(Photo by Alan Freeman)
By Drew Moody
For the Hur Herald
Mack Samples is about as famous as a humble West Virginian can get.
He's done a lot of livin,' and stayed true to himself in the process.
He's an accomplished professional musician, playing both fiddle and
banjo. Mack is also a member of a very small fraternity of successful
West Virginia authors. He's also a former teacher,
college administrator, and county extension agent.
While others may be left to mull the scope of significant
contributions he's made to West Virginia, and search for appropriate
labels to characterize and quantify it, Mack's attitude seems to be -
let the chips
fall where they may - "I'm just having a good time." He's
serious, but doesn't take himself too seriously.
"For what years I have left, I'm going to do what I enjoy," he said.
Mack's thankful to be retired because, as he put it, "the job got
in the way of running around playing music."
Life is good. And the pulse of it has been centered around music and
dance - particularly square dancing, but when the opportunity arises -
dancing as well.
Mack sat down recently for an interview at his Clay County Farm, a haven
for "bad fiddlers," or so claims the sign at the entrance to his
in the Clay County hills near Duck, WV.
A large well-tended garden sits lonely in an expansive field, surrounded
by mature trees. The closest neighbor bordering his 55-acre paradise is
several hundred yards away and out of sight. His visiting granddaughter
inside, entertained by his life and dance partner, Thelma.
Mack is looking forward to his next gig - performing with the Samples
Brothers at the West Virginia State Folk Festival, which begins in
Thursday. He fronts the band, usually playing guitar and handling the
The group is comprised of brothers Ted and Roger Samples, along with
Buddy Griffin and John Preston.
"We do bluegrass, the way it used to be played," Mack says. And what they
do best are hard-driving fiddle tunes. They also play 'country
standards' from the
1930s and 40s. The Samples Brothers band has sold more than 10,000 CDs
over the years, and there's talk of producing a new one soon.
"I like the fiddle better than anything," Mack says, "and I play it worse
than anything else." Perhaps he's too hard on himself, as some would say
band mate Buddy Griffin's fiddle playing could make almost anyone feel
He has been reprieved on the banjo, recently winning the senior's division
banjo picking contest at the annual Vandalia Gathering in Charleston.
awards for his fiddle playing as well.
A former Folk Festival president for 20 years, his association with the
stretches back to the early 1960s soon after he became a student at
Glenville State College.
Longtime festival president, the late Fern Rollyson, heard about Mack's
playing at the college's coffee shop and persuaded him to become involved.
"I don't like to be sentimental, but the Folk Festival has been a big
part of my life." He considers the festival a reunion of musicians, and
says it continues
to attract players from all over the U.S. Many long-time Glenville residents
and Glenville State College graduates celebrate the festival as a
quasi-reunion as well.
In addition to playing music, Mack will also be featured as one of the
square dance callers during the festival. Two Glenville 'callers' taught
art - Tommy Luzader, and the late Willie Reed, a former Gilmer County
From birth, music has been a constant friend and companion of Mack's.
His parents were musicians, as well as several relatives and family friends
in and around rural Clay County. Mack recalls his father sitting on the
after work, playing banjo. "People would just stop by and play," he
By age 16 Mack worked the local music circuit in a Clendenin
square dance band. He watched a music revolution ushered in my the
likes of Chuck Barry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. "Rock &
Roll put me right out of a job," he recalls. "People got so they didn't
want to square dance anymore."
After a 4-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Mack earned a teaching degree from
Glenville State College, and later a master's degree at Ohio University
He taught a few years before becoming a college administrator, eventually
accepting the position of registrar at Glenville State College. In 1999
as a West Virginia University extension and agricultural agent.
He has written several books including: Elk River Ghosts, The Devil's
Tea Tables, Doodle Bug Doodle Bug Your House is On Fire, Dust on
the Fiddle, and Hippies and Holiness.
Elk River Ghosts is in its third printing and The Devil's Tea Tables
has sold more than 4,000 copies. Some of Mack's works are available
on the website "mountainmade.com".
Mack will be attending and performing at Gassaway Days over the 4th
of July, a Tamarak concert, near Beckley, is scheduled in late July, the
String Band Festival in Fayette County in August, and the Stonewall
Jackson Jubilee over Labor Day weekend.
He has a new book coming out soon, titled, High Times in
Corton - A History of Corton and Corwall Station. He doesn't
believe it'll be as big a seller as several of his other novels. But it was
a labor of love, since it's a history of his childhood home.
West Virginia Public Television is currently producing a segment about
Mack's life, which will air sometime this fall.
Thanks Mack - Well Done!