Baldwin “Ichabod” Powell – The Fiddlin’ DJ

Richmond area music fans of an older generation will remember Ichabod in one way or another – either for his fine fiddle work or for his years behind the mic on local radio spinning country records and cracking jokes. Ichabod was nearly 80 by the time I tracked him down in a Richmond nursing home, but it didn’t take too long for the memories to start returning.

I was just an old country fiddler, that’s all.

I was able to visit with him on several occasions and brought him a tape of his Madison 45 after he told me he hadn’t heard his songs in over 20 years. As the tape rolled he got more animated and by the end was gliding a phantom bow across his bicep…

Affable Ichabod – date unknown

 

The unpublished Lexingtunes book entry below was originally written in early 2001 and I updated the final paragraph years later after learning of his death.

Baldwin “Ichabod” Powell
b. May 12, 1921 Red Lick, KY (fiddle, vocal)
d. April 7, 2004 Richmond, KY

Born into a farm family in rural Estill County, Baldwin grew up surrounded by music. His father, an uncle, and his brothers all played fiddle. Older brother Leonard (called Esau) was the primary teacher to an eager Baldwin.

In the early 1940s the two brothers began to play at local dances and parties, but it was primarily Baldwin who wanted to make music his career. Esau was at least twelve years his senior and was ready to seek steady employment.  By 1950, Baldwin (now saddled with the nickname Ichabod) began to appear on his own.

1954 advert – Ichabod pleasing the farmers and the after school crowd

The mid 1950s found Baldwin on the cusp of success.  Along with Ralph Hacker and John Sullivan, he was part of the first crop of dee-jays on WEKY Richmond.  With a quick wit and self-deprecating humor, Ichabod quickly became a favorite among listeners.  Although satisfied behind the turntable, Ichabod still dreamed of the stage at Renfro Valley.  Powell was auditioned by John Lair (head of Renfro Valley), but, much to his chagrin, it was for a radio job and not a chance to join the Great Gatherin’. Powell declined.

Shortly afterward, Ichabod proceeded to cut his first recordings.  The initial waxing appeared on the Arrow label out of Manchester. Accompanied by Dean Turner on the piano, this 78 featured two Powell-Turner compositions—“That Low Down Feeling” and “You Didn’t Fall For My Line”. It was followed by the release of a 45 on the Richmond based Madison label. Recorded in the home of Nell Turner (Dean’s mother), the two songs truly capture Powell’s exuberance and superb fiddle abilities. The A-side “No Midnight Smoochin” was written by Powell. Nell Turner composed the Little Jimmy Dickens-esque flipside “Taters and Beans”. Appearing on jukeboxes throughout the region, and promotion on Powell’s own radio show led him to landing several fiddle appearances in Lexington.

Powell drew the attention of several bands including South Carolina’s The Crackerbarrel Gang—who promptly invited him to join their tour.  The conservative Powell played several shows, but financial worries convinced him to maintain steady employment at home. He found plenty of work in Lexington backing artists like Pee Wee King and Roy Acuff at Woodland Auditorium.

By the early 1960s, Powell had slowed his live appearances and worked more on developing and promoting young area talent. His series of hootenannies in Bybee and Richmond gave many young local artists their first real break. His radio promotions of their material also helped immensely.  Ichabod even allowed bands to practice behind his rural home.

Powell curtailed his musical activities heavily by the end of the 1960s.  He was no longer on radio and a full-time job made it difficult to arrange shows. More and more, Richmond bands were heading straight for the brighter lights of Lexington to make a name and local promotion was becoming a thing of the past.

In his final years,  Baldwin Powell resided in a retirement home in Richmond. His death severed another link to the rural sounds of the 1940s that brought the hills alive with music.

Discography:
78:
ARROW
1805   You Didn’t Fall For My Line / That Low Down Feeling             1954


45:
MADISON
45-55   No Midnight Smoochin / Taters and Beans                              1955

Notice the garbled spelling of “Nell Turner” and probably “Danny Harrison” on the songwriting label credits. Mrs KD Noland was a prolific writer of songs – I have seen dozens of copyright entries with her name, but do not know anything about her and she was not mentioned by Ichabod.

NOTE: The Collector CD “Sweet Little Boppin” that contains the two Madison cuts completely butchers (perhaps intentionally as a way to protect bootlegged material from being re-bootlegged) the spoken word section of “No Midnight Smoochin”. The link above is from the actual 45 and has the proper (lengthier) spoken section.

HELP WANTED : Ichabod had an absolutely tattered copy of the 78 and it is the only copy I have ever seen. He had no player and let me borrow it for a weekend. It was virtually unplayable. Unfortunately, the scratchy tape copy I was able to make was lost accidentally during a move. To hear this again would be incredible and PLEASE if anyone could share a sound file – it would mean a lot to me. The Arrow label shot above was from his copy and deceptively clean compared to the record. I never had any luck contacting his family for any other photos and this one crinkled pic is all he had. We took some actual 35mm b&w pics of Baldwin in 2000, but the film seems to have been lost with the tape prior to development. I would love to see more pictures of Baldwin in his prime.

