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How Vassar Got His Fiddle (and some Cotton-Picking

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

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

Mellowing a harsh sounding fiddle

Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3 comments

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Playing Since: 1941
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After hearing my uncles play old-time fiddle, I begged for a fiddle and started at age four. By age 9, I was playing regularly for square dances. About the time I was 12, square dances changed from the old tradition to "singing calls" done to recordings of pop music. I was ignorant about contests and bluegrass...I didn't know any other use for fiddle except square dances, so I quit and started playing jazz (bass, vibes, guitar, and drums). I have an old friend from Ireland and he did exactly the same thing. When the old "house dances" stopped, he quit playing for 20 years. I took it up again in the 60's and played with some successful bluegrass groups up into the 80's, including a stint with Mountain Smoke with 17 year old Vince Gill. I was more interested in old-time and that's the way I played. I also owned a folk coffee house in the 60's called the Dust Bowl" and lot of prominent folkies came to visit and perform. I was emcee at a bunch of festivals through the 70's, so I got to know a lot of famous fiddlers and I got to jam with many of them. I learned a lot. I also co-ran the Oklahoma State contest, so I got to know the leading contest fiddlers although I never had any desire to play contest style. I was always much more interested in old-time than bluegrass, but after the old guys died off, there was no old-time in Tulsa...it was all contest, western swing, and bluegrass. When I went to old-time festivals, I usually played clawhammer banjo. Then a few years ago, Mike Long called, wanting to play clawhammer to my fiddling. So, we started "The Old-time Good-time Boys", the name given to us by a dance caller. So, we have what I always wanted my whole life: pure old-time fiddle and banjo with no guitar , bass or other impediments. It is pure joy. We play regularly for the Tulsa Barn Dance and even though they had been used to celtic-leaning contra bands, both the callers and the dancers really like our decidedly non-contra appalachian style music. So, it has been off and on for 66 years, but now I am deeper into fiddling than ever. It is a great blessing at age 70!

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