Don Pedi, Renowned Old Time Mountain Dulcimer Player; Born in Boston, rambled around until he found his home in the mountains; Marshall, North Carolina:
“I got interested in traditional music through the folk revival in the sixties, Bob Dylan and all that stuff. There was a big festival in Newport, Rhode Island. I went to see Bob Dylan and all these kind of folks and ended up seeing these tradition musicians from out of the mountains. (After that) I just rambled around for a while. Met some fellows in Colorado and moved back to Asheville (NC) with them to play.
I’ve lived most of my life in Appalachia. When we came in to North Carolina from Tennessee, across them mountains my whole energy shifted, like something settled in my soul. I felt like I was home for the first time in my life. That was 1973.
Learning to play the mountain dulcimer, I saw somebody do it, Richard Farina and his wife Mimi Farina, Joan Baez’s sister. They told me about Jean Ritchie. He had gotten his dulcimer from her. I went down to that Newport festival and saw her (Jean Ritchie) and these other traditional players and got real interested in that kind of music.
When I moved back into the mountains, I moved back in with people who had lived there for generations. My neighbors to this day still plow with mules and horses.
I just play the dulcimer. I don’t read a lick of music. I just play the dulcimer.
(Music in the mountains) is a source of pride, a source of self-betterment. It’s a history. These old songs talk of actual events. These songs are about real events that took place. That’s how they documented and kept the stories alive. A lot of the older music that came over from the British Isles, they kept that going and then it changed and developed into our music. (Mountain Folk) kinda shed the ornaments of that music and added the rhythms of African American music and Native American music. That’s how we got our version.
The importance of it is and the differences of it, after World War II is when I see that it really changed. I realize the Bristol Sessions were 1927 but people were still playing pretty much traditional stuff. Some of the old time traditional musicians are still around but most of them are dying off now. There are pockets of people preserving the music the way they learned it from earlier generations. By this time, once bluegrass started, after World War II and the beginning of the folk revival it began to change. Musicians started to get themselves out of the way of the piece. My innovation is that I play them on the dulcimer, these fiddle tunes and such, but I’m not changing the tunes. Jean Ritchie for example, her innovation was to play counter melody to her voice because that just suited her.
For the most part, the ballads and the old fiddle tunes people played them like they had learned from previous generations, often times family members. What changed with the folks revival and with bluegrass is that it now became ‘my performance of this piece, what can I do to change this and make it different?’. To me, the older way is what I cherish and preserve.
I’ve carpentered, cooked, whatever it took to support my art habits. I do visual art and things but music is pretty much my livelihood.
I think culture has to do a lot with your positioning, like class. I came up kinda poor, working people and when I moved down here I moved in with people who worked the land and got by. A lot of my neighbors were tenant farmers when they were younger. I have nothing against having money. I wouldn’t mind having more but it becomes a different way of looking at the world.
The word hillbilly? It depends on how you take it, how it’s presented. I'm proud that somebody calls me a hillbilly. It’s a lifestyle that I embrace.”