Archive for the ‘Eck Robertson’ Category

Eck Robertson Interview

May 7, 2014


from JEMF Quarterly Vol. 8, Part 4 Winter 1972 No. 28:

Interview of Eck Robertson by Earl V. Spielman

S: How old were you when you first started playing the fiddle? 

E: I've played ever since I was five 
years old. 

S: Did you learn at home? Did your dad play? 

E: I learned at home, mostly; I started with it. I'm 
just a natural born fiddler, I reckon. 

S: Where was that? Where was your home? 

E: My father was a real fiddler, and my uncles were real 
fiddlers, two or three of them, and my brothers. 

S: Was that in Texas at the time? 

E: In different states, some of them in Texas, mostly in Texas. 

S: Were you living in Texas at the time? 

E: I've been in Texas a long time, in and out. Of course, 
not in there all the time. In Oklahoma quite a bit. 

S: Were you born in Texas? 

E: No. I was born in Arkansas. 

S: Do you remember how old you were when you first moved to Texas? 

E: It's hard for me to remember that now. I don't know whether I could 
look it up. I can't remember everything that I know, and I 
don't try to keep up with it. A fellow will just forget things in spite 
of the world. 

S: Did you have any brothers and sisters that played the violin? 

E: Yes, I've got brothers and sisters living. Two brothers, two sisters. 

S: Did all your brothers play fiddle, too or were you the only one? 

E: One of them never did play to speak of. In a way he was a musician all 
right, but he never did follow it. He never did try to 
play it. He could have been a good fiddler as far as that goes. Some of 
them played different instruments, too. 

S: Guitar and banjo? 

E: Yeah, he played different instruments. I played nearly any of them myself. 
I had one brother died when he was thirty-six years old. He was one of the 
best fiddlers ever picked up a fiddle, nearly. My father was a good fiddler, 
but he was also a preacher. He was well-known everywhere, but he didn't 
believe in music in the church. 

So he restricted his playing, then. He's what they call a "Camelite" preacher. 
Church of Christ preacher. 

S: So how did it come that you started to play fiddle at the age of five? I 
inherited it some way or another. I just naturally wanted to play. 

E: Did your father show you how to hold it? He learned me a lot, of course. 
My brother, the one that died when he was thirty-six years old, I patterned 
after him a lot. I was more interested than they ever were. 

S: Did you get most of the early tunes you played from your father and from 
your brother? 

E: Oh yeah. I got lots of them from them and some of the older fiddlers in the world. 
I used to know every one of them, nearly. 

S: Do you remember any of the people? 

E: I've even contacted lots of violinists. I've had violinists tell me flat out in 
words I was the best fiddler ever to pick up a fiddle on that kind of music, 
hoedown music. 

S: Do you remember any of them? 

E: I played lots of it, but a fellow will just get out of practice, now, 
if he don't keep it up. 

S: Do you remember any names of the people other than your father who influenced you,
 who you heard play when you were a little kid? 

E: Yeah. Lots of times when people come to my mind that I've known for years and years, 
and they're fiddlers and musicians. Same way about violinists. I know men like 
Fritz Kreisler. 

S: Did you know Jimmy Thompson? 

E: Yeah. 1 think I did. 

S: He was one of the early fiddlers on the "Grand Ole Opry." 

E: Yeah, I remember him. He was already an old man by the I920's. 
I've had all kinds of musicians visit with me, come hunt me up, every 
kind you can imagine. Some of the violinists even hunted me up. I can't 
think of their names, some of them, though I know them well. 

S: How did you go about learning fiddle tunes and breakdowns? 

E: It was just natural with me to play them, I didn't have to learn them. 
I already knew them. I mean a tune like Sally Goodin.

S: Say, that was a tune that you first recorded. Do you like Sally Goodin? 

E: That's one of the first tunes I recorded for the Victor People. 
They sold millions of them. 

S: Did anybody show you how to play that, or did you work that out by yourself? 

