BY MAC TRAYNHAM AND ALICE SLUSHER—
Oldtime fiddler Samuel Henry Conner was born in 1909 in Franklin County and lived the majority of his life in the Copper Hill area of Floyd County, Virginia. Both Sam and his brother Lee learned to play the fiddle at a young age by watching other family members play music; their father, Jasper Conner, was an accordion player and singing; their mother also had a number of musicians in her family (The Bowles Family, also from Franklin County, which included his uncle, Dan Bowles). Sam was also exposed to and likely influenced by legendary local fiddler Fountain Kingrea, as well musicians such as Charlie Poole, Riley Puckett, and his Uncle Dan. Despite these known influences, little is known regarding Sam’s music before 1940, other than that he also played the banjo and was photographed at a single fiddler’s convention, somewhere in Copper Hill.
Though Sam’s free meter style of fiddling was developed during years of solo playing, he is known most notably for his association with banjo player Dent Wimmer. Sam and Dent met while working as a part of the same construction crew, though not much is known regarding the depth of their association.
Somewhere prior to 1980, Sam gave up fiddling. However, his family seems to have carried on his musical lineage. Sam and his wife Emma Elzora Conner had six sons and one daughter, including banjo players Maynard and Jerry Conner and Andy Conner who played bass with their cousins Mickey, Tommy, and John Conner in the Conner Brothers. Additionally, Sam’s son-in-law Arthur Conner of Floyd County is a respected fiddle maker.
According to Alice Slusher, of The Old Church Gallery, in Floyd:
“Sam’s two living children remember him playing at family get-togethers and at occasional “frolics” at their home or relatives’ homes. He also played at community events and at Mabry Mill. They remember some of his favorite songs, namely “Soldier’s Joy” and “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” both of which date back to the 1700s as well as “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “Sally Goodin” which are Civil War era fiddle tunes. He often played with Dent Wimmer and Arthur Conner (his brother-in-law). After Sam died, Arthur acquired one of Sam’s oldest fiddles, maybe his favorite. Some years ago, Arthur gave the fiddle to Sam’s son Bill.”
Sam Connor was recorded by Tom Carter for the Library of Congress in 1974 and subsequently featured on Old Originals.