Remembering Hiter Colvin – who recorded Monroe Stomp (Stamp)

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hiter 78

from J. Michael Luster. Remembering Hiter Colvin, the Fiddle King of Oilfield and Gum Stump. In Shreveport Sounds in Black and White, by Kip Lornell, Tracey Laird.

The great Hiter Colvin was born in 1900, one of nine children, on Boardtree Creek near the community of Fellowship, northeast of Dubach, Louisiana. His father, Thomas Mayberry Colvin, both a fiddle at a pawnshop in Monroe and told the children that whichever one of them could play it best would get to keep it. Hater earned the fiddle, and the fiddle would eventually earn him the only livelihood he would ever know. Hiter used the fiddle to follow the oilfield money, moving first to the country around El Dorado, Arkansas, where in 1926 her married Eloise Torrence, and eighteen year-old girl from nearby Sandy Bend. The young couple followed the various oil booms and would have three children, including their first, Hyter Colvin Jr (so he spells it) born at Smackover in 1927, before the huge oilfield discovered at Kilgore, Texas, drew them there about 1935.

Hiter Colvin had already been to Texas once and come as close to striking it rich as he would. In October of 1929, he and his guitarist friend Herbert Sherrill traveled to Dallas and recorded six sides for Victor records. These tunes, “Indian War Whoop,” “Monroe Stomp” (spelled “Stamp” on the record), “Dixie Waltz,” “Old Lady Blues,” “Hiters Favorite Waltz,” and “Rabbit up a Gum Stump,” his evocative showpiece said to be a portrayal of the dogs pursuing rabbits down along Boardtree Creek, reveal him to be a fiddler of extraordinary skill. The records sold well for Victor and the company even ran a 2-page display ad in one of its catalogs with Jimmie Rodgers pictured on one page and Hiter Colvin on the other, but Colvin saw little money from them and refused to record again. Beyond his playing, Colvin was also a consummate showman who played the fiddle behind his back, behind his head, on the floor, and he always drew a crowd and sometimes played on the radio out of El Dorado. Jimmie Rodgers himself came to town, trying to convince Colvin to join him on the road, but the fiddler refused, opting instead to keep company with his buddy Sherrill or with a peg-legged guitarist and follow the oilfield money. Before long, Sherrill too headed for Kilgore.

In Texas, Colvin continued to play for boomtown dollars and cleaned up at local fiddle contests. His honky-tonk dances were legendary. On one occasion, he played at a highway nightspot while the celebrated Light Crust Doughboys played to a largely empty house at another across the road. At the end of the evening, the Doughboy bus pulled into the yard at the Colvin house trying to get the man they couldn’t lick to join them, but again Colvin chose to stay put to play in the clubs and sometimes even in the Pentecostal church. He remained in Kilgore for 7 or 8 years during which time his marriage broke up and his family moved back to Sandy Bend. He followed them to Arkansas and there was a reconciliation that lasted a couple of years, but they split for good in 1938.

In the years following his divorce, Hiter Colvin returned home to Louisiana, to the area which had earned the nickname, “the Pint Country” because of the availability of vernacular whisky, where he continued to play to packed dance floors backed up by his nephew Bill Bagwell or others. Back home, folks called him “Pee Wee” for his small size, but remember that the fiddle he carried in a flour sack had a sound that would carry an unusual distance. Hunters in the woods would pause to listen to Colvin playing at some far off dance. E.N. “Nig” Robertson, who used to squirrel hunt with the diminutive fiddler himself, remembers walking the five miles to Bernice to attend a Colvin dance. Times were hard and when Colvin passed the hat he got only 19 cents. “Alright, I’m going to play you nineteen cents worth of music and then we’re going to pass it again,” and Hiter cut loose with his fiddler’s tricks. Owen Perry tells that on riding home horseback from such a dance, Colvin would frequently stop and serenade a sleeping farmer named Campbell who loved a particular waltz and would be good for a generous tip. Perry also remembers well fiddling against Colvin in those years at many a regional fiddle contest, frequently coming in second to the perennial winner. “Owen’s going to beat me one of these times,” Colvin would say but Perry says he knew he couldn’t even hold the master’s bow.

