Your Favorite Old Time Fiddler...Dead or Alive


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Where'd you get your whiskey?
Where'd you get your dram?
I got it from a little girl way down in Rockingham.

Refrain: Rocky road, Cyndy, Rocky road to town.
Rocky road cyndy,
way down in Rockingham.

I went down to Rockingham,
I did not go to stay.
I fell in love with a pretty little girl and I could not get away.

Lips as red as a red rose, her hair was hulkleberry bown,
The sweetest girl I ever saw was down in Rockingham.

First I kissed Cyndy once and then I kissed her twice.
I'll tell where I kissed, gonna kiss her there tonight.
 

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It's a tie for me, Bruce Molsky and Brittany Haas. Bruce has deeper roots and Brittany has the edge on improv chops.......wait a minute you have to include James Bryan as well. James has great technique and has the best tune recall of any fiddler in the biz. Blind Ed Haley would have to be included as well. Everybody who is in to this kind fiddling will have there favorites. Oh wait, Joe Thrift who is also a Newark trained violin maker and shared a table with Roger Hargrave. Joe's last "Lord Wilton" copy I think might be the best sounding violin I have ever had the pleasure of playing. He and Roger still stay in close communication with each other so that can't hurt the way his violins turn out either.

David Blackmon

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It's a tie for me, Bruce Molsky and Brittany Haas. Bruce has deeper roots and Brittany has the edge on improv chops.......wait a minute you have to include James Bryan as well. James has great technique and has the best tune recall of any fiddler in the biz. Blind Ed Haley would have to be included as well. Everybody who is in to this kind fiddling will have there favorites. Oh wait, Joe Thrift who is also a Newark trained violin maker and shared a table with Roger Hargrave. Joe's last "Lord Wilton" copy I think might be the best sounding violin I have ever had the pleasure of playing. He and Roger still stay in close communication with each other so that can't hurt the way his violins turn out either.

David Blackmon

Hi David,

 

Pittsboro, NC is a Mecca for old-time fiddle, isn't it? I want to bring old-time music to Laurinburg, but I need to learn how to play it on the fiddle first. I have been watching Bruce Molsky and others. on Youtube.

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Fiddler 45,

 

Yes, from New Mexico. That area Junior grew up in, Otero County, was a hotbed of fiddling at one time. The most prominant one from there besides Junior is Hyram Posey a two-time National Fancy Fiddle Champion, also a good guy and wonderful musician.

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Well, we had a heck of a snow last night and I've been plowing through fiddle player recordings, and beginning to feel a great nostalgia.  I'll list a couple who are not necessarily my favorite, but with whom I have great sentimental attachment.  Homer Logan and Doug Kershaw.

 

Homer can be found in a few amateur videos on you tube.  He was my very first teacher, though I only had one lesson with him.  A tall, lanky west Texan.

 

 

 

Doug is a distant relative and grew up in the same "Cajun" world my mother did.  Neither of them spoke any English when they came for their first day of school.  There was no electricity and mosquitos were thick.  Pencils in school were two for a penny, yet my mother could not afford one!  Doug lived on a houseboat and the song "Louisiana Man" is very autobiographical.  So I probably am more forgiving of his showmanship, which I feel DOES get in the way of his truly authentic beginnings.

 

I find this video to be the least "showy" and I think shows his fiddle playing better than some of his commercial performances.  By the way, the house and porch that they chose for this video is exactly what my grandparents' home looked like.  They never heard of paint, I guess.

 

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I have thousands of recordings from the 1920's and on of old time fiddle and string band music...I could name hundreds of fiddlers in fact there were so many great players that existed that it is hard to choose. What I find interesting about the old time tradition in the US is... how many different styles are/were played before the radio and the recording industry. It seemed each area had it's own style and interpretations. I'll try and post some of the more obscure fiddlers and  playing of the different styles around the US and Canada.

Some of these fiddlers only recorded once in their life so the tunes are a rare treat from the past.

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"What I find interesting about the old time tradition in the US is... how many different styles are/were played before the radio and the recording industry."  —Ernie, above post

 

A good observation.  I guess the modern media, as wonderful as it is, has its drawbacks.  The wonderful individuality that can only be developed in separated,  un-cross-pollinated (sorry I can't think of the right words) areas is getting homogenized.  It seems true in violin making, too.  

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Fiddlin' Arthur Smith...

 

Too bad this one isn't working on MN...been having a lot of trouble lately... it is a rare clip from a 1945 Western film with Arthur playing The Orange Blossom Special. I love Arthur Smith's sound and heard Bill Monroe say in an interview that nobody could beat him in his day. The video can be found on youtube...

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Not to be too picky, but Kenny Baker didn't play old time, but he's the definition of Bluegrass!

As someone said, it is all getting lumped together these days. Some contests are talking about having swing music be part of the repertoire for competition. So if that's the case, bluegrass would probably also be considered old time by many.

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It may be that if you can name one favorite, you haven't listened enough. The proliferation of reissues and digital transfers has left us inundated, and we are hearing a range of traditional music that was unimaginable not so long ago. I tend to favor older styles and authentic performers - so we have Stepp and Salyer from Kentucky, French Carpenter and Burl Hammons from West Virginia, Tommy Jarrell and his circle from the Virginia/North Carolina border country, Eck Robertson, and so on. A particular favorite generally neglected is Kahle Brewer, who recorded with Ernest Stoneman, lovely original settings of standard tunes that are well worth seeking out. And one must mention the contribution of Henry Reed via Alan Jabbour, a huge repertoire, though Henry's playing itself was by that time suffering the effects of his age.

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Not to be too picky, but Kenny Baker didn't play old time, but he's the definition of Bluegrass!

You are right about him being an excellent Bluegrass player but he was a also a great old time player as well and came from a family of old time fiddle players. He was, as you say, best known for his Bluegrass playing.

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As someone said, it is all getting lumped together these days. Some contests are talking about having swing music be part of the repertoire for competition. So if that's the case, bluegrass would probably also be considered old time by many.

Old time is the heart of traditional Bluegrass or at least used to be. Now with New Grass and progressive Bluegrass..???

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Bill Monroe once said that an old-time mountain fiddler couldn't play a Bluegrass tune right. Chubby Wise wasn't an old-timey fiddle player...

 

Old-Time is Old-Time, Bluegrass is Bluegrass.  

 

When Mr. Monroe heard the New Grass Revival for the first time, he asked Sam Bush what they called "that" music, and he replied, "Newgrass, Mr. Monroe."  Monroe replied, "I don't like it..." !!  It worked out in the end.

 

Kenny Baker IS THE Bluegrass fiddler, and just about every other Bluegrass fiddler tries, at one time or another, to emulate him. 

 

As for Old-Time, there is no single holy grail.  You might say Tommy Jarrell, for Round Peak stuff, and you might say James Bryan for that Northern Alabama style. One would be hard pressed to single out any one player in Southeastern KY. Curley Ray Cline was neither Bluegrass nor Old-Time, with a foot firmly in both camps.

 

Although the regional styles are getting lumped together there are more than scholarly reasons to keep them separated.

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