I just got back from Buzzard's Corner, N.C., where, as a result of my book, "Fiddler's Curse," the State of North Carolina dedicated a historical marker to Ervin T. Rouse, composer of "Orange Blossom Special." There was a lot of media coverage, but here is an account from the New Bern Sun Journal. Hope you enjoy it--anc check out the marker if you're ever in Buzzard's Corner!
State historical marker honors musician Ervin T. Rouse, writer of fiddle classic
Matt Tessnear June 28, 2008 - 6:35PM
More than a hundred people gathered Saturday morning at Buzzard's Corner to celebrate the life of a Craven County native who wrote a song many simply call "The Special."
The N.C. Department of Archives and History honored Ervin T. Rouse by dedicating a historical sign at the intersection of N.C. 55 and Wintergreen Road, one-quarter mile from the place where he was born in 1917.
In 1938, Rouse wrote "Orange Blossom Special," a song about a train that traveled from New York to Miami. Over the years many notable music artists, including Johnny Cash, have recorded the song. Many have also tried to take credit for writing it.
"The song belongs to the world now, but Ervin Rouse belongs to Craven County," said Randy Noles, an Orlando, Fla., resident and Rouse biographer. Noles' book, "Fiddler's Curse," spurred the effort to honor Rouse with a marker. "I'm sure Ervin, wherever he is, is looking down right now saying ‘See, I told you so. It was me and no one else.' "
Noles noted that Johnny Cash recorded the highest-charting version of "The Special." But Cash's recording used a saxaphone and a harmonica instead of the tune's trademark fiddles.
"Through his connections, Cash saw to it that Ervin was taken care of and that his royalties were paid," Noles added. "Ervin suffered from mental illness and was easily taken advantage of."
Marty James, who plays the fiddle in a New Bern group, said "Orange Blossom Special" is a staple of country music and western swing music. James estimated he has played the song 1,000 times since the first in 1955. He said at least 100 people have tried to take credit for writing it.
"It used to be, if you couldn't play that, you weren't hired to play in the band," James said.
Harold, Eloise and Ervin Thomas Jr., Rouse's three children, attended the ceremony. The children now live in northern Virginia and Maryland.
Ervin Thomas Jr. said he remembers his father playing at clubs and getting home at 4 or 5 a.m. He said his father would get up at 1 or 2 p.m. and play for the family. He has heard stories that his grandmother taught his father how to play the fiddle.
Ervin Thomas Jr. said he once met Charlie Daniels at a Washington, D.C., airport. Ervin told Daniels he was the son of the man who wrote "Orange Blossom Special." Ervin said Daniels would not let him leave the airport until he met all the members of his band.
Eloise said her father was a wonderful fiddle player, but he usually played guitar when he wrote music.
"Some of my vivid memories of my dad were of him sitting up by candlelight, writing songs and playing guitar," she said. "He was a crack-shot entertainer. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of people all over the world."
I imagine he would rather have not written it if he knew how many fiddle players almost UPCHUCK when people request it. It is not really a tune but a bunch of showy tricks as we all know... not knocking him for writing it and getting royalites.. that is good... just wish it hadn't got written and particularly wish people would not associate it with fiddle playing.. .but you can't stop bad taste eh?
It''s good to be king eh? ( a fiddler that is ) ... ever hear a fiddler say "lets play some banjo tunes?"
I don't quite understand the antipathy towards OBS among fiddlers. OK, so it's not a true OT fiddle tune, and it's kind of a show-off piece, but it's not that bad. I don't hear people knocking Back Up and Push or Black Mountain Rag, so I get the feeling that some fiddlers don't like it because A) they get asked for it all the time by casual fans who know the name of only one fiddle tune, B) Patrick Swayze seduced someone with it in some terrible hillybilly feudin' flick (and the sight of him holding a fiddle while half-naked certainly can form a stomach-turning association), or C) it's a difficult tune to play well.
Personally, while I know there is much more to fiddling than being able to play OBS, I don't run screaming from the song when I hear it. I guess a similar sort of backlash has happened with Man of Constant Sorrow because of how popular it became due to Oh Brother Where Art Thou. There's a reason bands required a fiddler to be able to play OBS - that's what the paying audience wanted to hear (they don't know what they like, but they sure like what they know).
Thanks for the post Randy - I like reading stories of tunes, writers and musicians and this one sounds like a doozy (I checked it out on Amazon). It's going to the top of my wishlist.
OBS just doesn't fit my fiddling style .... but it is an often requested tune by the public .... so , I learned to play it on oldtime banjo and even harmonica .... kind of liked playing it on those instruments in my old band :-)
I think we need to remember important events like this, even if we don't care to play the tune. How different would BG be if thissong hadn't been written?
I also can't help thinking about the person who wrote the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (Wimoway). He was a poor black from South Africa, if I remember right, and many have received unjust credit for that song, because the poor guy who really wrote it had no resources to make his rightful claim.
I'm with you, Bruce. I dont care for what's been done to the tune, though played as it was written is another matter, but all of that is irrelevant to the recognition given Ervin Rouse, and I'm gratified to see him given some measure of due.
Last friday night, on Stage at the Darrington Bluegrass Festival. I sat in with my friends band, he played Fiddle on OBS, I played guitar. We played it like never before, it was intense, and at the end, we brought the crowd of I would say 500 or so to the ground...it was a moment I will never forget.