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Morgan Sexton: Banjo Player from Bull Creek transcript

(Pan down from mountains to house. Morgan Sexton is sitting inside.)

SEXTON: Coal, uranium, oil, gas, rock, clay, and everything in the world, they own it. That goes in with the mineral rights. That's where people sell the rights right out from under them and don't know it. And it sold now over there at home we owned eighty-nine acres believe it was. It sold for $900. Give the company all rights to come in there and strip our land naked. Leave us with nothing but the dirt, and the rights to live on it. [1]

(Morgan walks in garden. LS house. Morgan sits on the porch.)

SEXTON: My sister Hattie's where I learned most of my old time songs. She stayed at Blackey [2] over there a lot and she come back, she'd sit down and go to playing the banjo. I wanted to learn so bad, well I sat down right at her knees buddy. I'd sit there long as she played the banjo, I sot there and listened to her and tried to sing along with her. Now I learned a lot of my songs that way, singing along with her and getting my voice in the same tune her voice was in. She took tuberculosis of the lungs, probably killed her, pneumonia fever. She was eighteen. She was eighteen.

(still picture, Hattie Sexton)

[MUSIC] [Archival scenes of mountain family, molasses stir off](OS Morgan plays banjo on the traditional song "Little Birdie"[3] and sings inside his house[4])

SEXTON VO:

I used to be a little bitty boy

And playing around in the sand

Now I am a great big boy

And think myself a man.

SEXTON (sings and plays banjo):

Little birdie, little birdie,

What makes you fly so high?

My true love, she left me

To live up in the sky.

(Still photos of MorganÕs family)

SEXTON VO: My daddy died when I was seven years old. He left us there, one brother married off. Other two there, they stayed there until my mother sold the mineral rights. After they got rid of that mineral rights, they left home then; left me and my mother and three sisters there

(Morgan is in his living room)

SEXTON: to do the best we could to make a living. And well I was thirteen years old then, I quit my school, got me a job with Jimmy Griffey round an old saw mill working for 50 cents a day. That's what I worked for, 50 cents a day. And what little I got from there on up that's what we had to live on. And he had me to drive team for him. I weren't big enough. The railroad ties was eight feet and a half long, seven by eight. I wasn't big enough to lift up one end of them and put them on a wagon. Only way I could get them up on the wagon, I rolled them up on a wagon, put seven on a wagon, seven railroad ties on a wagon with a little old team he had and I hauled them from up in Linefork to Ulvy. And I had to roll them off the wagon, couldn't lift the ends of them, I wasnÕt big enough to lift the ends of them.

[Archival scenes of sawmill with man and boy]

SEXTON VO: That's the way we made a living. I had to quit my schooling at thirteen years old. Didn't get no education at all.

It was hard times and making railroad ties, staves, and a little mining was the only thing that there was any money here in.

(Morgan is in his living room)

SEXTON: I had an uncle. His younguns, he raised his family on pure corn. He'd take his corn to the mill, have it ground, bring it back and they'd make a big bowl of meal gravy on one end of the table, big bowl of meal gravy on that end of the table, and two big pones of cornbread, and they'd crumble that cornbread into that gravy and they had that three times a day. And he raised a family on that. That's just how times was now.

[Archival footage of logging}[MUSIC] [5]

SEXTON OS:

All raining and hailing and I don't have no light.

All raining and hailing and I don't have no light.

Your horses can't travel this dark stormy night.

The old folks don't like me, they say I'm too poor.

The old folks don't like me, they say I'm too poor.

They say I'm not worthy to enter their door.

(Morgan in his living room sings and plays banjo)

SEXTON:

I work for my money, my money's my own.

I work for my money, my money's my own.

And if the old folks don't like me

Just leave me alone.

(Morgan walks to his barn with a bucket. He demonstrates shelling corn as he talks)

SEXTON: Every year I pick my own seed corn and that way I have better success on my corn and everything. Now most of it is all good deep-hearted corn you see. Every bit of it is good deep-hearted corn.

There's a little old black bug that will set in right up here, eat right down here, and take right up through there and it gets right down to the bottom of that corn and start boring and he comes back up through the corn then. Pretty hard matter to keep corn without them getting into it.

