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Louisiana Fiddlers

Louisiana Fiddlers

Ron Yule
Bill Burge
Mary Evans
Kevin S. Fontenot
Shawn Martin
Billy McGee
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Louisiana Fiddlers
    Book Description:

    Louisiana Fiddlersshines light on sixty-two of the bayou state's most accomplished fiddlers of the twentieth century. Author Ron Yule outlines the lives and times of these performers, who represent a multitude of fiddling styles including Cajun, country, western swing, zydeco, bluegrass, Irish, contest fiddling, and blues.

    Featuring over 150 photographs, this volume provides insight into the "fiddlin' grounds" of Louisiana. Yule chronicles the musicians' varied appearances from the stage of theLouisiana Hayride, honky tonks, dancehalls, house dances, radio and television, and festivals, to the front porch and other more casual venues. The brief sketches include observations on musical travels, recordings, and family history.

    Nationally acclaimed fiddlers Harry Choates, Dewey Balfa, Dennis McGee, Michael Doucet, Rufus Thibodeaux, and Hadley Castille share space with relatively unknown masters such as Mastern Brack, "Cheese" Read, John W. Daniel, and Fred Beavers. Each player has helped shape the region's rich musical tradition.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-296-2
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-2)

    By the beginning of the twentieth century Louisiana already had a rich fiddling tradition among its rural population. Musicians who had roots from all over the nation and world brought their fiddle traditions with them to the Bayou State. As noted inMy Fiddlin’ Grounds, this tradition was not unique to any one area but had followed the same general migratory flow that has been noted by Joyce Cauthen inWith Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow: A History of Old-Time Fiddling in Alabama, Earl Spielman inTraditional North America Fiddling: A Methodology for the Historical and Comparative Analytical Style Study of...

  7. DEWEY BALFA (1927–1993) Grand Louis
    (pp. 3-8)

    Born on March 20, 1927, Dewey Balfa first started learning the fiddle around the age of nine from hearing his father, Charles, play Cajun music not only on fiddle but other instruments as well. Dewey was a part of the fourth generation of known Cajun musicians in the Balfa family. His first efforts on the fiddle were noted in his July 18, 1980, interview with Tim Knight:

    There was no lessons given for you to learn to play an instrument. You picked it up and you did the best you can if you could…. I can remember the time when...

  8. FRED BEAVERS (1932–) Simsboro
    (pp. 9-13)

    Fred Beavers is mostly noted for his fine contest fiddling, but has played many fiddle styles of country music from bluegrass to country to swing. Born in 1932 at Homer, he began playing the guitar at the age of ten on a Gene Autry guitar. He struggled to learn, and a conflict over the guitar with his father led to his quitting. At the age of 13, he decided to take up the fiddle and began by learning “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” His family had fiddlers on both sides, being one of the more respected fiddling families in...

  9. TROY BEAVERS (1921–1980) Homer
    (pp. 14-17)

    The Beavers family is central to the fiddle tradition of north Louisiana. As far back as anyone can recall, there has been a fiddler in the family, and Troy Beavers, one of the premier members of this clan, was one of the most noted. As a youngster, he fell in love with the sound of the instrument from hearing his uncles, John and Louis Beavers, and father, Jeff, play around the house, in Homer. Fred Beavers, a cousin, notes that Jeff was a good hoedown fiddler with good timing and rhythm. Troy’s wife, Katherine, recalls hearing tales that Troy would...

  10. RAY BEEBE (1915–1980) Lena
    (pp. 18-22)

    Ray Beebe was a fiddler extraordinaire. He not only played in the style common to the hill country around Lena, but he sang many of the old tunes while he was playing, a feat in itself. He was famous for his love of the instrument and showmanship while performing in any venue, whether it was a stage show or a dance.

    The Beebe family attended all the old country dances around Lena and Ray became interested in the fiddle and its lively sound. At the age of six, he made a cigar-box fiddle and began sawing around on it. He...

  11. ROBERT BERTRAND (1938–1974) Lake Charles
    (pp. 23-28)

    Robert Bertrand was born July 27, 1938, and lived around Hathaway until his family moved to Lake Charles around 1950. Although his career was brief, he played music with many local Cajun musicians, recording an unknown number of Cajun and Cajun-country songs on several local labels. His father, Jake, was a Cajun fiddler, and had played at country dances before their move to Lake Charles. As a youngster, Robert followed in his father’s footsteps and began learning all the instruments of the Cajun band, specializing mainly on the fiddle. They were playing at dancehalls near Eunice as early as 1950,...

  12. MASTERN BRACK (1932–) Evans
    (pp. 29-33)

    Like many of the fiddlers of yesteryear, Mastern Brack comes from a long family tradition of fiddling. As far back as the 1840s, the Brack family has had a house full of fiddlers. Uncle Henderson Brack (1839–1924) was a famous fiddling figure in the Newton County, Texas area, having lost his right arm in the Civil War battle at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, on April 9, 1864, and continuing to play with one arm. The Bracks were noted regional and local entertainers who played at country dances, front-porch pickings, and family reunions as far back as anyone can remember, a...

