This Album Changed My Life: Tommy Peoples & Paul Brady – The High Part of the Road (1976)

Sam Amidon on a folk inspiration that changed his musicianship

When I was 14 years old I was at a folk-music camp in upstate New York. My fiddle teacher Sue Sternberg simply said to me, "You have to hear Tommy Peoples." I bought the CD, brought it back to my tent, put it in my Discman, headphones on, and closed my eyes.

The second track that came on was the slip jig The Kid on the Mountain, with Paul Brady on guitar. Tommy's tone was hollow in a way that suggested endless depths below; his rhythm was deeply swinging; and he had a way of pushing and pulling the melody with his phrasing that made you feel like the metaphysical structure of time itself was being altered and shifted. He had those deep, cutting triplets that tickled the base of the spine each time. He was playing traditional melodies and not varying them greatly, yet somehow the music felt utterly personal, original, improvisatory. It had a raw, hard-core quality and yet was also light and lyrical. Ancient to the future, traditional and somehow experimental and alive.

Despite the fact that my albums have on the surface little to do with Tommy Peoples – I sing and play guitar and banjo on albums of reworked Appalachian folk songs with experimental elements and collaborations with musicians of various stripes – I still consider Tommy my fundamental influence, his phrasing on the fiddle affecting mine as a singer, his ability to convey his personality through pre-existing melodies a fundamental inspiration to what I have tried to do in my way on my albums. – In conversation with Niall Byrne