About The Artist
Robert Russell "Chubby" Wise was one of the greatest country fiddlers of all time. Cutting his early professional teeth with a western swing-oriented group in his native Florida, he soon became a celebrated bluegrass stylist working in Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. Then Chubby spent about fifteen years with Hank Snow's Rainbow Ranch Boys.
In the 1970s, he recorded many albums with Western Swing backing on the Texas-based Stoneway label while continuing to be feted at bluegrass festivals. By the 1980's he was widely respected as the "Grand Old Man of the Fiddle" in practically any style.
Young Robert Wise was a native of Lake City, Florida. While his father had been a fiddler of some local renown, the youngster first developed an interest in banjo and guitar. By his early teens, he switched to fiddle, inspired by state champion Bryan Purecell. He was also inspired by such professionals as Clayton McMichen, Curly Fox, and Arthur Smith.
In early adulthood he moved to the city of Jacksonville. There he met young fiddler Ervin Rouse. Chubby always believed that he helped compose the classic tune "Orange Blossom Special." Others (chiefly Claude Casey) held that Ervin was teaching it to Chubby. Whatever, Chubby soon moved to Gainesville and joined the professional band, the Jubilee Hillbillies.
This group was one of the few full-time country groups in the Sunshine State and played everything from fiddle hoedowns to swing material, leaning more in the direction of western swing (perhaps in a manner similar to those of Clayton McMichen, Hank Penny or Claude Casey). Their radio base was WRUF Gainesville. Sadly, they made no recordings. Chubby remained with them until he joined Bill Monroe's band at the Grand Ole Opry in 1942. Chubby was a little uncertain that he could make the grade with Bill who had a different style, but eventually learned that he was just what Monroe wanted in a fiddler. Although he left the band a couple of brief times, he managed to be present in all of Monroe's Columbia recordings from 1945 through 1949.
One of his absences from the band came with his going with Clyde Moody to WARL in Arlington to work for Connie B. Gay. This allowed him to fiddle on the number he and Clyde had composed, "Shenandoah Waltz" in 1947. Chubby also worked with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and cut a session with them on Columbia. Wise also worked for a time at Richmond's Old Dominion Barn Dance at WRVA. In 1953, he returned to Nashville and with a few exceptions remained as fiddler with Hank Snow's Rainbow Ranch Boys. During this period he recorded many numbers with Snow for RCA Victor, did some session work with Mac Wiseman among others, and fronted the Rainbow Ranch Boys on Starday (SLP 154), The Tennessee Fiddler. Chubby also recorded a budget fiddle album for Guest Star. During one of his absences from Snow, he fiddled on an album for Hazel and Alice, now remembered as the first bluegrass album with only girl vocalists.
Although the work with Hank Snow was steady, it did not pay especially well and also had some embarrassing moments. One took place on stage at the Opry. Snow had something of an ego and not having much hair on his head, was especially aware of his toupee. One night Chubby knocked the hair piece off Hank's head during a performance. Snow leaned over and said, "Chubby, you're fired." Wise said Snow rehired him in a matter of days. Snow's detractors termed him "the Little Cowboy" which Bill Strength put into a song called "Hillbilly Hades," a parody of "Hillbilly Heaven" in which Strength impersonated Tex Ritter narrating a story about the night "Fiddlin' Chubby" knocked the toupee from the head of the "Little Cowboy" on stage.
Chubby left the Rainbow Ranch Boys in late 1970. From 1968, he had begun recording fiddle tunes for the Stoneway label of Houston. One was a cut of the old Bob Wills tune "Maiden's Prayer." It became regionally popular in the Lone Star State so that he could earn $250 a night for playing the fiddle and fronting a local band. Over a decade he recorded about 20 albums for Mr. R. M. Stone's firm including a couple with another fiddling legend, Howard "Howdy" Forrester. He also still played a few bluegrass festivals each summer.
In 1982, Chubby and Mac Wiseman did a live album at Gilley's, Give Me My Smokies and Tennessee Waltz (Gilley's MG 5006), and continued in spite of increasing age.
A decade later, he did two compact discs on Pinecastle, In Nashville (PRC 1031) and An American Original: The '94 Sessions (PRC 1041, released in November 1995.
Two months later, the long-bearded, venerable legend passed away at age 80.
Credits & Sources
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