E: I worked that out by myself. I mostly improved every old hoedown tune that 
ever was put out. I generally played better than anybody else, a better arrangement 
of tunes. I didn't skip nothing. I didn't leave out no part of the tune. 
I didn't put parts in there that didn't belong in there, things like that. 
I stuck with the tunes more than any fiddler. Had people compliment me a lot, 
people who knew how the 
tune was really supposed to go. 

S: Where did a tune like Sally Goodin come from? Do you know? 

E: I don't know just exactly who first arranged it. I don't remember about that. 
I done more arranging on it, I guess, than any other fiddler that could be thought of. 

S: Was it originally written to be played on the fiddle? 

E: Most old tunes had been in music. Somebody had written them and put them 
in music, but not very few of them have done that. Once in a while I'd run 
into a few that claimed he put out such and such a tune that was old, and I knew he 
didn't know what he was talking about. Somebody else put it out way before he did. 
He learned it from somebody he thought put it out. Lots of times fiddlers claim 
they composed a tune that's been out for years. Lots of times I've had old-time 
tunes, they'd think they'd composed them, but they didn't. 

S: Have you ever composed any tunes? 

E: Yeah. I've composed a few tunes, different kinds of tunes, different kinds of music. 
Amarillo Waltz is one of my tunes. I composed it. It went over big. It was a very fine waltz. 

S: Any breakdowns or reels? 

E: It's in the order of hoedown music, in a way. It's not old-timey music. 
It's more popular music in a way, the class of tune it is, and so on. I've had lots of 
compliments on it. I've dcme some work through a brother of mine. I put out some 
of his music. And he composed. He used to be quite a composer in the way of tunes, 
and I'd revise them for him. I've done things for him I wouldn't have done for nobody 
but him. Sometimes I put out some of his tunes that I wouldn't have done for nobody 
but him, nobody else. 

S: How old were you when you first played in a group, or professionally for money? 

E: I don't know. I guess around seven years old. I used to play at quite a lot 
of contests when I was just a little kid. 

S: Did they have a lot of contests? 

E: Oh yeah. They used to have lots of contests. 

S: Was there prize money? 

E: Some of the best money they ever put out was way back yonder. They used 
to put out good money on them contests. 

S: Did your grandfather play fiddle, too? 

E: Yeah. He was a great fiddler. 

S: They had contests then, too? 

E: Yeah. They had contests once in a while. 

S: What kind of instruments would back you up when you played at those 
early contests? 

E: Fiddle was the main thing I played. 

S: Did anybody play guitar behind you? 

E: They'd play with me. Lots of times I'd get somebody to play guitar with me, 
but sometimes I'd play by myself. Just alone with nothing else. Just alone, 
didn't even have an accompanist. 

S: That's the way you recorded Sally Goodin? 

E: Where they allowed an accompanist, I generally selected one myself that 
could play with me. Maybe if I contacted somebody I knew could play good, 
I'd try them out before I played in the contest. Mainly guitar, though. 
I paid them to play for me. I'd pay them so much to play for me, maybe 
it'd be in a contest where they'd win a prize. 

S: I was going to ask you about your recording of Sally Goodin '. 
You're alone on that. Nobody else is backing you up. Was that your idea, or 
was that their idea? 

E: When I first played it, I played it just by the request, really, that 
they wanted me to play it, and I played it alone. 

S: How was it that you were in New York then? 

E: I forget now. I was a young fellow then. I went to Newport, Rhode Island, 
played for a big occasion there, went over big. 

S: When was that? 

E: That's the same time I went to New York, but I can't remember now what 
year it was. I can't think of it. I've got it wrote down, of course. 
I've got letters and papers of all kinds, newspapers, stories about me.
 I've had more write-ups than any man that ever pulled a fiddle 
bow, and I bet I can show it in black and white. 

S: I mean how was it that you were in New York in 1922 when you made that recording? 

E: I went there on purpose. I went there to make some records. 

S: You went up there all on your own? Nobody asked you? 

