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Kessinger Brothers

Kessinger Brothers

Kessinger Brothers


Clark Kessinger (Kanawha County, WV, July 27, 1896 - June 4, 1975) began playing the banjo when he was five years old and two years later he performed at local saloons with his father. He switched to fiddle and began performing at country dances. In 1917, he joined the Navy serving in World War I. Upon his discharge, his reputation as a fiddler had increased and he visited many local fiddling contests. He teamed up with his nephew Luches "Luke" Kessinger (August 21, 1906 in Kanawha County, WV - May 6, 1944) performing at various locations. Read more on Last.fm
Clark Kessinger (Kanawha County, WV, July 27, 1896 - June 4, 1975) began playing the banjo when he was five years old and two years later he performed at local saloons with his father. He switched to fiddle and began performing at country dances. In 1917, he joined the Navy serving in World War I. Upon his discharge, his reputation as a fiddler had increased and he visited many local fiddling contests.

He teamed up with his nephew Luches "Luke" Kessinger (August 21, 1906 in Kanawha County, WV - May 6, 1944) performing at various locations. In 1927, Clark and Luches Kessinger had their own radio show at the newly opened station WOBU in Charleston, West Virginia. On February 11, 1928, the Kessingers travelled to Ashland, Kentucky to audition for James O'Keefe, a talent agent for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender recording company. The Kessingers were hired and, calling themselves The Kessinger Brothers, they recorded twelve sides the same day, six of the sides together with the caller Ernest Legg. Despite Clark Kessinger's increasing success as a fiddler and recording star, he had a regular job as a caretaker in Charleston.

In the late 1920s, the Kessinger Brothers' records were best-sellers on Brunswick Records. During these recording sessions, the Kessinger Brothers recorded many classics such as "Wednesday Night Waltz", "Turkey In the Straw", "Hell Among the Yearlings", "Tugboat", and "Salt River." Clark Kessinger was an influential American old-time fiddler. Many of his fiddle tunes made their way to other fiddlers or into the bluegrass music genre. Clark Kessinger was born in South Hills, Kanawha County, West Virginia and was raised in nearby Lincoln County. At least two of his relatives were fiddlers and he also listened to local fiddlers but his biggest influence was Ed Haley.Kessinger was also greatly influenced by classical violin players such as Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Szigeti and Jascha Heifetz.

Following his last recording session on September 20, 1930, Kessinger retired as a recording artist. He and Luke Kessinger continued to appear as a couple on radio shows, country dances and clubs. For the next 34 years, Clark Kessinger worked as a painter. Meanwhile he performed together with acts such as Natchee the Indian, the McGee Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, and Clayton McMichen.

When Luke died in 1944, the story of the Kessinger Brothers came to an end. In 1963, Kessinger was rediscovered by folk music promoter Ken Davidson. Davidson persuaded Kessinger to return to the music scene and soon he was competing at several fiddling contests. In August 1964, Kessinger formed a string band in Galax, Virginia consisting of guitarist Gene Meade and banjoist Wayne Hauser. His string band participated at the old-time music contest in Galax winning first prize in the string band category.

Kessinger and his string band recorded for Davidson's label Folk Promotions Records. The recordings were released as "The legend of Clark Kessinger." Clark Kessinger continued to win prizes at different fiddling contests. In April 1971, he won the World's Champion Fiddle Prize at the 47th Old-time Fiddler's Convention in Union Grove, North Carolina. Three more albums followed on Davidson's new label Kanawha Records.

His albums were later reissued on Folkways and County Records. In 1971, Kessinger recorded 12 tracks for the newly formed Rounder Records. The record company had plans to record many albums with Kessinger but before they could initiate what they had planned, Kessinger had a stroke and collapsed on the scene at a fiddler's convention in Virginia. His left hand became numb and he was unable to play the fiddle for the rest of his life. Rounder released his recordings as "Clark Kessinger: Old-time Music With Fiddle and Guitar." He died in 1975.

Clark Kessinger is interred at the Cunningham Memorial Gardens in St. Albans, West Virginia. Biography by Bruce Eder Clark Kessinger (1896-1975) and Luches Kessinger (1906-1944) -- who were not brothers but were related -- were among the top fiddle duos of their era, and left behind an enviable body of music in just three years of steady recording. Clark Kessinger took up the banjo and the fiddle at age five, following in the wake of his grandfather and uncle (both fiddle players). It wasn't long before he was attracting attention at the local saloons in Lincoln County, VA, where he was raised -- in the company of his father, the boy delighted adults with his skills at playing the hits of the day on his fiddle.

He later graduated to playing at dances, and had embarked on a music career when America's entry into the First World War interrupted his work, sending him into uniform at age 20. It was after he was mustered out and resumed playing that he found a performing partner in his nephew, guitarist Luches Kessinger -- the two played in perfectly complementary styles, and were soon working full-time together and became a major attraction in the area around Charleston, WV. Clark Kessinger played like few country fiddlers, with a clear intonation and a range that dazzled onlookers and fellow musicians. He was such a daunting talent that, as Charles Wolfe cited in his essay on the duo, other fiddlers would simply decline to compete with him in contests.

By 1927, the Kessingers had landed a coveted spot on WOBU in Charleston and their fame spread through the new, burgeoning broadcast medium. Technology took a further hand in early February 1928 when Clark and Luches Kessinger, along with dance caller Ernest Legg, were recorded in Ashland, KY in a series of sides done for Brunswick Records. The result was their debut single, "Wednesday Night Waltz" b/w "Goodnight Waltz," for which they were paid $100 and which went on to outsell and eclipse an existing (and current) hit version of the A-side by the Leake County Revellers. Ironically, whereas the custom of the time was that the caller on a dance record was often as central to its appeal as the players, Kessinger was so good a player that it was decided to forego the presence of a caller on future sides, and give his fiddle the exclusive spotlight. They were signed up as the Kessinger Brothers and recorded extensively over the next two years (some of their sides were also credited to the "Wright Brothers" and the "Arnold Brothers"), their output totaling over 25 singles by 1930.

Among their sides, "Dill Pickle Rag" and "Salt River" were established as permanent parts of old-time fiddle repertory, and Clark Kessinger recorded some solo fiddle material for Vocalion in the 1930's. He was so prominent a musician, that no less a figure than the legendary classical violinist Josef Szigeti (some sources say it was Fritz Kreisler) met with him to discuss style and technique when the latter appeared in West Virginia. Unfortunately, Clark Kessinger was never able to sustain a full-time performing career amid the privations of the Great Depression -- married and with a family to support, he retreated to the safer living of a house painter. He appeared with his cousin on WOBU and played in some fiddle competitions, with some occasional live performances (with the Delmore Brothers, among others).

After Luches' death in 1944, he appeared only at local dances around Charleston, and wasn't heard from again in recorded music until the early '60s, when he was rediscovered through modern folk music scholars -- astonishingly, the sexagenarian fiddler was still near the peak of his powers and suddenly found himself in demand at folk festivals, and ended up recording a handful of LPs. Kessinger suffered a stroke in 1971, nine years after his comeback, while recording an LP for Rounder Records. He was never able to play again, and passed away from an additional stroke in 1975, at the age of 78. Read more on Last.fm.

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