"At eight o'clock the curtain went up and seated on the stage were many
citizens of the county and adjoining counties with fiddle and well-rosined
bow, ready for the contest, each eager for the start." In 1924, this was
Dr. W.H. Johnson's description of the opening of an Old Fiddler's Convention
in north Alabama.
The phrase "with fiddle and well-rosined bow" captures the enthusiasm
with which fiddlers across the state and through the years have thrown
themselves into entertaining their communities at barn raisings,
Saturday night square dances, Fourth of July barbecues, and other gatherings.
Uninterested in the authenticity of their sources, fiddlers have
always played music that pleased themselves and their audiences, be it traditional
reels and jigs learned from their fathers and mothers, parlor tunes and hymns
sung around the piano with their families, or popular tunes from the radio played by request.
The quality that unites the eclectic mix of tunes in the fiddlers' repertoire
is oldness. The tunes may be ancient, but even if they are not, they are played
in a style that makes them sound that way.
With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow traces the fiddle through Alabama history,
showing the effects of events, inventions, ethnic groups, and individuals
upon fiddlers' styles and repertoires. The book focuses on the "modest
masters of fiddle and bow," those fiddlers who were "stars" only to their
families and communities, with the fiddlers themselves telling why they
learned to play, how they learned without instruction and written music,
how they acquired their instruments and their repertoires, and how they
were regarded by their communities. Cauthen details the careers of "brag"
fiddlers (D. Dix Hollis, Y.Z. Hamilton, Charlie Stripling, "Fiddling" Tom
Freeman, "Monkey" Brown, and the Johnson Brothers) whose reputations spread
beyond their own communities because they made commercial recordings,
won numerous fiddling contests, or performed widely. Described in vivid
detail are the types of events fiddlers reigned over, such as old-style
square dances and fiddlers' conventions. The book shows conventions
held between 1920 and the end of World War II to be popular entertainments
vastly different from contemporary fiddlers' contests.
With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow concludes with the exploration of how, despite
much evidence to the contrary, the fiddler acquired the image of a rowdy
prankster in league with moonshiners and the devil. AN appendix provides
the reader with lists of old-time fiddle tunes commonly played in Alabama
and the names of winners of fiddlers' conventions in the state between
1907 and 1945.
Joyce H. Cauthen has worked with the Alabama Folklife Association, the
Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Birmingham Country Dance Society,
and other organizations in a variety of activities celebrating and preserving
the old-time musical traditions of the state. She received her B.A. from
Texas Christian University and her M.A. from Purdue University and has
taught English on the secondary and college levels.