E: Oh yeah. I voluntarily went on my own. I went to Newport, Rhode Island. 
I went from there over to New York. Well, I went to New York and 
then to Rhode Island, really. 

S: Did you get to meet somebody who was in the recording business? 

E: I met lots of musicians and lots of fiddlers and lots of lady musicians 
then, even. They all taken a liking to me like a hungry boy 
eating plums. Damn, I was the most popular dang fiddler ever was on 
the road. I could book any damn town I come to, didn't make any difference 
where it was. 1 could book a theater or anything 1 want- ed to. 
Every damn place I ever went, I could just book any of them. There were lots of places where 
they turned musicians down, but 1 come right along and booked them. 

S: When you booked a place like that, did they sell tickets, or did they 
just have people come in? 

E: They'd sell tickets. That was the main thing. I'd place a ticket amount, 
what they were supposed to get for my playing. 

S: Did you ever travel with a group? 

E: A few times I have, several people. I had a family of 
musicians once. Went on the road and take them with me, four of us. 

S: And you all played something? 

E: They was all musicians and all good singers. 

S: You were singing, too? 

E: I used to sing, made out as popular as the devil on singing, even. 
I used to sing songs for people that they'd even refuse to take them on 
records that somebody else would sing. I'd come along and book them. 
I done that lots of times. I don't know if I sound funny, but I should 
have been a millionaire instead of a pauper. I got beat out of everything 
I made, every- thing I was entitled to, really. 'Cause people 'd take advantage 
of me every dadgum time that I trust anybody. I got to where I just couldn't 
trust nobody. Every time I'd trust them, they'd beat me out of everything they could. 

S: How would you talk about the kind of fiddling that you play? 

E: It's different from a lot of other fiddling. It's not so different. 
It's just the execution I put out and the tunes I play. They don't 
ever play the tune. There's not one fiddler in a dozen that plays the 
tune like it ought to be played. You know the kind of fiddling, for example, 
that Bartow Riley plays. My uncle and grandfather and all my brothers, 
nearly every one of my kinfolk was all fine fiddlers. Every one of them. There 
wasn't just one now and then. Every dadgum one of them had a reputation 
that wouldn't quit. And there's people hunted me up that I never heard of before. 
They'd hear me play and contact me to make a record, or something. 

S: You know the kind of fiddling that Benny Thomasson and Bartow Riley play, don't you? 

E: Yeah, I remember. I've got Benny's picture here. 

S: Is that the kind of fiddling you'd call your own, too? 

E: It's the same kind of fiddling. 

S: Would you call your style Texas fiddling? 

E: I'd call it more that than anything else. I played more in Texas and done 
more business in Texas than any other state, I guess. I was under contract 
with the Victor people, the first man to ever record for them. I was under 
contract a number of years. And they got to where they cut me out of everything 
they could. I couldn't depend on them. In fact, I sold out to them, quit recording 
for them. I just had to do it. It got to where they'd beat me out of every damn thing. 
Every time I'd put out a record, they'd beat me out of hundreds of 
dollars on it. 

S: When you recorded for them, did you have the choice of the tunes you were 
going to play, or did they tell you what to play? 

E: No, they didn't tell me. I'd choose what I wanted to play. Of course, 
they'd pick out certain tunes. They'd ask me to play over a bunch of tunes, 
and they'd see where they'd like some certain tunes better than they did others, 
that-a-way, but it didn't make much difference what I played, they'd accept it. 

S: A lot of the tunes you play acre a lot faster than the way other people play them. 

E: It's different in a way. I've just a little bit better way of playing than the 
average fiddler has. That's one thing about it. 

S: How did you get to do that? 

E: I learned to play under some mighty good fiddlers, I mean patterned after a lot 
of good fiddlers. 

S: Who were some of those people? 