  13. ELTON BRINDLEY (1932–) Starks
    (pp. 34-37)

    Elton Brindley (b. 1932) started playing fiddle at age ten, after seeing the fiddle player with Bruce Broussard’s band at a Starks Elementary School concert. Since his family had little money, he improvised and made a one-string fiddle from a board, stretching baling wire over a Pet milk can for sound. He played his first tune, “Ida Red,” on this instrument. He cannot recall any ancestors who played the fiddle, but his daddy did play the harmonica.

    Elton learned to play alongside Huey Buxton, a friend of about the same age. They finally progressed enough to begin playing country dances...

  14. CLARENCE “GATEMOUTH” BROWN (1924–2005) Slidell
    (pp. 38-41)

    Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown does not fit the mold of the normal country fiddler playing what has been described as a fusion of blues, R&B, country, swing, bebop, and Cajun. Although he is known for his guitar work on his many albums and shows, the fiddle took a special place in his music. To the many who appreciated his fiddle playing, he was known to bring the house down playing his unique combination of swing, big band, and blues.

    Gatemouth was born into a musical family in 1924 near the Louisiana border at Vinton, Louisiana, and raised in Orange, Texas, a...

  15. CECIL BURGE (1906–1986) Singer
    (pp. 42-48)

    Singer, Louisiana is a blink in the eye to the modern passerby. Who would think that this one-store town might be the birthplace of Beauregard Parish’s most noted fiddler? The main industry today is logging, just as it was at the turn of the century; only the equipment is different. This was the occupation of the Burges, who lived at the edge of the Louisiana pineywoods forests just before it turns into the wetlands and the bayous of southwest Louisiana. Cecil Burge was born there in 1906 and would become the most famous Beauregard fiddler of the century, playing for...

  16. HADLEY J. CASTILLE (1933–) Opelousas
    (pp. 49-53)

    With ancestors and family members who played music, Hadley J. Castille was destined to play, and he chose the fiddle to express himself musically. His father, François, played the accordion, and his Uncle Cyprien played the fiddle left-handed. Although they both played dances, they seldom played together. For reasons unknown to Hadley, Cyprien played with other fiddlers at the dances he attended, while Francois played with his own fiddler friends.

    Hadley was born in Leonville on March 3, 1933, and took an interest in the fiddle around age nine after his brother, Donadieu, began learning. On days when it was...

  17. W. E. “WILLIE” CASTON 1862–1928) Red Oak
    (pp. 54-57)

    W. E.“Willie” Caston was born in 1862, in Jackson, Mississippi, of Irish descendants, and migrated to the community of Red Oak, about five miles north of Coushatta toward Ringgold. He had moved to Red Oak in 1878, and was a farmer, woodworker, and blacksmith. He was very talented and his woodworking skills were so good he built at least one fiddle, which is still in the family. Although it is not known when and how he learned the fiddle, it is thought that his talent on the fiddle was passed down from his ancestors.

    Besides being a respected country fiddler,...

  18. HARRY CHOATES (1922–1951) Cow Bayou
    (pp. 58-68)

    Harry Choates was born December 26, 1922, in a rural area in Vermillion Parish. He was a belated Christmas present for his parents Clarence and Edolia, as well as a gift to swing and Cajun music and especially fiddlers everywhere. He was the undisputed “King of Cajun Swing Fiddle,” revered by country, swing, and Cajun fiddlers alike. Tim Knight, a Choates biographer, considers him “a special American genius.” Karen Smith Lancon in her tribute to Harry on his tombstone terms him the “Godfather of Cajun Music.” Crawford Vincent, a noted sideman who played with Choates, says, “He put Cajun on...

  19. HITER COLVIN (1900–1975) Dubach
    (pp. 69-75)

    Hiter (Pee Wee) Colvin was one of Louisiana’s pioneering fiddle recording artists and professional musicians. He was born near Dubach in 1900 on Boardtree Creek in the Fellowship Community. No one can recall whether his ancestors played music but his father, Thomas, apparently wanted someone in the family to play because he bought a fiddle at a Monroe pawnshop and offered it to the first of his nine children who would learn to play it. Hiter earned the fiddle.

    Hiter learned early on that he could make money playing the fiddle, and throughout his lifetime he made a living playing...

  20. VERTIS ROY “PEANUT” CONN (1919–1964) Pineville
    (pp. 76-80)

    Although Vertis Roy “Peanut” Conn’s life would be cut short because of injuries from World War II, he was admired by those who knew and heard him play in central Louisiana. Peanut was born in Copiah County, Mississippi, in 1919, and took to the fiddle at the age of ten. His talent bloomed early, and by the age of twelve he was sneaking off with his brother Hilton to play at various country dances and juke joints in the central Mississippi county south of Jackson. By fourteen Roy had moved to Louisiana and in 1936 was living in Sicily Island....

