Remembering George Daniels
inUncategorizedon November 11, 2014
When we learned that George Daniels had passed away last month, I thought back to my first meeting with him. I went to look for George Daniels in 1995 as I was re-tracing the trail of the great folklorist and blues researcher George Mitchell, who had discovered many great blues artists in Georgia and Alabama. George Daniels became a long-time friend of Music Maker; we helped him every month for medicine for nearly 20 years. As I only got to visit him a few times, I never spent the amount of time with him as his friend, the great folklorist/writer Fred Fussell, did. Fred wrote this piece and I present it here as it really gives you an idea of the wonderful man George Daniels was. He is sorely missed here at Music Maker.
– Tim Duffy
By Fred Fussell, Folklorist
George Daniels was born in Macon County, Alabama, in 1929. He still lives within just a few miles of his Creek Stand birthplace. Daniel has been a farmer, a ranch hand, a rodeo cowboy, a timber cutter, and a well digger. He can locate streams of underground water using a forked willow branch. In addition to all that, he’s one of the few traditional bluesmen who’s still active in eastern Alabama. The quotes below are from an extended conversation I recorded with George Daniels in August, 2003.
My daddy was a guitar player. When he quit playing he gave me his guitar. When I was a little boy, I used to set up in the bed and play it. We played for frolics and for house parties all around the community – and at fish fries. They played dance music. We never did play any blues before we had a record player. Not in the old times. I learned blues from records. My granddaddy was the fiddle man. I never could do that. I never could use that bow right. We played music at peoples houses. They’d kill a hog and they’d take the livers and lights and all like that and make hash. They’d have a frolic and sell that hash to the people that came to dance.
I raised all my children by working on a horse. I’d plow the horse all day, and in the evening time I’d catch cows on ’em. I started off at a livery stable up there at Creek Stand. I was about 10 years old. I’d take care of the horses. I’d catch one and ride it all around the pasture and fields and then go back and get me another one and ride it. I’d do that all afternoon. You had to get out there in a big old pen and rope you one to ride. Pick out the one you wanted to ride and then catch it. I’d stop by there every afternoon after school let out and then stay around all weekend too. I made it to the seventh grade.
I started off roping on a horse to catch cows. Back then they didn’t have no catch- pens and chutes to get’em up with. You had to rope’um. Now they got a place where you can pen’um up to brand’em. They didn’t know nothin’ bout that back then. That was back before 1936 or ’37 and maybe on up until 1943 or ’44. One of us would catch the head, and the other’n’d catch the heels – with ropes. We’d tie’um up tight to brand’um.
It was 1944 before we ever hauled cows anywhere in a truck. Before that we’d drive ‘um up the main road from Creek Stand to Hurtsboro. That had a pen where you’d put ’em in down by the train track, and then they’d load ’em on a boxcar. We had a pasture full of cows at Hardaway and another one at Shorter. We’d go up there in the fall of the year and drive them down to Creek Stand. When springtime came, we’d drive ’em back up and put’em in the pasture. That was about fifty miles each way. It’s twenty miles from Hardaway to Shorter. We had 200 head in one place and 354 in the other. At Hardaway, it was 354. We’d go right down the road with’em, drivin’um. We’d drove cows from Creek Stand over to Columbus, Georgia, too.
We were in rodeos. Bucking horses, jackpot roping, ribbon roping, and all of that. They had’em up there at Hatchechubbee. There was one out on the Columbus highway, and there was one right up above my house, out there in that field, They’d charge people to come in and watch ’em. You got to charge or you won’t have any prize money. Nowadays you got to have insurance on yourself and insurance on your horse or they won’t let you enter. Back there then, we’d just do it for the hell of it – and for the prize money.
Jackpot roping – I won the jackpot one time but I never was lucky enough to win that again. But that ribbon roping, and that calf roping, and heeling? I’d win that all the time. You know, you got just so many seconds to tie your calf up. When you get on your horse, you gon’ back him up in that chute and you put your line right there between your teeth. Then when you nod your head that gate comes open and that calf shoots out. Well, your horse is standing there looking. When he sees that calf run, he wants to take off and run with him. But you got to let the calf get a start before you can rope him. If your horse passes the calf, you can’t rope him. You have to wait and then go. It’s real dangerous. My mama used to fuss at me all the time. She’d say, “You’re crazy.” I’d say, “Well, I’ll just have to be crazy then.”
There’d be people there from all over – from Texas and everywhere. They’d come in there by the trailer-loads. Be there all night and all the next day. But there never was over four black people doing that. I’ve got a buddy out there at Society Hill right now who was one of ’em. We’d be ’bout the only ones. Now they got a heap of black men on it. But back there then we was the only ones. That’s where your money was at – in the rodeo business. But I never did ride those bulls. Un-uh! No sir. Horses, yea! Bucking horses. I’d get on him. But that bull? No sir-ree! Un-uh. Naw. Never did get on them bulls. A bull like to kilt me once. I was through with bulls from then on. I fell out with bulls.
Back then they’d have foxhunts. How many people out there now have foxhunts? You don’t never see nobody out there now with a pen full of foxhounds. They’d turn’um loose out there and it’d take me two months to get all them dogs caught and put back up again. That’s how many they had. And they’d hunt anywhere they wanted to. Didn’t nobody care back then. There wasn’t hardly no wire fences, and if there was one that didn’t stop us. We’d ride up close to the fence to let the horse measure it. Then we’d turn that horse around about twenty yards back and come on it hard. Either he went over the wire fence or you did. At least one of you was going over! I tell my grandchildren now when they say they want a horse, I say you won’t never do what I done! Children coming up now sure have the good times, compared to what it used to be.