E: Pat Hooker was a good fiddler, one fiddler I patterned after when 1 was a 
little kid. I used to play after him a lot. Then came big programs and contests and 
places that-a-way. I got where I was so famous to where every dadgum fiddler come 
along got to where they'd show me in places, taking up with me. 
They'd keep on playing with me if they could. 

S: Were there any people other than Pat Hooker that you modeled yourself after? 

E: Yeah. There's other fiddlers. I can't think of every one of them. 

S: Where did Pat Hooker play, usually? Where did you meet him? 

E: He played everywhere around, different places, but he never was as popular a 
fiddler as I was. 

S: How much older than you was he? 

E: He was older than I am. He was grown young man at that time, and 
I was just a kid the first time I played with him. We was in contests together, 
and I beat him in 
contests, won over him at different times. 

S: Did he ever record for anybody? 

E: I think he had done some recording, but I don't remember now. 
It's been so long back. I don't remember. 

S: Did he aatually show you tunes and how to play them, or did you pick 
that up on your own? 

E: They all sold my records, every dadgum fiddler that come along. They'd 
buy my records and learn to play my tunes after me. Lots of them done that. 

S: For example, who showed you how to hold the bow or how to hold the fiddle? 

E: Oh, I don't know. I just naturally did that more than anything else, 
of course my father and my uncle. 

S: When you hold the bow, did you hold your thumb underneath the frog or inside it? '

E: Underneath the frog. 

S: All the way underneath? 

E: Caught it right cross the bottom with my thumb and with the finger on top. 

S: And you had all four fingers on top? 

E: Sometimes I might hold it a little above the frog. I just gripped the body 
of the bow. Sometimes I'd use it that way. There's something funny about my play- 
ing. I've attracted more attention than anybody everywhere 1 ever played, and 
I don't know why. I just couldn't figure it out myself. I have so many different 
people contact me in so many different towns and places. I used to travel and play 
the regular whole U. S., nearly. I played in every state in the Union, nearly, 
and I've gotten letters. I bet you I've gotten in my life five thousand 
letters, maybe. 

S: Did you save any of them? 

E:  Oh, I keep most of them. I've got stacks of them here. There are all kinds of letters. 

S: It would be fascinating to take a look at them. 

E: Oh, it'd take too much trouble to look them up. I've got them stacked around 
in different boxes in different places. In fact, I've got letters I 
don't even remember. 

S: What about your left hand? Did you hold the fiddle with the heel of your hand 
holding the body? 

E: Usually I hold it two or three different ways, lots of times. I hold it like 
a violinist does some- times when I'm playing. It depends on my hands and the 
condition they're in, and my fingers, what the tune I'm playing is. Lots of 
times it has a lot to do with that part of it. 

S: Did you learn one way, and then somebody told you another way is a better way? 

E: I naturally learned different ways to hold my fiddle. I had to, different tunes, 
different times I've played, I can't hold my fiddle now. This hand here, it doesn't 
hurt me like this one does. This one's out of fix, too. That finger wants to crook 
in under the other one. When I note my finger, I can't spread 
it out any. I cut a gash there between my two fingers one time, half an inch 
down that two fingers in two seconds. 

S: You did that by accident? 

E: Yeah, I fell. 

S: You cut the webbing between your tittle finger and your ring finger. 

E: I had a ring on that finger, and I fell sprawling on the sidewalk during 
a snow, ice-frozen street. 

S:How long ago did that happen? 

E: Oh, it's been a long time back. It cut a gash between them two fingers 
there and never did get well. I still have a funny feeling in there. This finger here's 
stiff, and that damn joint there, I can't never bring it down or to bring my 
hand that-a-way to note the fiddle like I used to. I don't have the strength 
there to pull it down any further than that. I can't get it down there. 
It wants to lean over against that one. I don't know why in the dickens 
I ever had the bad luck I have. I can't figure it out. It looked like 
it wasn't intended for me to make a fortune out of my playing. I had people 
to beat me out of profit on records and things like 

S: As far as your fiddling, you'd hold it and you'd play it differently 
depending upon the tune. 