Always something or other to pester a man with his crops one end to the other one. Spring of the year comes, cutworms, they hit my corn. I'll spray my corn, kill them down. Then here come the bean bugs. The tator bug comes in next. Then I got to fight them til I get rid of all them. Get rid of them, why here come the bean bugs then. Eat my beans up. Then after they get through, then here come them there Japanese beetles. And they last up into the middle of August, I'll say middle of August.

We'll go out here and chop up some corn.

[MUSIC. Traditional instrumental] (Morgan grinds corn. Walks with tiller to garden)

(Morgan and his nephew Lee Sexton [6] are talking in Morgan's garden.)

SEXTON: Fred said, by dawg said let's just make us a banjo. I said, what we got to make it out of, Fred. He said, let's get us an old eight-pound lard bucket, cut the head out of it. So I went there and stole two of my mother's lard buckets, eight-pound lard buckets, and we cut the bottom out of them. Come down here and found a neck to put in there and went to the store and bought some strings. Well when come the next day to run a set, someone said, we ain't got no banjo. Fred said, by dawg me and Morgan's got some. Called me Pete then.

LEE SEXTON: Yeah

SEXTON: I went by the name of Pete. I said that was just fine. Well when it started up, I got on one side of the room and Fred was on the other side and we started out on those old tin bucket banjos. We couldn't play a song. We was just beating and thumbing on them. Back then people didn't care. They was just out for fun anyway. I remember the last working [7] ever I went to. It was at Len Holkum's right in the head of Long Branch. He had a top cutting, cutting the tops down. Back then people tended eight or nine acres. They didn't tend three or four acres. They tended eight or nine acres and they made it with a hoe and plow, a mule. And he had a top cutting [8]. He had a big lot of home brew [9] sitting right in the back of his field. He said, boy, he said, now when we get to the back side, said, we'll lay in on that home brew. Nobody didn?t know where it was at. Wasn't no use to hunt for it. When the old people hid anything, then it was hid.

LEE SEXTON: Yes Sir.

SEXTON: And now everybody worked like fighting fire. He got all his tops cut off, got all them tied up and bunched up. That was about three o'clock in the evening. He said, now fellows let's get up there and get in this home brew. Went up there and he had about ten gallons of that home brew. I don't know, must have been fifteen, twenty of us. Boy after we left there wasn't much home brew left. He said now boys after we eat supper, we'll roll the rugs back. Well didn't have no rugs then, that was the old saying. Said, we'll roll the rugs back and we'll have a dance tonight. Steve Campbell, Babe Campbell, Mary Campbell, Ritter Campbell, and Carey Campbell, they was all there. Now you talk about somebody can dance.

LEE SEXTON: Yeah boy.

SEXTON: Now they danced that night and they run sets all night and danced all night that night.

LEE SEXTON: Well they could sure get it now.

SEXTON: We used to have a good time back then I down and ordered that banjo. And I've had it ever since. Good ringing banjo yet.

LEE SEXTON: Yes sir that's a good ringing banjo.

SEXTON: To be a cheap banjo.

LEE SEXTON: I finally learned that old tune, Whiskey Before Breakfast.

SEXTON: Did you?

LEE SEXTON: Yeah, that's a good one, buddy.

SEXTON: Well I picked me up one the other night fooling around on the banjo. And I never have been -- it was in the tune of Hook and Line -- and I never have been able to catch the cord to it back no more.

(Lee and Morgan are on stage.)

LEE SEXTON: The first one we're going to do is an old-timer, an old dance tune called Hook and Line now.

(MUSIC) (Hook and Line [9])

(LS house. Lee is outside his house by his pickup.)

LEE SEXTON: He worked on Bull Creek in the log woods and he stayed with my daddy over here. On the weekend my grandma, his mother, she would come down and have his banjo, that old banjo he's got. I'd see her coming and I was wanting hold to that banjo and I start running up through that field over there and I'd say, here grandma give me that banjo. She'd say, get away, get away now you'll drop that banjo, now get away. I'd get so mad I'd nearly die but she'd finally break down and let me have it. My dad was a banjo player. And his dad, my grandfather, he played a banjo and a fiddle too you know. Now Uncle Morgan had, he had two more brothers besides dad, Culbert and Howard both of them played banjos. They could play now too. And it's just been circling around I guess for a hundred years. I guess it just goes right on and on you know.

