Jerry & Louise Todd regularly visit Paul and his wife and have taken the opportunity to write down some of the memories he has shared with them.
Paul Blackburn, Luthier
by Louise Todd
Paul Miller Blackburn currently resides in Hazel Green, Alabama but he was born to Bertie and Beulah on December 5th, 1939 in Duplin Co, North Carolina. Paul was the seventh child of eight, three girls and five boys. He attended Warsaw Elementary school and graduated in 1958 from James Kenan High School. Growing up on a tobacco farm, (Paul’s youngest brother still lives on this farm today) as well as raising many vegetables, there was always plenty of chores to keep him busy. That area of NC is known for the many vegetables it produces, such as, cucumbers, peppers, beans, peas, watermelons and others. There are many canneries and if you have ever bought a jar of Mt. Olive pickles, that is probably the area it came from!
Paul received his “Army greetings” from Uncle Sam a couple of years after graduation and reported to Ft. Jackson, SC. Paul traveled to many places and had many “adventures” over the next 27 years. In his dining room there is a large shadow box of his medals and the places he was stationed. They include, beginning in 1961 Ft. Jackson, SC, Redstone Arsenal, AL, Federal Republic of Germany, Ft. Bragg, NC, Corpus Christi, TX, Republic of Vietnam, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Federal Republic of Germany, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, Republic of Korea, Lakehurst Naval Air Station, NJ, Republic of Korea, Redstone Arsenal, AL, Republic of Korea, Ft. Bliss, TX and Lowry Air Force Base, CO until his retirement in 1987 as Sergeant Major.
After Paul retired from the Army, he returned to North Alabama, earned his BS degree from Athens State and was employed at Redstone Arsenal in the field of Logistics/electronic maintenance with the same army outfit he had served with.
While growing up, music was a part of the curriculum where Paul attended school. Also, as he traveled on the bus through Asheville, NC, Knoxville and Chattanooga, TN Paul remembered seeing a mountain dulcimer at one of the stops. Later, while stationed in Denver, he saw a kit advertised in a magazine. He had always enjoyed working with wood, so he purchased the kit and built the dulcimer. On some of the bases he was stationed, he had access to their wood-working facilities. He decided he could build dulcimers on his own. After retiring from the Arsenal in 1992, he bought his first bandsaw which is now just one of the many tools he has acquired and fill his shop on Loveless Road in Hazel Green, in an area better know as the “suburbs of Lick Skillet”.
After retirement from Redstone Arsenal, he began to build full time; he not only began crafting dulcimers but also playing the mountain dulcimer. Some of the woods he enjoys working with are red cedar, sassafras and black walnut because of their unique sounds. Some of his favorite tunes to strum are Bury Me Beneath the Willow, When It’s Time for the Whippoorwill to Sing, Wildwood Flower, I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight, as well as many of the old-time fiddle tunes.
Some of the folks he spent time with as he was developing his skills as a luthier were Jon Harris, Ted Walton, Roger Patterson, Russ Green, Ray Hunley, and Enos Yeager. With some he would discuss luthier skills and with others he would pick a few tunes. They would enjoy gathering at many of the festivals and JAMS in the states of TN, MS and AL. There were the Hollis Long and Archie Lee Memorial Festivals at Tishomingo State Park in MS, the Magnolia Festival at J.P. Coleman State Park in MS, the Dulcimer Festival in Tullahoma, TN, the Shoals Dulcimer Festival, the Morgan Co. Dulcimer Festival and the Athens Jam Group. He also participated in dulcimer activities on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, AL. I especially enjoyed listening to Paul’s stories about many of the festivals he attended and the folks he played with. Jerry and I remember playing with Paul in one of the cabins on the mountain when it was about 50 degrees; we just wished we would have had some sweet taters to roast in the fireplace!
Paul has spent many enjoyable hours building dulcimers over the years; he has not kept count but many folks are playing his dulcimers and I am sure they have found homes throughout the area! There is even a motel in Mountain View, AR that has one of his dulcimers decorating the outside wall of a room. Folk instruments of all types are hung beside the guest rooms of this motel, but my favorite one is the one with the Paul Blackburn dulcimer. I spent the night in that room a few years ago and the sweet sounds of the dulcimer filled my dreams with beautiful background music.
Because of current health issues he is unable to get to his shop to continue building but everything – his tools, wood, fret wire, and tuners are all ready when he is able to pursue his hobby. And Misuk, his wife of 35 years, is ready to keep the sawdust from accumulating in the shop!
Paul still has some dulcimers for sale; if you would like to get in touch with him to check them out, or stop by for a visit, you can do so by leaving a message on this site.
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