homepage logo

Falling Branch String Band Just Plain Rocks

By Staff | Jul 29, 2008

Falling Branch String Band does its own take on traditional southern Appalachian music. The gang consists of Ken Sheller, Hazel Wood, Mary and Les Caraher. They pride themselves on not just their string playing, but also their close harmony singing. For more info, check out www.fallingbranchband.com.

Graffiti: What are you up to lately?

FBSB: We’re making a CD, that’s taking forever it seems. It is made up of our favorite vocals, pieces taken from Falling Branch repertoire and from our a cappella gospel group we call, “God Only Knows.” We’ve been playing mostly local festivals – Pattifest, Glenville, Seneca Rocks. We also play for family reunions and quite often for church groups. We’re always working on new songs and are working hard on four-part a cappella gospel music.

Graffiti: How did you get interested in old-time Appalachian music?

Les: I became interested around in the 1970s, when I acquired a banjo. A friend of mine in the Washington D.C., area played a Pete Seeger-style banjo and I learned from him and the Pete Seeger Banjo instruction book. This led me to listen to old-time and Bluegrass records, meeting folks who played both. Eventually, I settled on OT because I was asked to play in an OT band called “Sweet Water String Band.”

Mary: I met Les in 1978 and immediately began singing old-time music with him. I took up autoharp, then guitar, then fiddle. Before that I had always loved to sing and participated in choirs and singing groups from an early age. I discovered WWVA, which I could receive while living in White Plains, N.Y., at the age of 13 and was drawn to the old-time country sound.

Hazel: Through Mary and Les. I attended several functions at which Falling Branch sang prior to ever having a thought about singing with them.

Ken: I heard it and I liked it.

Graffiti: Often, people interested in old-time Appalachian music have other traditional hobbies or interests, too. Do you get into old recipes, heirloom gardening, quilting or other traditional crafts?

Les: We built our home out of rough-hewn logs. We garden and can our own vegetables. I love to hike, bird watch, bicycle, cook old Italian recipes and deer hunt.

Mary: I discovered quilting a few years ago and have made a few quilts; hope to have time to do more of that in the future. I garden, can vegetables, hike in the woods and bike on the nearby trail. I love to bake fruit pies from our own cherries, blueberries and blackberries.

Hazel: My husband and I put out a garden every year, and we put up a lot of fruits and vegetables that we have grown. I love to bake and am always looking for different recipes. I have done some quilting. I have knotted one, and am working on two others at this time. I do some crocheting and love stamped embroidery.

Ken: I do a little chip carving and have dabbled in pysanky.

Graffiti: What instruments do you play?

Les: In the band I play guitar. I play clawhammer banjo, carter scratch guitar (and sometimes swing guitar), autoharp, harmonica and a very scratchy fiddle.

Mary: I play fiddle in the band and sometimes guitar. I can play autoharp but have let that slide in recent years. I’m planning on taking up bass fiddle this summer. I am a beginning piano player and probably will never get beyond that level.

Hazel: I am playing bass fiddle with the band. Before that I played the udu. I play piano, but am not great. I love playing hymns and fill in at a couple of different churches when needed.

Ken: In the band I mostly play banjo and occasionally backup guitar. Outside of the band, I play hammered dulcimer.

Graffiti: Where in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky do you play?

FBSB: We play mostly in and around Randolph County and Elkins.

Graffiti: What are the biggest gigs you’ve played?

FBSB: As a band, probably the Glenville State Folk Festival, a benefit last year for Habitat for Humanity in St. Marys, the West Virginia State Forest Festival in Elkins, the Ramp Festival in Elkins, the Augusta Heritage Center Festival, the Pickens Maple Syrup Festival and the Randolph County Community Arts Center.

Contact Tamar at tfleishman@graffitiwv.com