Charlie McCarroll is a strong, serious, and powerful fiddler. At age 74, he continues to play expertly in a style only barely more modern. Since the recent reissue of the classic 1928 recordings of the Roane County Ramblers, Charlie is attracting attention for his own mastery of the repertoire of his father, the great Southern Champion fiddler Jimmy McCarroll. Charlie says, “Daddy played a little different than me. He never did learn none of that grass.” Charlie often performs locally with multi-instrumentalist Tony Thomas and has recently earned well-deserved attention on both WBIR’s Heartland Series and WDVX’s Music of the Cumberland Trail. Even today, as younger players instantly download and scrutinize styles and repertoire from far-flung regions, performers, and time periods, Charlie’s vast storehouse of tunes, earned through diligence, in face-to-face interaction, is beginning to thrill and fascinate followers and students of old-time fiddling. Though reserved and modest, Charlie bends to no fiddler, remaining ever ready to put his breakneck, hard-driving facilities to the test.
Listen to Charlie McCarroll perform “Green River March” and “Hometown Blues“:
At age 51, Russ Wilson, of Speedwell, is one the youngest musicians in Tennessee to have learned old-time fiddling from a family member. Tutored during annual visits and on a flow of reel-to-reel teaching tapes, young Russ learned almost note-for-note from his masterful third cousin, Fiddlin’ Bob Rogers, who emigrated to Los Angeles where he become a sought-after square dance musician. With his studied, but graceful, style, Russ quickly emerged as an old-time fiddling force. As a teen, Russ traveled to contests throughout the region, frequently besting the competition and eventually earning a fiddle case full of top-tier ribbons. Though nurtured in firmly traditional practices, Russ cultivates a deep curiosity and well-attuned ear to music-making from an array of performers and regions. Along with fiddling, Russ has also developed a distinguishing style on the dobro and flattop guitar. Whatever the instrument, though, of late, he mostly performs the old way, at home, intimately, surrounded by family members and friends. Along with his mother Lou Wilson-herself a regional ballad singing treasure-Russ often welcomes neighbors and visitors to his Powell Valley home place for refreshing afternoons of fiddling, singing, laughter, and conversation. With this flawless rural setting as his “stage,” Russ rarely fiddles in formal performance venues.
Listen to Russ Wilson perform “Buttermilk“:
Fiddlin’ Bob Douglas‘ of Rhea County, TN was a celebrated musician in the lower end of the Cumberland Trail corridor for over eight decades. He began his musical career as the guitar accompanist for his father, fiddler Tom Douglas, and the two played for local square dances throughout the Sequatchie Valley region and along the Cumberland Plateau. After watching his father, Douglas taught himself to play fiddle and landed a job on the first radio station in Chattanooga.
Douglas won several important fiddle contests, beating out professional players such as Clayton McMichen and Bert Layne, of the well-known old time band, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, at the All-Southern Convention in Chattanooga. When Douglas became a band leader, he hired the two young brothers from Sand Mountain, TN, Ira and Charlie Loudermilk, who became better known as the Louvin Brothers.
Unlike other early country musicians on local radio, Bob Douglas chose to remain a semi-professional in the Chattanooga area rather than tour and turn professional. He kept his factory job, but played continuously for regional dance, radio programs, and social performances. In 1975 he was invited to participate in a National Fiddle Contest sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Douglas won the contest along with his long time partner, guitarist Ray “Georgia Boy” Brown, of Dunlap, Tennessee.
In 2000, Douglas became the first 100-year-old fiddler to play on the Grand Ole Opry. He died at age 101 in 2001.
Listen to Bob Douglas perform “Cotton-Eyed Joe“:
Fiddlin’ Bob Rogers, born in 1907, stood for decades as the premier fiddler from the Powell Valley in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Born into a musical family, Bob, or “Og” as he was known to friends and family, grew up immersed in an environment rich with old-time fiddle music. After learning his first tune, “Maggie,” from his mother, Bob worked as a young man to craft his own beautiful and powerful fiddling style. At his peak, Bob’s refreshing sound reflected a preference for arpeggiation and melodic integrity, relying less, as such, on the droning technique common in much traditional playing. Active in East Tennessee’s music scene until the late 1940s, Bob moved to California in his thirties to work as a welder. Once on the West coast, he also started his own highly successful square dance band and played at various venues, including, most notably, the Crystal Ballroom in Hollywood, CA five nights a week. In 1958, Bob and his band recorded several commercial square dance 78rpms. The records sold so well that venues stopped hiring Bob’s band, relying instead on his popular recordings. Over time, Bob, frustrated with these circumstances, rid himself of any of his own recordings; luckily, though, his second cousin, Lou Wilson, did keep copies dubbed onto several cassette tapes. These survive with her to this day. Bob also made many instructional tapes for his cousin Russ Wilson, the only member of the family to be a direct “student” of this master teacher.
After Bob retired from welding, he spent several weeks each summer visiting and jamming with his friends and relatives back in Speedwell. During these summer shindigs he passed on many of his fiddle licks and tune repertoire–around 700 tunes–to his kinfolks. By the mid-1970s, Bob’s health kept him from traveling to Tennessee. He passed away in the early 1980s. Bob Rogers’s fiddling legacy lives on, though, in the playing of his cousin Russ Wilson and in the lineage of fiddlers in California that were lucky enough to experience his rare encyclopedic knowledge of traditional music.
Listen to Bob Rogers peform “Cumberland Gap“: