the old guys, and so I did. Well, I went back to Grandpa, you know, and he had a fiddle in his shop. And I asked about the fiddle. I was hinting, you know. And he’s like, “No, no! You don’t want to do that. You’ll mess up your banjo-playing. Leave that thing alone. Don’t you even think about it,” you know. But I kept on and kept on, and he wouldn’t give it to me. He finally said, “You know, I think, if you want it that bad, I’ll let you work it out on the farm.” So I said, “Okay, that’s fine.” And he had about a 75-acre farm, and he had a lot of fence that needed repairing that summer. And I worked for $2 an hour, and I just about had my fiddle paid off. He wouldn’t give it to me till I had it worked out. So, I about had it—I had it within, you know, 30 or 40 dollars of paying it off. And I went to the Galax Fiddlers Convention, and I won second place in the dancing contest that year, and I won enough money to pay my fiddle off. So I got the fiddle, and I had no idea. There was no fiddle players in my family. Well, there was one, but he wasn’t all that great. <laughs> But we had neighbors, two especially, that played, and they got me started on the fiddle. Again, I just kind of took off on it, because the thing is, when you grow up hearing this music from birth, all the tunes were already in my head. So I—it was just a matter of working them out on your fingers. <laughs>

Jo Reed: And did you love the fiddle immediately?

Eddie Bond: Oh, immediately. Yeah.

<music up>

Jo Reed: Here’s a question I have for you, because you’re—you’re an excellent banjo player, an excellent fiddler. When do you reach for one instrument, rather than the other? What does the fiddle give you that the banjo doesn’t, and what does the banjo give you that the fiddle doesn’t?

Eddie Bond: Hmm. Well... now, there are some of the old ballads that I learned from Grandma, for example, that... I can play them on the fiddle, but I learned them playing the banjo. And I—it just seems more natural for me to play the banjo when I’m singing those tunes. And the same with the fiddle, of course. Now, I know many, many, many more tunes on the fiddle than I do on the banjo, at this point, because there came a point when I kind of laid the banjo down, and just started solely concentrating on the fiddle. I could fake them on the banjo, but I wouldn’t be doing them justice, you know? <laughs> So there are lots of tunes that I’d much prefer to play on the fiddle. But I enjoy playing all those instruments, still, and I play autoharp, also. My Grandma Bond played—had an autoharp, and played that a little bit, and... of course, I grew up—the Carter Family was sort of idolized by my family on both sides, I think, and... I’ll never forget the first time I got to go to the Carter Family Fold, in Hiltons, Virginia, to play. That was, to me, like going to the Grand Ole Opry, because they had been put up on such a pedestal by my family that it was just a huge, huge event. And Janette and Joe Carter were still alive back then, and it was like meeting the president, to meet those people, <laughs> you know?

Jo Reed: The New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters.

Eddie Bond: <laughs>

Jo Reed: Can you tell me about this band’s lineage, and its name?

Eddie Bond: Yes. So, the original Bogtrotters were the Galax Bogtrotters, back in the 1920s and 30s. That was Uncle Eck Dunford. His name was Alexander, but they called him Eck for short. And of course, the Ward Brothers, and Doctor Davis, that was the original Bogtrotters. And they won the very first Galax Fiddlers Convention in 1935.  Now Uncle Eck Dunford is sort of the connection to the old Bogtrotters and the new Bogtrotters. So, Dennis Hall is the band leader for our band, the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters. Uncle Eck, his wife died, and he never remarried, so he had no children and no family. So the Hall family kind of took him in and took care of him. So in 1986, when Dennis wanted to form a new band, Uncle Eck lived on a little creek called Ballards Branch. And Dennis also lives on that same little creek. So Uncle Dennis wanted to revive the name, in honor of Uncle Eck, so he decided it was going to be the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters. And, now, do you know what a bogtrotter is?

Jo Reed: I was going to ask, “What is a bogtrotter?”

Eddie Bond: <laughs> So, a bogtrotter is a term that’s still used today in Northern Ireland and Southwestern Scotland, and it’s a derogatory name. It was used, at the time, for Ulster Scots, who had moved into Ireland and taken over the land, you know, and they didn’t want them there. So, see, they had hopped across the bog and took over, and that was a nasty name. They called them the bogtrotters. You know, they were sort of invading their space. And so, of course, a lot of the folks in Appalachia were Ulster Scots. So that’s a name that came over with them, when they left there and came to America.

