Pre-Rococo Texas Fiddle


P.T. Bell


from and
In studying these older Texas styles, I have noticed some stylistic similarities. As one would expect, there are elements of longbow playing in many of the old fiddlers, there are also a lot of “hollerin’ tunes” that have a vocal shout in them like “Lost Indian”, there are also regional influences like Mexican, German, Czech, Cajun, Appalachian, Scottish, Irish, and blues.

The old fiddlers seemed to have very idiosyncratic styles that show elements of many of these influences while still sounding very old, some quite archaic. A great many of these old tunes were crooked. In the commercial recordings from Texas of the 1920s and ’30s, you can really hear the early signs of where Texas fiddling was going to go with contest and swing styles, but the Library of Congress recordings preserve a lot of music that would soon be lost.

As contest fiddling and more commercial sounds became more prevalent, many of the old timers I speak with now say that the fellows who were the old timers in their day just stopped playing, because they knew people had no interest in what they did. People wanted to hear the most eloquently rococo rendition of Sally Gooden performed in the modern contest style, not some scratchy, out of tune, old version of some utterly bizarre piece that perhaps only one fellow in Falfurrias, Texas played on his back porch. I guess I have always gravitated towards the weird stuff.

The recordings  of Peter Tumlison Bell (available from Field Recorders’ Collective, FRC410) are a window into pre-rococo Texas fiddling . The distinctly Scottish affectations of bowing and phrasing can be heard in his version of the tune “Ladies Fancy,” played with the G-string tuned down to E. Similarly, the presence of distinctly hard bowed triplets in the tune “Morg Williams Cotillion” and the languid left-hand rolls in an unnamed march learned from his father “during the War” set his recordings apart from any other.

Along with distinct but obviously related tunes found in the Eastern mountains like “Sugar in My Coffee,” are others perhaps older which somehow survived through many generations of the Bell family. The tune “Killie Ma Crankey” appears to be related to the Scottish tune “Braes of Killiekranke” commemorating the battle of Killiekrankie which took place on July 27, 1689. Remarkably, such playing with its distinctive and recognizably Celtic styling survived over many generations and thousands of miles.

One Response to “Pre-Rococo Texas Fiddle”

  1. WILL Says:

    Don’t forget to thank Dan Foster for helping make Mr. Bell’s Fiddling available for all of us to enjoy.

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