Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


 

25.

Lynn W.B. "Chirps" Smith, Grayslake, Illinois, U.S. (smithl@hpd.abbott.com -- work address)

Chirps was born October 11, 1952 in Pekin, Tazwell County, Illinois. He received a Bachelor of Science in 1976 and is currently a laboratory technician in sterilization microbiology. He is a member of the North American Fiddlers Association.

HERITAGE, HISTORY, LESSONS, FAVORITE TUNE

Chirps' heritage is Caucasian; both parents were born in southern Illinois. He is the first member of his family to play the violin, which he started learning in 1974, while living in Charleston, Illinois. He learned by hanging out with old-timers in southern and central Illinois, the Indian Creek Delta Boys (Garry Harrison), the Polecats (Mark Gunther) in Chicago, Illinois and the Volo Bogtrotters (his current band)... He has participated in many workshops, including Augusta Dance & Old Time weeks (West Virginia), Pinewoods American Dance week (Massachusetts), Buffalo Gap American & English Dance week (West Virginia), Wheatland Traditional Arts weekend, Wheatland Festival, Hiawatha festival (all in Michigan), California Traditional Music New Year's Camp, Wanna-Dance Uptown, Festival of American Fiddle Tunes (both in Washington), Smithsonian Folklife Festival (Washington, D.C.), Moosejaw (Minnesota & Wisconsin), Birmingham Country Dancers weekend, (Mentone, Alabama). The first tune Chirps remembers learning was The Evening Star Waltz, which he learned from listening to a recording of Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters. "I really don't have any particular favorite tunes, but when I sit down to play, "Stump-Tailed Dog" usually comes to mind. It's a fairly obscure tune -- not many folks play it other than myself and my fiddling friends. [I have so many favorite fiddlers] -- I can't single one out. Here are some (in no particular order): Garry Harrison, Bob Walters, Harvey "Pappy" Taylor, Mark Gunther, Luther Strong, W.H. Stepp, Tommy Jarrell, Liz Carroll, etc., etc., etc."

TYPES OF TUNES, INSTRUMENTS, VENUES

Chirps enjoys playing many types of tunes, from hoedowns/reels and waltzes to schottisches, polkas, two-steps, and perhaps one or two mazurkas or hambos. He frequently uses cross tuning, in the following keys: AEAE, AEAC#, GDGD, GDGB, ADAD, GDAD, ADAE (tunings are from coarse to fine). He also plays the mandolin and related mandolin family instruments, as well as four and five string banjos. He enjoys various backup for fiddling, including banjo, guitar, mandolin, keyboards (piano, pump organ). Chirps can most often be found playing at dances and jam sessions, and also plays the fiddle at funerals, wakes, and wedding parties. His band, the Volo Bogtrotters, has released quite a number of recordings, including:

"The Volo Bogtrotters" (cassette, Marimac 9024); "Backside of Buncombe" (cassette, Marimac 9022); "Tough Luck" (cassette, Marimac 9042); "String Band with Vocal Accompaniment" (CD & cassette, Marimac 9067); compilations with other artists including "Old-Time Music on the Air, Volume 1" (CD & cassette, Rounder 0331); "Young Fogies, Volume 2" (CD & cassette, Rounder 0369); "Marimac Anthology" (CD & cassette, Rounder 0364); "Tribute to the Appalachian String Band Festival" (CD, Chubby Dragon 1001); solo recordings by Chirps including "Prairie Dog" (cassette, Marimac 9039); "Midwestern Harvest" (CD & cassette, Marimac 9059).

FIDDLE CONTESTS

Chirps enjoys attending and participating in certain fiddle contests. His first entry in a contest took place at the Twin Fiddle Contest at Fiddler's Grove (North Carolina) in 1976. He played with fellow fiddler Garry Harrison, and one of the tunes was Come Here Ma'am and Look at Sam, which helped them take third place. His band, the Volo Bogtrotters, has twice won second place in the Appalachian Stringband Contest (Clifftop, West Virginia). Chirps also has judged at the Appalachian Stringband Contest (for which the pay was $400 to judge both fiddle and banjo contests -- about 85 participants in each), at a harvest festival in Woodstock, Illinois (pay was $25), and a small festival in Putnam County, Illinois (his band played at the festival and was required to judge). Chirps doesn't prefer judging; "It is interesting to hear everyone, but I don't like to be forced to choose who is "best". I really don't think of music and art as competitive "sports"; however, they do seem to be a reasonable excuse to get together and play." He adds that a good judge is one who is knowledgeable about the styles of fiddling to be judged; it probably helps to be a fiddler, but is not a requirement.

STYLE

Chirps describes his style as Midwestern dance fiddling. Recent influential musicians in this style include Bob Walters and Cyril Stinnett. On how many styles exist: "How many fiddlers are there? Or perhaps as we say in the microbiology business: Too Numerous Too Count." In his region, Chirps names old-time, midwestern, Irish, bluegrass, Scandinavian, Polish, etc. as dominant styles. "I guess what I'm saying is that there probably isn't any one over-riding style in the greater Chicago-Milwaukee area. I would imagine that is true for most places these days."

THE INSTRUMENT

The fiddle Chirps uses most often is one made by Garry Harrison of Oakland, IL. It was made in 1993 and is patterned after a Carlo Testori (SP?). He describes its tone as very rich and evenly balanced across all the strings. Chirps does not use a shoulder rest and prefers Prim strings and cheap German bows. He owns four violins that he uses, but doesn't call himself a collector.

WHY DO YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?

"I like the music, the dances, the community, the sense of "connectedness" with past generations and it's just plain fun."

THE TUNES

Chirps chose to record Ol' Woodard's Tune, which he learned from Eldon Skaggs of Stoy, Illinois, and 4 & 20 Blackbirds Dancing On A Fawn Skin, from Harvey "Pappy" Taylor of Effingham, Illinois. He notes both of these fiddlers are sadly now deceased; he originally collected the tunes in the 1970's and learned to play them sometime later. The guitar accompaniment is provided by Dr. Paul Tyler (also a contributor to this project); the banjo is by Rhys Jones, a fine young traditional musician who lives in Chicago.