Fiddlin' Sid Harkreader
By Mark Brine
I had the great fortune of knowing Sid during the last decade of his life.
I first met him at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Nashville's lower Broad Street,
when I was performing, regularly, there as a soloist. Being a long-time and
serious student of traditional country and roots music, I was, at first,
awestruck by him and his rich, deep history and legend. Through-out the
years, we became close friends and also became more at ease in his presence.
Since we had mutual friends at Tootsie's, he often would drop by for a drink
and we'd sit and discuss 'the good ole days'. Often times those sessions would
last until closing time. Oh, what tales!
In the summer of 1979, I was recording a 45rpm of my song, "The Christmas
Carol No One Listens For" for a later that year release. It occurred to me that I might
confront Sid about doing a "Rag" version of the song for the "B" side...featuring
him as the artist on that side. Well, thank God, he willingly agreed. Soon after,
I lugged my recorder over to his apartment on Shelby Avenue to attempt it.
I recall it was a very hot summer's day and his little apartment was a bit stuffy.
But soon (into the 'Christmas spirit') we were 'carolling away' instrumentally
at least. Sid fiddled up his usual storm ... and I, hackin' away a guitar background!
It all turned out to be a pretty 'cool' little rag tune. I still love hearing it to this day!
It turns out that after I got two takes down, the telephone rang. Sid was
talking to the caller and at last returned to the room sayin', "...that was some fella named
John Hartford. He wants to come by and play some music with me. Did you ever
hear of him?" I couldn't believe my ears!
Well, need I say, having a brand new reel-to-reel tape with me and along with my
recorder so handy and all and with John's consent of course, I got the whole
memorable day recorded for prosperity! And, man-o-man, might I say
them two fellows were cookin'! I was doing my absolute best to just
keep up with them. And, I do mean that!
Back to the story about the 45rpm"The Christmas Carol That No One
Listens For". When, at last, it was released, I had the folks at Tootsie's put it on
the jukebox. And every time Sid would come in, 'n folks'd play it, he'd just
get so happy about that! On several occasions, he mentioned to me that having
not recorded since the 1920's, that it really meant a lot to him to have a 'new release'
out. And I really felt good about that. Because He had done me such a favor and to
see it returned in that way really made it all worth while.
Although this 45rpm is out-of-print presently...the same identical two sides
of the record appear in my audio book / folk musical, "The Carol" ... wherein, Sid
is one of the 'fictional' characters included in the text/story, etc. This book is available
through North Star Audio Books, South Carolina. Also to be noted is that both songs
have since been re-titled to "The Carol" and "The Carol - Rag".
There's truly so much more I could say about Sid. But, to be brief here,
I will fast forward to the sad end. I eventually re-located to Baltimore, Maryland.
Sid was placed in an nursing home for (for what turned out to be ) his final year.
In that time, I would call him on occasions to check in and see how he was doing.
My final and most vivid memory of him, was when I returned to Nashville (a booking
to do an Ernest Tubb Jamboree appearance). Dan Curtis (mandolinist) and I,
visited him at the nursing home. Standing around his bed, we performed a number of his favorite
old hymns. He sang along with us, too on a few. When we performed a tribute song I had
written about him, years earlier ("The Ballad of Fiddlin' Sid Harkreader") that
he knew and loved, it made all the folks who had gathered about to listen to the
musicthe patients, the doctors and nursesrealize just who he was.
This, I could tell, made him feel proud. I still can see, to this very moment, his
head on the pillow, with his eyes closed (and tears rimming them) as he
sang along on the hymns ("Amazing Grace", "I'll Fly Away", etc.).
He was a dear friend ... and a hero to me for sure! His name is not, yet,
in the Country Music Hall of Fame (where it truly belongs!) ... But like
his little introduction he wrote for his autobiography states, I'm sure he's
in the the Country Music Hall of Fame that's in Heaven.
"My mission, my desired goal, and joy in life is to give to the people
my talent which I believe is the gift of God which he gave to me. It makes me feel so
good inside knowing that God is with me wherever I play my fiddle before
an audience. It seems that God is releasing all I have to give each time
I play for people. I am thinking and praying that someday before I die,
my hopes and prayers will be answered and that I'll go down in history as the greatest
fiddler (by the help of God) in my profession, and I'll have the joy
of knowing that I have, at least, made people happy along the way,
and I'll never be forgotten.
I love people, I love music, and God made me that way. How can I lose?
I hope someday I can be crowned the greatest fiddler, if not in this world,
then in the world to come."
Author's Foreword from the book: Fiddlin' Sid's Memoirs, The Autobiography
of Sidney J. Harkreader; Edited by Prof. Walter D. Haden; The John Edwards
Memorial Foundation, Inc. at the Folklore & Mythology Center, University
of California, Los Angeles, CA.
Credits & Sources
- Article courtesy of Mark Brine, a singer/songwriter
and guitarist who hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He spent eleven years
in Nashville and performed on the Grand Ole Opry as a guest of Hank Snow. Mark will
say his style of music is a blend of folk, traditional country and blues, ultimately
creating his own unique style of Americana. Baltimore's "Citypaper" summed it up: "Brine
knows his stuff well enough to know that there was a time in this country when
blues, country, jazz, gospel and popular song were not nearly as isolated from each other
as they are today."
Mark Brine Music
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