A legendary fiddler passed away last week. Mr. Jim Brock of the small town of Aliceville, Alabama, was a much more influential figure than many who knew him casually probably realize. In recent years he had recorded a couple of CDs locally (Me and My Fiddle and The First 55 Years), but hadn’t been active on the music scene.
Starting in 1952, though, he played with Carl Sauceman and the Green Valley Boys who had syndicated shows on radio and television. He would go on to play with Jim and Jesse and the Virgina Boys and with Bill Monroe and others, as well as to have a regular stint at the Grand Ol’ Opry.
The way I met Mr. Brock, as we always called him, was when our son, Aidan, started taking fiddle lessons with him. This was one of the greatest opportunities we had through our local Arts Council. We saw in the paper that Mr. Brock would be giving lessons, and Aidan had been playing violin with the local Suzuki group for awhile. We’d heard Mr. Brock play with a young local fiddler named Ruby Jane Smith, who he’d also taught, so we knew it was an incredible opportunity.
When we first started lessons, it was quite an adjustment, though. Mr. Brock told us right away that he didn’t read music, so Aidan would be learning everything by ear. That took a little getting used to, but Mr. Brock suggested we bring a video recorder to tape the songs, so Aidan could use that to practice with. After about 8 years of lessons, we have many, many hours and about 250 songs on tape, some well known standards and some West Alabama tunes few others know. By that point, Aidan and Jim were stretching Mr. Brock’s repertoire and getting beyond the point where taping was even necessary. Mr. Brock had introduced us to other fiddler greats, and Aidan often picked tunes up from their CDs.
Along the way, we moved from taking lessons in town at the Arts Council to taking them from Mr. Brock at his house in Aliceville. We often made the drive on Sunday afternoons down Hwy 69 from Columbus, through Pickinsville, and on to Mr. Brock’s house. So the drive this past Sunday down to the funeral chapel for visitation was a sad but familiar one. It was good to see his son Jimmy, who played with his dad in The Echoes, and his daughter and son-in-law and to pay our respects.
Jim Brock was a very humble and giving man, for whom passing on this music was clearly the most important aspect of the lessons he gave to our son and several other students. During the lessons Mr. Brock would often tell stories of the fiddlers he’d played with over the years, the jokes they’d tell, the wild life some of them (but not Jim) got into on the road. I often wished I’d had that recorder going when he launched into a story.
In addition to the lessons, Mr. Brock aslo encouraged Aidan to perform, asking him to join in on a few tunes when he played a concert at the Arts Council and agreeing to play with Aidan for the Columbus Pilgrimage or other events. And he invited Aidan to come out and sit in with him and Gene Robertson’s band, The Echoes, at a local dance. It was there I finally learned the two-step (at least a little) and got to know a great group of locals who liked to come out to the senior center to dance and have a potluck twice a month. Eventually, Aidan would put on his own concerts and invite Jim Brock to join him on a few songs.
Jim Brock became more of a friend and mentor than a music teacher. The world has lost a great soul with his passing, and though we know he is better off, we still mourn his loss. We are honored to have known and learned from this master fiddler and generous man.