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I have played Cripple Creek forever, but I didn't play it very cool until I added some licks from a Benny Thomasson transcription. Of course, I added my own stuff in there too. I even included it on my recent album, Long Time Comin'.
Tonight, I was asked by Andy May to join him playing at a fundraiser for rebuilding after the High Park fire. I was honored to be asked, and happy to be a part of the event. I don't know how much was raised for the rebuilding fund, but there was a big jar full of money when I left. And, the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. I would say that the night was a big success.
Cripple Creek Song History By Richard L. Matteson Jr.
If you've ever learned the banjo, chances are you've played Cripple Creek. A meandering or a crooked stream is referred to as a "cripple" creek. The most famous Cripple Creek is a town in Colorado. Gold was discovered there in 1891 and the mining town that sprang up was considered by some to be the source of the song. Folklorist Alan Jabbour, of the Library of Congress found that the oldest Appalachian fiddlers he collected from could recall the first time that they had heard "Cripple Creek," leading Jabbour to speculate that the title might have something to do with the Cripple Creek, Colorado, labor troubles.
I believe that the Cripple Creek location in our bluegrass song is Cripple Creek, Virginia, a small community located in Wythe County at latitude 36.821 and longitude -81.098 with an elevation of 2,188 feet. The Cripple Creek, Virginia area was explored in 1654 and settled in the mid-1700's. A settlement was built at Fort Chiswell (lead was discovered in 1756 by John Chiswell) and farmers moved into the fertile land around the Cripple Creek and New River. In Virginia is was lead and iron ore that was mined, not gold. In 1887 when the Norfolk and Western Railroad reached the area, a zinc smelter was started and charcoal furnaces to make iron were built up and down Cripple Creek and the New River.
Betty Vornbrock confirms that there is a 'town' by the name of Cripple Creek south of Wytheville, in Wythe County adjacent to Grayson County, near Elk Creek and Bull Mountain (both in Grayson). She heard the name came from "hunters were on the trail of a large buck elk who led them over Buck Mountain, then along and across Elk Creek and on up north till they shot him, but only crippled him, at Cripple Creek.
According to Bob Coltman: "My opinion is that the tune probably is earlier than the Cripple Creek gold strike (1891), but that the words, and thus the song title, could have been put to it afterward, say at the turn of the century." " Mike Yates (2002) confirms that "most Virginia musicians believe that it relates to a location in Wythe County, Virginia." Glen Lyn, Virginia, fiddler Henry Reed (1884-1968), for example, told Alan Jabbour that he was sixteen years old when he first heard "Cripple Creek." Jabbour explains that Reed said the man who first played it for him was from Texas and was simply passing through the Tug River region (i.e. Tug Fork of Big Sandy River) of the West Virginia/Kentucky border, where Reed and his brother were employed as young men in the coal country region of southern West Virginia doing blacksmith work (which perhaps does argue for western origins for the tune).
Versions of the bluegrass song began appearing in the early 1900s. The first reference to the tune as "Cripple Creek" is in the Journal of American Folklore, 1915. Two fragments of "Cripple Creek" were collected by E. C. Perrow, and published in JOAFL, 1915, vol. 28, "Songs and Rhymes of the South," Part VIII, no. 42. No musical score.