  21. VARISE CONNER (1906–1994) Lake Arthur
    (pp. 81-86)

    Varise Conner, like numerous fiddlers in the western corridor, chose to stay home and play the fiddle with family and friends. Playing on the road and making music a livelihood was not his cup of tea. He was a quiet man who worked in the timber industry as a sawmill operator. His fiddling was born from the age-old style of his ancestors but would influence a new generation of fiddlers who appreciated his intricate noting, rhythm, and timing—and with hardly any fanfare whatsoever.

    The Conner family migrated from Ireland in the late 1700s,and included in Varise’s ancestry was a...

  22. JOHN W. DANIEL (1873–1931) Pineville
    (pp. 87-91)

    In 1922 fiddlers Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland recorded “Arkansas Traveler” and “Turkey in the Straw” for Victor. This landmark recording session sparked a procession of country fiddlers who would be recorded over the next few years. Within a few years, the names of John Carson, Clark Kessinger, Gid Tanner, Lowe Stokes, Doc Roberts, and many other fiddlers became household names because of their recordings. By the mid-twenties the recording industry moved further west, and many Texas iddlers, including Robertson, recorded even more sides; fiddler John W. Daniel would follow in their path and be the first Louisianan to record...

  23. LUDERIN DARBONE (1913–2008) Sulphur
    (pp. 92-95)

    Luderin Darbone was born in Evangeline, Louisiana, on January 14, 1913, to Eddie (Edval) Darbone and Nora Agnes McFarlain Darbone. They soon moved to Orangefield, Texas, where he was raised. At the age of twelve, he decided to pursue the violin and began lessons via a correspondence course from New York City. He states:“There was no one to teach me. After a while, I began to play by ear instead of note … I liked playing by ear best. I could add little things into the songs.” Luderin had an uncle who played, but he never heard him.

    Luderin says...

  24. MICHAEL DOUCET (1951–) Scott
    (pp. 96-101)

    An astute student of the masters of Cajun fiddling, Michael Doucet has blended the feel of the fiddling of the past with his musical inner voice to produce a sound that is uniquely his own. In his career he has played nearly every style of fiddling and music in the country, bringing himself and his listeners to new heights in musical enjoyment.

    Michael was born in Lafayette in 1951, and spent the first twenty years of his musical life hearing and experimenting with various forms of music. By the age of six he was absorbing the sounds of Elvis Presley...

  25. WARREN FERRIER (1929–) Montgomery
    (pp. 102-106)

    Warren Ferrier’s playing was best described by Troy DeRamus when he said, “Warren is such a smooth fiddler he could step into any studio and record with any country singer.” This is the consensus among those who have played or heard him. From a smooth, flowing breakdown and waltz style to a complementing country/bluegrass backup style, Warren can do it all.

    Warren was born in 1929 and lived around Montgomery most of his life. Warren states,“I had fiddlers on both sides of the family.” The first fiddler he ever heard and his first influence was Jimmy Roberts, his grandpa, who...

  26. CANRAY FONTENOT (1923–1995) Welsh
    (pp. 107-110)

    Canray Fontenot has been hailed by many as the greatest black Louisiana French fiddler of his time, with a unique style that dated back to the early part of the century. Taking the cue from his ancestors, he played this early music in a way that made him special among his peers. Michael Doucet notes that “He was a living bridge between turn-of-the-century musical styles and today’s younger musicians.”

    Canray was born on October 16, 1922, into a farming family in L’Anse aux Vaches. Both his mother, Ozémire, and father, Adam, played accordion, and an uncle, Joel Victorien, played fiddle,...

  27. MERLIN FONTENOT (1923–) Eunice
    (pp. 111-115)

    As with many of the musicians in the Eunice area, Merlin Fontenot was born (September 26, 1923) into a family of highland farmers, with their main crops being cotton, sugar cane, and potatoes. His father, Enos, played accordion, so it was natural that Merlin developed a love for music. After first trying the accordion when his “feet would not touch the ground sitting in a chair,” he took a liking to the fiddle at the age of seven or eight. He structured a cigar-box fiddle with a cow-horn tailpiece and a primitive limb bow complete with sewing thread. He admits,...

  28. EDDIE FRIDAY (1921–2008) Pleasant Hill
    (pp. 116-120)

    In central Louisiana, mention of the mandolin in fiddle circles brings the name of Eddie Friday to the fore. He was noted for his fine rhythm and lead picking in the country scene around Alexandria from 1946 to the mid-1980s. He played fiddle, usually as a second, and for this reason his fellow band musicians were aware of his talent and presence on fiddle. He played in a very relaxed manner at a nice country pace, prompting fiddler June Reeves to once comment, “How does he play so smooth?” In his latter years, he was revered in fiddle circles and...