E: Well, naturally I would play different to what I have played than I do now. 
I can't hold it just 
exactly like I used to. 

S: I mean when you used to play. 

E: When I used to play, before I was crippled up any about my playing, 
I could hold my hands correctly. 

S: Now I was wondering whether anybody came up to you and said, 
"No, you 're holding the fiddle wrong. You should be holding it another way," 

E: Yeah, I've had them tell me that, but it wasn't 
because I didn't know how to hold it. 

S: So that didn't influence you? 

E: I held it according to the way I had to. That's all there was to 
that. I couldn't play, maybe, like a violinist did. 

S:  Did you ever aross-tune the fiddle? 

E: Yeah, I played lots of tunes cross-tuned. 

S: But you didn't aross-tune it to play Sally Goodin ', did you? 

E: No, not Sally Goodin ' . 

S: What were some of the tunes you aross-tuned the fiddle for? 

E: Oh, I don't remember them all. It's been so long since I tried to keep up 
with it. I used to play lots of tunes in the cross-keys I call it.  

S: Did you feel when you played tunes that there was a aorrect time to play 
them, that if you played them any other way, it's too slow or too fast? 

E: Well, I just had a certain way to play them. It was just different to 
the average fiddler. Some way or other, they didn't seem to have the art 
about them I had. I've taught lots of fiddlers how to play a fiddle, 
lots of boys and young fellows, especially. Some old ones. 

S: How did you teach them to use the bow right? 

E: Well, you show them. I'd have them sit down in front of me, look at me, 
and tell them how to place their fingers and the bowing, how to use it, and 
different things that way. It takes a lot of time and trouble to show--about 
playing a fiddle. 

If they learn it, it sticks with them. I wouldn't fool with it no more, though. 
It makes me too nervous. It'll ruin your nerves. I couldn't hold up at it at all. 
My nerves were just ruined. I can't play any more like I used to. I can play when 
I'm not nervous pretty good, but in just a little while, I get nervous again. 
I can't keep it up at all. I haven't tried to play a tune on the fiddle in several days now.
 I haven't tried to show anybody how to play. I've been in bed two-thirds 
of my time lately. I just can't stay out of the bed very long at a time. 
I can't rest at all. I can't sleep at night or nothing. I'm wide awake all the time. 

S:  Did you ever have a favorite fiddle? 

E: Oh yeah. I've got a fiddle ever since my brother died, his fiddle, 
one of the best fiddles I ever pulled a bow on. 

S: Is it an American instrument? 

E: Steiner. 

S: A Steiner? 

E: A Jacob Steiner violin. 

S: A wonderful instrument. Do you still have that instrument? 

E:  Yeah. I made the top on it. I got the top ruined. Another fiddler, 
a damn fool, got it mixed up with some other guy's fiddle in his 
shop. I left it in there, and damn it if he didn't take the top off 
of it and ruin it. He didn't think he'd be working on somebody else's 
fiddle in place of mine. Whether he done it on purpose or 
not I don't know. I never could find out. I had to make a top for it, 
and got it busted up after that. I still repaired it and made it as good 
as it ever was in tone, ever. 

S: What kind of strings did you use on that? 

E: Well, I used to use a certain kind of steel strings. I used gut strings mostly 
for a long time, and I got on them steel strings. Got a special wire on 
them and so on. 

S: Do you remember the strings you used to have on the instruments you used 
to play when you re- 

E: I can't think of them now. 

S: Did you prefer gut to steel? 

E: Yeah, I had the wrapped guts, D and A and G, and steel E, of course. 
But I just can't remember like 1 used to. My mind gets off to a certain extent. 

S: What about the bridge on it? Was it a flat bridge? 

E: That was just like any other. Take any new bridge and redress it. 
I had to refit it to the top accordingly. 

Shave the legs dawn. Sometimes it'd be too thick or too thin, I'd put a 
thicker one on or something. You've got to be a judge of anything like that 
to get the tone, hunt the tone. You've got to hunt it out. 

