Joe Penland
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Joe Penland

Marshall, North Carolina, United States | SELF

Marshall, North Carolina, United States | SELF
Solo Folk Singer/Songwriter


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Review of Standing On Tradition: The Old Songs"

Joe Penland has not visited Gainsborough, although he has spent time in the UK touring both England and Scotland. Joe is from Madison County in North Carolina - the area where Cecil Sharp collected many of his best songs - and grew up listening to singers such as Lee, Doug and Berzilla Wallin, Cas Wallin and Dellie Norton. His CD contains a dozen songs and ballads from these singers, plus one of his own songs The Old Man of the Mountain which concerns the life of Lee Wallin, Joe's favourite singer. Interestingly, Joe Penland is no mere copyist. Today we can listen to recordings of many of the singers who taught him songs (quite a few are on the Musical Traditions CDs Far in the Mountains) and Joe clearly puts his own stamp on each performance. His thoughtful version of, say, Lady of Carlisle is sung in a far less extrovert manner than the versions that Doug Wallin or Dillard Chandler used to perform. And I especially like When First Unto this Country, sung here as a duet with Mary Eagle. All in all, a very interesting and entertaining CD.

When I was last in Madison County, some five years ago, I realized that hardly any of the older singers were still with us. And, apart from one or two singers, such as Sheila Kay Adams, there seemed to be precious few younger singers around with an interest in the old songs. But, things seem to be changing and there are now CDs available from Donna Ray Norton, Denise Norton O'Sullivan and Josh Gosforth, who all hail from Madison County. Like Joe, they have all inherited a wonderful store of songs, tales and musical styles. Hey, things are starting to look good again in that part of the woods. - By Mike Yates


Still working on that hot first release.



Deep in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina theres a front porch that has been the destination of many folk who love these mountains, its music and stories. Grammy winners and kids with their first guitar, banjo or fiddle, Hollywood producers, writers, and folk music collectors from all over the world, have made their way to the place Joe Penland simply calls the farm. An invitation aint that easy to get. Joe has been singing the ballads and telling the stories over half a century, but says with enthusiasm: Privacy is pretty precious. And he has maintained that for a long time now. Occasionally coming out of the shelter of these mountains to sing at some festival or other, until recently he has been content to do it on the porch after the work is done.

Deemed a Cultural Treasure by The Asheville Citizen Times, and the recipient of the coveted Bascom Lunsford Award (named for the founder of the longest running folk festival in America), Joe preferred the simple life of hard work and family.

In 2004 after a serious bout with a life threatening illness, he was persuaded by some of his longtime friends to record the ballads he learned as a kid growing up in these mountains. I guess that I finally realized I might not live forever. I remembered the stories of my Grandpa who died before I was born. My Mamma said he could play any instrument and he taught singing schools all over this country here. She says he met Uncle Dave Macon on a train and Uncle Dave said he was the best banjo player he had ever heard. Now aint that something? I always thought how good it would have been to have known him or just have heard him sing. They didnt have all these modern gadgets then that we have now, so I thought it might be the right thing to leave something for my children to have for their babies.

Joe recorded Standing On Tradition the old songs in 2004. I didnt realize that I knew so many songs until then. So I just kept on after I kinda got used to it.

Now theres more than enough material for five more records. Once I got started, folks said well how about that song you wrote or that song you learnt from Lee. Well, I guess Ill have to stay around a little while longer to get em all down.

His daughter Laurin and long time friend Mary Eagle, convinced him to cross the big water and took him to the Whitby Folk Festival in England. He sang at one performance with Mary, and then the people just sorta carried us all around and he sang and told stories of these mountains every day for the next two weeks.

He was invited to Whitby again this year and according the master storyteller Taffy Thomas his performance was the emotional pinnacle of Whitby Folk Week.

In September of 2006, he released Answer to My Prayer a collection of some of the songs he has written over the years and two covers of songs he loves. Its just story songs about my life and the people I have met, with a dream or two thrown in for good measure.

He has accepted his new found fame with his usual dry humor: I guess its good to have something to fall back on now that I cant do a decent days work.

Encouraged by his friends, novelist and singer Sheila Kay Adams and four time Grammy winner David Holt, Joe, with the help of his daughter, is writing the stories hes been telling all these years.

In the Spring of 2012 Joe released the fifth collection called '53 Pontiac, Songs and Stories and continues to work quietly at his mountain home.

And as Joe says: Every morning on this side of Glory is a good un and Id best make the most of it.

What was once available to a select few is finally out in the world. If you get a chance to see Joe Penland, dont miss it.

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