  29. WADE FRUGÉ (1916–1992) Eunice
    (pp. 121-123)

    Like many of the influential fiddlers in Louisiana, Wade Frugé did not perform prolifically in dancehalls, preferring the more intimate setting of jam sessions, house parties, and small groups. His legacy was the vast regional influence he had on the many traditionalists and purists of Cajun music. His style was steeped in old-time tunes, and he never really changed throughout his lifetime.

    Wade was born in 1916 in Tasso, a community near Eunice. His family had a rich heritage in early Cajun music; his main source for learning the fiddle was his grandfather, Napoleon “Babe” Frugé, with whom he lived...

  30. J. B. FUSELIER (1900–1976) Oberlin
    (pp. 124-130)

    Jean Batiste “J. B.” Fuselier was born in Oberlin, Louisiana, in 1901, and began playing the fiddle at the age of four. He stated, in a 1973 interview with Sam Tarleton, that his arms were so short he could not pick the fiddle up to play it. Since the fiddle stayed on the bed all the time, he would crawl up on the bed and “see-saw” on it while his sisters would dance on the floor. A first cousin, Gilbert Duplechain, suggested that they sit him in a chair so he could hold the fiddle. His fingers were so short...

  31. WILSON GRANGER (1921–2005) Big Lake
    (pp. 131-136)

    Wilson Granger was a fiddling figure who experienced all the many twists and turns in Cajun music for eighty-plus years—a sideman who kept the music going and played on some of the most influential recordings in Cajun music. Born in Durald in 1921, Wilson took up the fiddle at age four after the family moved to Black Bayou. His major influence was his brother, Sidney, sixteen years his senior. His father, Salus, although considered a minor influence on his playing, would eventually be a major influence on his recording career. Salus was mainly an “at-home fiddler” who did not...

  32. DAVID GREELY (1953–) Denham Springs
    (pp. 137-142)

    Unlike most Louisiana-born Cajun fiddlers, David Greely (b. 1953) did not learn Cajun music in his youth, but his bayou roots manifest themselves in the middle of his career. A direct descendant from France via Nova Scotia, his grandfather Eddie heriot, from Darrow, played the fiddle at house parties and family gatherings in the community. Always blessed with a unique musical voice, David recalls singing “Sixteen Tons” at three years of age for houseguests at his home and learning some piano by ear from hearing his sister play while she practiced the piano. In his early teens, he sang with...

  33. MARY GRIMSLEY (1944–) Shreveport
    (pp. 143-145)

    In the mid-1970s Mary Lee met Tex Grimsley and began a musical venture that would change the learning of the fiddle in Louisiana. Tex was a seasoned fiddler from the Shreveport area who had played with Arthur Smith and on the Louisiana Hayride, and had already won the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship by the time they met. He introduced her to all the musical fun of the fiddle. The fiddle and love bug had both bitten her at the same time. She recently noted,“I must have fallen in love with the fiddle and the fiddler.”

    They began to attend fiddle...

  34. MARCEL “TEX” GRIMSLEY (1917–2002) Shreveport
    (pp. 146-151)

    From an early age Marcel “Tex” Grimsley seemed destined to become a seasoned performer with talent in all areas of country music. By the late 1940s he wore many hats: fiddler, songwriter, comedian, and violinmaker. He was well versed in each of these areas and loved to perform and demonstrate his musical craft to anyone who was interested throughout his long career.

    Originally a Logan, Texas, native, Tex was born in 1917. The family soon moved to Carthage, where at age seven he began to learn the fiddle from his father, Grover, an old-time fiddler. Tex learned quickly and before...

  35. ORAN “DOC” GUIDRY (1918–1992) Scott
    (pp. 152-157)

    Oran “Doc” Guidry has been described as the “King of the Cajun Fiddlers,” but always considered himself to be a blues and jazz instrumentalist playing string band music. With ancestors from Nova Scotia, he was a sixth-generation Acadian from the clan of Pierre Guidry, the patriarch of most Guidrys residing around Lafayette. Doc was born on April 28, 1918, and lived near Scott most of his life.

    Doc’s father, Clopha, was a front-porch fiddler who played after completion of the daily work on their farm. He also worked at the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court office. Around the late 1920s...

  36. ELMER LEON “LONNIE” HALL (1914–1972) Shreveport
    (pp. 158-162)

    Elmer Leon “Lonnie” Hall was one of the premier swing and country fiddlers of the thirties, forties, and fifties around Shreveport. A native of Ben Wheeler, Texas, born December 3, 1914, he came from a very musical family with two brothers who played country and western swing music. One brother, Ramon, played fiddle and guitar; another, John, played guitar. Besides playing in bands, they were known to play the Texas fiddle contest circuit.

    Country music historian Cary Ginell writes in the liner notes toLeon Chappelear, Western Swing Chronicles, Volume 2:

    The multi-talented Hall played many instruments but excelled on...

