Earl Collins pt.2


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from Earl Collins: Hoedown Fiddler Takes The Lead by Barbara LaPan Rahm:

(read part 1 here)

Earl Collins: I used to hold my Daddy’s arm while he fiddled when I was two or three years old. I just kept it loose and tried not to bother him. Oh, he had some of me awfullest bowing you ever heard, he could do licks that no one else could.  “Wrassle With A Wild  Cat”– Miss Buchanan couldn’t even write it he’d make so many notes that she couldn’t get them in there and she’d write it just the best she could. He had quit playing for about 25 or 30 years till that WPA project came along and he needed the money. You know, they paid those fellas, they got a check regular. Roosevelt give them a check. They just played, dances or anything that come up.

And Miss Buchanan taught them every day, this whole class of about 50 or 60 of them. Each of them, she’d tell them what it was going to be and she had her little motions, you know. And each one of them would turn to that page and she’d give– like Spade Cooley– one, two three, and everybody’d start. And they’d all play the same thing. Over and over. She taught them to read music, see. My father was the lead of the whole bunch. I’ll put him up at the top of the world. Not prejudiced because he was my father, but Clayton McMichen or Tanner or Eck Robertson, Georgia Slim—they couldn’t none of them beat him. In fact, I think he had them all topped.

We could have had a family like the Carter Family. There was four girls and five boys, and every one of them musicians. The girls could have played anything they would have tried. They had guitars and sang. Dad used to sing quite a few of those old hoedowns like Wolves A Howling when he’d play. I remember one line:

Don’t you hear those wolves a-howlin,  howlin round my pretty darlin , six on the hillside, seven on the holler, and they’ll get her, I’ll bet you a dollar…

But Max and I is the only two that really teamed up. I set him on an apple box when he was six and showed film G chord, and he never made a bobble. He was my guitar man, and right today. I’ll take him above anybody.

I stopped fiddling in 1950. I tried everything in the world. I tried every little gimmick that come along. I’ve been beat out of so much and cheated. Like I played the first television show that ever come to LA, in the western field—KFI. I played six weeks down there and never got one penny. Rehearsed three or four nights a week and then go down there and play thirty minutes. And a guy collected all the money and run off. And me and my brother, we was both working machine shop six days a week and playing two and three nights a week, sometimes four. We both just quit.

I give both my two boys fiddles—I’ve had fiddles, guitars, banjos mandolins– and I wanted one of them, both of them actually to make a hoedown fiddler, follow in my old Dad’s tracks and in my tracks. But neither one of them was interested. Too busy running around doing something else, see. But in 1965 they come in to me one afternoon when I got home from work, said, ‘”Dad we’re going to learn to play rhythm on the banjo and the guitar: I said, “Aw no you don’t.” They said, “Yes, we do.” So that’s how it come that I take the fiddle back. I got the banjo and the guitar and the fiddle out, tuned then all up and then I’d play a tune. I’d show them the chords on the banjo and then show them the chords on the guitar. Then we’d pick up all three and we’d try.

You know, I love old jam sessions better than I do anything. Just setting around someone’s house, and you play what you want to as long as you want to– this and that. I play awhile and you play awhile, then someone else will play. Then I’II go back and I’II play some and you play some…

Sheet music looks like puppy tracks to me. Scales won’t mean nothing to you in hoedowns won’t mean a doggone thing. You just pick up the fiddle get a tune in your mind, and you work on that tune and you play it. You’ve got it in your mind and you know just exactly how it goes. That’s memory. But if you go to school and they teach you notes you’re not going to play hoedown, you’re going to play violin. It’s hard to get an old hoedown fiddler’s tone. There’s not too many around that has the old fiddler’s tone to me. It’s a touch on the strings and smooth bowing that makes a fiddler. It’s the beauty that you get out of a fiddle. As long as you’re in the chord, making your true notes, running your smooth bow—you’re playing the fiddle.


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