S: Did you work with the soundpost, too? 

E: Oh yeah. That's the main thing, knowing how to set a soundpost. Search it out. 
You got to search it out. You can't just set them up. 

S: So you searched it out on your own. 

E: Oh, I set it different places, hunting for the tone. That's 
the way I do it. Yeah. You've got to hunt for it. You've got to find it. 

S: What about bows? Did you re-hair your awn bows? 

E: Oh yeah. I re-haired bows. 

S: Did you like a heavy baw? 

E:  1 didn't like a too heavy one. but I liked a pretty heavy bow, 
one that's got enough strength in it not to bend too limber or nothing like that. 
It's got to have strength enough in it to tighten the hair reasonably tight. 

It's a pretty tight bow, then. I don't make it too tight. 1 don't let it be too loose. 

S: Did you use a lot of rosin? 

E:  Yeah. I always keep them rosined good. 

S: Did you put it on quite a bit at one time, or did you keep putting a little bit on? 

E: Oh, yes, 
rosin it every little bit. I'd keep putting it on. 

S:  What would happen if the rosin got on the strings or on top of the fiddle? 
Did that make any difference?

E: Oh, sometimes you get too much rosin on your strings, and it covers them. 

S: Are you careful to keep them clean, or did you let it collect? 

E: Kept them clean. 1 cleaned them off quite a bit. Every once in a while you have 
to clean them off, you use lots of rosin. Ain't best to let it get too much on top 
of the violin, collect too thick.  

S: When you pulled the bow across the strings did you keep the hair flat, 
or did you turn the hair away from you or toward you? 

E: I generally keep it pretty well straight up and down. I hold it level, 
don't let it lean over too much. 

S: Were you careful where on the string you drew the bow, and how close to the 
bridge or how close to the fingerboard? 

E: You've got to find out where to put your bow on the fiddle so you can get the 
correct tone. It ain't best to have it too close to the bridge, or it ain't best 
to have it too far away. Find the best tone by searching it out. 

S: What's the most important part of fiddling? Is it the bowing, or is it the fingering? 

E: It's important you you know how to do both of them, more than anything else. 
You've got to know both ways, how to note your fiddle and how to pull your bow. 

S:  Is one easier than the other? 

E: Either one's natural with you when you get it figured out. If you keep it up, 
you'll have more advantage. 

S: From your experience with teaching kids and other people, what did they learn more easily?

E: I don't exactly know how to explain the things you ask me--to give you 
the correct answers to it. If I was in shape, I could play the fiddle for 
you and show you better. It'd be a lot better for you. 

There's lots of boys that never do get it. In their heads they're wrong about 
their playing. Lots of times they don't even know how to play a fiddle, 
how to stroke the strings with the bow, or how to note the fiddle correctly, 
or anything of the kind. 1 used to do trick fiddling to beat the dick- 
ens. Yeah, I used to do that a lot. 

S: What kinds of things did you do? 

E: Throwing the fiddle in the air and all around me. I'd throw the sun-of-a-gun 
over and over, turn it over two or three times and never miss a note. 

S: And bow it while it's being thrown? 

E: Hell yeah, throwed it in the air, even. Done damn different things to it. 
Turned the bow over while in the air even. Done damn different things like 
that there and never missed a note. 

S: Did you ever do somersaults? 

E:Yeah, and I'd make it talk even, make the damn fiddle speak a word just 
as plain as you can. 

S: That's wonderful. 

E: It's wonderful.' There ain't no question of that.' I'm the only man that 
ever done that, that I heard of. I've heard people tell of a fellow trying to do it, 
but he never did do it as plain as I did by any means. I made it talk plain enough, 
you'd understand the word it was 
saying even. 

S: What were some of the words you'd get it to talk? 

E: I can't remember now everything I made it say. I'd just figure out some talk I'd make, 
and then I'd imitate it with the fiddle bow and the fiddle. 

S: What's happened to trick- fiddling today? 