Without question, all regarded Hiter Colvin as the greatest fiddler in north Louisiana and probably far beyond. His genius was singular and beyond his skill with the fiddle, the squirrel gun, and the garden hoe, he seemed to have little aptitude. His own son says he was woefully inadequate at even driving a nail. But he could play and he continued to, on into the television age, appearing on the Happiness Exchange on Monroe’s pioneering television station KNOE, a product of the oilfield success of Governor-for-a-Day James Noe. Colvin began spending time with his brother Brown Colvin down near Colfax, Louisiana, where he played for friends and in the local Pentecostal church near which he would eventually be buried.

In a sad and confusing set of circumstances, eh set his own death in motion. According to his son, Hiter Colvin had been suffering from a toothache when he decided to try and get some relief. He used a shotgun, perhaps in a less-than-expert attempt to remove the tooth. Others contend he was out to end all suffering. Whatever his intentions, he failed and instead inflicted horrible damage to his face and head which required lengthy but ultimately unsuccessful reconstructive surgery. He lived another 2 or 3 years before he was laid to rest in 1975 in a country cemetery between Colfax and Bentley.

Besides the six sides he recorded for Victor and the countless stories still told by the numberless Colvins and Colvin kith and kin of Lincoln Parish, there is one other monument to the great talent of Hiter Colvin. I heard it fleetingly in the tape deck of my truck, a recording made in his brother’s yard in the summer of 1966. Moving easily from breakdowns to swing standard to hymns, Hiter Colvin still conjures, with consummate skill from an assemblage of horsehair and wood, the rabbits and dogs and gum-stump of Boardtree Creek.

photo c/o J. Spence, who adamantly holds that the title of Hiter’s famous stomp was indeed Monroe Stamp, as written on the Victor 78. It should be known, however, that Jack also has the Montgomery Ward reissue (see below) which misspelled his name Hitler Colvin, and misnamed “Rabbit up the Gum Stump” as “Rabbits in the Pea Patch” – so how good are the labels? IMG_1746

Below is the relevant section from the Tony Russell discography of country music (which acknowledges the tune name as Monroe Stamp):

IMG_1747

Below is Curly Miller RIP fiddling Monroe Stomp:     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWN2HPAyYtM

 

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One Response to “Remembering Hiter Colvin – who recorded Monroe Stomp (Stamp)”

  1. Jack Spence Says:

    When you say I “adamantly” hold “that the title of Hiter’s famous stomp was indeed Monroe Stamp, as written on the Victor 78,” it implies that I find an ontological status for the name/tune combination that misrepresents my true view. That Hiter Colvin’s name was “Hiter”( or “Hyter,” pronounced the same way) is well attested by the evidence and is a less malleable sort of a fact than a tune name. Montgomery Ward replaced their catalogue of suddenly unavailable Paramount masters with Victor masters and found it easier to change the name of a tune than to change their catalogue, thus “Rabbit up the Gum Stump,” became “Rabbit in the Pea Patch,” not by mistake but on purpose, one rabbit being as good as another for their needs. Some hapless transcriber changed the unfamiliar “Hiter” to the more familiar–certainly by the 1930s when the Ward was issued–“Hitler,” unsurprisingly. But an artist gave the tune name to the person at the studio tasked with writing down such information. Maybe Colvin found no difference in “Stamp” and “Stomp.” Maybe the transcriber misheard him. Maybe he just said “Stomp.” The tune’s name is what someone called it. Someone called this one “Monroe Stamp,” and I have yet to hear anyone articulate a cogent reason why the name of this tune is something different from the name on the record. It seems unlikely to me that this rambling, idiosyncratic F tune had some wider currency in the contemporary community of fiddlers. My first guess would be Colvin made it up and recorded it. I would love to get some more information on the topic.

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