Jo Reed: That they embraced.

Eddie Bond: And Uncle Eck was Ulster Scot, and he spoke and read Gaelic. And there’s still some of those old books that are written in Gaelic, in his cabin today.

Jo Reed: And there we are.

Eddie Bond: And there we are.

Jo Reed: And how long have you been playing with them?

Eddie Bond: Oh, I started playing in 2001, I believe.

<music up>

Eddie Bond: Before me was—my distant cousin, Greg Hooven, was the fiddler. He was the original fiddler with Uncle Dennis. And I say “Uncle Dennis” because that’s an honorary title. I’m actually not any kin to Dennis Hall at all, that I know of, but he is my uncle. <laughs>

Jo Reed: Well, you’ve won so many awards at fiddle conventions, but you won two Best All-Around at Galax, which is big.

Eddie Bond: It’s huge, yeah. I don’t know, it’s like winning a Grammy, if you play old-time music, you know?

Jo Reed: Yeah.

Eddie Bond: So, yeah, that was huge, and... those things are great, and it’s—I think I told somebody this yesterday: They asked me what I thought about contest-playing, and I said, “Well, they’re good and they’re bad.” I think when I was young, I took them so seriously. You live for the fiddle contest. It’s all—it’s like it consumes you. You want that blue ribbon. So it makes you practice more, and it makes you strive to be better. It’s kind of the driving force. You know, it’s the carrot on a stick, so to speak. But then I’ve also, you know, I’ve seen it break up friendships. There are some people who take it too far, and they take it too seriously. And I tell all my students, if you’re going to play old-time music—especially old-time—then make sure that you’re really enjoying it, that you’re having a good time, because that’s the biggest thing that you get out of this music. You’re not going to get rich. You’re probably not going to be able to make a living at it. Make sure that you’re enjoying it. Make sure that you’re taking good care of your friends. And if you can’t do that, then quit. <laughs>

<music up>

Jo Reed: That was 2018 National Heritage Fellow old-time fiddler Eddie Bond.  Next week, we’ll hear about Eddie’s time in the army—playing the fiddle while he was deployed during the gulf war, his time in Ireland, and his crossing the country as part of the “Crooked Road” tours. Be sure to listen! This has been Art Works the weekly podcast produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Subscribe to Art Works wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating on Apple—it helps people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

<music up>



Eddie Bond (Part 2)

<music up>

Eddie Bond: Music has taken me to so many places and it’s been my best friend all my life. It’s been there in the good times and the bad times.

Jo Reed: That is old-time fiddler and 2018 National Heritage Fellow Eddie Bond and this is Art Works, the weekly podcast produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed.

This is part two of my conversation with the great Eddie Bond—the second youngest person to be awarded a National Heritage Fellowship—I’ll let you know who the youngest is at the end of the podcast.

Last week, we heard about Eddie’s upbringing in beautiful Grayson County, Virginia, his love of the music and the people who play it. As Eddie himself noted, the music has taken him to so many places and this week, we’re going to hear about the doors that opened as Eddie pursued his passion for music—beginning in the most unlikely of places—Iraq—where Eddie was sent as a soldier during the Gulf War.

Eddie Bond: I got to the Gulf War, when I was there as a young 19-year-old boy. <laughs> And I got to meet folks that I wouldn’t have met, otherwise. And as a matter of fact, when I got there, I heard a guitar playing one night, and this—we got there in about August, and then we kind of just sat there in the desert for a few minutes before anything happened. And we were at the base camp one night, and I heard a guitar playing, and this fellow was playing “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” on the guitar. And I thought, “Boy, I’ve got to find that,” you know. So I walked around till I found him, and it was Paul Bolling [ph?], from Kentucky, and I stood there and listened. He could tell, I reckon, that I was itching to get my hands on that guitar, you know. Anything. I was dying for music, you know? And he said, “Do you play?” And I said, “Yeah. Yeah, I play a little bit.” He said, “Well, here. Pick me a tune.” And so I played a tune or two, and he said, “You’re pretty good.” He said, “Do you play anything else?” I said, “Oh, yeah. Yeah,” I said. And he said, “What?” I said, “Well, what do you need?”

