Rufus Crisp Feature Episode

Rufus and Lulie
Rufus and Lulu Crisp

This week we focus on the music of Eastern Kentucky banjo player Rufus Crisp. About 10-20 years before the “Folk Arrival” of the early 1960’s when old time musicians such as Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley or Dock Boggs came to New York City, a few aspiring New York banjo players, including Pete Seeger, went to Allen, Kentucky and found Rufus Crisp. Crisp’s cousin was Margot Mayo, head of the American Square Dance Group (ASDG) in NYC, an important early group in the modern folk revival movement. In 1946 Mayo and fellow ASDGer Stu Jamieson traveled to Allen, KY and made extensive field recordings of Rufus Crisp, his son Palmer and fiddler Farmer M. Howell which were influential in the early Greenwhich Village scene. Today we draw heavily from these unpublished Library of Congress field recordings. We also play tracks by Stu Jamieson, heavily influenced in his own music by his contact with Crisp, and by Woody Wachtel, another New Yorker who studied with Crisp.

Rufus Crisp Feature Episode

Interview with Prof. J. Woodford Howard Jr.

This is an interview Eli conducted with Prof. Howard, nephew of Rufus and Lulu Crisp, at his home in Baltimore, MD. He grew up in the same area and provides first hand recollections of the family and regional history, social context, as well as Rufus’ music.


Rememberance of Rufus Crisp by Stu Jamieson, printed in the Old Time Herald magazine.

To Hear Your Banjo Play – Film featuring the American Square Dance Group led by Margot Mayo. You can see Stu Jamieson calling the square dance. The film is narrated by Alan Lomax, features a young Pete Seeger as well as Woody Guthrie, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Texas Gladden and others.

Rufus Crisp Folkways CD – Available for download at Smithsonian Global Sound. You can download the whole CD for $10, and the original liner notes in PDF format for free!

Interview with John Herald– He talks about his album “Roll On John.” Mentions Rufus Crisp.

Book by Margot Mayo on how to Square Dance



Rufus Crisp

Rufus Crisp


Pete Seeger visited Rufus and Lulu Crisp at their home Allen Kentucky apparently some time in 1940. He wrote about that visit in the January 1941 issue of “Promenade,’ the zine of Margot Mayo’s (Rufus and Lulu’s cousin) American Square Dance Group. Below is a scan of the article by Pete. (Provided by Joe Hickerson at the Library of Congress)



I couldn’t get this image to load up any bigger, if you are having trouble reading it, email me at and I will send you a higher resolution copy.



Information on Woody Wachtel:

*Throughout the show I pronounced his name “watch-tell” but it should be Wach, like “Bach”

An email from Hank Schwartz (7/18/07):

Hi Eli,

Woody did go down and learned directly from Rufus. Quoting a message
that I got from Stu Jamieson:

“when Woody heard my Rufus Crisp stuff, he decided to go
to Floyd County to learn from Rufus directly. He would work on Uncle
Seymour Mayo’s farm for his board. (The patriarch of the Mayo clan.)”

Unfortunately, I don’t have a chronology of Woody’s life. All I know are
bits and pieces gleaned from people that I’ve written to over the years.

Here they are in no particular order:

Woody was a marine!

He had been in a sanitarium, for tuberculosis I believe. He met and
influenced a number of people while there.

He was the chief psychologist of the Westchester School System of NY.

He was a graduate student of Timothy Leary and it was probably there
that he experimented with LSD that led to his ultimate suicide.

He was one of the sweetest people that I’ve ever known.

I spent the summer of 1958 on a student trip to Europe led by him.

I visited him at his Connecticut home 2 or 3 times and recorded him there.

He was married to a gorgeous woman from Trinidad and had a son by her
and then twins after his demise. She may have been his second wife(?).

After he learned to play from Rufus he came back to NYC as the first old
time player there and inspired me as well as John Cohen and numerous others.

He was deeply loved by me as well as Izzy Young of the Folklore Center.
After Woody’s suicide Izzy had his diary which he offered to let me read
but I couldn’t handle it. Izzy wrote a eulogy for him but I never saw it.

I expect that you could learn more about Woody from Stu Jamieson or Joe

I regard him as my mentor and a crucial pivot in my life. My best
expression of this is probably found here:

The only pictures that I’ve been able to find of him are below.

Best regards,

Some pictures of Woody Wachtel:


  1. I also recorded Woody around 1957. Met him through John Cohen.

    Enjoyed the show.

    Hoping to use one of Woody’s tracks on a banjo CD I just started working on.

  2. Arkansas Red-Ozark Troubadour

    Just found the article on Rufus Crisp. Thanks eversomuch. I’ve admired him for many years, and reading Pete’s article just made me admire him more. He was a classic and I think of him everytime I sing “Fare Ye Well My Blue-eyed Girl”. Love your Down Home Radio Show website. Named one of my CD’s years ago, “The Down Home Suppertime Gatherin”, and did a remake of the old early morning country radio shows. The title comes from those shows. The Down Home Show, The Suppertime Frolic, and the Renfro Valley Gatherin’. Keep up the good work. Drop me an email and I’ll send you a copy of the “Gatherin'” CD. Yours truly sometimes always, Arkansas Red-Ozark Troubadour, Ozark Mountains, Arkansas

  3. david hurt

    I keep Rufus and Lulu’s grave clean. The whole cemetary is pretty grown up.My family is from over the mountain on John’s Creek.

  4. admin

    Thank you very much for writing in. If you don’t mind my asking, where is the cemetery? What town? I will be in the area later this Summer and would like to visit if that is appropriate.
    – Eli

  5. Michele Kline

    My grandfather was Farmer M. Howell, a wonderful fiddler. In fact, I have two of his fiddles and my brother has the third. Stu Jamieson contacted my mother two years before her death and sent her the Folkways recording of her father, Farmer and Rufous Crisp. She was so excited to hear her father’s music. Farmer and his wife Belle are buried in the family cemetery near Betsy Lane KY.

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