X:1 T:Western Union N:From the playing of Howard Maxey (fid.) & Doctor Lloyd (gtr.), N:Franklin County, southwestern Virginia M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel D:OKeh 45150 (78 RPM), Doctor Lloyd & Howard Maxey (1927). D:https://www.slippery-hill.com/content/western-union Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:G S[D2d2]-|[D2d2][B2b2][B3b3][Ba]|[Bb]a ([Bg]f)[B2g2](eg)|f2 [e2e2] [e3e3][de]-|[e6e6][e2e2]-| [e2e2]Jc'2 c'3a|fefg f3f-|e2d2d2^c2|d6 (Bc| d2) [B2b2][B2b2][B2a2]|[Bb]a ([Bg]f)[B2g2](eg)|f2 [e2e2] [e3e3][de]-|[e6e6][e2e2]-| [e2e2]Jc'2 c'3a|fefg f3f|f-ed2 e2 b2|[B3g3]a [B3g3]| ((3A/B/c/|[M:2/4]d)Bdc|:[M:C|] B2G2 B2G2 |B2 GG [DB]-[Dd][Dd][DB]|c2E2[E2c2] E2|[E2c2]E2 [Aa]eg-e| [A2f2]d2[A2f2]d2|1[A2f2]d2e2f2|g2 b-g agee|d2B-c dedc:| |2 [A2f2]d2e2b2|g3a gedB|[M:2/4]g2S||
WESTERN UNION. American, Reel (cut time). USA, southwestern Virginia. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. "Western Union" is a very rare fiddle tune from southwestern Virginia, named for the famed telegraph company. The reel was in the repertoire of Franklin County fiddler Howard Maxey (1882-1947) who lived much of his life in Ferrum, and learned to play from older relatives. By the 1920's he had been playing with a local physician who played guitar, Dr. William Kiddoo Lloyd. The duo heard by word of mouth about the OKeh's recording session in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, chanced a trip the seventy miles (over rural roads) to audition, their nerves fortified by liquor. Maxey and Lloyd recorded "Western Union" along with five other pieces (songs and instrumentals) in September, 1927. Four sides were unissued by OKeh, leaving just "Western Union," backed with "Girl I Left Behind Me (1) (The)," as their only commercially released recording. However, in 1936 Maxey was recorded in the field, along with another local Ferrum fiddler, Peg Hatcher, by Herbert Halpert who was on a collecting trip for the Library of Congress.
Maxey and Lloyd slip in a joke in the middle of their 1927 recording:
A. "You think you've got a great system, here, doncha?
B. Boy, we have. This Western Union stretches north, south, east and west.
A. Aw, that ain't nothin. My friend had a letter from a lady in San Francisco, and
he went west faster than you can send a message to the next station.
B. Well, what's that got to do with the system?
A. Man, they had a real...western...union.
Maxey was a long-time Deputy for the Franklin County Sherrif's Department, but by the early 1940's his employment was tenuous due to the Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, which resulted in the indictment of 80 people involved in the illegal production and distribution of moonshine whisky in Virginia. At the time, Franklin County was believed to produce the highest volume of illegal liquor in the U.S., and was known as "the moonshine capital of the world." As an article in the Roanoke Evening News by "J.L.G." (apparently a revenue agent), attested:
Shootin' Creek and Runnet Bag Creek in Floyd and Franklin Counties are the ideal localities for moonshining and blockading. The residents appreciate this and for many years have availed themselves of it. Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, the country, covered with a dense growth of laurel and ivy, permeated by numerous streams of the clearest, coldest water, apples and corn in abundance, nature seems to invite you to 'jist make a doublin' or two for your own use. If I lived there I would moonshine too, one couldn't help it.
Bolstered by the testimony of an undercover informant, prosecutors alleged that a conspiracy ring had defrauded the government out of 5.5 million dollars in whisky excise taxes. The case is the second longest in Virginia’s history and eventually resulted in 20 convictions, including several officers of the law and government officials. There had been 23 defendants, and Maxey was one of three not convicted, but soon afterwards he quit law enforcement and moved to the adjacent Henry County, near the border with North Carolina, where he made his living as a barber until his death by coronary in 1947.
A version of Maxey's "Western Union" was played by the Shelor Family of Meadows of Dan, Patrick County, southwestern Virginia. A reel called "Western Union" was in the repertory of fiddler Sherman Wimmer (1914-1984) of Callaway, Franklin County, southwestern Va., but it bears little resemblance to Maxey's tune.
- Law enforcement and government officials were accused of taking bribes from the bootleggers, although the defense countered that the government authorized taking fines for bootlegging due to jail crowding and the backlog of criminal cases.
- Information on Maxey from Kip Lomeli, "Dr. Lloyd, Howard Maxey and OKeh Records," Old Time Music 43 (Winter 1986/87): 19-20, and from Kip Lauterstein, "Column: Past Times", The Roanoke Times, Apr. 29, 2010 .