Country fiddle? Anyone? Anyone?
November 7, 2006 7:26 PM   Subscribe

I need to find great country fiddle recordings. Help me, Metafilter!

I've played violin and viola for years. Mostly, I've done classical things, symphony, etc. I've recently become horribly bored with this, and after putting up an ad on craigslist searching for new kinds of music, new people to play with, I find myself with a gig next Friday.

The gig is with a country band. I'm excited about it, but I've never played country fiddle-style before, and I feel lost.

Problem: I have chord charts, but no melodies - no music written down that says: "Play this." Whatever I play, I'll have to make up in my head.

I need recordings that include examples of great country fiddle, so I'll have a fighting chance at succeeding. Help.
posted by eleyna to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Try Alison Krauss and her band "Union Station". It's bluegrass type country. Great stuff. I think they did all or most of the soundtrack for O Brother Where Art Thou if you're familiar with that. Good luck, sounds like fun.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:44 PM on November 7, 2006

i don't know if you'll find sheet music too it, but just grab some bluegrass CDs or Charlie Daniels and listen to em; Bill Monroe, older country (like 1940s stuff, even 1920s--30s was western swing and don't think you'd want that)
posted by uncballzer at 8:20 PM on November 7, 2006

Alison Krauss did two or three tracks for O Brother, one of which is all vocal; the soundtrack features quite an array of roots music, though, and is worth having in its own right. If you can find her other albums, with Union Station, she is a heck of a fiddler.

For fiddling, I also recommend The Wayfaring Strangers—I have their album Shifting Sands of Time and amidst all the captivating musicianship the fiddle is a distinct highlight.

Some of the most incredible country-flavored fiddling I've heard is actually in a Take 5/My Favorite Things medley by 3rd Coast String Quartet. That recording has attitude: 'Yeah, we're classically trained and we're playing snob jazz ... but don't you forget that we can fiddle you into submission too!'
posted by eritain at 9:06 PM on November 7, 2006

My first thought was of Alison Krauss as well, but you might want to check out this Steve Earle album.
posted by Giant luck at 11:23 PM on November 7, 2006

The shuffle function on iTunes reminds me that the Tony Rice Unit has some good fiddling on it too. That's straight-up bluegrass, more than country, but that's where you're gonna find the fiddle masters.

And then there are the various volumes of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and various artists. IIRC, the original tends toward folk tunes for the first half, then toward intense 'grass in the second half; if I were you, I'd start with the second half. Volume two (released sometime in the '80s?) includes a 'Cotton Eye Joe' with Ricky Skaggs guesting on fiddle, and boy does it cook.
posted by eritain at 1:01 AM on November 8, 2006

A lot depends on your definition of "Country Fiddle" - that can mean a lot of things. A lot of us American fiddlers started off in Bluegrass bands, but we consider the "old-time" southern US fiddling styles to be the heart and soul of "country fiddle." Luckily, there is a lot on the net for free - usually because it was recorded on 78 rpm gramphone discs which are no longer under copyright. You will find a lot of those at "Juneberry Roots Music Listening Room." Especially good is kentucky fiddler Luther Strong, and other fiddle selections.

Honking Duck is a library of early country 78s.

A page with music from old style Kentucky fiddler Hiram Stamper.

Fiddle Magazine's top ten tunes from the Fiddle Guru, and of course, Fiddler Magazine itself - some tunes in the archives.

A lot of the "nashville" modern country style owes its sound to an influx of Louisiana and Cajun fiddlers like Doug Kershaw moving to Nashville in the 60s and bringing their style of fiddle backup to recordings - the "nashville shuffle" , the harmony fiddling, and the simplified melody breaks owe a lot ot Cajun Fiddle, which you can find at Hadacol It Something. For that style, check out Aldous Roger, the Mamou Hour Band, and recordings from the 1950s-60s. However, my favorite fiddler (found on the Hadacol page) has to be Dennis McGee...
posted by zaelic at 2:04 AM on November 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry - those linhs should go to Luther Strong and "other fiddle"...
posted by zaelic at 2:06 AM on November 8, 2006

You might want to look around at the Cylinder project at UCSB. The search is pretty good, so just look for "fiddle."
posted by JMOZ at 9:26 AM on November 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you so much, all of you - I'll check out each of these links.

It's not so much that I need specific "songs" to learn or anything (the music I'll be playing is all original stuff), but I lack the musical vocabulary of the genre. (So much so, that I can't even tell you what kind of country fiddle I'm looking for, because I don't know yet. Ha.)
posted by eleyna at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2006

Hobart Smith was the the best I've ever heard.
posted by KRS at 11:53 AM on November 8, 2006

Musical vocabulary? I've taught fiddling to a lot of classically trained violinists, so here are a few tips. this pertains to old style traditional US southern fiddling.

1. Most old time fiddlers hold the fiddle with a broken wrist hold, not with the classical straight wrist grip. It does have an effect on the sound in your fingering, but is not too necessary.

2. there are styles known as "long bow" (Bluegrass, Texas, and a lot of the older professional fiddlers like Clark Kessinger, and a lot of Virginia fiddlers) and "short bow" (a lot of the North Carolina style, Missisippi, Georgia, and the Ozarks.)

3. Double stops and drones, and playing the open string with the lower string fingered in unison.

4. Loosen up your wrist, a lot of the short bow styles are powered by the wrist itself, not the forearm.
posted by zaelic at 2:59 PM on November 8, 2006

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