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