  37. PETE HARDIN (1923–2002) Haynesville
    (pp. 163-166)

    Lawrence Edgar “Pete” Hardin was born in 1921 in Haynesville, the eldest son of nine children born to Jewell and Hugh Hardin, who were a farming family. By the age of eleven or twelve, Pete began learning fiddle from hearing his daddy play old hoedowns like “Leatherbritches” and “Redwing” and waltzes like “Wednesday Night Waltz” on the front porch and around the house after the farming chores were done. This was the beginning of a family band of musicians that played for neighbors and friends around their Haynesville community.

    Besides the hoedowns and waltzes, Pete’s brother Bob recalls Pete began...

  38. FELTON “PREACHER” HARKNESS (1918–1994) Vivian
    (pp. 167-172)

    Many of north Louisiana’s current top fiddlers will quickly spout out the name of Felton “Preacher” Harkness when asked about their fiddling heroes. One soon realizes that he was an awesome talent and created music on the fiddle far and above the norm. His influence on Fred Beavers, Paul Woodard, “Preacher” Duncan, or Bill Kirkpatrick, as well as Texas fiddle champion Beecher Stuckey, is well recognized and is noticed in the playing style of the current group of young fiddlers.

    Preacher Harkness was born in 1918 and learned to love the sounds of the fiddle at an early age from...

  39. BOB HENDERSON (1925–1996) Gonzales
    (pp. 173-180)

    Robert (Bob) Henderson was born in 1925, in Forney, Texas, a hotspot for fiddling with many notable fiddlers hailing from the area. His father, William “BB” Henderson, was an old-time fiddler who played for country dances in the area. BB’s stepfather, Baker (first name not remembered), was a fiddler, too; however, no one in the family can recall anything about his playing. After moving from west Texas in the early part of the century, BB settled near Forney and worked a 130-acre farm “on the halves” for Joe Hughes, who happened to be a famous Texas fiddler and an early...

  40. SEAB HOOD (1899–1938) Hilly
    (pp. 181-185)

    In the 1920s and 1930s, fiddlers and fiddling contests could be found in fairly large numbers. A few of these local fiddlers obtained highly touted reputations as formidable opponents. The Hood family of Hilly, nine miles north of Arcadia, was well known, traveling and playing throughout the region. Stories of their fiddling feats have been noted as far south as Bienville and Caldwell Parish, Ruston on the east, and west to Shreveport and into Texas on occasion. They loved playing the fiddle so much they were known to travel to Arkansas to play and enter contests.

    Of all the Joseph...

  41. DOUGLAS “DOBBER” JOHNSON (1930–1995) Shreveport
    (pp. 186-191)

    Douglas “Dobber” Johnson, who received his nickname early on because he liked to play with “dirt dobbers,” started learning to play the fiddle by ear when he was six on a homemade cigar-box fiddle. His early learning efforts came from hearing fiddlers on Shreveport radio stations and Saturday night broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. Within a few years his father bought him a fiddle from Sears and Roebuck.

    He developed fast, and by the age of ten his father began taking him to KWKH, where he was eventually asked to play with Bob and Joe Shelton and the Sunshine...

  42. AL JORDAN (1932–) Calhoun
    (pp. 192-195)

    Al Jordan (b. 1932) is one of the premier bluegrass and country fiddlers in north Louisiana and has played with many groups on the festival circuit and at shows throughout Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. He is exceptional at backup and harmony fiddling and sings all parts in duets and trios, making him a very valuable asset to any country or bluegrass band.

    From the time Al was a child, he heard the strains of fiddle and guitar from his father, Albert Jordan, and an uncle, Charlie Walker. They played the fiddle and guitar at the country dances, socials,...

  43. JACK KAY (1929–1971) Leesville
    (pp. 196-200)

    The area west of Leesville, in Vernon Parish, has produced a wealth of fiddle talent. From this geographical location came the Holts, the Bracks, and the Kays, all well known in the annals of fiddling in western Louisiana. Each family has its place in the history of early country music in dance halls, churches, and on radio and stage.

    The most influential of these fiddlers was Jack Kay, a towering figure of a fiddler who was not satisfied playing locally, but set his sights on playing with the many country stars of the time. His travels would lead him to...

  44. DOUG KERSHAW (1936–) Lake Arthur
    (pp. 201-205)

    Doug Kershaw is one of the most recognized Cajun entertainers in the world. He was born on January 24, 1936, in Tiel Ridge, on a houseboat. His mother, Rita, played guitar and fiddle; his father, Jack, played accordion; and his older brothers played various instruments, including fiddle, guitar, and accordion. He started playing the fiddle when he was five years old, when his uncle Abel, an accordion player on his father’s side, made him a cigar box fiddle. Although he learned mainly from local fiddlers and fiddlers who passed by the house, he came from a long line of excellent...

