Posts Tagged ‘Jim Brock’

More on Jim Brock

Richard Thompson of Bluegrass Today wrote a fitting tribute to Jim Brock this week. I was glad to contribute what I could, and glad to learn the parts of Mr. Brock’s story that others filled in.

In Memoriam: Jim Brock

DSCN6917A 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.

 

Fiddling Around

I try not to brag on our son too much or I might sound like a broken record, but with Father’s day coming up, I can play the proud father for awhile. Aidan impresses us in all kinds of ways, but one way is with music. He’s played violin since he was four and is working his way through the Suzuki repertoire. Since he was 8, he’s taken fiddle lessons from Jim Brock, a local fiddler who played with Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, and the Salzman Brothers, among others. They sit around and play music, which I get to record. Mr. Brock teaches Aidan old-time fiddle tunes, country songs, bluegrass, jazz, Western Swing, etc., and since he doesn’t read music, they do it all by ear. Mr. Brock has also introduced us to a number of great old fiddlers — Kenny Baker is one of Aidan’s favorites, as are Tommy Jackson, Benny Martin, Arthur Smith, and Charlie Stripling. So Aidan has developed a wide range of styles and a sizable repertoire. At one count, they were up to nearly 200 songs, though some aren’t full songs — just the fiddle licks to songs Mr. Brock plays with his band. Some are ones we learned and haven’t kept up on, but many are ones that Aidan has played at Pilgrimage or that he continues to play, and a few are ones he picked up off of a CD.

This year, we decided it was time to get Aidan to play in public. He’s done performances with the Suzuki groups and orchestra, of course, and he plays now and then with Mr. Brock, lately at the senior dance in New Hope, but then he’s not on his own, and he often just plays on a few songs with Mr. Brock. So we signed him up to play at the Columbus MS Hitching Lot Farmer’s Market. To prepare, we went through his extensive list and pulled out the songs he thought he could have ready. We came up with 6 sets of about 110 songs total. It was ambitious, but he was up for the task. For the past two weeks or more, he’s been practicing over an hour a day to get his sets ready to go.

This morning, he played his three hour gig, and did a marvelous job. In that time, he took a couple of longer breaks to refuel with a pastry from one of the vendors, and he only repeated a couple of songs near the very end. He played from 7:00 a.m. until about 9:45, when everyone was packing up their wares. And he hardly missed a beat, even when Mother Goose showed up and danced with kids to his songs. (If you’re not from Columbus, then you won’t know Edwina Williams, this Columbus institution — the town’s child librarian who has performed as MG for decades. Let’s just say she’s flamboyant, esp. in full costume with flowered hat and stuffed goose.) Here are links to three of the songs he played (If you look close, you can just see Mother Goose in the first one behind the tent pole): Methodist PreacherOrange Blossom Special, and Scotland.

All he had to work with was his set list with the titles and the note each song starts on. He had come up with this idea as a way to help him keep them all straight, though in the end, I don’t think he even needed it! This morning was a lovely morning. Lots of people stopped by to listen, and the weather was grand, actually fairly cool for June in Mississippi. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the weekend.

Unexpected Pleasures

One of the challenges of living in a small town can sometimes seem to be the lack of culture. There’s actually more to do than you might realize, and sometimes it’s just that you can’t find the time to do it. Life can keep you busy, but getting out to enjoy some culture when it comes around is vital to recharging those batteries. This spring we’ve had a couple of nice surprises in the form of live music.

The first came when Jim Brock invited Aidan to come play a song with his band, The Echoes, at the dance they play every 1st and 3rd Saturday nights. Though it was a busy Easter weekend, we knew we wouldn’t have another opportunity to do it anytime soon — Aidan’s soccer schedule aligned with the next several weekends, so he would be out of town. So we drug ourselves down to the dance a the senior center and had a blast. The music was old-time country. The people were more than friendly. Had we known, we might have even brought some food for the potluck at intermission. It turned out we’d met one of the dancers at a rest stop in Oklahoma a couple years back — the Mississippi plates with Lowndes County got their attention then — and all of us got on the dance floor. I’m not well versed in the two-step, so I was the most reluctant (and line dancing is not up my alley, so I didn’t even try to go their). I don’t think I broke anyone’s toes, but I might need to practice before we decide to go back, which I’m sure we will. Aidan played Faded Love with the band (on Mr. Brock’s fiddle). It was a lot of fun.

An even bigger surprise came when we learned that Tish Hinojosa was coming to town. I’ve known about Tish since my days at UT Austin, and have always enjoyed her music. The chance to see her live in a solo show it Columbus was just too good to pass up — and the ticket price couldn’t be beat — even though the concert was on a Wednesday night in a week when all kinds of grading and final reviews are coming due, not to mention committee meetings, awards days, a Suzuki performance, and coming on the heels of a long soccer weekend for Aidan and Kim. We almost didn’t get it together to get our tickets and drag our behinds out of the house, but we did, and we certainly enjoyed it. Tish is still singing in top form, though it’s been at least fifteen years since I last heard her live. The Arts Council space is so intimate, we were in the last row and still only a few feet from the stage. We bought a CD and had it autographed. It felt like having the artist in your living room. It is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen often in small town Mississippi, so we knew we had to take advantage of it no matter how tired we might be the rest of the week. And it was definitely the right choice.

Tish is traveling on a long driving tour of the US (her home these days in Hamburg, Germany), and will be playing lots of small venues along the way it seems. Check her website for the  tour dates. Make time to go out and see her, if she’s coming anywhere near you. Or if you can’t do that, find another live music venue, even one as unassuming as the local senior center if there’s a dance, and take a break from your daily routine. You’ll be glad you did.