Tennessee Fiddlers


Allen Sisson

from http://www.hearthmusic.com/blog:

Joseph Decosimo: Tennessee can lay claim to some pretty amazing and diverse fiddle styles. Arthur Smith’s slicker, notey fiddling influenced a whole generation of fiddlers throughout the South and beyond. Down where I grew up, around Chattanooga, it seems like a lot of the older fiddlers were influenced by the wild and wooly North Georgia sounds. Gid Tanner, Lowe Stokes, and Clayton McMichen spent some time hanging out in Chattanooga back in the 20s.

Maybe a lot of what gets labeled a North Georgia sound could also be called a Southeast Tennessee sound. At the same time, I hear a lot of influence from African American musicians in the music that was played around Chattanooga. One of my favorites fiddlers from around Chattanooga, Bob Douglas, played an incredible raggy piece called the “Maybell Rag.” It came to him from a black guitar player who was working on barges on the Tennessee River.

One of my other favorite fiddlers from down there is Blaine Smith. His playing swoops and slides in a way that reminds me of the syncopated and swooping rhythms from African American fiddler John Lusk. They also shared several tunes in common.

Allen Sisson lived further east, up in the mountains along the North Carolina and Georgia lines. His playing sounds totally different from the others. It’s filled with triplets and complicated melodic lines. It sounds really old to me. JD Harris who was from further north in Flag Pond Tennessee had a similar sound. Their music has an austere and composed beauty.

Then there’s Charlie Acuff [second cousin to the famed Roy Acuff], who plays with an incredibly sweet touch, employing vibrato and playing stately tunes that he learned from his grandfather.

One of my favorites lately has been Jimmy McCarroll from the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. He recorded his driving and totally sophisticated and blues-inflected fiddling in the late 20s. So I guess there’s no way for me to describe a Tennessee style. Each of these fiddlers had their own sound, and I’ve only scratched the surface. I guess there are some similarities. Folks in Tennessee tend to play a lot of tunes in the key of G, but they play in plenty of other keys too.

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