[MUSIC] (Shady Grove[10]) (Landscape) (Morgan plays and sings in his living room)

SEXTON:

Shady Grove, my little love

Shady Grove I'm bound.

Shady Grove, my little love

I'm bound to Harlan town.

Fare you well my own true love,

Fare you well my dear.

Fare you well my own true love.

I'm going to leave you here.

Hand me down my old shot pouch

Hand me down my shawl

Hand me down my old black cap,

I'm going to leave you all.

Fare you well my own true love,

Fare you well my dear.

Fare you well my own true love.

I'm going to have to leave you here.

(Lee is standing beside his pickup truck)

LEE SEXTON: Whenever he'd load coal, he'd shove it in a pile of coal and whenever he'd come with it, it would be rolling off each side of that shovel buddy. All day long. [11] And he'd walk from where he lives out the mouth of Bull Creek there and it zero weather. And he'd come to work early every morning with a carbide light on his head you know. And his britches legs would be froze into ice buddy, just about froze to death.

(Morgan is in his home.)

SEXTON: Boss came up in there, said ain't you going to work that room down there. I said, No I'm absolutely not working that room down there. Said, Why? I said, it's dangerous. I said, And I'm in here by myself and I said, I won't work it. I said, I've got good top up here. He said, now this room has got to be worked. I said now (Red Mitchell was the boss) I said, Red I absolutely am not working that room now. He said, well if I send a fellow over here with you, will you go down there and work it. I said, Yeah. Well I went down in there and I was working on the right hand side and the other fellow was working on the left hand side. Well they sent this fellow now he said, I sure can't shovel coal right handed, said I have to go there and shovel it left-handed. Well he'd go there and he was throwing it cross-handed. I took his side over here then and I had my side over there where I did work timbered up good. This fellow was way behind with his timbering. I sot them timbers up, that close up to where I was working. And I'd sot that timber out from under the big edge of a kettle bottom. [12] I couldn't see it, the way it set in the roof. I moved two shovelfuls of rock. That big kettle bottom dropped out. And all that saved me was where they shot some rock down in front and I sot that timber so tight, they said it cut a big groove right down the side of that timber. And I heard a fellow hollering and he tried to lift it up off of me and he couldn't. And I said, lift it a little higher and he let it down. Whenever he got a new hold, he let it down, and all my sense left me. I didn't know nothing then. He said I crawled out from under that rock by myself. And the rock weighed they said it weighed five tons. It was five foot one way, five and a half the other way. All that saved me was where the edge of it caught on that rock where they had shot down and the timber I sot, it was kinda resting on it. It broke my chest all up, cut big holes in my face and everything. Well after I was off there then, I stayed out of the mines a year.

[Archival footage hand loading coal. Shots of coal mining]

SEXTON VO: And after I got well, I went right back to them again. And if I was able today, wasn't for my age, I'd go back to them today. I like working in the mines.

LEWIS: Do you know any mining songs?

SEXTON: Uh Uh, I don't know none. Wish I did though.

[MUSIC] (Archival footage continues.)

(Morgan is in his living room.)

SEXTON: I worked, didn't have no union. You went in the mines, you worked, you worked your ten hours. You had to clean your place up or pack your tools up and get out of there. And you had to do everything the bossman told you to. You didn't do it, he would fire you. They would make you work like brutes. They didn't care whether they'd send you under bad top, in a big water hole, you had go or quit, one or other.

[Archival scenes of coal mining]

SEXTON VO: It was what I call pure slavery work. Well when the union come in, they took the people out from under that slavery. You worked but you didn't have slaving work. They couldn't shove you in dangerous places where you didn't want to go.

