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The Red Fox Chasers

One of Appalachia's great old-time vocal and string bands, the Red Fox Chasers came together at the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention in western North Carolina and started making records shortly afterwards for the Gennett company in Richmond, Indiana during the spring of 1928. A.P. "Fonzie" Thompson and Bob Cranford grew up on opposite sides of Pine Knob Mountain near Thurmond in Surry County, where they learned shape-note singing from religious songbooks, sang traditional melodies for their neighbors, and performed regularly with a gospel quartet. Thompson was a self-taught guitarist and Cranford was shown how to play the mouth harp by his mother. The singing of these two men was central to the sound of the Red Fox Chasers. A.P. was a very expressive tenor and Bob had a deep bass voice.

The other half of the group took their inspiration from the instrumental string band tradition of the region. Fiddler Guy Brooks and banjoist Paul Miles came up in Allegheny County where Brooks' father made his living selling chestnuts, wild boar hams, and raccoon pelts to Miles' father, who operated a rural general store. Miles began making music when he was five years old using a fretless banjo made out of a sieve covered with the skin of a groundhog. Guy played a fiddle he bought for $3.50 which he earned by gathering chestnuts. The two young men became seasoned performers by entertaining at square dances. Cranford, Thompson, Miles, and Brooks each brought his own distinctive element to the band. Its name was suggested by Brooks for the simple reason that, like his father, he was a natural-born hunter. Although he wrote lyrics which were set by Thompson ("Honeysuckle Time," "The Blind Man and the Child," "Stolen Love"), Brooks was the only member who didn't sing.

Acting as the Chasers' leader, Miles set up the first of three Gennett recording dates which took place in April 1928. Apparently convinced that vocal harmony was their most marketable asset, the group did not expect to be able to record any of the lively instrumentals that were so popular back home, but when the folks at Gennett heard Brooks warming up his fiddle, the Chasers were encouraged to toss off a few of these as well, including "Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe," which was also known as "Hop High Ladies." The Chasers ultimately recorded 24 78 rpm records for a total of 48 sides, some of which were also released under the names of the Black Mountain Gang and the Virginia Possum Tamers on labels distributed by the Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck companies. The Chasers held their last session as a group in June, 1929. In January, 1931, the Thompson and Cranford duo made an additional one-dozen recordings for Gennett. After the Chasers disbanded, Brooks farmed and worked as a carpenter, A.P. farmed and drove a truck, Miles became a mechanic, and Cranford took a job at the R.J. Reynolds plant in Winston-Salem. All except for Brooks lived into the '60s. A 12-track LP devoted to the Red Fox Chasers was released on the County label in 1967, and 42 of their recordings were reissued in a double-CD set by Tompkins Square Records in 2009. ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi
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