Liner Notes

BENNY THOMASSON: SAY OLD MAN CAN YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE

VRCD 345


Benny Thomasson was one of America's truly innovative musicians. He was to fiddling what Bill Monroe was to country music, what Charlie Parker was to jazz. Benny was the main influence on the development of a unique style of American music, what is commonly called Texas style fiddling. This fiddling style is used by many players at major fiddle contests in the U.S.

Born in Runnels County, Texas, in 1909, Benny was raised in Gatesville. He was one of 10 children, and was exposed to fiddling very early. His dad Luke and uncle Ed were widely known fiddlers. One of Benny's earliest memories was of his dad Luke working out the now well-known Midnight on the Water. Some of the best fiddlers in Texas, such as Eck Robertson and Lefty Franklin, were regular guests at the Thomasson home.

When he was 19, Benny entered a fiddle contest in Dallas, figuring to be among the top players. Benny says:

"This was a pretty big occasion right there, and I thought I was a real good fiddler. And I went up to this contest and there was I guess over 200 fiddlers up there. They was pretty good ones, but I still thought I ranked along about the top numbers there.... And when it come my time to play, .... I thought I was really getting after [my three tunes]. Come to find out nobody even noticed. And so when that come about, I decided right then that something had to be done, so I could be up there amongst the rest of the good fiddlers. So I went to work on these old tunes there, and didn't change the tune or anything like that, but actually what I did was just to make the different variations of the same parts, but maybe in a different location on the fiddle, or rounded them out, and smoothed them out to where finally they began to give me a little recognition there. And that made me work harder, so I worked on those things for years and years."

It obviously worked, because Benny won his share of fiddle contests, including the Texas state fiddling championship 15 times, the World Championship in Crockett, Texas, 3 consecutive times (where he was retired), National Fiddle Championship at Weiser ID, and countless other contests.

The recordings on this CD were made in the 1970's, when Benny lived in Washington state. They show Benny's wide range of knowledge of oldtime fiddling, including simple two part tunes as played by his dad, reels from fiddle collections such as Cole's "Thousand Fiddle Tunes", Canadian and Irish tunes which he picked up from fiddlers he met in Washington, and modern Texas style breakdowns with many of his unique twists and turns. He played many tunes in "cross tuning", where the fiddle strings are tuned to other than the standard GDAE tuning.

Selections 1 through 20 were recorded informally on March 3, 1974, in Phil and Vivian Williams' living room in Seattle with a fire burning (sometimes audibly!) in the fireplace. Backup is provided by Dudley Hill on guitar and Benny's son Jerry on tenor guitar, with Vivian Williams joining in on bass for a couple of tunes.

1. Bush in the Shucks The fiddle is tuned to DDAD (starting with the lowest string).

2. Fourteen Days in Georgia

3. Steeley's Rag

4. Garfield March Played in a manner similar to one of Benny's fiddling heroes, Clark Kessinger.

5. Polk County Breakdown

6. Cuckoo's Nest

7. Lost Indian Played in AEAC# tuning.

8. Old Apple Blossom Benny learned this tune from his dad.

9. Red Apple Rag

10. Scolding Wife From Benny's dad.

11. Kanawha March Another Clark Kessinger tune.

12. Sally Goodin Played in AEAE tuning.

13. Billy in the Lowground As played by Benny's dad.

14. Dixie

15. Scotch No. 2

16. Laughing Boy Played in AEAC# tuning

17. Darkie's Dream

18. Wild John

19. Rose Waltz

20. Ragtime Annie

Selections 21 through 24 are modern Texas style breakdowns, recorded at a jam session at the Weiser, Idaho fiddle contest in June, 1972, with Benny's son Dale on guitar and Jerry on tenor guitar.

21. Dusty Miller

22. Shucking the Bush

23. Tugboat

24. Tom & Jerry

25. Bonnie Kate Recorded at a jam session at Weiser in 1973, with Vivian Williams on guitar and Phil Williams on bass.

26. Mother's Reel Benny probably picked up this Canadian tune from fiddlers he met in Washington. Recorded at a jam session at the Astoria, Oregon fiddle contest on January 20, 1973.

The following three selections were recorded at a Seattle concert on May 11, 1978, with David Johns on guitar and Markie Shubb on bass.

27. Midnight on the Water From Benny's dad and his uncle. In DDAD tuning.

28. Old Bell Cow As played by Benny's dad, in AEAC# tuning.

29. Herman's Rag

The last three selections were recorded at a Seattle concert on February 25, 1974, with Jerry on tenor, Dudley Hill on guitar, and Phil on bass.

30. Irish Medley: Speed the Plough, Miss Monahan's, Temperance Reel Benny probably picked up these tunes from musicians in Washington.

31. Lime Rock

32. Say Old Man Can You Play The Fiddle Played in EDAE tuning.

Recorded and mastered by Phil Williams. Producer: Pete Martin. Liner notes: Pete Martin and Vivian Williams. Artwork: Brad Pinkerton
© 1999 by Voyager Recordings

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