Archive for the ‘Jess Morris’ Category

Goodbye, Old Paint

April 6, 2012
Charley and Laura Willis
Charley Willis was born in 1847 in Milam County, outside of Austin, Texas. Freed after the Civil War, he headed to West Texas at age eighteen and found work breaking wild horses at the Morris Ranch in Bartlett, Texas. In 1871, at age twenty-four, he rode the Chisholm Trail one thousand miles north into Wyoming Territory as a drover. Charley was musically knowledgeable and talented. He became known for the songs he brought back from the trail.

In 1885 Willis taught his favorite song, “Good-bye Old Paint,” to Morris’s seven-year-old son, Jess.  As an adult Jess Morris became known as a talented fiddler, and though credited with authoring “Good-bye Old Paint,” he was quick to clarify that had he learned the song from Charley Willis as a child. In 1947 John Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist, recorded Morris singing and playing Willis’ song, “Good-bye Old Paint,” and later sent it to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress where it is preserved.

“Charley played a Jews-harp and taught me how to play it,” Morris said. “It was on this Jews-harp that I learned to play ‘Old’ Paint’ at the age of seven. In later years I learned to play ‘Old Paint’ on the fiddle, in my own special arrangement – tuning the fiddle accordingly.”

Jess Morris’ first fiddle lesson came from another black cowboy on the ranch, Jerry Neely.  Fiddlers recognize Morris’ arrangement as sophisticated and difficult, adding credence to rumors that he studied violin in Austin and at Valparaiso, Indiana. But Jess Morris always identified himself as a cowboy fiddler.

Jess Morris plays “Goodbye, Old Paint”: