[caption id="attachment_81275" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2021\/05\/Mike-and-Mary-Sue.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="379" class="size-full wp-image-81275" \/> Marlinton residents Mike and Mary Sue Burns have been playing old-time music together for years \u2013\u2002as themselves and as Juanita and Lulu in Juantia Fireball and the Continental Drifters. Photo courtesy of Kurt Schachner[\/caption]\r\n\r\nSuzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nIn the fourth installment of Pocahontas County Opera House Story Session series, Mike and Mary Sue Burns shared the stage for a few tunes before Mike went solo, sharing how he was introduced to old-time music.\r\n\r\nWith Mike on fiddle and Mary Sue on banjo, the couple opened the session with \u201cOld Mother Flanagan,\u201d a Melvin White tune.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat was the first fiddle tune I ever really liked,\u201d Mike said. \u201cAnd guess what? I still remember it today, or part of it.\u201d\r\n\r\nTalking about White and his style of playing fiddle, Mike stood up, crouched over and mimicked White by holding his fiddle lower on his shoulder with his bow going nearly straight up and down.\r\n\r\n\u201cMelvin, he was a real small, skinny little guy, and it was really funny how he played,\u201d Mike said. \u201cHe\u2019d hold that fiddle just like this, and I have no idea how he did it, but he never missed a lick.\r\n\r\n\u201cI can remember playing with him on some performances, and I was playing banjo. He\u2019d get to going and that\u2019d just about crack me up, and he\u2019d switch songs. You just had to stay on your toes all the time.\r\n\r\n\u201cJust to see him, watch him play and doing that fiddlin\u2019 was absolutely amazing,\u201d he added.\r\n\r\nAs they prepared to play \u201cWaiting for the Boatman,\u201d Mike explained that White played the tune in the key of D and it had a more melancholy feel, while he and Mary Sue play it in the key of A, which makes it sound more upbeat and happy.\r\n\r\nMike and Mary Sue have been playing music together for years and are members of Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters. Mike is Juanita, and Mary Sue is Lulu.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhy don\u2019t we try \u2018Red Steer?\u2019\u201d Juanita asked.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf you dare,\u201d Lulu answered.\r\n\r\nAfter \u201cRed Steer,\u201d Mary Sue left the stage and Mike went back to the beginning when he was first introduced to claw hammer banjo playing. He also switched out his fiddle for his banjo.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt began many, many years ago,\u201d he said. \u201cActually, when I was going to WVU forestry school.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe forestry department had an exhibit at the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins and Mike was there to help recruit new students. During the festival, Mike was able to attend the West Virginia Open Banjo and Fiddle Contest.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019d been messing around with the guitar a little bit and we had a little jug band in our forestry bunch, so we went over to see the [championships],\u201d he said. \u201cWe got inside there in the Elkins Armory, and they did the banjos first. I heard \u2018Foggy Mountain Breakdown\u2019 I don\u2019t know how many times and then, all of a sudden, this guy came out and sat down, and he started playing. He played claw hammer banjo , and that guy turned out to be Dwight Diller.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat\u2019s the first time I\u2019d ever heard claw hammer, and I thought, \u2018now, I like that,\u2019\u201d Mike said.\r\n\r\nAs the saying goes, \u201cIt\u2019s a small world.\u201d Diller happened to be a student at WVU, as well, working on his master\u2019s degree in horticulture.\r\n\r\n\u201cI just lived down the road from where they were, and he was teaching some people how to play, and I sort of wiggled my way in there, playing guitar with them,\u201d Mike said. \u201cOne thing led to another and the next thing you know, I was playing banjo.\u201d\r\nLearning from Diller paved the way for Mike to come Pocahontas County where he met the famous Hammons family and learned even more about old-time music.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat\u2019s when I ran in with the Hammonses,\u201d he said. \u201cBurl and Sherman and Maggie, and also Mr. Lee Hammons. I spent a lot of time with them through the years. Heard some of their stories and it\u2019s kind of interesting their take on things. We didn\u2019t ever sit down and play in a big group. They would just pick up an instrument and play, and then you\u2019d listen to them, and they\u2019d give you the instrument and you would play.\u201d\r\n\u00a0 \r\nMike then played a Sherman Hammons tune called \u201cGroundhog.\u201d\r\n\r\nMike transported listeners back to the 1970s when he visited the Hammons family at their home on Williams River.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou\u2019ve got to kind of envision being out on the Williams River \u2013 you\u2019re not hearing any sounds or anything,\u201d he said. \u201cAll you\u2019re hearing is that banjo playing and echoing off those mountains out there. It made quite an impression on me.\r\n\r\n\u201cI can remember sitting in his house there, and Maggie was telling a story,\u201d he continued. \u201cIt was right as the sun was going down in the evening and I sat down there on the couch. He had one of those couches that when you sit down, you sink into it and you go up to your armpits. They had just a little old forty watt light bulb hanging in the middle of the room, and all I could see was Maggie\u2019s silhouette against the sun going down by the window.\r\n\r\n\u201cAt the time, I had no idea I was living history. Maggie was telling a story about a panther chasing them around when they were kids or something like that; I just got caught up in that moment. It added to all the lore of their stories and all the things the Hammonses did.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe final tune Mike played was \u201cMuskrat,\u201d a song Sherman really liked, but didn\u2019t play.\r\n\r\n\u201cHe didn\u2019t play it, but he wanted me to play it and sing it for him,\u201d Mike said. \u201cI\u2019m not really sure where I learned it.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou know the old saying, that if you can remember the sixties and seventies, you really weren\u2019t there?\u201d he added, laughing. \u201cSome of the places that I learned these tunes are a little foggy \u2013 and I\u2019m not sure who the source is or anything.\u201d\r\n\r\nMike and Mary Sue are both retired teachers from Pocahontas County High School. Mary Sue still assists the science department while Mike spends his time tying flies, fly fishing and telling tales of the past.\r\n\r\nThe Pocahontas County Opera House Story Session series is available to view online at the Opera House Facebook page and at pocahontasoperahouse.org\r\n\r\nOn Mondays in May, the series will be featured on the Pocahontas County Opera House Radio Hour on Allegheny Mountain Radio from 1 to 2 p.m. \r\n\r\nThe audio from each session will be broadcast, along with past performances from the Opera House.