Archive for the ‘Gid Tanner’ Category

Short Film of Gid Tanner

May 29, 2013

Gid Tanner performing at his home, 1955. Original film and audio recorded (seperately) by Joe Young, 1955. Video/Audio sync by Matt Downer, 2013. Only known footage of this legendary entertainer.

We are extremely grateful to musician, scholar, and archivist Matt Downer of Chattanooga, TN for tracking down this footage and doing the work to make it widely available for the first time in history.

by Matt Downer:

I was working on the “Great Southern Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention” documentary and contacted Russ Tanner to see if their family might have any photos of Gid I could use. We talked several times and I asked him about if there were any home recordings that existed of Gid fiddling. He told me there were…… and there was also a video.

This blew me away – video of Gid Tanner fiddling sounded too good to be true. He said it was originally filmed on 8mm and had no audio. No matter, I say, I’d love to have a look at it.

A couple of weeks later, the dvd is delivered. Like a child on Christmas morning, I tore into the package and sat transfixed as one of the finest entertainers ever in the business silently sawed, laughed and clowned around in his living room one afternoon back in 1955. Earl Johnson was on there as well, with his sons beside him on guitar and banjo. Earl (Johnson) even backs Gid up on banjo on one tune.

The speed of the video was an issue – it played very fast. I had nothing to go on and originally just estimated what I thought looked right for the playing speed. I called Russ again when I thought I might have it pretty close to real-time speed. He had some more news for me – there was a seperate audio recording from that same day. He said some folks had tried to match it up with the video in the past, but had no luck. I asked him to send me the audio and I would do my best to sync it up.

The song “Tanner’s Boarding House” (labeled on the disc as “Birmingham Special” and featuring a healthy dose of “G-Rag”) was a logical place to start. I’ve played that one a bunch and knew the words, so knew what singing to look for on the video. When I found the video segment where I could tell he was singing the chorus, I knew I was in business.

Once I got the video speed altered and audio matched up it was truly special to sit there and watch and listen to Gid perform. It was honestly something I never thought existed, something I never expected to see. It was a very special experience to be the first person in more than 50 years to watch and listen to Gid perform live. It is an honor to share the video with friends, fiddlers and fans of old time music everywhere.

Thanks to Russ Tanner and the Tanner family for the materials and inspiration. Thanks to Gid Tanner for keeping the right energy in his music right up to the last time around.


Gid Tanner Interview, pt. 2

March 28, 2013


Part 2 of Gid Tanner’s (1885-1960) final 1959 interview features him doing some fiddling.  Thanks again to Matt Downer, Itamar Silver, Dave Leddel, and interviewer Oscar Huff  :

Listen to part 1 here


In later years when Gid had false teeth, he would take them out so he would look funny. The story goes that a lady walked up to him and after looking at his mouth shouted, “You haven’t got any teeth!” Gid replied, “No ma’am, I was born that way.”

Although Gid stopped recording, he remained active and attended fiddle competitions. As late as 1955 when he was 70 years old, Gid won the Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest in Atlanta. He died in 1960, just three weeks shy of his seventy-fifth birthday.

Gid Tanner Interview: Part I

February 18, 2013


Part 1 of 2 – Second part forthcoming.  Sincere thanks to Matt Downer for sharing this interview, Dave Leddel and Itamar Silver for their help, Oscar Huff for getting there just in time, and Gid Tanner for his endless inspiration.

from The Southern Folklife Collection (UNC):

Gid Tanner, Anglo-American fiddle player, and member of the Skillet Lickers, a string band from north Georgia active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Oscar Huff’s 1959 recording of an interview with Gid Tanner (1885-1960), including a discussion about hunting and Tanner’s hunting dogs, his fiddles, and his early recording and musical experiences.


Gid Tanner

August 28, 2012


James Gideon “Gid” Tanner was born at Thomas Bridge, near Monroe, Georgia on June 6, 1885 and spent most of his adult life in Gwinnett County, where he made a living as a chicken farmer. His older brother Arthur played banjo and later recorded some with Gid. When he was fourteen his uncle died leaving Gid his fiddle. He soon learned to play the fiddle and became known in local circles for his prowess with the instrument. Tanner would play in front of stores downtown when the ground was too wet to cultivate.

After he married and settled down he moved to Dacula, Georgia in Gwinnett County. His wife, Alice, liked the playing of Earl Johnson, who studied violin and could read music. At one point she tried to get her husband to read music so he could play like Earl but her efforts were not successful. Tanner remained an old-time stylist whose personality made up for his technical shortcomings.

As a young man he was a regular participant at the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Conventions, held annually in Atlanta between 1913 and 1935. His name was registered in the 1913 competition though there is no record of him winning a prize. Tanner was again present when the fiddlers of Georgia convened at the Atlanta City Auditorium in 1915. A reporter at that year’s convention called him “Gwinnett County’s Laughing Rufus,” and when Tanner appeared on stage he used several different voices to advantage in two or three songs he made up himself. It is said that he got frequent requests for encores that displayed his fiddling and was often asked to perform imitations of people.”

Soon the competition between Tanner and three time winner Fiddlin’ John Carson was played-up in the local Atlanta press. Tanner was known among musicians and convention audiences as the most outrageous clown of all the fiddlers. Here’s an account of Tanner from Gene Wiggins in his book, Fiddlin’ Gone Crazy: “Looking and sounding funny was his specialty.  A big, roan-haired, ruddy-faced oaf, he had a deep bass and a high falsetto. He could throw his head back so far that he looked decapitated. He could turn it around almost completely, like an owl. He could thrust out his lower lip so as to give the impression of some sort of strange fish.”  (more…)