The front cover of "Green Fields of Illinois"GREEN FIELDS OF ILLINOIS --

ARTISTS' BIOGRAPHIES

 

 

 

 

 

STELLE ELAM 
JIM and CECIL GOODWIN 
DORIS and LYLE MAYFIELD 
CATHY and LLOYD REYNOLDS


     
Stelle Elam

Mrs. Stelle Elam (nee Stipp) was born in Louisville, Illinois in 1902. Her family moved about a good deal, though always staying in Southern Illinois. Her father, on the other hand, had done a bit of traveling in his own day, even journeying as far as Colorado before returning home in a covered wagon.

At the age of ten Stelle first took up the fiddle. Her brother brought his fiddle home one day and took the trouble to show her how to play "Soldier's Joy." Little Stelle tried and tried until she got more and more notes to sound right. She very often heard her uncle, Jack Stipp, play the fiddle, too, and she would go home to try to reproduce what she had heard. In fact, since she was around her uncle Jack a lot (or made it a point to be), she learned most of her fiddle tunes from him, even more than she learned from her brother.

Her brother (how much we owe to the generosity of that brother!), seeing that Stelle was indeed serious about taking up music, bought her a fiddle of her own, and the young apprentice set about acquiring a repertoire of tunes. To put it in her own words: "I just staggered around over several of them until finally I got them learned."

Several years later Stelle took a liking to the five-string banjo -- so much of a liking that she traded her fiddle to get one. She learned to chord on it and shortly afterwards was proficient enough to play "Buffalo Nickel." Soon after, she was married, and when her husband presented her with a new fiddle, her short flirtation with the banjo ended. By the time she had given birth to the fourth of her seven children she was already in demand for dances and parties. Southern Illinois square dances are still remembered with affection by many residents of Champaign and other nearby towns. Usually held in a barn or grange hall, the dances went on till dawn or until people began dropping from exhaustion and/or surplus beer. Wives, children, and babes-in-arms were brought from miles around in buckboards and Model-T's, bearing box lunches and various liquid refreshments. As is to be expected, the strain on the musicians who had to satisfy all this pent-up enthusiasm was terrific. Lyle Mayfield avers that he heard Mrs. Elam "fiddle for five hours straight, standing up all the time, and never play the same tune twice."

It is impossible to discuss Stelle Elam's art without mentioning her uncle Jack, another fiddler still remembered by the old-timers of Southern Illinois. Jack looms as an interesting figure in our study of country fiddlers, for he learned some of his songs not by ear but by note from sheet music which he would buy whenever he needed a new tune. Though Stelle herself never learned to read music, she practiced diligently under her uncle's guidance; for her father had told her that "Uncle Jack plays 'em by note, so if you learn 'em from him you'll learn 'em right." One thing she never could seem to learn, however, was Uncle Jack's method of bowing: he held the bow at the end, like a classical violinist, but Stelle chokes up, like a batter about to lay down a bunt.

Mrs. Elam's husband died five years ago in an auto accident, but Stelle's life since then has hardly been that of a lonely widow. She has a large crew of grandchildren to keep her busy, and she still uses her shiny red Czech-built fiddle to chase the blues out of her white frame house on cold winter nights. She also plays a catchy honky-tonk piano. Though she no longer plays for those all-night parties, she still maintains herself in practice, as we discovered to our pleasure when we asked her to perform for our Club. Her debut on our state, as well as her remarkable performance for this record, prove that she still has the same musical skill that first set Illinois' feet tapping 40 years ago.

 

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Jim and Cecil Goodwin

The Goodwin brothers, Jim and Cecil, were born in 1906 and 1911, respectively, in Crawford County, Illinois. They are the sons of Willard "Pop" Goodwin, who was born in Crawford County in 1880. Their music reflects the stormy and rambling life they led before they settled in the city of Urbana, and which they continued for some time before assuming the more permanent way of life they now lead, with Pop working as a maker of home-made kitchen knives and son Jim assisting him. Cecil is employed as a foundryman.

If one were to ask them what their favorite sport is they would probably say "talkin' " or "tellin' tales"; for though Cecil is an expert hunter and fisherman and Pop and Jim are real craftsmen in their back yard knife shop, they are most accomplished at regaling their visitors with the tall-but-true tales of the years when they rambled around the country in search of various kinds of work and fun. Though they all are ready wits, the honors in the yarn-spinning department will have to go to Pop, for the simple reason that he's been at it longer. At 83 he is as sharp as the knives he makes.

