Five Minutes With: Appalachian storyteller John Fowler

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comJanuary 20, 2012 

  • John Fowler performs at 2 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Beaufort library. Admission is free.

    New Harmonies is a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution that will be at the Beaufort library through Feb. 4. The exhibit showcases American roots music.

    Details: www.beaufortcountylibrary.org/newharmonies

John Fowler was born into a long line of Appalachians. He grew up to tell their stories.

The Boiling Spring native is an Appalachian storyteller and musician. He'll perform Jan. 21 at the Beaufort library as part of the New Harmonies series.

In addition to performing at schools and festivals, Fowler has produced several documentaries for ETV and is the co-host of "This Old Porch" radio show in North Carolina.

Fowler describes how far his Appalachian roots go back.

Question. What's your connection to Appalachia?

Answer. I was raised partly by my Grandmother Taylor, who is from western North Carolina. As a youngster, I was influenced in her Appalachian ways. I got interested in my history and culture. At an early age, I came to appreciate traditional mountain music.

Q. From a musical standpoint, what are the influences of Appalachian music?

A. Scottish and Irish settled that country. Both sides of my family come from early settlers from the late 1700s. My grandmother's family lived there until she moved to Spartanburg when she married my grandfather.

Q. How many instruments do you play?

A. I play a dozen or more -- fiddle, guitar, autoharp, banjo. Simpler instruments like the washboard or spoons.

Q. Are you any good at the spoons?

A. I like to think I am, but there's always someone better. One of the ways I learn my music is seeking out some of the older musicians from the mountains and Upcountry. When I play, I try to play like they did 100 years ago.

Q. Was there a particular instrument that sparked your interest in music?

A. I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. My stepfather taught me. I started on the harmonica a little bit later. I went on to play the banjo. In most cases when I play with groups I play the banjo. It's the old time clawhammer mountain style banjo, not the bluegrass style.

Q. When you perform, do you feel like people are familiar with the instruments or stories?

A. When I was a child, I remember my first-grade music teacher bringing in an autoharp and playing a song or two and then letting us stand in line so we could go up one by one to strum that auto harp. I think of that now. I didn't see a lot of instruments up close until then. Sometimes it's great to actually see and touch the instruments and listen to a story about why it's become a part of American history.

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