Flying Jenny of Birmingham, Alabama, plays old-time string band music.
This was the music of the American settlers from the British Isles and is a forerunner of
bluegrass and country music. It consists of lively fiddle tunes meant for dancing as well
as old songs sung on front porches and in front of fireplaces when families and friends
got together after the days work was done. Flying Jenny (named after an
old-fashioned mule-powered carnival ride) plays breakdowns on fiddle, guitar, banjo and
bass, and sings old songs, often comical, in three-part harmony.
In addition to the music, a performance by Flying Jenny includes
stories about the tunes and the fiddlers who first played them. They have done a number of
thematic performances on such topics as Alabama history, folk art, early radio music,
Christmas folk music, romance in old-time music, etc., and have collaborated with
storyteller Dolores Hydock in "Footprint on the Sky: Memories of a Chandler Mountain
Spring," a piece in which tales, tunes and songs interact with each other to create a
sense of life in an Alabama farming community. They have also provided background music
for weddings, picnics, art openings and other social events.
Joyce, Duncan, Rachel & Jim
Jim Cauthen is the fiddler of the group. By day, he is a computer
programmer for IBM at the Mercedes plant at Vance. Joyce Cauthen plays guitar. She is a
folklorist who has written With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow: Old-Time Fiddling in
Alabama (University of Alabama Press, 1989). Together they have researched
Alabamas fiddling traditions and produced an anthology of Alabamas great
old-time fiddlers (Possum Up a Gum Stump: Home, Field, and Commercial Recordings of
Duncan Blair plays "clawhammer" banjo, a style that
preceded the three-finger bluegrass banjo style more commonly heard today. Besides being a
champion banjo player, he is a partner with the law firm of Burr &
The newest member of the band is Rachel Turner, who
plays bass. She grew up in Mississippi, the daughter of a Baptist
minister, and adds just the right touch to Flying Jenny's old-time gospel
numbers. By day she is a dental hygienist.
Joyce and Jim Cauthen were (and still are) in another active
old-time band, The Red Mt. White Trash, when the Service Guild of Birmingham called them
about providing dinner music for a benefit dinner to be held in February 1995. The dinner
would have a plantation theme and thus the band must have a banjo in it. Since the Trash
did not have a banjo player, the Cauthens contacted Duncan Blair to play with them. Duncan
had not been playing banjo very long, but was already quite good and had won first place
in the old-time banjo category at the Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention
earlier in the year. Together they developed a long list of tunes to play during the
"Guild Gala" and afterwards they decided to continue as a band. In
2003 Flying Jenny added a fourth member of the band, Rachel Turner.
Turner, who lives next door to the Cauthens, has listened to them playing on
their front porch for 15+ years. Learning to play the bass and sing
harmony with the band was a breeze for her.
The band took its name from a story that two elderly fiddlers from Sand Mountain told the Cauthens about
their first paying job in the late 1920s. They sat in the center of a mule-powered
carnival ride called a Flying Jenny, and played tunes for the riders. It was a homemade,
portable ride, something like a carousel with benches instead of wooden horses. Each time
the ride stopped and folks got off, the owner dropped a nickel in the musicians
pockets. The Louvin Brothers got their start on this same Flying Jenny.
Flying Jenny's First CD!
You can get one by sending a check for $15 payable to Joyce Cauthen, 2169 Shadybrook Lane,
Birmingham, AL 35226 or order on-line from
From "Flying Jenny Flies High on New CD," music review by Ben
Windham, Tuscaloosa News:
"A new recording from a homegrown old-time band -- both named
"Flying Jenny"-- is an earthy, barefoot delight. . . .The
originators have passed away but their legacy shines like the golden image
that floats on the folk-art album cover above the heads of the Flying Jenny
members. The torch has been passed on, to most capable hands."
From review by Jim Nelson in the Old-Time Herald (Winter 2003-04):
Flying Jenny seems to be guided by their choice of material, exploring
the intricacies and possibilities of each individual piece and allowing
those explorations to guide the way. They know when to add the extra
little push that makes for a good dance tune like "8th of January"
or how to bring out the delicate stateliness of one of those crooked,
archaic pieces like "Jenny Broke Her Wooden Leg a'Dancing at the
Ball." In addition to being well chosen and played, the material on
this CD is well recorded and mixed.
From a Friend in Florida:
I finally get that Stripling Bros tune out of my head about 6 months ago
and then Jim hands me a Flying Jenny just as I'm leavin' this
weekend...and somewhere around High Springs here comes Horseshoe Bend
out of my speakers...sounded so good I 'bout lost conciousness and ran
right off the road! I like to broke the "back" button on
the dang cd player I hit it so many times...is 100 miles on only one
tune some kind of record?"