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: Because I played fiddle, banjo, and guitar by that point, you know? And he said, “Oh, you play fiddle?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, you have your fiddle here?” “Well, no, I don’t.” He said, “Well, call home tonight and tell them to mail your fiddle over here.” And I’m like, “Well, this is kind of weird, but...” <laughs>

Jo Reed: “But I’m on it.”

Eddie Bond: “We’re there.” So I called home, and my mom’s like, “What? You want me to what?” And—but she did. She mailed my fiddle, and about two weeks later, my fiddle came. Well, I was in 82nd Airborne Division, and our Colonel at the time was a bluegrass music fan. Now, remember that I grew up playing old-time, but as Albert Hash used to say, I do play a little bluegrass every now and then. I just always wash my fiddle when I get done.”

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: But I would’ve been willing to play anything at that point, you know. So I got my fiddle, and I told the sergeant that I had my fiddle, and he said, “Oh, good, good.” So the Colonel had it all arranged. And on a Saturday night, he had us a sound system set up on a loading dock at our base camp, and they had a big banner made that said “Saudi Night Live.”

Jo Reed: <laughs>

Eddie Bond: And so the idea was that he had a guitar player. Well, he said, “I know where there’s a good banjo player, not too far from here.” So they had played together at Fort Bragg. So they arranged to bring this banjo player over, and then there was me with the fiddle, and another guy played the guitar— one of the chaplains—who could sing. He was from Tennessee—Mike Charles; could sing like a bird, and knew every Tennessee Ernie Ford song that was ever written, I think. So they got us all together, and there was a couple more guys. I can’t remember now what all they had, but we played anything that anybody knew. It didn’t matter what genre, if it was a blues tune, a rock-and-roll tune, a bluegrass tune, whatever. Well, we were playing the best we could with each other, and it come around we were kind of taking turns, and it came to be my turn. And they said, “You know, Private Bond, you play a tune.” And I was thinking to myself, “I need to probably play something not terribly complicated.” I wanted them to be able to play with me, you know. So I thought, well, I’ll play an old tune that I learned growing up, called “The Cackling Hen.” That’s just a two-chord tune. It’s kind of hard to mess up, you know. <laughs> Mostly G. So I told them, “Just grab a G and hang on. We’re going to play this tune.” So I played the tune, and when I got done, I looked over at the banjo player, and he just about had tears in his eyes. <chuckles> And he said, “Where are you from?” And I said, “Oh, you probably never heard of it before. It’s a little hole in the road in Virginia.” And he said, “Where?” I said, “Well, it’s a little place called Fries.” He said, “I know who you learned that tune from.” Now, remember, this guy had been in the army for 14 years at this time, and I had just been in the army for a few months. And I said, “Who?” He said, “Albert Hash.”

<music up>

Eddie Bond: I said, “How did you know that?” He said, “I’m from Whitetop.” <laughs> So...

Jo Reed: Which is close by.

Eddie Bond: It’s in the same county, yeah. So that was an amazing thing that happened through music for me, and just one example of how music can get us through the hard times.

Jo Reed: Oh, absolutely.

Eddie Bond: So it all went over so well. We had 400 guys around us that were enjoying it. They were completely bored out of their minds, so we were great entertainment. And the Colonel said, “I want this to go on for as long—absolutely as long as possible.” So...

Jo Reed: And you’re in the middle of a war.

Eddie Bond: We’re in the middle of a war. He said, “This is the best morale-booster we’ve had. This has to continue as long as possible.” So every Saturday night, come hell or high water, no matter where I was—I could be out in the middle of the desert, 100 miles out in the middle of the desert, but come Saturday evening, the Colonel’s jeep came and picked me up and took me to the base camp to play the fiddle. <laughs> So that was great, you know? Oh, goodness.        

Jo Reed: You left the army and you worked at various jobs. That factory’s closed down. And then you went to Pepsi.

Eddie Bond: Yeah.

Jo Reed: Are you still there now?

