Luther Strong

by

Bruce Greene on Luther Strong, from Fiddler Magazine, June, 1997:

When I was first becoming aware of old time fiddle music, I heard some recordings of William “Billie” Stepp and Luther Strong, two of the finest eastern Kentucky fiddlers ever to be recorded. Their haunting and exciting renditions of classic pieces like “Ways of the World,” “The Hog Eyed Man,” and “The Last of Callahan” captivated me and surely were the beginning of my own romance with Kentucky fiddling. So of course I tried to find out more about them.

One evening I was visiting with Donald Goodman in Booneville, and he began to reminisce about Luther Strong. Donald had gone to school with Strong’s son and knew that family quite well. It seems that there had been a legendary Owsley County fiddler named Moab “Dude” Freeman, who was something of a vagabond. He wandered around eastern Kentucky like a hobo, even traveled out west and back, and was considered one of the finest fiddlers to ever live in that region.

Donald said Strong played more like Freeman than anyone he ever heard, and he was sure that was where Strong learned to play. He said Strong had an extra long bow “and used every bit of it.” Rumor had it that he put pennies under the feet of his bridge to get a keener sound, but Donald said he was there when Strong began that practice. He said they were at some local fiddlers’ contest, and Strong said he couldn’t compete because the bridge was too low on his fiddle and the strings rubbed on the fingerboard. So Donald suggested placing pennies under the bridge to raise it up. It worked well, Strong went on to play “Sally Goodin’” and win the contest, and he liked the pennies so much, that he just kept them there, saying, “It’s just like Baby Bear, it’s just right.” But who knows? They say he was bad to drink from time to time, and a tale went around that when the Library of Congress came around in 1937 to record him, he had no fiddle at all, and they had to haul him out of jail and have him play on a borrowed fiddle.

Luther Strong died in 1963. Twelve years later, I asked an elderly Knott County fiddler who had known Strong if he could play the “Hog Eyed Man.” He said, “I can play it, but if you want to hear it played right, you should go hear Luther Strong play it.” I said, “But I thought Luther Strong was dead.” “No, he lives down here on the river in Hazard,” he assured me. “Well, how long has it been since you’ve seen him?” He thought a moment and said, “It’s been about twenty years, I guess.”

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9 Responses to “Luther Strong”

  1. EJN Says:

    Do you know if these recordings have been reissued, and if so, where? I heard conte play last of callahan at a show last winter and have an eye out for it since

  2. oldtimeparty Says:

    http://www.juneberry78s.com/sounds/ListenToLutherStrong.htm

  3. Lana Strong Says:

    My name is Lana Strong and Luther Strong was my grandpa. He died in 1963 when I was about 6 months old. I have only heard him play on recordings. My father Jimmy Strong was his son and if he was half the fiddler my daddy was he was great. I have been places I had never heard of in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio and people knew my dad and said he was the best fiddler in the world and I always agreed, not because he was my dad but because he WAS AND ALWAYS WILL BE the greatest.

    • Renee Says:

      Lana,
      Hi my name is Renee and I found out this past weekend that Luther Strong was my Great Great Grandfather. My grandfather was Greene Strong, Luther’s son.

  4. ram51 Says:

    a great artiste…R51

  5. Judy Broshears Says:

    My name is Judy Broshears, Luther Strong was my Grandfather and Jim Strong my uncle and I have to agree with Lana that her papa was an extrodinary fiddle player. I myself have just begun to learn the fiddle and am anxious to play some of the old tunes. I am going to have my grandsons learn so as to carry on the tradition.

  6. Geff Stiubhairt Says:

    i ran into a kid at the Appalachian Trail days fest a couple years back, I was fiddling poorly around a campfire and he approached me with a mountain accent stating that his great grand daddy was “a pioneer in folk music” I asked who, not expecting much and he said Luther Strong. I couldn’t believe it. I told him Luther was my favorite fiddler and he flipped. He said Hog Eyed man, which is my favorite fiddle tune. I tried to play it, he was excited to know anyone who was familiar with his great grand daddy. His name was Levi Johnson, trail name Impulse. I’d like to get ahold of him if I can, are you out there Levi?

  7. RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51 Says:

    Hello amd a Happy New Year 2015

    Here is some more LUTHER STRONG

    http://www.pbouns.com/luther_strong.html

    Greetings from the Mountain Shack

    RAM51

  8. Devin Stacy Says:

    My great grandfather was named Luther Strong. My grandmother was named Lois Strong, Luther’s daughter. My name is Devin Stacy, I am very proud of my family’s name and history. Luther was the greatest fiddler of all time and my grandmother Lois Strong had the most keen mind, sharpest eyes, fastest hands, and a heart that she passed down to some of the most well known names for bravery, toughness, heart, and brilliance. Not to mention my generation which is full of geniuses and even though I’m no genius, I consider myself one of the meanest best fighters along with my cousins The Stacy’s. The way i see it beautiful hands like the ones Luther played his fiddle with were passed down to us. No matter what my great grandfather is a part of my heart & soul. (HEART) is undoubtedly my strongest characteristic in every sense of the word.Thank you for you time, I will always know i’m a king among men, not to settle with living my life as I’m a Godless evil scumbag. I’m God fearing, and life is beautiful and a blessing.

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