Book Chronicles the Life of A Master Instrument Maker and Musician

May 15, 2020

A new biography is out profiling a legendary musician from southwest Virginia.  Albert Hash not only played the fiddle, he created hundreds of instruments, preserving a legacy of old-time music that is carried on today.  Author Malcolm Smith talked about his chronicle of Hash’s life.

Albert Hash became obsessed with the fiddle as a young boy, following a rainy afternoon on a neighbor’s front porch listening to him play. The realization of his longing for a fiddle of his own began with a dream.

“By the age of nine, he convinced himself he had to have a fiddle and he went to sleep one night and dreamed that he built a fiddle. This young man from the age of seven had studied any fiddle that anybody would let him hold. And, he figured out in his dream somehow how he could do it.”

That’s Malcom Smith, author of the new book Appalachian Fiddler Albert Hash:  The Last Leaf on the Tree.

Albert Hash
Credit 1980, Courtesy Carla Osborne

The day following the dream, Hash started building his fiddle with barn wood, his mother’s sewing pins and wire from a screen door for strings.  When it came to the bow, Smith says Hash once again used his resourcefulness.

“He realized that every bow he’d seen had white hair on it. So, he thought, well you must have to find a white horse.  So, he looked all over the county; he and his brothers went on spying missions to see if they could find a white horse and the only one they found belonged to the postman.”

So, one day, while the postman was eating lunch.

“Albert got on side of the fence and his brothers got on the inside of the fence and Albert grabbed that horse’s tail and braced his feet up on a fence post and his brothers hit the horse and yelled.  And, the horse took off and Albert held on with both hands and sure enough came out with two clumps of white hair.”

Author Malcolm Smith, who calls himself a recovering college professor, moved to the mountains of southwest Virginia upon retirement to continue his pursuit of old-time music; which led him to the writing of Hash’s biography.

“Once this opportunity for the book came up and we started in Wayne Henderson’s shop, I was just blown away by what I heard. Wayne kept us rolling on the floor for nearly two days telling us stories about how Albert had helped and nurtured his career as a luthier and also helped and nurtured his love of music. But when Wayne, at the age of 15, met Albert, for the first time he saw that not only could you build something that was useful like a fiddle, but you could build a beautiful work of art.”

“He showed me a fiddle that he had made, like in 1953.  When I saw that I could not believe somebody could make something like that with their hands. You know, I thought an instrument had to come from Martin or Gibson or Sears and Roebuck or something. And, Albert had made that fiddle and it was just absolutely gorgeous.”

That’s world-renowned luthier Wayne Henderson from Rugby, VA.

Albert Hash made over 300 fiddles, and performed and recorded with several groups, including the White Top Mountain Band.

Malcolm Smith says Hash also worked to preserve the legacy of old-time music.

“He died at the age of 63 but he dedicated the last part of his life, early in the 1970s, to teaching young people. And, many of those young people now are both making instruments playing instruments directly related to Albert’s teaching.”

Musician John McCutcheon would often drop into Hash’s workshop on Cabin Creek when he lived in southwest Virginia.

“I don’t think I ever stopped uninvited and unannounced that he wasn’t there and wasn’t happy to stop everything he was doing and visit, play, give me a tour of the shop, show me what he was working on. He was a man who found what he was meant to do and loved doing it.  And, it’s just a blessing to be around people who are those kind of souls.”

Music from  FRC707-Albert Hash: Vol 2

More info:  alberthash.com