E: There's not many people that does it. There's a few that's good at it and 
some that ain't. 

S: Did you learn trick- fiddling from your father? 

E: Oh, I learned it from them experts, not from any particular one. 
I learned from different ones, for that matter. They didn't many of them have 
me bested first time I ever tried it. 

S: Who was one of the guys you learned it from? 

E: I don't remember. I used to know every one of them. Now I can't remember 
their names anymore. I had to be with different fiddlers different 
times at different places in different towns to ever remember who they 
were and what they could do and everything and like that. It takes a long time 
to remember everything that way. 

S: What about your experience in playing with twin fiddles — two fiddles, double fiddles? Where 
did you learn that from? When did that practice start? 

E: I don't know what you mean. 

S:  Two fiddles playing at the same time, one playing tenor above the melody. 

E: That's not hard to do if you've got two fiddlers playing. 

It's a little different, though, because you've got two fiddlers playing who've 
got to plan exactly what they're going to do. You've got to play different methods 
of that. It isn't like playing the same tune together. That's more hard to do than 
it is to play tenor, really. I used to play tenor fiddle quite a bit with some 
other musicians. They'd play in nearly any key they wanted to 
play, and I'd follow them. I've had them some that could play with me that way, too. 

S: Was there a trick to learning haw to play tenor? 

E: Nothing especially tricky about it. You had to have an art. That's all there is to it. 
You've got to have something about you that's different than the average fiddler does.
Do everything there is in music. And show yourself up as being an expert. I've had 
people gather around me in crowds, where there'd be fifty people in one damn bunch 
in little towns I'd be in. I'd be playing the fiddle sitting out on the sidewalk, 
and god damn, they'd just keep gathering and gathering together till there'd by maybe a 
hundred there. Quit their damn business, lots of them did, just to come and stick 
around me while I was playing, watching and listening to me play. Making records 
of my playing, some of them would. Things like that. But 1 let them. I've had all 
kinds of experiences. And just on account of pleasing so many different kinds of people, 
I've done the wrong thing about it. I just shouldn't have done it. I gave myself away, 
in other words, and didn't get nothing out of it like I should have got. 

S: What's your real name? 

E: My real name is Alexander Campbell Robertson. 

S: Alexander Campbell?

E: A.C. 

S: Right, And how did you get the nickname "Eck"? 

E: Well, my father and mother, I guess, gave it to me, more than anybody else. 
I was named after a man by that name. Alexander Campbell was a noted preacher 
and a noted speaker, and I guess he was of the same denomination, belief, and so on. 
And he named every child he had after some prominent person. My oldest brother was 
named Joseph Larimore, but he's been dead for a number of years. 

S: What was his name? 

E:  Joe. They called him Joe Robertson all the time. Quince Robertson next to 
him in age. Dead, too. Quince was a great fiddler. Joe never did play the fiddle. 
He was kind of an artist in a way. Different maneuvers, but there was something 
about every one of us kids that was different than the average person. Every damn 
one of us, even my sisters, were great people. 

S: What year were you born, Eck? 

E:  '87, the twentieth of November in '87. 

S: So you must remember quite a few of the early contests. 

E: Way back yonder, I remember things that happened, some I haven't yet forgotten. 

S: Do you remember the name "Fiddling" John Carson? 

E:  Oh yeah, I remember him. I played with him. 

S:  Did you ever play in a contest with him? 

E: Yeah, I played against him in contests. 

S:  Where were some of these contests where you played with him? 

E: I never did play very many times against him, that I know of, but I played 
against him several times. Beat him in contests. 

S; What about Clayton MoMiahen. Do you know him? 

E:  Yeah, I know him too. I know them all. I know every damn fiddler ever
 pulled a fiddle bow nearly. Contacted me when they heard of me. I 
hadn't even heard of them at the time, some of them. 

S: These fiddlers played in a really different style from your style. 

E: Yeah, some of them were. 

S: Even though they played the same tunes, how would you describe the difference? 