I interviewed Baldwin a few times and gleaned a few more bits on each occasion. The interview below is the only one I transcribed. It was conducted at a retirement facility in the lounge with many residents milling about. It was a bit of rush from the time I made initial contact to showing up and clearly Baldwin was struggling to remember back so far in time on such short notice. He always apologized needlessly and profusely for his lack of memory, but I hope I convinced him that I gained a lot from our conversations.

Interview Disclaimer: The interview may have been lightly edited (some questions / answers re-arranged chronologically and/or combined for readability). The intent was not to publish and I have tried to always transcribe verbatim – so any grammatical errors are left in place – no way I will (sic) everything. Any factual errors are my mis-understanding of a low quality mini-cassette, faulty memory or a combination of the two!

Interview with Baldwin Powell – September 2000
SC: Shawn Chambers; JM: John Montague; BP:  Baldwin Powell

SC:  Were you born in Richmond or near here?
BP:  I was born in Estill County.

SC:  Near Irvine?
BP:   I..uh don’t know for sure…it was Red Lick.

SC: And when were you born?
BP:  1921. May the 12th.

SC:  And what is your middle name?
BP:  Well, I don’t have one. Just Baldwin Powell. No one in our family had a middle name.

JM:  Were you from a musical family?
BP:  Yes, I had a brother…his name was Leonard, but everybody called him Esau. Now he was pretty well known at that time. So he got that name and I got the name Ichabod. They called him Esau. He just played around places here. I started on…I played on most all the radio stations around over there. I was on WLAP.   I was on a Lexington radio station, but I can’t think of what the name of it was.

SC:  Did your mother or dad play anything?
BP:  Well, my daddy was just a gardener, but he could play a fiddle. I had an invalid brother and he could play the fiddle some. His arms and legs were all drawed up, but he could still play the fiddle. Not good enough to play out anywhere, but he could play a tune.  Now Esau…Leonard…he played a lot.  He’s the one that taught me to play.

SC:  How old were you when you started playing the fiddle?
BP:  I was playing when I was about 12 years old, I guess.

SC:  How did you get the name Ichabod?
BP:  I’ve been called that for so long…I don’t know how that started.  I never did like that nickname much. Especially after a minister told me that Ichabod meant ‘the joy has departed’. It bothered me.

SC:  I heard that you got the nickname from the Disney cartoon “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”…
BP:  Well, that could have been. I hope that’s what people will think.  That could be where it came from. I’d rather think about that than what the minister told me that time…

SC:  Did you ever appear on any of the TV shows in Lexington—the Saturday Jamboree type shows?
BP:  No.

SC:  Did you ever get to play at Renfro Valley?
BP:  No. John Lair never would…I wanted to work at Renfro Valley, but he never did offer to hire me. They called me up and told me they wanted to see me.  I thought, well, he’s decided to hire me. So, I took my fiddle and went up there. Slim Miller was fiddlin’ then. I told Slim that Mr. Lair had called me to come up there, so I guess we’d be working together that night. So him and me rehearsed for two fiddles a-playin’. When Mr. Lair came in he just ignored me…went on by me into the broadcasting booth. I wondered what was going on.  At that time I was a disc jockey on WEKY.
I told…went in there and asked him…Dick Dixson told me that you wanted to see me tonight. I thought you were wanting me to play. I said I brought my fiddle. He said that I don’t want your fiddle. He said I want you for a disc jockey on a new radio station I’m building. (laughs)  But, I had different offers from disc jockeys all over, so I must have been a much better disc jockey than a fiddle player. (laughs)

SC:  Now don’t say that (laughs). I have heard from too many people what a great fiddle player you are—and not just from your friends.
BP:  Yeah, I play the fiddle okay and went over mighty good with the fiddle.  I thought I was a better…got more offers from being a disc jockey when I got started.

JM:  Did you get to play your own record on your own show?
BP:  Oh yeah, I always played my own record.

JM:  Which was your favorite side “No Midnight Smoochin” or “Taters and Beans”?
BP:  Well, I liked ‘em both. I wrote “No Midnight Smoochin” myself.  So maybe I like it better.

SC:  Do you remember who was playing with you on that record?
BP:  Oh, let me try to think…so many of ‘em have done gone…I think Dean Turner was playing the piano on that. His mother Nell Turner is the one that wrote “Taters and Beans”.  I wish I could remember.  I had more records than this…but I can’t think of what they were.

SC:  Were those records put out on the Madison label, too? Or some other local label?
BP:  I don’t know…Madison was just my own little thing.  I recorded one song for Bob Mooney, but I don’t know if it came out on his label or not. I wish I could tell you about someone who might
know…

SC:  Do you remember any of the other titles to the songs?
BP:  Well, it seems like the one I recorded for Mooney was a song called “You Didn’t Fall For My Line”. But I can’t remember if it was on my label or not…I know they were all country. I was a country music fan. Old type, but not like Bill Monroe. Country—not bluegrass.  You don’t have to put that in there! Well, you can if you want to… (laughs) I was just an old country fiddler, that’s all.

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