Tune of the Month: Old Figary O'
Old Figary O' (O Fiddle-E-O Jig)
Bríd Nowlan brought this delightful jig out at a jam the other night. Good fun, thanks! It’s one that we used to hear Joe Hanson play (August 2007 Tune of the Month – Rose Waltz). He called it O Fiddle-E-O Jig but it’s the same as Old Figary O’ in the Ryan Collection (aka Cole’s 1000 Fiddle Tunes). It’s a spritely number - just right for dancing.
Joe’s father and mother came over from Denmark and Norway respectively in 1912. Joe came into the world a few years later. His mother played violin and when young Joe was attempting to work out his first tunes on a Sears & Roebuck fiddle she would say, “Take that damn thing and get out to the barn,” a sentiment I recall hearing myself as I was just getting started. By this time though he was already a seasoned dance musician on the harmonica and he picked up the fiddle right quick. He and a piano player would play all night for a couple of bucks each, mostly Scandinavian tunes, as well as square dance music and two-steps. The dancers in Williston, N.D. particularly enjoyed waltzes, schottisches, polkas and hambos. For squares jigs were the most common currency. That was most of - the best square dance tunes were jigs. I tell a lot of people out here that we played jigs for square dances; well to me a jig is the best square dance tune, I mean it's got a bounce to it.
Joe also reflected on growing up in the twenties and thirties. Well, the trouble is, in them days money was short, and you made your own entertainment, mostly, see…. Kids, even, when we was young, we made our own entertainment. You didn't go buy it… with a musical instrument, I'd work all summer to get enough to buy a mouth organ, because maybe it cost three or four dollars, and I used to wear one of them out, maybe one or two every year. You could literally wear the reeds right out of 'em, you know. But I do remember the dances we used to go to, and I remember the dances I used to go with our folks. We'd always - when our folks went to a dance, we went along with them. No matter where they went. If they went to a barn dance, us kids went along.
As with many of his generation, the music took a back burner during the WWII years and as he raised a family, but he never quit playing altogether and his home in East Bremerton was a center for jam sessions. Later, his skills as a cabinet maker gave him the confidence to try his hand at building guitars and he made quite a few fine instruments after retiring.
Quotes are from Joe’s interview with Vivian Williams in 1987.
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Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated October 11, 2014