Eddie Bond: No. As a matter of fact, I went back to school about four years ago. I was kind of getting to that point in my life where the old arthritis in the knees was starting to catch up with me, and my job was requiring me to go up and down steps all day long, and it was just—I would come home in misery at the end of the day. And my wife said, “You have to do something different.” And the problem is that where we live, there are not a terrible lot of opportunities for jobs. But one opportunity that there is, is teaching. So I decided to go back to school to be a teacher. But I was being realistic, and I said, “Okay, if I’m going to do this, what am I for sure going to be able to find a job, when I get done?” And everybody that I talked to said, “Right now, the biggest thing we need is special education teachers.” So that’s what I went back to school for. I quit my day job. I was scared to death. My wife said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll make it.” And we did. You know, somehow, between what she made and what I made playing music, we managed to survive till I got through school. But then, right after I quit working at the Pepsi plant—so, maybe six months later—I got a phone call from Grayson County High School. And Miss Emily Spencer, for many years, had been teaching the string band class there, and she had decided it was time to hang it up. And they were desperately looking for a replacement. And... one of the secretaries there is a lady that I grew up going to church with, and she knows me well. She knows that I can play most of the instruments, or really all the instruments, and she had recommended me. So they called me, and I went up there, and they kind of hired me pretty much immediately. So I said, “Look, I’m going to school online, full time, through Old Dominion University. I don’t know if this’ll work, but I’ll try it for a while, and we’ll see.” They said, “Well, it’s just three hours a day in the morning, and then you’ll have the rest of the day. You can do your schoolwork.” Which, you know, that worked. It worked out, and so I did. I took the job, and I was doing that, and loving every minute of it, then going to school online. Well... two years ago, now, I guess it has been, one of my string band students comes up, and he said, “Mr. Bond, aren’t you a machinist?” I said, “Well, yes, I am. I went to school to be a machinist when I got out of the military. Why do you ask?” And he said, “Well, our machine shop teacher’s retiring.” <laughs> I said, “You’re kidding.” He said, “No.” I said—I thought, “Huh. Okay.” So I went over and talked to the principal, and she said, “Yes, yes, put your application in.” She said, “We had no idea you had a degree in machine technology.” But that’s what I did when I got out of the army. And then I did that work for 15 years or so. So I put in the application, and doggone, I got hired for that job, too, so... <laughs> now I teach machine technology and a string band. <laughs>

Jo Reed: And play.

Eddie Bond: And play music, yeah. So, quite music most of the time.

Jo Reed: Well, back in the day—it was 2007, I think—that was your first tour, “The Crooked Road.”

Eddie Bond: I believe that’s right.

Jo Reed: “Music from the Crooked Road.” And you were working for Pepsi then.

Eddie Bond: I was working at the Pepsi plant, yeah.

Jo Reed: Tell me about that experience, because it was your very first tour.

Eddie Bond: Yeah. Well, it was so exciting. I had a little bit of trouble, although at that time I had been at the Pepsi plant for quite a few years, so... I had a lot of vacation time saved up, but I had to take three weeks off work. <laughs>

Jo Reed: Yeah.

Eddie Bond: That was a little bit of a challenge, and they almost didn’t let me do it. But Joe Wilson, at the time, was sort of heading all this up, and he used to direct the NCTA. And I’m sure you probably knew Joe, a great friend of mine, in <inaudible 00:15:14>.

Jo Reed: He could talk the birds off of trees.

Eddie Bond: Oh, yes. I had it all worked out, except three days. They were going to make me come back three days early. And I tried to talk to them about—I had the time. They just said, “Well, this—you can’t. This is it. This is all. Somebody else is going on vacation,” whatever, you know? And I talked to Joe: “This—you know, they won’t let me go, but I have to leave on this day.” And he said, “Well, what if we had Governor Kaine to call them?” <laughs> I said, “I don’t know, Joe. I’ll ask them.” So I went back to the supervisor, and I said, “You know, Mr. Wilson just really wants me to stay for this whole time, and he wants to know if it would make any difference at all if Governor Kaine gave you a call.” <laughs> But—well, they said, “Oh, my goodness! Well... no, that won’t be necessary. We’ll just let you have it.” <laughs> So they’d let me have the time. <laughs>

Jo Reed: And what was the tour like?

Eddie Bond: It was wonderful. Actually I’d wound up doing a couple of tours. There was an East Coast tour first, and then there was a West Coast tour, and then we did a “Crooked Road” tour after that. So that was the West Coast tour, and that was a fantastic tour. It was just wonderful, and got to meet so many great folks, and see places I never thought I’d see. <laughs>

Jo Reed: And taking your music, that’s so embedded in place, and then bringing it sheer across the country, how did people respond to it? I’m just so curious about that.

