Musician Henry Reed (April 28, 1884-June 16, 1968) was a legendary West Virginia fiddler whose repertory contributed to the old-time music revival in the last half of the 20th century. Many of his tunes have gone back into circulation in fiddling circles, and one particular tune, ‘‘Over the Waterfall,’’ is now widely known throughout the country.
Born James Henry Neel Reed, near Peterstown in Monroe County, he spent much of his adult life in nearby Glen Lyn, Virginia. He learned music in Monroe County, absorbing the tunes of many fiddlers of the older generation, including ‘‘Quince’’ Dillion, born in 1810 and a fifer in the Mexican War.
Reed was known as a fiddler, three-finger banjo picker, and harmonica player. His music ranged from the older Virginia repertory of frontier days to late 19th century rags, waltzes, and popular songs and 20th-century country songs and bluegrass tunes. He never recorded commercially, but Alan Jabbour, a graduate student at Duke University, recorded him frequently in 1966–67. Jabbour played Reed’s tunes on fiddle with a Durham-Chapel Hill ensemble, the Hollow Rock String Band. Henry Reed’s music quickly radiated throughout the country among young instrumental musicians drawn to old-time Appalachian music.
Henry Reed died in Glen Lyn. By the later 20th century, his tunes were a significant component in the general repertory of American old-time music, although few had heard him directly until the Library of Congress mounted all of his recordings on its Internet web site.
Written by Alan Jabbour