  45. BILL KIRKPATRICK (1928–) Shreveport
    (pp. 206-209)

    Following in the tradition of other north Louisiana fiddlers, Bill Kirkpatrick has made many contributions to fiddling in Louisiana country music annals. For more than sixty years he has played at everything from house parties to the stages of the Louisiana Hayride and modern fiddle contests. Born on May 8, 1928, near Homer, Bill began to like the sound of the fiddle early on. His first instrument was a cornstalk fiddle made by an uncle. Bill laughingly describes its tone: “It made a bunch of noise.” His brother Pete tried to play a real fiddle but did not succeed, so...

  46. KENNIE LAMB (1930–2007) Baton Rouge
    (pp. 210-213)

    Kennie Lamb is one of the memorable fiddle figures from the Baton Rouge area. He moved to the area in 1967 and eventually started a fiddle shop, formed a bluegrass group, and organized a bluegrass club that booked many national acts, most with a focus on good fiddling.

    Kennie was born in Maryland in 1930, and began listening to country music as a child in Severna Park, Maryland. By the late 1940s, he developed an interest in playing country fiddle from hearing local fiddler Pee Wee Herron on WDBJ, Roanoke, Virginia. Pee Wee had played with the Florence Brothers when...

  47. JEWEL LASYONE (1933–1984) Verda
    (pp. 214-218)

    Jewel Lasyone came from a family rich in fiddle tradition. His uncle, Alfred, and father, Orelius “Reel,” began playing at a young age, learning from their father, “Uncle Buck,” who was a noted fiddler in the Verda and Colfax areas of Grant Parish. Reel played breakdowns and waltzes at country dances and house parties in the area. Alfred’s son, Hermon, also fiddled and played right alongside Jewel at country dances, square dances, clubs, and on radio and television for years.

    Jewel, born in 1933, started playing mandolin at age four, learning from his father. Reel would later recall that Jewel...

  48. FLOYD LEBLANC (1924–1975) Mermentau
    (pp. 219-223)

    Floyd LeBlanc was born on September 17, 1924, in Mermentau, Louisiana. Born into a musical family, his musical career began at an early age. His father, Lessin, played French accordion and fiddle and his mother, Merillia, played rhythm guitar and sang. In the early 1930s the family moved to Cypress Point, where Floyd and his brother, Steve, began making homemade instruments from cigar boxes, screen wire, and boards because their parents could not afford real instruments. These homemade instruments brought frustration to their mother, who later recalled to family members that she could not keep screen wire in the doors...

  49. LIONEL LELEUX (1912–1996) Leleux
    (pp. 224-229)

    Lionel Leleux was born on October 12, 1912, in Vermillion Parish, in Leleux, a town named for his grandfather. His father, Pierre, was a farmer in the early part of his life but mainly owned and operated PB’s Grocery in Leleux until his death in 1965. He played some fiddle but never pursued the instrument the way Lionel did.

    Throughout Lionel’s life his trade was barbering, a skill he began learning at the age of fourteen while cutting his family’s and friends’ hair. At eighteen he received his license, and he always said it was a job he never liked....

  50. AUD LEWING (1899–1972) Many
    (pp. 230-233)

    If ever there was a legendary figure in west central Louisiana old-time country fiddling, Aud Lewing could be that figure.

    “Mighty ine!”

    “He played different songs than anyone else.”

    “He was a showman!”

    “He made fire breathe from his fiddle!”

    “He commanded the attention of anyone who ever heard him play.”

    These are comments from fiddle fans who heard him play. Anyone who heard him never forgot him; his playing at country dances, fiddle contests, around a pot-bellied stove, or on the front porch was the stuff legends are made from.

    Many people who knew Aud and played with him...

  51. ABE MANUEL SR. (1926–2003) Lake Charles
    (pp. 234-239)

    The Abe Manuel story is a tale not only of a respected musician and fiddler, but of a talented musical family and its torch-carrying legacy. Abe grew up playing with family, played with family during his early country music career, and finished his career playing country music with his own gifted sons, Little Joe and Abe Jr.

    Abe Sr. (b. 1926) learned to play fiddle from hearing his father, an accordion player, as a youth in the Basile area of Evangeline Parish. He learned guitar at age eight and later fiddle. He had a brother, Joe Adam Manuel, who played...

  52. DENNIS MCGEE (1893–1989) Eunice
    (pp. 240-249)

    Dennis McGee is one of the most revered fiddlers in Louisiana music history. Born on January 26, 1893, he studied and learned the fiddle from nineteenth-century fiddlers and lived long enough (ninety-six years) to pass on to today’s younger fiddlers these tunes and earlier, now-extinct dance and fiddle styles. He was one of the first Louisianans to record extensively, not only with a fiddle band but also with an accordionist, either Amédé Ardoin or Angelas Lejeune. Extensively interviewed and studied, he lived to be a part of the festival scene that arose in the 1970s, giving listeners and musicians alike...