Eddie Bond: Well, you know, Joe did such a fantastic job of putting that tour together, because if you set through the whole thing, it sort of told a story, so to speak, of American music. And as a matter of fact, the third tour that we did was called “The Roots of American Music.” But he sort of started out with the very basic thing, which is the human voice. And we had Elizabeth LaPrelle with us, who’s a fantastic ballad singer from our neck of the woods, and we started out with that. And then he sort of slowly added maybe a little fiddle and banjo. Then <inaudible 00:17:45> and myself did a little set, sort of fiddle and banjo.

<music up>

Eddie Bond: And then the Whitetop Mountain Band did the full old-time band sound, and then they had Wayne Henderson, and then they had the big bluegrass thing—sort of the finale. So it sort of snowballed, you know. It sort of told the story of how it all evolved, and it was just wonderful.

Jo Reed: Now, when did the international tours begin?

Eddie Bond: Oh, gosh. <exhales> So, after “The Roots of American Music” tour—and I’m not sure what date that was—that is where I met Mick Moloney. So, Mick proposed to me and my wife that he would love to take us on one of his tours. Now, he does cultural tours in Scotland and Ireland, and different places all over the world, and I said, “Mick, I’d love to go on your tour, but they’re quite expensive.” <laughs> And he said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Just bring your fiddle. And you play some music, and we’ll do it.” So that’s how that happened, the Scotland tour and the Ireland tour. The Australia, that happened through a fellow named Ian Alexander, who I sort of met through mutual friends. And also, I was teaching at the Swannanoa Gathering, at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, and Ian came and he took one of my classes that year. And Ian is the driving force behind that tour, because he finances it all. <laughs>

Jo Reed: I’m curious about you taking the music, especially, to Ireland and to Scotland, where your music has some of its roots.

Eddie Bond: Oh, yeah. It was just great. It was wonderful to see, and even touching at times. You know, my wife’s family came over during the potato famine. To stand there in County Mayo, on the Famine Road, where so many people died, it just brought tears to our eyes, you know, to think what those folks went through. It was just terrible, and very moving. But the music definitely—you can definitely hear that is where our music came from.

Jo Reed: It’s a similar musical language.

Eddie Bond: It’s very, very similar, yeah.

Jo Reed: And would you trade tunes?

Eddie Bond: Oh, absolutely. Well, and some of the tunes are still the same, maybe slightly altered, and we might’ve gave them a different name. I’ll give you an example. One Irish tune that’s still played by just about everybody that plays Celtic music would be “McLeod’s Reel.” For some reason, we call that “Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?” And we put words to it. And some people calls it “Hop Light Ladies.” But it’s the same tune. The only difference would be that, if you know anything about music theory, we end the B part of the tune on the one chord, and they end it on the five chord. That’s the only difference, and it don’t make enough difference to matter, because we can play it together, and it works fine. And there’s so many tunes like that, that we can all sit down and play together. Now, for some reason, that’s always been something I’ve wondered about... and it may be because of the banjo. Probably because of the banjo, jigs did not survive in Appalachia. So, they still play jigs in Ireland, and we don’t, in Appalachia. I can play a few jigs, but it’s just because I’ve took the time to—but nobody can play them with me, because it’s a completely different timing. And everything we play is in 4/4 time, and jigs are in what? I don’t know. What is it? Six-eight, or—I believe it’s six-eight, but it’s a different timing, and the guitar players just can’t do it, and the banjo absolutely can’t do it. <laughs>

Jo Reed: That’s interesting. How does this music bring communities together, not just the community where you live, but, and make new communities across seas?

Eddie Bond: Well, the one thing that I’ll constantly stress to all my students, and anybody that will listen, is that the best—absolute best—thing that you can get from learning to play old-time music is the folks that you meet.

