Tune of the Month: My Dad's Jig
My Dad's Jig
I remember Don Gish in the early nineteen-seventies with the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers Association and at Weiser playing some wonderful twin fiddling, particularly on waltzes, with Mary Sharpe, Lloyd Wanzer, Bill Yohey, Harold Allen and others. His composition, The Rogue River Waltz was widely played around the Northwest and was recorded by Connie Bonar (as Waltz of the Rogue). He also had quite a repertoire of Canadian tunes: jigs and reels that he had learned from his Dad, who had picked up the fiddle while living in Canada, as well as tunes gleaned from the radio. (Long after fiddling had disappeared from American airwaves, Canadian stations featured fiddle shows and variety shows led by fiddlers). He had quite an impact on fiddling in the Northwest through helping to jumpstart fiddlers’ associations in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Wherever he found himself living while working for Boise-Cascade he found a way to bring fiddlers together – including hiring the well-known Idaho/Montana fiddler, Jimmy Widner. Many of us learning to play in that time period found him a great inspiration. I still credit him as the source for many of my tunes and with the swingy, slightly dotted way I approach my eighth notes in a reel or hoedown.
He was born in Boise, Idaho and his family farmed in nearby Meridian, where Annie (Jamison) and I visited in the nineteen-nineties for some interviews for the Washington Traditional Fiddlers’ Project (Northwest Folklife). He started picking up tunes by ear at the tender age of four. Pretty soon the family band “The Buddies” was playing for dances around the region – “Spencer’s Barn Dance” and “Bill’s Barn Dance” were two local venues. His sister played piano and tenor banjo, his brother the saxophone and his dad played fiddle, or drums as the need arose. They were versatile and could handily keep square dancers going with an assortment of jigs and reels; couples swinging and swaying to waltzes, schottisches and two-steps or, in “conversion” mode, switch to something more modern for swing or foxtrot. In his teen years he learned to read music, sat first chair in the school orchestra and continued his dance music on weekends, picking up the saxophone along the way, with “Pinky and his Pals.” Other early influences include the iconic Idaho fiddler, Dad Roberts, whose grey bearded visage graces some of the Weiser contest materials.
This tune has been bouncing around my head for some years now and always makes me happy. It’s not hard to play and its perky nature reminds both Vivian and I of some of those nineteenth century quadrilles. As his father did not give a name for it, Don always just called it "My Dad’s Jig." Though many dance callers these days, particularly in the urban areas, prefer hoedowns, jigs like this, played at a pretty good clip, were historically played for square dances throughout the Northwest, and the Northern states in general, as they still are up in Canada. In some communities they were the preferred tune type. I hope you enjoy this spritely jig, and if any of you have a name for it, please let me know. Be sure and click below to listen to Don play this (with yours truly attempting to keep up on guitar).
Please contact me if you have questions or requests.
Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated September 6, 2013