  53. CHARLES “CHUCK” NATION (1953–) Denham Springs
    (pp. 250-254)

    Charles “Chuck” Nation was born in 1953 in Chickamauga, Georgia, and lived in the hills of northern Georgia until his teens, when the family moved to Louisiana. Following in the footsteps of his father, Jim, he was a natural musician who took to all the instruments in a bluegrass setting with great ease.

    Although he played all the bluegrass instruments, Jim had specialized in banjo with a north Georgia group, the Deep River Boys. Chuck heard bluegrass music from the time he was a toddler and learned to play guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. He notes,“I’d been listening to it...

  54. SANFORD REAMEY PATTERSON (1881–1939) Shreveport
    (pp. 255-257)

    Reamey, as Sanford Patterson was known, was one of the premier fiddlers in Shreveport in the early part of the century. He was born on October 3, 1880, and became an awesome musical talent, having been trained in classical violin technique as a youth. He moved to Shreveport from Malvern, Arkansas, and played in local orchestras. During the silent movie era, he played in movie houses, playing the background music for the picture show. He once related to Murray Richardson that he memorized as much as forty sheets of music so he could play and watch the movie at the...

  55. CURRY PERKINS (1970–) Reeves
    (pp. 258-261)

    If you travel down the Bel Fire Tower Road between Ragley and Reeves, make the turn on Burnett Road, trek through the swamp, and pass a few sheep, you will probably begin to hear the sound of a fiddle echoing off the pine trees. You may think you are in Ireland or Texas or Kentucky, but you are not. You are hearing the strains of Curry Perkins’s fiddle, and he can do it all. And if you drive a little farther you will probably catch him sitting on a stump or on the porch of Dempsey’s old-time workshop, learning a...

  56. FLEECY CASTON PHILYAW (1898–1976) Red Oak
    (pp. 262-264)

    Fleecy Caston Philyaw was the premier lady fiddler on the north Louisiana fiddle scene in the early 1900s. Born on December 10, 1898, in Red Oak, a few miles north of Coushatta, she was taught by her father, W. E. Caston, who was a champion fiddler. From being around her father and other great northwest Louisiana fiddlers, she learned the sound and technique it takes to be an award-winning fiddler herself—during an era that did not solicit or cater to women fiddlers.

    Her son, Tom, describes her unusual style of playing the fiddle. He writes in a letter, “Her...

  57. EDDIE RAXSDALE (1922–1992) Alexandria
    (pp. 265-269)
    Mary Raxsdale Evans

    Eddie Raxsdale was born on November 13, 1922, in Turkey Creek, to the union of George Albert Raxsdale, who I am told was a fine fiddler, and Caroline Corrine Elizabeth O’Neal, who played the accordion. His father was killed in a hunting accident when Eddie was only six weeks old. He went to live with his father’s two brothers and one sister, all of whom never married and were “educated musicians,” as Daddy would say when referring to them.

    Living with his uncles and aunt and their music ability sparked a drive in Eddie at an early age to also...

  58. WALLACE “CHEESE” READ (1924–1981) Prairie Rhonde
    (pp. 270-273)

    Wallace “Cheese” Read was born on August 12, 1924, in Eunice, Louisiana. His ancestors were immigrants from France and Germany who settled in the Prairie Rhonde region north of Eunice. His father practiced medicine in the region and learned the Cajun French language from his association with the local people.

    As a youngster Cheese tuned his ear to the music around him and began a journey to play the music he heard. One of his main influences was the musicians he heard at house dances he would attend with his father. Several included dances featuring black musicians like accordionist Adam...

  59. DR. J. E. RICHARDSON (1875–1963) Shreveport
    (pp. 274-279)

    Dr. Joseph Emmett Richardson was from Highland Home, Crenshaw County, Alabama, fifty miles south of Montgomery, and migrated to Shreveport around 1900. After graduating from high school he attended Highland Home College, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree. He then moved to Shreveport and joined the Draughon’s Business College staff, where he taught mathematics, Greek, Latin, and penmanship. In 1911 he left Shreveport with his family, to attend Vanderbilt University Dental School in Nashville. He graduated in 1915 and returned to Shreveport, setting up a practice downtown at the Majestic Building (corner of Edwards and Milam). After a...

  60. RALPH RICHARDSON (1923–) Choupique
    (pp. 280-285)

    One of the foremost exponents of western swing fiddle in the “Highway 90 Swing Belt” that runs from Lake Charles to Houston, Ralph Richardson personifies the hot swing era that burst onto the early country scene in southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas in the thirties, forties, and fifties. A list of his musical heroes dots the panorama of swing players throughout the country. One of the original innovators of swing fiddle, Cliff Bruner, is his fiddling hero and mentor. The list of fiddle personalities Ralph has been on the stage with is overwhelming.

    To Ralph, the making of music goes...