<music up>

Eddie Bond: I’ve been to all those countries we just talked about, and there’s old-time music enthusiasts in all those places, that you can sit down with those folks and have a tune, and you sort of know that person, somehow. You know what kind of person they are, just by being around them, and I don’t know. It’s just like we’re all a big family. And you feel that. You feel like you’ve known that person all of your life. And some people more than others. I know I can think of one, especially, example, in a lady that lives in San Francisco named Karen Howell, and it’s like she’s a wonderful guitar player, a wonderful fiddle player, and you could tell she’s just dedicated her life to learning to play music. And the first time I ever met her, she was my sister. <laughs> And I still call her my sister. I love her dearly. And every time we get together, I can’t wait to have a tune with her, you know? And you have that time and time and time again. It’s just hard to describe, but it is a community, and that’s what old-time is about. It’s about community. And I would say this, that a huge difference between old-time and other genres is that when you play in an old-timey band, the object for every member of that band is to make the band sound good. It’s not about being showy or making yourself look good. Everything you do is because you’re a team player, and the band, as a whole unit, has to sound good.

Jo Reed: You know, I was at the Galax Fiddler’s Convention, and what was going on onstage was great, of course, but the most fun were the jams that were happening in the parking lot.

Eddie Bond: Always. Always. <laughs>

Jo Reed: I mean, it was fabulous.

Eddie Bond: Yeah. And that’s what I would tell anybody, that if you’ve never came to visit, especially at Galax, don’t waste a whole lot of time up there at the grandstands. <laughs> That’s for the judges, you know? That’s not where the fun happens, and that’s not where the community takes place.

Jo Reed: Yeah.

Eddie Bond: That’s out in the field behind the stage. And especially at the old green truck, we have—<laughs> we—everybody knows where the old green truck is going to be parked. That’s Dennis’s father’s old Chevrolet pickup that they somehow manage to get down there every year. We keep wondering, you know, are we going to have to hire a tow truck to bring it next year?

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: But it’s still making it down there, and we dearly love the old green truck. And we set it up, and every night, we have jams, and there’ll be... 30, 40 musicians that come around to jam with us, usually every night. And many, many folks will bring their little piece of plywood, and throw it down to dance on, and that goes on. You know, the older I get, the earlier... <laughs> we turn in. But we used to do that till midnight, one, two o’clock, and nowadays, it’s more like ten or eleven o’clock at night, but...

<both laugh>

<music up>

Jo Reed: Well, Eddie, you’ve won so many awards and so many honors, and all of them so well deserved. But now you’ve been named a 2018 National Heritage Fellow, and I wonder what this means to you, but also to your musical family.

Eddie Bond: Well... it’s all just really overwhelming to me. When I got the call, of course, I knew I’d been nominated nine years ago. But when I got the call, I was driving home from work, as a matter of fact, and the phone rang, and it said “Roanoke, Virginia.” And I thought, “Oh, this is a telemarketer,” you know. And I almost didn’t answer it, but I did, and then he said, “Is this Eddie?” And I said, “Yes, it is.” He said, “Well, this is Morgan Griffith calling.” And I thought, “Oh, my gosh. Did I forget to pay my taxes or something?” <laughs> And so I—

Jo Reed: And he’s your representative.

Eddie Bond: He is my congressman. And so I had met Morgan a few times for different things. He’d been at our school, as a matter of fact, not too long before this, and... and I thought, well, I had written a grant for my machine shop class, and I got the grant through the state, and I thought, “He’s calling to congratulate me about the grant. That’s what this is.” He said, “Have you ever heard of the National Endowment for the Arts?” Well, when he said that, I had to pull over.

<both laugh>

Eddie Bond: Because I kind of knew then what was going on, and it was just... it was really overwhelming, because I thought about...

<voice breaks>

Eddie Bond: I thought about, you know... <chuckles softly> so many people that were gone... that would’ve loved to been able to know this, you know? <laughs> I’m sorry.

Jo Reed: No, that’s okay. That’s the thing about this music, is that it stays alive, and people stay alive through it.

Eddie Bond: Absolutely, and... so I thought, I will never feel that I’m worthy of this, but all the folks that I learned from, over the years, that never charged me one dime for a lesson, they deserve this. So this is for them. <laughs>

Jo Reed: And for you, as well.

Eddie Bond: Yeah.

Jo Reed: Eddie, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Eddie Bond: Thank you.

<music up>

Jo Reed: That was 2018 National Heritage Fellow old-time fiddler Eddie Bond, the second youngest person named a National Heritage Fellow. Who’s the youngest person? Drum roll, please—another fiddler: 1994 awardee Liz Carroll. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts.  Subscribe to Art Works wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating on Apple—it helps people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

<music up>



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