Pop was widowed while his boys were still growing up, so he and the boys began moving around, all three of them leading a bachelor life. They had first moved up to Urbana in 1920, where Pop went to work paving Green Street. He later got work in the Big Four Railway (now the Peoria & Eastern) shops, which at that time employed 400 men.

The boys first remember "makin' music" at "Jenkins ' place," which was probably in Vandalia, where they were living when still quite young. Jim says: 'We had a ukelele for a guitar and a cigar box for a fiddle. I got the hair for the bow right out of the old horse's tail.." Cecil agrees that some sort of band started when he was 16 (1927). Mrs. Goodwin died the following year when Cecil was 17 and Jim 22. Pop was only 48 at the time, so it was into the Model-T they went, off to seek their fortunes in hard work, hard play -- and music. They wandered about in Central and Southern Illinois, worked their way into Michigan when the fruit needed picking, and eventually wound up in Arkansas as lumbermen. They quickly tired of that trade, however, and returned to their native state.

Back in Illinois again the boys began playing for dances. According to Cecil: "We didn't have much of a band; me and Jim played most of the dances ourselves. Our first dance was right under a shade tree; we played platform dances; we played up at Thomasboro and for the employees at the cannery at Gibson City." The boys were doing all of this at the same time that Smiley Burnett was beguiling Midwestern ears over station WDZ at Tuscola, then the country music center of Illinois.

In 1931 the Goodwins were asked to perform on WDZ. Needing a name in a hurry, they quickly settled on "The Sunshine Merrymakers" as the official title of their group. They had an offer from WLS in Chicago soon afterwards, but they turned down a chance for an audition to the National Barn Dance, figuring that their music wasn't good enough. They began rambling again, this time to Kentucky, to which they returned a dozen times or more during the years of the great depression. "We'd go down to Kentucky," says Cecil, "just to travel and see friends. We'd stop to play somewhere, and they'd come from over the hills to see us." This was usually in the region of Gradyville and Columbia, Kentucky, an area for which the Goodwins developed a great affection. They consider the region just the opposite of Arkansas -- a state they vow never to visit again.

In such a manner the Goodwin family weathered the depression, . but in 1936 the wild and woolly ways of the Goodwins came to an end. Cecil had married Juanita Hutson (whose father, Henry, had taught Jim how to play the fiddle), and the habits of the Goodwin boys were cutting into Cecil's efforts to solidify the life of. his own new family. He laid down the guitar, swore off the late-night fiddle and dancing parties, and used his music only for the enjoyment of his family or at the local Church of God or Salvation Army services. As for Jim: "When Cecil quit it threw me off, balance so bad I had to quit too."

And so it remained for 26 years, until Campus Folksong Club members approached the Goodwins and asked them to record some of the old ballads and dances. Now the little house in Urbana is once again ringing with G7ths as the boys recall the old-days in the songs of their youth. Pop has benefited too; the members of the record production staff have been very -good about buying his knives.

 

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The Mayfields

When Lyle and Doris Mayfield first appeared at our folksing, Lyle, amazed at the reception he and his wife had received from the students, stepped to the mike and said: "Down home they call us a bunch of hillbillies; up here we're known as folksingers."

The change from country musician to campus figure was not a difficult one for Lyle, for his life, like that of his wife, has been a story of transitions -- some of them rather difficult. Lyle was born on March 4, 1929 in Greenville, Bond County, Illinois, the son of Clyde and Grace Mayfield. Doris was born August 18, 1928 to Carl and Esther Mindrup of Staunton, Illinois, in Macoupin County. Doris represents a variant strain in Southern Illinois tradition, for she comes from a region of German-Swiss settlers, rather than the Anglo-Celtic mainstream that populates the area. Lyle has even taped a collection of Schottishes, polkas, and Viennese waltzes, played by one of the old residents of the region on the accordion. Doris learned to strike her first guitar chords while she was still living at home; her father used to play the guitar quite a bit. Her real musical development began, however, only after she married Lyle in 1950.

Since 1948 Lyle has been a printer, a trade which he entered shortly after graduating from high school. His education had been interrupted by a two-year Navy hitch, most of which he spent on Midway Island as a Seabee.

