A Mountain Legend in the Flesh

A week or so ago, i posted a short story about Venerable T Houston. Part of this character was modeled after the legend of Hamper McBee., but with all of my fictional characters, Venerable, in no way is Hamper. i get my ideas from people, events, and things i remember, and then they become different from the source, greatly different.

Billy Parsons introduced me to Hamper in the early sixties while we were at Vanderbilt.. A Nashville dentist whose name i do not remember was a student of Tennessee folk music who went up to Monteagle Mountain, found Hamper and recorded him, mostly out in the woods. i have lost my copy of that record, which included a number of narratives of Hamper’s in addition to folk songs. i loved it and, after i lost the album, i looked for another copy for years. In the late 1980’s, i finally found a cassette tape of the album in a classic old record/music store in. of all places, San Diego. That version is holed way with a large box of my CD’s up in the garage attic. i’m too lazy to go dig it out.

Hamper McBee was a mountain man, a legend, and just a tad wild. He was rather incredible and well known by the locals and even some of my friends. When you crossed Monteagle Mountain headed southeast on old route US-41 back in the day after an uncountable number of switchbacks, you reached the crest. The highway took you through the town of Monteagle, To the southwest was Sewanee and between the two towns was Tubby’s. Tubby’s was a tavern.  If a white mule was tied up outside, Hamper was inside drinking beer, spinning his tales, and singing. i regret i was always in a hurry and never stopped to see if the mule was there. Mind you, this is a legend i cannot verify.

Then, Amy Beth Hill, another Heights alum and the Director of Member Services at the International Bluegrass Music Association, posted about my hometown’s Antique Mall and a store with about a  gazillion old records (at least it seemed that way). It brought back my longing to hear Hamper McBee.

So i searched on Google, and lo and behold, he popped up. i ordered a record from the MTSU Marketplace, something that they didn’t have when i (finally) obtained my BA in English. If you are looking for some great old time music, this is a great source.

The album, “Hamper McBee: Cumberland Moonshiner” arrived three days ago. It has not been continuously played, but it’s been played a lot, and when it’s not playing, i’m humming one of the songs.

While searching, i ran across the video of Hamper telling his stories while making moonshine whiskey. If you want to hear some good old hill music and learn a bit about making white lightning, This video is a must.


John Moriarty, i thought you might find this amusing.

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