  61. H. P. “BUZZ” SALARD and WINSTON SALARD (1937–) Natchitoches and (1935–) Baton Rouge
    (pp. 286-291)

    The Salard family was from the Janie Community near Cloutierville. Growing up in the hill country of south Natchitoches Parish allowed Winston and H. P. (Buzz) to hear some of the best country fiddlers in Central Louisiana. They were first inspired to play from hearing their brother-in-law, Carl Watson, and the fiddlers on the Grand Ole Opry. Listening to the Opry was a family affair. Winston recalls those Saturday nights of his youth: “When I was about seven, we’d listen to WSM on a battery-operated radio, hoping to hear Arthur Smith. Sometimes they’d use the fiddle for an intro or...

  62. KEN SMITH (1961–) Kinder
    (pp. 292-298)

    Ken’s ancestors played fiddle, and he grew up listening to traditional sounds of Louisiana fiddling. His uncle Martin and grandfather Kirby had played fiddle music since the 1930s. Martin began to play fiddle in his youth and was accompanied by Kirby, who played rhythm guitar. Martin was a country fiddler who liked breakdowns and waltzes, and his son, Robert Lee, followed in his father’s footsteps. He became a very good fiddler, placing in the finals at the Texas Fiddler’s Frolics on one occasion.

    Buford, Ken’s father, began to learn the fiddle at age eleven, inspired by the music of his...

  63. LEO SOILEAU Cajun Fusionist
    (pp. 299-303)
    Kevin S. Fontenot

    During the late Depression and World War II, Leo Soileau and his bands dominated the dancehalls of southwestern Louisiana. True, he experienced competition from a wide range of bands, including those fronted by western swing giants Cliff Bruner and Moon Mullican and fellow Cajuns, the Hackberry Ramblers. But Soileau’s reputation kept him in demand and dominant in the region, and though the Hackberry Ramblers are better remembered, their style of Cajun Swing drew upon the formula first articulated by Leo Soileau.

    Leo Soileau was born in 1904 in Evangeline Parish. His father played the fiddle and worked as a farmer....

  64. ORVILLE “HANK” STRICKLAND (1917–1995) Winnfield
    (pp. 304-308)

    Orville “Hank” Strickland was born in Many, Louisiana, on February 7, 1917, and by the age of four his musical talent was beginning to emerge. His mother played accordion, his father, Jesse Monroe, played fiddle, and a host of uncles all played country music of some kind. He wanted to play piano, but his mother insisted on him playing fiddle, so his eyes and ears became focused on the fiddle.

    His father was an old-time fiddler in the area and Hank would help him when he played the fiddle as best he could by holding the straws (fiddlesticks), but he...

  65. RUFUS THIBODEAUX (1934–2006) Ridge
    (pp. 309-313)

    One of the most influential fiddlers of the second half of the twentieth century, Rufus Thibodeaux was born January 5, 1934, in Ridge, Louisiana, to Olympe and Ellias Thibodeaux. He moved to Hayes, Louisiana, at the age of three and started his musical career at six playing guitar, learning from his father, who played accordion. Ellias bought Rufus a fiddle at the age of twelve and began what Rufus termed “A long career of over fifty years.” He noted his fiddling has been inspired and influenced by the fiddling of Harry Choates and Johnny Gimble.

    His overwhelming talent emerged early...

  66. TONY THIBODEAUX (1938–) Scott
    (pp. 314-318)

    Tony Thibodeaux, like many master fiddlers plays with a package of impeccably clean intonation drawn with an equally smooth bow, creating some of the prettiest tones heard in his Cajun/country/swing style. He has never been an out-front star per se, but has been one of the most capable sidemen in south Louisiana, both as a performer and a recording artist.

    He was born on June 2, 1938, to Mary G. Thibodeaux and Nestor Thibodeaux, and the family of twelve lived south of Rayne. Nestor was a construction worker and part-time farmer who played the harmonica very well and also played...

  67. HENRY DAN WELCH (1888–1938) Dodson
    (pp. 319-321)

    There are a large number of unique people who have played the fiddle. Many of these fiddlers were short on talent, but loved it so much that they practiced, listened, and persevered until they became decent instrumentalists. They were driven because they loved the instrument and the sounds it made. Many were natural musicians but squandered their talent by not honing their skills. And many had great talent and developed it no matter what difficulties—letting nothing stand in their way. Such a talent was Henry Dan Welch.

    Dan learned the fiddle as a boy in the late 1800s and...

  68. PAUL WOODARD (1943–) Arcadia
    (pp. 322-326)

    The Woodards, who lived in the Alabama community north of Arcadia, were fiddlers at country dances of the early part of the 1900s. James and Harold, along with Payton, played at most of these house dances. Paul Woodard came from this background, having music in his blood and wanting to play. At the age of seven he took up the guitar, playing tunes like “Crying Heart Blues” and “Mockingbird Hill” with his brother Buddy. They would join their sister, Helen, and play on top of the concession stand at the Country Maid Drive-In in Arcadia. He recalls fiddlers like “Mutt”...

    (pp. 327-332)
  70. INDEX
    (pp. 333-337)