• Timberbound •
One of Joe Seamons' earliest memories is listening to people sing in harmony in a cabin heated by a wood stove. As he grew up in Deer Island, Oregon, near the town of Rainier, he realized some of the folk songs his parents liked to sing were standards, and others were written by their friends, who called themselves Timberbound.
Seamons recalls that throughout his youth, the Timberbound songs “would just blur together with 'I'll Fly Away' and those songs that everybody knows.” Yet they told the story of where he was from and people his family knew.
Kimberly “Ruby” Fergus, then known as Kim Cunnick, lived with her late first husband John Cunnick on an old logging camp called Keasey near Vernonia, Oregon, from 1973 to 1976. John worked part-time at a saw mill, and Kimberly worked at a food store. They ate berries and mushrooms and bathed in a stream. They played music together for fun, and John brought out his banjo at any social opportunity.
When John died in a car accident, Kimberly turned to music and her neighbors. “I got through my worst grief that way,” she says. “I had a project.”
With Kimberly on fiddle and guitar, Hobe Kytr on banjo and guitar, Dave Berge on autoharp and guitar, Mark Loring on mandolin, and everyone singing, the original Timberbound performed the Cunnick's music and wrote other up-beat, sing-a-long folk songs. They sang about logging and fishing, filling their lyrics with the names of tools like “skidder,” “yarder” and “greenchain.” They humbly glorified the Northwest with refrains like, “Here's to the boys of Columbia County! Ain't got the sense to come out of the rain.”
Seamons became fascinated with these songs when he started studying music at Lewis & Clark College in 2003. He realized that this group from the ‘70s was playing a style that went further back, to a time when folk music was more informal and folkloric, and less focused on singer-songwriters. “This is a type of music that not a lot of people are trying to make anymore,” he says.
After college, Seamons toured the country for several years with his Renegade String Band, and he recently co-founded Rhapsody: A Workshop on Blues and Folk, which has conducted programs in Oregon schools and as far away as Kentucky.
Yet recording Timberbound’s music was always in the back of his mind, he says, because the original Timberbound was purely a live, local act. While they made little money performing, Fergus says they played to some very receptive audiences who sometimes wept when they heard John's story and his music. A couple of these performances survive on tape, and Kimberly published a very limited Timberbound songbook, but within a couple of years, she met her current husband and moved to British Columbia and ultimately Costa Rica.
The group's material was never recorded in a studio until now. Timberbound's self-titled debut features Seamons on banjo and vocals, Gavin Duffy on guitar, dobro and vocals, Kate Sandgren singing, and Jenny Estrin playing fiddle.
“I think it’s great that it’s going around again,” says Fergus, who is actually not all that surprised by Seamons’ project. “It looked like it was going that direction,” she says of the music. After visiting Oregon about 15 years ago and finding that people she knew and even some she didn’t “had been singing these songs all that time and they were part of their life.”
Seamons says concertgoers who remember the glory days of Oregon logging and fishing often thank him for keeping this music alive. He sees it as a two-way transaction. “Maybe I’m giving something to the song by recording it in a studio,” he says, “but at the same time, the song gives me an identity and helps me understand where I’m from. That’s more valuable than anything I can do for the songs.”