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What is Old Time Music?


Old time guitar master Doc Watson

Old time guitar master Doc Watson

© Otto Bost

Old Time Artists:

Old Time Music has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. Popular groups on the scene include the all-women Uncle Earl, as well as a slew of artists from the Northwest, such as Foghorn Stringband, the Tallboys Stringband, and British Columbia's Outlaw Social. Classic old time artists include Doc Watson and, more classically, Clarence Watson, Tommy Jarrell, and Charlie Poole.

Old Time Instruments of Choice:

Old time music preceded the urban country and bluegrass advent, and the instrumental line-up is very similar to bluegrass. Most of the songs center around the fiddle, with guitar, banjo, bass, and often mandolin and dulcimer rounding up the sound.

Starter CDs:

Tommy Jarrell - The Legacy of Tommy Jarrell: Sail Away Ladies (Country, 1999) Compare Prices
Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers - Old Time Songs 1926-1930 (County, 1996) Compare Prices
Uncle Earl - She Waits For Night (Rounder, 2005) Compare Prices

Web sites dedicated to old time music:

OldTimeMusic.com - the catchall site for all things related to old time music
Old Time Herald - a news source for what's going on in the old time community.
Old Time Music & Dance - information about bands, dances, and jams

History and Background of Old Time Music:

OldTimeMusic.com traces the advent of what is now considered old time back to 1923, when Fiddlin' John Carson cut a record for the Okeh label. It was a critical flop, but enough of a commercial success to still be remembered today. The record wasn't easily classified as popular music, so Okeh dubbed it "old time music," and work echoing this style has been referred to as such ever since.

At that point, old time music was basically what we would now call Americana or traditional folk tunes. These songs were largely performed by folks from the rural tradition, with untrained voices and instrumental skills. Often, old time music was (and still is) incorporated in dances and centered around the work of the fiddler. Also, for the most part, old time music was historically something that came from the American south, and preceded the popularization and urbanization of bluegrass and country music.

As most other things in the American South, old time music was hugely influenced by African-American musicality, particularly by the inclusion of the banjo—an instrument introduced to the region by is African-American population. Eventually, the inspiration of southern and Appalaichian old time music gave way to the rise of bluegrass and contemporary country artists.

The genre is enjoying a resurgence, however, particularly among young musicians, who see it as an opportunity to explore a largely under-exploited artform.

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