Footprint on the Sky:
Memories of a Chandler Mountain Spring
with Storyteller Dolores Hydock
Flying Jenny collaborated with
actress/storyteller Dolores Hydock to create musical interludes and
background music for her stories about a young woman from Yale University
who comes to Chandler Mountain, St. Claire County, Alabama, to do folklore
research in the early 1970s. The people she meets and their way of
life convince her to make Alabama her home. The stories are funny,
sad, nostalgic, and the tunes, so appropriate to the tales, help create a
total experience for the listener. Flying Jenny and Dolores are
keeping this 45 minute performance in their repertoire for groups that would
like to present it.
"Dolores Hydock's CD, Footprints in the Sky, is like a quilt, the
patches of which bring you into Alabama mountain country in the 1970s. You
meet characters cooking, quilting, picking tomatoes, singing, and talking
about remedies like putting buttermilk on poison ivy. When the CD is over
you've met people so real you want to thank them for their hospitality.
The Appalachian music by Flying Jenny is superb."--Review
by Jay O'Callahan, Nationally-known storyteller
Below is a selection of organizations and events for which Flying
Jenny has played since 1995:
Tannehill State Park, Labor Day Festival, 1995; Jewish Community Center, Birmingham, Summer Concert Series, June 1995;
Birmingham Public Library, Brown Bag Lunch Concert, May 1995, April 1996, October 1998;
Alabama Humanities Foundation, Meeting of Board of Directors, Jan. 1996 & Oct. 1998;
Birmingham Museum of Art, Concert in Conjunction with "Pictured in my Mind"
folk art exhibition, February 12, 1996; Southern Heritage Festival,
Pickensville, September 1996 and 1997;
Kiwanis Club, Downtown Birmingham Oct. 1998; Artburst Concert Series, Birmingham, November 1998, December 1999;
Cahaba River Festival, Centerville, April 1997; Indian Springs School Town Hall Concert Series, Jan. 1999;
11th International Conference on Atmospheric Electricity, NASA, July 1999; PEO Statewide Conference, Birmingham, April 1999;
Artburst performance with Dolores Hydock, "Footprint in the Sky,' Sept. 1999;
Homestead Hollow Crafts Festival, Fall 1997-99;Alabama State Council on the Arts, Arts in Education workshop, July 1998;
Alabama Humanities Foundation Silver Anniversary Conference, "Stories Alabama
Tells," October 30, 1999; First place winner, Old-Time String Band competition, Tennessee Valley Old-Time
Fiddlers Convention, Athens, AL, Oct. 1997,1998, 2000, 2002, 2004;
First place winner, Uncle Dave Macon Days, July 2002; Footprint in the Sky performance with
storyteller Dolores Hydock, Oneonta, AL, April 2000; Locust Fork Festival, Hayden, AL, May 2000;
Music by Moonlight, Outdoor Music
series, Dothan, AL , June 2000; Brown Bag Lunch at Birmingham Public
Library with storyteller Dolores Hydock, March 2001 and with Herb Trotman
and Kathy Hinkle, December 2002; Alabama Sampler Stage of City Stages, 2001
United Methodist Conference of North Alabama, Birmingham Southern
University with Dolores Hydock; Acmar Methodist Church with Dolores; Emmett O'Neal Library in
Mountain Brook with Dolores; Samford University Faculty Dinner, September
2002, Outdoor Academy, Brevard, NC, Nov. 2002; Rikard's Mill Festival,
Beatrice, AL, April 2003; Gorham's Bluff, October, '03, Pepper Place
Farmers' Market. July 2004; Walk As One Walk-a-thon, sponsored by the
National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), Oct. 04; Alexander
City Arts Council, Jan. 05, Sylacauga Arts Council, Feb. 05; Boom Town Days Heritage
Celebration in Fort Payne, Auburn Public Library, Alys Stephens Center in
Birmingham., Atmore's Centennial Celebration.
Our name in Lights!
April 12: Footmad Dance
at YWCA, 7:30 p.m.
April 20: 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Acmar
Community Church. 2 p.m. Free and open to the
Sunday, September 21, 4:30 p.m. Leeds
Downtown Folk Festival, featuring John Henry Days. This is a 2-day
festival, Saturday and Sunday on the main street of lovely Leeds, 15 minutes
Thursday, November 20: BPL@
Night, 6:30-7:30 in the Atrium of the Downtown Public Library.
Contact Flying Jenny by e-mail
or by calling Joyce Cauthen at 205-822-0505