Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Music and Marbles: The Life of Bud Garrett

By Lori Lockhart

Robert “Bud” Garrett was an African-American musician, marble maker and supporter of a marbles game called "rolley hole." Garrett was born in the Clay County community of Free Hill on Jan. 28, 1916.

Bud Garrett of Free Hill performs at the Tennessee Folklore Society’s 50th anniversary celebration, Cookeville, 1984.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives


video


Audio of Bud performing “Good God Fearing Man”
Audio clip of Bud Garrett performing “Good God Fearing Man” during an oral history recording with Betsy Peterson, August 1, 1981.
Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives



Garrett spent most of his life in Free Hill, an African-American community located northeast of Celina near the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The community was established prior to the Civil War (about 1816) by the freed slaves of Virginia Hill, a wealthy slaveholder from North Carolina. She purchased 2,000 acres of land in what was then Overton County, then freed her slaves and gave the property to them.

People in the Free Hill community and the surrounding areas have been playing rolley hole since before the Civil War. Rolley hole is a marble game in which teams of two players each face off against one another. The game is played on a “yard” that is 40 feet by 20 feet and has three marble-size holes positioned equal distances apart. The object of the game is for both people on each team to put their marbles in each hole, going up and down the course three times, while the opposing team tries to knock the other team’s marbles away from the holes. The game is played with flint marbles as opposed to marbles made of glass or metal. Glass marbles are too delicate and would shatter during play, while metal marbles are too heavy.

Unidentified men setting up a Rolley Hole marble yard on Bud Garrett's property in Free Hill, 1987.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives
An unidentified player shoots marbles during the Bowman-Denton vs. Bowman-Walden match in the semi-final round of the 25th Annual Rolley Hole Marbles tournament staged at Standing Stone State Park, Overton County, 2007.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives



Garrett learned to make the flint marbles for rolley hole from his father, a tobacco farmer who took a piece of flint with him to work the field every day. He would file away at the flint each day until it became round. He would then place the marble in a “rounded out form made of sandstone and put it in a creek.” There, the water would turn the marble until it was nice and smooth. The whole process was very time consuming and could take as long as two or three years. There was also a chance of “losing your marbles” if there was a flood or bad weather that would wash the marble out of the sandstone form and away down the creek.

After seeing the tedious process his father followed to create marbles, Garrett invented a “marble machine” in the late 1940s. The machine was powered by an electric motor and could create perfectly round marbles in a matter of minutes. Garrett’s marbles became highly sought after by rolley hole players because of their durability. In fact, every marble Garrett made came with a lifetime guarantee. If one of Garrett's marbles shattered, the owner just had to send the pieces to Garrett and he would send a replacement.



Bud Garrett making marbles at the Rolley Hole Marbles National Championship in Hilham, 1985, and holding wheels used to shape flint marbles used in Rolley Hole, 1987.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives


In addition to his marble-making skills, Garrett also inherited a love of music from his father, who was a fiddle player. According to “Remembering ‘Bud’ Garrett” (an article by Tom Rankin in the January/February 1988 edition of “Southern Changes”), Garrett recalled “Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Black Snake Moan’ and the common fiddle tune ‘Boil That Cabbage Down’ as two of the first songs he heard as a child.” Garrett sang and played both acoustic and electric guitars. He loved the blues and would often play old time tunes such as “Old Joe Cark” in a blues/ragtime style. Garrett was featured on a number of records over the years but his record produced by the Nashville-based Excello label is perhaps best remembered. The record, cut in the mid-1950s, featured “Quit My Drinkin’” on the A-side with “Do Remember” on the flip side.


Bud Garrett of Free Hill performs at Davy Crockett Days, Limestone (Washington County), 1986.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives


video

Audio of Bud performing “Quit My Drinkin’”
Audio clip of Bud Garrett performing “Quit My Drinkin’” during an oral history recording with Betsy Peterson, August 1, 1981.
Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives



Garrett died Nov. 24, 1987, “while playing marbles in the Bud Garrett Marble Yard” at his home in Free Hill. An obituary mentioned that he was “one of 90 Tennessee folk artists to represent the state at the 1986 Smithsonian Institution Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C., where he performed blues, told stories, and crafted flint marbles as part of the presentation of the unusual Rolley Hole marble game.” Garrett’s wife Edith, a renowned quilter, was also one of the folk artists representing Tennessee at the festival.


Edith Garrett demonstrates her quilting technique on a small round frame at the Festival of American Folklife, Washington, D.C., 1986.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives

Close up of commemorative stone dedicating marble yard to the memory of area resident Bud Garrett, Free Hill, 1991.
Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records, Tennessee State Library & Archives



For more information on Bud and Edith Garrett, take a look at the Tennessee Arts Commission Folk Arts Program Records: http://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/tennessee-arts-commission-folk-arts-program-records-1899-2014

And, the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project Records at the Library & Archives: http://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/tennessee-state-parks-folklife-project-records-1979-1984


The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lori Lockhart,
    This is really a great writing you have presented here on the title Music and Marbles: The Life of Bud Garrett. I read your full article and got very nice facts. Thanks for your effort.

    ReplyDelete