Following the printing trade, Lyle and his growing family (now numbering two boys and a girl) wandered across Southern Illinois, settling in such places as Hillsboro, Millstadt, Gillespie, Mechanicsburg, Decatur (where Lyle worked for Rand-McNally), and Nokomis, where he owned, operated, edited and wrote a newspaper. Any attempts to compare him with the young Ben Franklin will be appreciated. Lyle moved to Champaign in the autumn of 1962 to become the day foreman in the Daily Illini print shop, where he quickly got to know the college students. Due to his wide travels, experience, and self-acquired knowledge he was perfectly at home in the university atmosphere. He was even more at home when he began to mix with the members of the Campus Folksong Club.

The story of Lyle's development as a country musician is better told by the man himself, so we shall quote here from his own condensed biography, which he dashed off one lunch hour in the composing room:

"My musical 'career,' if you can call it that, began with a 25-cent harmonica. My father played the 'mouth organ,' as my mother called it, and she had developed quite an affection for the instrument. So at the tender age of six, Mom walked me into the Greenville Music Store, purchased a 25-cent Hohner 'Old Stand-by' (it now sells for $2.25), handed it to me and said, 'Play.' I played."

After nearly driving his mother mad with his sounds, Lyle decided to play the harmonica to his do, who promptly responded by howling as if in his last agony. The budding musician, undismayed, simply decided that the dog was trying to sing along.

"The thought of playing anything other than the harmonica never seriously entered my mind until I was about 12 years old. At that time I became entranced with a $5.95 guitar in our Sears-Roebuck catalogue. Family finances would not permit the purchase of that particular instrument, and anyway, the catalogue was soon used up. With the disappearance of the pages of the catalogue my interest in stringed instruments waned for the time being."

"It was probably just as well I didn't get too interested in the guitar at that tine, because for the next three years I was busy listening to and learning the songs of my environment. Many of them I already knew from my mother, but at this time in my life (12 or 15) I began to be more cognizant of what songs were being sung by the people around me. One of my favorite pastimes was to take long walks in the country, accompanied only by my old "singing" dog. While there in the privacy of the creek bottoms and cow pastures I would sing at the top of my voice, doing, my best to imitate the "hillbillies" of the day who were popular on the radio and old graphophone records. If anyone had heard me sing I would have been mortified just plum to death. The dog just wagged his tail in gratitude that I was singing instead of playing the harmonica."

"In the fall of the year that I turned fifteen I was walking down the street of the business district in my home town when I met a friend and schoolmate, Johnny Herrington. Johnny was one of my idols -- he played piano-accordion. Tucked under his arm was a guitar. It was old and cracked, but it was a guitar, and my eyes lit up like Christmas-tree bulbs and my ears went out like morning glories to the sun. 'Where are you going with that git-tar; Johnny?' I said. 'I'm going to sell it to you,' he replied.?'

"How much are you going to sell it to me for?"

"Six dollars and a half."

"Make it six dollars and you might make the sale."

"O.K."

"With the purchase of the guitar I also talked Johnny into agreeing that he would teach me enough chords to start me off playing the critter. He went directly to my home with me, where Mom met us with a look of dismay. I don't recall correctly, but the dog probably left immediately for the woodshed. Within the hour I had learned G, C and D chords."

"Progress on the guitar was faster than on the harmonica, and in a matter of weeks I was playing the accompaniment to and singing my first song: 'Cowboy Jack'."

Johnny Herrington stayed with Lyle almost the whole time, fulfilling, if anyone can, the roll of teacher in Lyle's musical development. At the same time Herrington was working four nights a week with a local dance band, "The Melody Makers," and when Lyle's playing. had improved sufficiently he, too, was permitted to work with this outfit.

Probably most prominent in Lyle's career is his stretch with the Okaw Ramblers, a group whose operations span three generations and whose personnel, taken over the years, now number somewhere in the thirties. Working in such bands, playing on the small country radio shows, playing for dances, picnics and church socials -- to say nothing of square dances -- Lyle picked up and worked out the various methods and styles of playing which he now uses on his various instruments and in his songs. At home he continued to study his music. Naturally Doris fell in with his activities, and Lyle obliged by instructing her in the use of the guitar. Together they developed their duet style, thus giving their group a wide range of vocal and instrumental styles -- too wide, we regret, to be included wholly on this record. With Doris a on the guitar, Lyle has been able to develop freely his skill on the mandolin (played in the old, pre-bluegrass style), harmonica, bass, and even the fiddle. Last Christmas Professor Doyle Moore presented Lyle with an autoharp, an instrument which he quickly mastered.