E:They could play Sally Goodin ' or Done Gone. They just didn't play it like it 
ought to have been played. My people that played it played it more correct than 
anybody, and I even improved it myself. 

S: Do you remember any unusual experiences that you've had with your fiddle? 

E: I've had all kinds of experiences, but I can't remember any certain, unusual 
experiences right now. My mind is bad now. 

At times I can get to thinking, and things will pop into my mind that I hadn't 
thought of in years. And I don't know why in the dickens every time that I forget, 
but sometimes I forget things that I would have liked to have kept remembering. 
I can't keep it on my mind. I've had lots of friendships with fiddlers that I've 
plumb forgotten. Can't even think of their name anymore. Used to buy every 
man's record that was put out. Remembered a lot of different names of fiddlers and 
tunes that they played. They learned tunes that I didn't even know, some of them, 
and I got to where I could beat them playing the same tune. I had that experience a lot of times. 

S: I guess a good deal of your fiddling was aimed at playing in contests. Did you ever play for 

E: Yeah, mostly square dances. 

S: Could you call at the same time? 

E: I have done it. I used to call quite a bit. 

S: When you're calling a square dance and fiddling at the same time, it's kind of 
difficult, isn't it? Or do you have to drop the fiddle down or hold it differently? 

E: No, not necessarily. I'd play the fiddle for a dance and done the call at the same time. 
I have done that, yeah. That's been back years ago. I haven't done that lately at all. 
I used to charm everybody I played around. Not only just outside people, but musicians 
that thought they could play a fiddle. They didn't feel like they could strike a tune 
around me. Some of them would even express themselves that way. They'd 
make out like they thought they was the best fiddler they ever heard. Then when 
they heard me, they seen they wasn't. That's the way they talked to me about it. 

S:  Well, Eck, thank you very, very much for letting me talk to you about your experiences.

E: Well, you're welcome--anything I can help you on by talking to you.


Eck Robertson

May 22, 2012

Alexander "Eck" Robertson


Alexander "Eck" Robertson
1886-1975 – Amarillo, Texas

The following article came from the LP liner notes of County 202 – Eck Robertson, Famous Cowboy Fiddler:

Eck Robertson’s musical career spanned eight decades. He was an accomplished musician by the turn of the century and entered the ranks of the professional entertainer by 1910. He was easy with a joke, quick to tell a funny story and confident of his ability as a fiddler. He was never content to simply play the old tunes repetitiously; he always experimented and expanded the boundaries of his musical tradition, but he never strayed too far from the core.

Eck, as evidenced by his repertoire and fiddling style, was firmly established within the larger tradition of late 19th century southern fiddling. Although he helped establish what is today called the “Texas style” of fiddling, his musical heritage and influence extended well beyond the southwest.

Eck Robertson was, first and foremost, one of America’s great folk fiddlers. And through his music and his history a great deal can be learned about the folk tradition of fiddle playing, and the historic and cultural matrix within which it flourished.

Eck Robertson is famous as the first person to record a commercial country music record. This he did, in company with fellow fiddler Henry C. Gilliland, on June 30 and July 1,1922, for the Victor Talking Machine Company in their New York studios. Eck and Gilliland, a Civil War veteran from Altus, Oklahoma, after entertaining veterans at the 1922 Old Confederate Soldiers’ Reunion in Richmond, Virginia, decided to go to New York for the express purpose of making records. Gilliland, a former justice of the peace, knew an influential lawyer there named Martin W. Littleton. After their first night in New York, the two men stayed with Littleton who provided them with grand tours of the city, including a visit to the Steinway piano factory, a visit Eck remembered fondly forty years later. The image of Gilliland and Eck touring New York, attired respectively in full dress Confederate uniform and flashy western “regalia” (satin fuchsia shirt with pearl studs, wide-brimmed black hat, leather cuffs and pants tucked into high-topped boots) and undoubtedly carrying fiddle cases, would be striking even today. (more…)