SEXTON: There would have been many of a man in the mines, the boss man shoved him under bad top and they got killed. Top fell in on them and they got killed. And after they got the union in, why they had to have a timber man, they had to have a safety man go in and check your top before you went in under it. That saved many of a man's life. [13]

[Archival scene hand drilling coal]

SEXTON VO: In '33, I completely quit playing the banjo. Everything I had to do was hard on my hands. Loading coal, drilling and shooting coal, you had to grip that drill just as hard as you could grip it.

(Sexton is on his porch)

SEXTON: That took all the strength and nerves out of your hands. You had to be ready with that drill, if it hung, drill get loose from you, it'd beat you to death and break your arm or hand or something or other. You had to stay with it. Well loading coal, you had to grip that shovel handle tight and shove it under the coal. Well it come back in then and working in the log woods in here, roll the logs with them big can hook handle. You had to grip them tight enough and lift pounds and pounds up with it. Everything you went at, chopping you had to grip that ax handle tight enough to keep it from flying out of your hands, hurting somebody with it. Well that just run into my hands, got them stiff and I couldn't play. Couldn't stay limber or nothing. Every now and then I'd pick it up and start a tune or two and got to where I didn't want to sing, didn't want to play. Then after I retired, as I said, then I picked it up then again.

(Morgan and his wife Virgie eat together.)

VIRGIE SEXTON: When he'd come to see me, he'd play the banjo all the time.

LEWIS: Was that part of his courting you?

VIRGIE SEXTON: Yeah. I reckon. I always like all the tunes he plays. That new song that he?s learnt?

SEXTON: Fair Country Miss Working in the Garden.

VIRGIE SEXTON: What's that other one that I like?

MORGAN: Orphan Girl

VIRGIE: Orphan Girl

SEXTON: That's her two favorite tunes. I play them pretty well all the time when I pick the banjo up.

(Lee Sexton is outside by his pickup truck)

LEE SEXTON: Oh yeah, I learnt that Hook and Line from him. Yeah a lot of tunes. Chickens Crow and the Sourwood Mountain.

MAGGARD: Little Birdie

LEE SEXTON: Yeah, Yeah buddy now he's a good one on that.

[MUSIC] (Lee plays Little Birdie)

LEE SEXTON: He plays it better than I do though. [14]

(Morgan is on his porch.)

SEXTON: Now if I'm singing a high toned song, seems like it just has to come from the bottom of my belly on up through here, a straining song to get it out buddy. There's lots of songs I'd sing from my neck on out, I?d sing them very well but them high toned songs though. Well you got to get way down in here to get them to come out right for you.

[MUSIC] (Still photographs of MorganÕs family and children. Scenes of Morgan's house and garden)

SEXTON:

Bye bye my lying bonnie

Bye bonnie blue eyes

You told more lies bonnie

Than stars are in the sky.

Last night I lie on pillow

Tonight I lie on the bed

Last night I lie on pillow

I dreamed that bonnie was dead.

(Scenes of Morgan in his garden. The corn is taller than he is. He harvests it. Pull back from house.)

SEXTON VO:

Oh wind come blow me a ship

Oh wind come blow the sea

Oh wind come blow me a ship

That took my bonnie from me.

(Morgan is on the stage at Appalshop [15])

SEXTON: When they got me on stage, I was pretty jittery like anybody would, nervous and everything. I hope I perform on it pretty good this time.

[MUSIC] (In London City)

London city where I did dwell,

A railroad boy I loved so well.

He courted me, my heart away,

And then left me, well he would not stay.

There was a girl in that same town,

He courted her oh he sot her down.

He sot her down upon his knee

And he told to her what he wouldn't tell me.

I don't know the reason why

Unless she's got more gold than I.

Her gold will melt and her silver will fly

And I hope some day she'll be as poor as I.

It was late in the day when her poppy

came home

Well he wanted to know where his daughter had gone.

He went upstairs, at her door he spoke

Cause he saw her hanging by a rope.

He took his knife and he cut her down.

And on her breast, these words he found.

"Go dig my grave both wide and deep.

A marble stone at my head and feet.

Upon my grave, a lily white dove

To show the world that I died for love.

And around my grave, a little fence

To show this world that I had no sense.

SEXTON: I thank every one of you ever so much. I hope you enjoyed my playing.

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