Late in 1962 Lyle gave birth to the latest of his brainchildren -- a new instrument called the "guitalin" -- a cross between a guitar and a mandolin. He played it the next week at the folksing (the number was "Wildwood Flower") and immediately several local enthusiasts began lining up to get a guitalin of their own. Nate Bray of the Bluegrass Gentlemen used ore in the Gentlemen's new 4.5 rpm recording "Barbara Allen," and Lyle believes that the instrument can become a legitimate part of the country string band arsenal. He is now experimenting with various configurations and combinations of string arrangement and sounding chamber sizes, striving for an ideal sound that will combine the volume and richness of the guitar with the virtuosity of the mandolin. He has even strung one of the instruments as a guitar, with the top two strings doubled like a mandolin.

Beyond Lyle's musical talents and his warm out-going traits that have propelled him fully into Club activity, he is remarkedly articulate about his own song-bag. His consciousness of the function of folksongs in his repertoire is clear. He can both write and talk about his songs with-the skills of a folklorist. We quote below his comments on two numbers:

"The Black Sheep"

Of all the songs I sing this one is probably the most truly traditional. It is one I learned completely by listening to my mother sing it. She used it as a lullaby when I was little and some of my earliest and fondest memories are of Mom rocking me to sleep in her squeaky old cane-bottomed rocking chair, the squeaks of the rocker keeping perfect tempo to Mom's squeaky rendition of the "Black Sheep." As I grew older Mom simply sang the song for her own enjoyment. Actually I never really tried to sing the song myself until I had joined the Navy and was shipped over seas to a God-forsaken rock in the middle of the Pacific ocean called Midway Islands. It was here in 1947 that a homesick sailor wrote home to his mother and asked her to send him the complete words to the song so that he could sing it to his equally homesick buddies. The song has been with me since then.

"Drink 'er Down"

As you know, I am a person who is almost violently opposed to consumption of alcoholic beverages. Therefore, to say that this song is traditional with me would be almost sacrilegious. I have to admit though that I did learn it in a very traditional manner. The story of this song being in my repertoire begins on a rather sad note (as many of my notes are). It starts with the divorce of my parents in the early thirties. This event necessitated my spending one winter living with some close relatives while my mother and sister worked to keep body and soul together. I was only five yeas old at the time, but just to keep me out of the way my cousin sent me off to school with her own brood of eleven children. This gave me a luxury I have been ever grateful for -- my one year spent in a one-room country school. For some reason during my free hours I was attracted to the cow-barn where my cousin's husband was constantly singing while he worked. A man trying to raise eleven kids in the height of the depression had to sing or he might have gone stark, raving mad. The one song I most vividly remember was this one. He sang it to the accompaniment of the milk squirting from the cow's udders into the galvanized milk bucket. Recently I consulted my stepfather about the song. He told me that he and his brother learned it from their uncle and their father. Figuring it generation-wise, this song must be at least 70 to 100 years old in our family tradition.

CFC 201 marks the Mayfields' first attempt at a recording though they have worked professionally and over the radio.  Listeners will detect such old favorites as "Put My Little Shoes Away" and "Letter Edged in Black" ("tear-jerkers," as Lyle calls them), as well as the previously unrecorded and uncollected "Drink 'er Down." The Mayfields' love for strongly emotional songs of home and mother reflects the difficulties their families experienced during the depression and war: Lyle was the victim of a broken home, and both Lyle and Doris were in the type of area and type of family that suffered heavily during the years of the Great Depression. Like the other artists on this disc, they represent faithfully the musical tastes and the personal experiences of the people of rural Southern Illinois.

NOTE:  The Mayfields are still around and still making music. For more information, visit The Mayfields page at the website of RTS Records.

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The Reynoldses

Club members met Lloyd and Cathy Reynolds at a December, 1961, folksing during; the Club's first tender year of operation. A member of their Church had attended a Jimmie Driftwood concert on campus and had learned about other Club activity. He, in turn, persuaded the Reynoldses to attend a folksing where they sang, initially, with trepidation and concern. How would college students take to their Gospel music?

