Uncle Bunt Stephens’ “Sail Away Lady” became popular in England during the skiffle craze of the 1950s when it was recorded by Lonnie Donegan under the title “Don’t You Rock Me, Daddy-O.” Under this title, the song was included in the set list of the Quarrymen, the group that eventually became the Beatles.
“UNCLE BUNT STEPHENS: Champion Fiddler,”
by Don Roberson, as printed in “Old Time Music” Magazine, Summer 1992
“Uncle Bunt” (John L.) Stephens was born in Bedford County, Tennessee on February 2, 1879, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Eli Stephens. We was left an orphan at an early age and was reared by Aunt Winnie Bearden, who lived in Flatcreek, a small community in southern Bedford County.
A 1926 newspaper article quoted “Uncle Bunt” as saying that he had played the mouth organ (harmonica) since the age of six and he bought his first fiddle from a tramp for $25 when he was 11 years old. The fiddle had been made in Germany in 1699. “Uncle Bunt’s” son, Haskell, once said, “He never took a lesson on the fiddle; he just took it up.”
“Uncle Bunt” was married twice. His first wife, whom he divorced after they had reared five children, was the former Miss Pearl Pack of Shelbyville, TN. She survives “Uncle Bunt” and currently lives in Shelbyville. At the age of 46, he married his second wife, Mrs. Lizzie Stephens, now deceased, and they lived on his farm in Moore County, TN, about six miles from Tullahoma.
If it had not been for Henry Ford, the famous automobile genius, very few people would have ever heard of a fiddler named “Uncle Bunt” Stephens. Mr. Ford was the main catalyst in the revival of old time music in America in 1926. A January 2, 1926 “Literary Digest” article describes Henry’s activities as “aspiring to revive the dances of our granddaddies, with all their innocent neighborly cavorting.”
Mr. Ford loved the music of the “devil’s box” and desired to hear it played by the best and most authentic old time fiddlers available. In order to attain this desire, he requested all his Ford dealers throughout the East and Midwest to hold local, state and regional contests to determine who should come to Detroit and fiddle for the championship. (more…)