On a dark day in the fall of 2002, when it looked as if time were running out, I sat and made a list of the most important, but still unrealized things I wanted to accomplish in this life.

This record is just one of them. The songs span over thirty years, some are as recent as last week, but the heart is not a slave to time. Part truth, part dream, part fiction, sometimes the difference is a little cloudy.

Thanks for traveling with me as I share my life with you. It’s been a bumpy road but the view was worth the ride.
~ Joe Penland, June 5, 2006, 1869 Records



Standing On Tradition comes from songs I learned most when I was a teenager from the ballad singers of Sodom Laurel; Lee, Doug & Berzilla Wallin, Cas Wallin & Dellie Norton. They all sang different versions & in different styles. I suppose the way I sing is a combination of all of them. I wrote "Old Man of the Mountain" shortly after Lee Wallin's death from a dream I had about him. He was a dandy! Lee was a crack shot & a hog rifle champion. He and Berzilla had several huge African geese that loved to pinch me until I bled. Berzilla would follow me around with a broom to beat the gander off.


When I started working on this recording in 2007, I set out to document the songs and stories I had learned as a boy for my children and grandchildren. Mostly I have remained true to that ideal.

Some of the ballads I learned were long a cappella epochs carried in the hearts and minds of our ancestors when they came across the waters to the “New World”. Others changed. A.P. Carter was very adept at taking a mountain ballad and adding a refrain or musical accompaniment. This I expect is the way “Country” music was born.

So, all these songs are presented the way I learned them way back then except “Lakes of Pontchartrain” and “Fine Sally”. I learned “Lakes” (an American ballad) from Dave Arthur in England in 2006. In 2009, I enlisted the help of students from Joyful Noise Music and Art Center for musical backup at a few performances. The youngest being 5 years old and the oldest 14, these kids were great troupers, amazing musicians and were wildly appreciated everywhere we played. They were re-united this year to play on this recording.

Wherever I have traveled – sharing the songs and stories of life here in the mountains – one of the most frequent questions has been: Do any of your recordings include stories?

Now I can say yes. This album includes a few of the stories that have inspired songs. For your convenience I have partitioned the CD into two parts. The first group is just the songs and the next is the way you would hear four of them if you were sittin' here in my front room.

I hope you enjoy them and are inspired to tell and preserve your own stories.

The Mary sands project, volume 1

For the last six years I have collected, from her family and friends, my English friend, folklorist Mike Yates and the diaries of Cecil Sharp a bit of the legacy of this wonderful woman.

Present Day Preservation
The Mary Sands Project is a three part series of sound recordings of the ballads Mary sang for Sharp, some of her original compositions and stories of her life here in Madison County, North Carolina. This year I received a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council to begin this important project.  

With your help, the legacy of Mary Bullman Sands will be available to all those who wish sing, study and continue the ballad tradition of the Western North Carolina Mountains. This is an opportunity for you to partner with me in documenting Mary Sands contribution to preserving the great cultural heritage of the English, Scot and Irish settlers of our mountain home.

Please consider sharing this opportunity to support mountain music heritage by letting all of your friends know about it.