It must be explained that this was quite a radical notion at the time. The Club was still in its formative stages. Many of the members were still in the Kingston Trio stage of development, and exposure to honest and sincere Gospel singing was a bit too wild for their tastes. Many of our members, fancying themselves intellectuals., were embarrassed by a display of simple religious feeling. But this made it all the more necessary that the Reynoldses be permitted to go onstage. We felt that if we were going to be a real folksong club, dedicated to acquainting our members with all the musico-cultural expression of the life of the people, then country Gospel singing deserved a legitimate place in our presentations.

Actually, our fears were grounded in sand. For the greater part, the Reynoldses were met with enthusiasm. Their simple but dedicated faith and their fine musicianship earned them many return invitations to the folksings, and culminated in our almost immediate decision to include them on this record. They have likewise been of service in the non-religious area of folk music, for Lloyd Reynolds' experience on the guitar and country fiddle long precedes his conversion to the Church of God, and his repertoire of country tunes was of material benefit to the Philo Glee & Mandolin Society when the trio, during the fall of 1961, sought authentic music for their Club record (CFC 101: Philo Glee & Mandolin Society).

Beyond swapping songs and playing together, Paul Adkins, Jim Hockenhull, Doyle Moore, Lyle, and Cathy made frequent appearances at old folks' homes and hospitals in Champaign County, bringing cheer to shut-ins. The Reynoldses have continued to work with Club members. As recently as April, 1963, they appeared at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, as part of a guest concert presented by UI Campus Folksong Club members.

Lloyd was born in Effingham County in 191.. Cathy, though she has lived most of her life in Illinois, was actually born in Arkansas. Her year of birth is 1922, but in 1926 her family moved north to Illinois and settled in Flora. Cathy 's father was a carpenter; Lloyd's was a farmer. They met in 1939 while Lloyd was working as a section hand on the Illinois Central Railroad.

Lloyd learned music from his mother. She played the French harp, but Lloyd took up the guitar, starting, as he remembers, at about the age of 20, when he was attending dances at the local grange hall. There was not much actual instruction, according to Lloyd. "Each Saturday there'd be a dance at the local grange hall. I'd take the guitar up to one of the boys and have him tune it for me. Then I'd try to play with them."

Up until 1950 Lloyd and Cathy played standard country tunes, with a few Gospel numbers included just to round out their repertoire. They traveled around the country as Lloyd changed jobs, going as far away as Texas. For many years Lloyd worked as a roustabout in tile oil fields, but the oil fields in this case were usually located in Illinois.

Then, in 1950, the change occurred. Mrs. Reynolds was asked by a neighbor to attend a revival meeting at her church. She went along and was saved that night. Then she went home and prayed again. "It doesn't matter if you're saved in church," she says. "It's when your all alone that matters. I went and prayed that first night and I really felt converted. I felt the Lord had saved me. When I got home I really felt conviction." The revival meeting had moved farther down the line from Mt. Vernon, the town where they were living at the time, so Lloyd followed it to the next town and came back saved.

In 1957 the Reynoldses moved to Urbana after a session of rambling that took them to Texas and Kentucky. Lloyd found employment at the Universal Bleacher plant (just around. the corner and down the street from the Mayfield house), and he and Cathy have stayed in town ever since. They have made many friends, especially those they met through the Club, and their music sessions with the Mayfields have been highly productive for both families, as well as for the Club.

The tunes the Reynoldses favor are the standard Gospel hymns and songs that have flourished in this country for generations, as well as numbers that have been written more recently. Some of the songs were learned in their various social traditions before they even met ( "Farther Along" and "Life's Railway to Heaven")., but the majority are those which they have heard in the churches and revival meetings which they have attended constantly since their conversion ("Lord, Build Me A Cabin In Glory Land" and "Tramp on the Street"). They and their, music furnish us with an instructive example of the religious life of this area of the country, while displaying at the same time an infectious musical drive of their own. We feel that  this record would hardly be complete if it did not present openly and candidly this most important facet of folk culture in the southern Midwest.

 

biographies by:

Fritz  K. Plous, Jr.

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"Green Fields Of Illinois" was a record of traditional folk music performed by artists from southern Illinois,  released by the Campus Folksong Club of the University of Illinois in 1963.  It was accompanied by a booklet with extensive documentation about the artists and their songs.  At this website I have reproduced much of the content of that booklet as well as some of the images and cover art.

 


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2004 David B. Nance