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How Vassar Got His Fiddle (and some Cotton-Picking

Posted by oldtimer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

likes this

sunny wrote:

> There's got to be a great story here.... Glenn would you >mind sharing  the story of John Hartford giving a fiddle to >Vassar? Thanks so much!
> Sunny in Minnesota

I had written earlier:
> "Vasser was a wonderful, sweet man. I was standing with >them at a performers' party in 1973 when John Hartford >gave Vasser that famous  fiddle.

Well, there is a great story here, but my memory at age 70 is not the best. So, I called my old friend, Guy Logsdon, the Woody Guthrie expert, and he said he thinks it was 1972 instead of '73 and I'm sure he is correct.

There was a unique week of folk concerts at Stillwater,Oklahoma at the university. You couldn't call it a festival because there was no camping. The concerts were held in various university auditoriums. There
were several house parties and the last night there was a big house party for all the performers.

I'm always embarrassed to talk about it because it sounds like that song, "Hillbilly Heaven". At the big house party, some of the people I remember were Mike Seeger, Bill Monroe, Kenny Baker, John Hartford, Jean Ritchie, Roscoe Holcomb, Bascom Lamar Lunsford , Lizabeth Cotton, Johnny
Lee Wills, Sam McGee,Vassar Clements, Earl Scruggs, plus all the members of their various bands....all in a huge house. There were others that I am not remembering.

For awhile. I sat on the big fireplace hearth with Lizabeth Cotton, where we swapped tunes on my old J-45. Watching Lizabeth up close was amazing ....she played my guitar left-handed, up-side down and backwards....with her index finger playing alternating bass strings and her thumb playing lead. I played Joseph Spence's tune, "Great Dream from
Heaven" and she loved it. So she called Mike Seeger over, "You've got to hear this!" Then Mike called over a couple of others and said, "Play it again." Bill Monroe's bass player called Bill and Kenny over and they called others over and, pretty soon I was playing that tune over and over for the most distinguished folk music audience ever assembled! A
little nerve-racking, but they were all amazed by that tune. I attribute that to the tune...not to my playing.

So, later, I wandered into a small room and played some fiddle tunes with Kenny Baker, Vassar Clements, and John Hartford. After awhile, Kenny wandered off and Vassar was playing Hartford's fiddle, a very unusual  Gaspard Duiffoprugcer. So, later, John decided that fiddle
suited Vassar and he said he was giving to Vassar. I was the only witness.

Well, Vassar was an humble man and I think he knew that John was serious, but he couldn't bring himself to walk out with such a gift. So he left the fiddle there when he left. Later, everybody left and there was a fiddle left laying there.

The fiddle sat there in that house for a week before they could figure out who it belonged to. They finally got it to Vassar and it was the fiddle he played the rest of his life!

I have had an amazing life mostly from being in the right place at the right time. But, my old memory is unreliable so I may not have all the details just right.

Best regards,
Glenn Godsey

11 comments on “How Vassar Got His Fiddle (and some Cotton-Picking”

frailin Says:
Saturday, February 2, 2008 @7:09:14 PM

Dang.  That's a great story!

Craig (frailin)

willy Says:
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 @1:52:26 PM

I have a friend and she lived in Alaska in 70s'. She told me she was just having fun and out picking around this town and met this man named Vasser in this small joint. They played on this small stage and then years later she found out who Vassar really was. He never told her he was a main stream name in music.

Many of the greatest are humble and soft spoken.<

PeachyPicker08 Says:
Friday, August 29, 2008 @10:29:23 PM

It really is a great story. Just stopped by to say 'Hi' my friend. You ought to join us on the non-fiddle related forums on here, we have a lot of fun.

Take Care

brynmawr Says:
Tuesday, December 30, 2008 @8:56:28 AM

Glenn, what a wonderful story! Wow! Thanks for posting that!

fiddlenbanjo Says:
Monday, January 12, 2009 @7:46:00 PM

Great story Glenn! Thank goodness the fiddle made it back to Vassar.

Btw, do you still play Great Dream from Heaven? I have a Joseph Spence cd but don't remember that one. I'll look again. I'm a big Travis picker myself. :)

PeachyPicker08 Says:
Thursday, January 22, 2009 @6:17:54 PM

Hello, been awhile since I visited yer site.

SammieK Says:
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 @9:19:31 PM

That is a so cool! I have a Vassar Clements story too I'd love to share sometime.

meltonmusic Says:
Sunday, September 13, 2009 @3:17:40 PM

Wow, Fantastic Story!!! Hartford is at the top of my hero list, it was after hearing him live I sold my electric guitar and went acoustic on everything...

playmorebluegrass Says:
Sunday, June 6, 2010 @6:31:04 PM


Sassafrassa Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @12:32:03 PM

I really enjoyed reading this story, and I thank you for sharing it with us.

masameet Says:
Sunday, November 7, 2010 @4:50:37 PM

To have talked and played with some of our music's greatest players while they were all still in their prime -- I envy you, sir. Plus you shared a story of Hartford's generosity. Thank you for this memory.

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