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July 23, 2009

Scotty Stoneman with the Kentucky Colonels - Live in LA

You know, there's only one person I could post that could follow Sándor Lakatos. Yes, I do mean the other most-crazy-brilliant fiddler of the twentieth century, the other king of double-stops and tempo-changes and bird-calls and just plain country madness: Scotty Stoneman. He's absolutely the most ferocious American fiddler I've ever heard. And the only ever 5-time national fiddle champion.

Get this: when Scotty was a kid (growing up in the notorious performing Stoneman Family), he used to get up in the middle of the night, take his fiddle into the chicken coop and play until all the chickens were awake and squawking around and going nuts, and then he'd put his fiddle away and go back to bed.

But if you listen to him, you eventually realize that he must have just played fiddle like 18 hours a day when he was growing up. Like Clarence White, he had this single-sighted dedication to his instrument, and perhaps even more of a penchant for pushing (and breaking) the boundaries of the bluegrass genre and of what was considered possible on the instrument. There's moments on this album where Scotty's playing 2 different melodies on different strings. On a fiddle! Nobody does that! In fact, it's thought that it was Scotty who inspired Clarence to start being so daring with his timing and breaks. If you've listened to The Great Clarence White Bootleg Tapes that I posted back last may, then you know what I'm talking about. Incendiary. Maniacal. Provocative. Flammable. You think I'm making this up? Listen to what Jerry Garcia has to say about him:

I get my improvisational approach from Scotty Stoneman, the fiddle player. [He's] the guy who first set me on fire -- where I just stood there and I don't remember breathing. He was just an incredible fiddler. He was a total alcoholic wreck by the time I heard him, in his early thirties, playing with the Kentucky Colonels... They did a medium-tempo fiddle tune like 'Eighth of January' and it's going along, and pretty soon Scotty starts taking these longer and longer phrases -- ten bars, fourteen bars, seventeen bars -- and the guys in the band are just watching him! They're barely playing -- going ding, ding, ding -- while he's burning. The place was transfixed. They played this tune for like twenty minutes, which is unheard of in bluegrass. I'd never heard anything like it. I asked him later, 'How do you do that?' and he said, 'Man, I just play lonesome.' (Jerry Garcia, c. 1985, via Blair Jackson's Garcia: An American Life)

Scotty Stoneman has been called the Jimi Hendrix of the violin by Peter Rowan, and the "bluegrass Charlie Parker" by no less a figure than Jerry Garcia. Yet he's an elusive, mysterious figure -- in some ways even more so than Parker or Hendrix ever were -- with a career that was mostly spent working in tandem with other musicians, but without the kind of unified body of recordings left behind by, say, Hugh Farr of the Sons of the Pioneers (who was, himself, once compared to Fritz Kreisler by Leopold Stokowski).

Until he was past 30, Stoneman was best known as part of a performing family who were, in their own right, legends in the field of country music. The Stonemans, or the Stoneman Family, started in music with Ernest Van "Pop" Stoneman (1893-1968), a man who pioneered what is now known as country music before it even existed as an identifiable category of music. The son of a lay preacher and a singer, he came from a family with a rich musical life, a multi-instrumentalist who was seemingly good on every instrument he touched. Ironically, he gravitated toward the autoharp, an instrument that he couldn't afford, and so he'd built his own from pieces of an old piano. He'd worked as a farm hand, a carpenter, and a sweeper at a cotton mill, but as always throughout his life, his main interest was music. That made the union in marriage between him and Hattie Frost, the daughter of a luthier, fiddler, and banjo player, who played the banjo and fiddle herself, seem as much preordained as natural. They had 23 children, of whom 13 lived to become adults, and it was from their ranks that the six performing members of the Stonemans came.

Pop Stoneman had made his first recording privately in 1914, and his commercial recording career started a decade later with "The Sinking of the Titanic," which he'd written himself -- it sold over a million copies by some estimates, and some 200 songs followed from him over the next five years -- and from 1927 he was signed to Victor Records, then one of the largest recording concerns in the world. He brought his wife and other family members in his recording sessions, and from 1930 onward their children as well. This coincided with very hard times for the family, as the onset of the Great Depression destroyed the much of the market for country music; the family relocated to the Washington, D.C., area in 1932, and Scotty Stoneman was born that year, one of the couple's last four children of their 23. They kept playing music, trained by Pop and Hattie, but most of the family's income came from the jobs that Pop held outside of music. Matters seemed to turn around in 1947 when the Stoneman Family, as they were called then, won a talent contest at Constitution Hall, the prize from which included six months' worth of appearances on local television. It wasn't quite the boon that this exposure would have meant a decade or two later, as precious few people (and virtually no country music fans) had television sets, but it gave them something to build on.

A photograph of the Stoneman Family from the period shows Scotty in his early teens, fiddle in hand, one of 12 performing siblings (with two younger ones sitting atop the truck behind them). Scotty joined the United States Air Force in 1951 and served four years, during which his work with the family group was severely limited if not entirely halted. It was soon after his discharge, while in Washington, D.C., that he discovered guitarist/singer Jimmy Case singing at a club. He approached him about his work and the two ended up putting together a group consisting of Case and two of Scotty's siblings and a cousin by marriage, called the Bluegrass Champs, who passed an audition and got a steady gig almost immediately -- and wouldn't you have known that the club owner who hired them also proved to have some important television connections, most especially to host/impressario Arthur Godfrey. The Bluegrass Champs, with Porter Church added to the lineup and a few other shifts in personnel, won a contest on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts in 1956. There's a great picture of the group from that period, with Scotty in the line, the tallest of them.

This time out, the television exposure made Scotty and company's careers suddenly take off like a rocket, and they were soon working with the likes of Patsy Cline, Grandpa Jones, and Roy Clark, and got multiple regular radio gigs. By the early '60s, they'd made their way west and were based in California, where they recorded for World Pacific, which was the home of some of the new, young bluegrass players and also soon to be the launching pad for the national folk-rock boom. By the mid-'60s, he was a five-time national fiddle champion, playing with a technique that astounded musicians who were seemingly his peers. He played with the Kentucky Colonels, one of that new generation of bluegrass outfits that was getting noticed amid the folk revival and the early folk-rock boom.

By many estimates, Stoneman's career and musicianship peaked at around that same time. For reasons that psychologists could probably explain, Stoneman's private life was conducted as fiercely as the seeming abandon with which he performed on-stage. Whether it was alcohol abuse or other problems, it worsened as he reached the second half of his thirties, and his health gradually deteriorated over the final years of his life. He was playing in a group with his wife, Mary Madison Stoneman, which also included a very young Marty Stuart, during the early '70s, but by then it was clear that his work wasn't what it had been. Stoneman died in 1973 at the age of 40. ~ Bruce Eder, All Music Guide

Scotty Stoneman - Live in LA
with the Kentucky Colonels

Recorded 1965
Released 1967/1978
Label: Rural Rhythm

Personnel includes: Scotty Stoneman (vocals, fiddle); Clarence White (vocals, guitar); Billy Ray Lathum (vocals, banjo); Roland While (vocals, mandolin); Roger Bush (vocals, bass); Skip Conover (dobro).

Total Playing Time - 55:47 -- Pick up this 14-track CD and relive the excitement of the Kentucky Colonels in 1965 as they play two Hollywood, Ca. venues, The Cobblestone Club and Ash Grove. While the group originally started in the early fifties (as "The Country Boys") after the four White kids (Roland, Clarence, Eric and Joann) moved from Maine to Los Angeles, it was in the early sixties that the band reached the pinnacle of its career. A 1964 trip back east found them playing at the Newport Folk Festival and Martha's Vineyard. By 1965, the Kentucky Colonels featured Clarence White (guitar), Roland White (mandolin), Bill Ray Lathum (banjo), Roger Bush (bass), and Scott Stoneman (who had just joined the band on fiddle after Bobby Slone left the group). Stoneman was a catalyst that supercharged the other pickers, like throwing dry tinder on a bluegrass wildfire. The players challenged each other to greater musical heights. The result was some of the most exciting music to be heard for quite some time. The Colonels eventually broke up in 1965 when it proved impossible to make a living as bluegrass musicians in California. An attempt to reform in 1966 as The White Brothers and Kentucky Colonels was unsuccessful.

Calvin "Scotty" Stoneman was born in Galax, Virginia on August 4, 1932, one of 23 children of Ernest "Pop" Stoneman. Scotty was a five-time national fiddle contest champion when he died, on March 4, 1973 from overuse of a medication (librium) taken to avoid alcohol. Scotty's first professional experience had been with Mac Wiseman in the early fifties, and as a member of The Blue Grass Champs after winning the fiddle category in Connie B. Gay's "National Hillbilly Music Contest" in Warrenton, Va. Scotty also helped The Stoneman Family win the 1957 Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts Show. In 1992, Everett Lilly once commented, "I've had a lot of fiddlers with me and I've played with what they call the 'best fiddlers'...but I don't know nobody [like Scotty Stoneman] that could carry his case when it come to playin' the fiddle on the stage. And I'm speaking the truth! I have never seen his match and probably never will."

Tape recordings, made under noisy and less than desirable conditions, captured the Kentucky Colonels' legendary sound for albums like this one from Rural Rhythm Records. This CD is special because of its spotlight on Scotty Stoneman, with ten instrumentals, as well as four vocal numbers sung by Stoneman. Besides some of the best fiddled novelty numbers of all time (Lee Highway Blues, Listen to the Mockingbird, Cacklin' Hen, and Orange Blossom Special), I especially enjoyed hearing Scotty sing his original "Any Damn Thing" and B. Johnson's "A Wound Time Can't Erase." Other numbers include Oklahoma Stomp, Once A Day, Eighth of January, Down Yonder, Sally Goodin, Shuckin' the Corn, Cherokee Waltz, and Goodnight Irene.

Liner notes include a conversation with Richard Greene and Peter Rowan who both knew Scotty. The Kentucky Colonels were a very influential band, and their intensity was nonpareil. The inimitable Scotty Stoneman is the featured artist on this album, a great tribute to the Colonels and their fabulous fiddler. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)

1.Oklahoma Stomp
2.Once a Day
3.Eighth of January
4.Any Damn Thing
5.Lee Highway Blues
6.Down Yonder
7.Sally Goodin
8.Wound Time Can't Erase, A
9.Shuckin' the Corn
10.Listen to the Mockingbird
11.Cherokee Waltz
12.Cacklin' Hen
13.Orange Blossom Special
14.Goodnight Irene

the track Listen to the Mockingbird has crazy digital noise halfway through so I added an equivalent version from Livin' in the Past.

vinyl | mp3 224kbps | w/ cover | 94mb

and once your head stops spinning from that ferocious music, head over to Jeremy's Saggy Record Cabinet for more!

also, if you want to see some great posts on Clarence, check out The Audios Lounge


Anonymous said...

wow, what a story!

what a fiddle!



Howdy said...

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It took me a week to get rid of the infections from the last time I downloaded from them, I figured it was fix by now but I was wrong. Caution to all. By the way, thanks for the great posts........