Tune of the Month: Forked Deer
Slowly I’m adapting to the digital age. I have a lot of fiddle music on my computer now and sometimes let it shuffle on through, picking out random tunes for me. Every so often my ears perk up and I have to run over to see who the heck that wonderful fiddler is. Not once, not twice, but three times in the last few weeks that someone was Bob Simmons. You may remember Bob from The Evergreen Fiddler Tune Books I & III and his excellent cd on Voyager Records (VRCD # 334). After getting his start playing for square dances in southern Illinois he had quite an active professional career playing with the likes of the Coon Creek Girls, Pee Wee King and Clayton MacMichen. He settled in Granite Falls in his retirement where I got to hear him first hand.
Many of the fiddlers I have met who came of age playing old time fiddling in community dances of the pre WWII era put the music aside as times changed and the opportunities for that kind of fiddling faded. Others found an outlet in country & western or western swing bands, backing up singers and playing the occasional hot solo or show piece. Fiddlers such as Bill Yohey, Don Gish, Rusty Modrell and Bob Simmons, for example, continued to push themselves technically. When someone like Bob returns to his roots and digs into an old time hoedown like Liberty, Leather Breeches or Forked Deer he brings a lot to the table so to speak - power and clarity, and an excellent feel for the tune as dance music.
I think of Kentucky born Estille Bingham (Evergreen Fiddler Tune Book III) as a good example of the old style fiddler who played the music of his home and family but mostly put it aside to raise a family. His fiddling in later years is pretty much unchanged and represents an earlier era and a localized style. In an oral history interview, Linda Danielson (Evergreen Fiddler Tune Book III) asked about fiddlers he had heard over the radio as a young man. He replied that his two favorites were Arthur Smith and Bob Simmons. He frequently heard Arthur Smith on the Grand Old Opry and Bob on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance show. Ramon Selby (August 2009 of this column) also remembers hearing Bob Simmons, in his case in the nineteen-fifties as Bob passed through Casper, Wyoming where Ramon lived. I like these odd connections.
Back to Forked Deer – it’s a good hoedown that’s been around a while, fun to play and good for square or contra dancing and jam sessions. I’ve put in some sample bowing marks as examples of the type of bowing Bob utilizes in his hoedowns. He played out fairly close to the tip, yet maintained both a firm pressure and a relatively loose wrist – tricky to pull off without getting too tense. His basic approach is a down-up sawstroke broken up with either the three note up bow (Georgia bow) or two-up two-down see-saw. The “Hook” is Paul Anastasio’s term for the up bow slur at the end of a phrase to set you up for a down bow start on the next. With this general approach he got a lot of drive and excitement along with some tasty phrasing. Enjoy.
Please contact me if you have questions or requests.
Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated August 5, 2012