(Montpelier) From the mid-1930s through the 1950s, the Vermont airwaves
resounded to the live sounds of "cowboy bands"—playing a mixture of
traditional fiddle tunes, country and western songs, jazz standards, and
pop tunes of the day. At night, these bands drew large crowds to barn dances
throughout the state. In central and northern Vermont, the "king" of these
musical cowboys was Waterbury resident and virtuoso fiddler Don Fields, whose
Pony Boys always sported the hottest players on guitar,
tenor banjo, accordion, bass, and sometimes steel guitar and drums.
Now, for the first time, the music of these radio icons is available
on a recording—"Don Fields and His Pony Boys: Last Sessions and Historic WDEV Broadcasts,"
on the Montpelier-based Multicultural Media/Rootstock label.
Produced by Montpelier musician/educator Mark Greenberg, the CD features 28
tracks, half from rare recordings of live WDEV radio shows from the 1940s
and the other half from a session with Fields and former Pony Boys
Mort (Smokey) and Lois Carey.
Greenberg recorded the session with the Careys, of Waterbury, at Fields’
Duxbury home, shortly before the fiddler’s death in 1983. Smokey played
tenor banjo and guitar and Lois played accordion and sang. Fields was in
good spirits, although his health prevented him from attending that
summer’s Midsummer Festival of the Arts in Montpelier, where he was
honored for his contributions to Vermont’s culture and heritage. Both
of the Careys died in the 1990s.
The live radio material was recorded directly off the air by Waterbury
Center resident Ernest Metayer on small, plastic disks. Metayer’s widow,
Emily, shared these disks with Greenberg in the 1980s, but their quality
was too poor to consider releasing them to the public at the time. Since
then, however, computer technology enabled Greenberg to clean up the sound
and edit the fragments into performances that capture the quality, spontaneity,
and excitement of the original radio shows.
Don Fields was born in 1913 in Montreal but came to Waterbury a few months
later with his family. As a young boy, Fields showed immediate talent on
the violin, and his teacher hoped to send his prized student to Europe to
pursue a classical career. But the death of his father in 1928 forced Fields
to quit high school and get a job. He also started playing with other local
musicians and soon became one of WDEV’s first announcers. He also was WDEV’s
first musician, playing solo violin night after night as engineers tested the
equipment and signal before the station officially went on the air. According
to WDEV owner, Ken Squier, postcards from as far away as Los Angeles testified
both to WDEV’s range and Fields’ artistry
Fields formed the Pony Boys in the mid-30s, and the versatile group quickly
became one of the region’s most popular dance bands. Fields often played
saxophone on the popular and swing numbers, but it was his fiddling,
with its sweet, liquid tone that moved the feet and captured the hearts
of many Vermonters. By the 1960s, however, rock and roll had taken over,
and Fields decided to hang up his bow.
Greenberg met Fields in the early 80s and recorded a series of interviews
with him. He also interviewed the Careys and former Pony Boys Buddy Truax,
Zeke Zelonis, Bernie Gladden, and Chuck Donnelly. Portions of these
interviews appeared in the radio documentary "Don Fields and His Pony Boys:
One More Ride," which aired on WDEV shortly after Fields’ death. Greenberg
has also written an article on Vermont’s cowboy bands for the Winter, 2005,
issue of "Vermont Life."
Although reluctant at first, Fields eventually agreed to let Greenberg record
him and the Careys. As on their radio shows, Fields and the Careys played
music ranging from the traditional "Devil’s Dream" to the popular 19th century
song "Frankie and Johnny" to Fats Waller’s "Honeysuckle Rose." The radio
broadcast tracks include the western classics "Ragtime Cowboy Joe"
and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," as well as fiddle tunes, sentimental songs,
and even a square dance with caller.
According to Stephen McArthur, of Multicultural Media, "This is both
wonderful music and important historical material. We’re proud to be able
to make Don Fields’ music available to Vermonters once again." Because
some of Fields’ older fans may not have CD players, Multicultural Media will
also sell a cassette version.
The CD, "Don Fields and His Pony Boys: Last Sessions and Historic
WDEV Broadcasts," is available in stores and from www.worldmusicstore.com.
For cassettes call Multicultural Media, 223_1294.
For sound clips and interbiews: