Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Introduction to the Blog

Welcome to my blog on the music of Erskine Morris and Gaspé fiddle music. I will spend a few paragraphs explaining how and why this blog came about.

For the past five years I have played fiddle and been learning about the music from the southeastern United States, particularly the music from northeastern and central Kentucky. I really dig players like Buddy Thomas, Roger Cooper, Charlie Kinney, George Hawkins, Paul Smith, and Snake Chapman. I had been hosting a weekly old-time bluegrass jam at a bar in downtown Montreal for several years when a fellow comes in and begins doing some first-rate flatpicking on the guitar. He mentions that his dad was an old-time fiddle player from the Gaspé area of Quebec.

As is my custom whenever I meet someone who mentions something along the lines of a family member being an old-time fiddler, I ask if there are any recordings of this person, home-made or otherwise. This guitar player responds something along the lines of (as is also usually the custom) "..oh yeah, somewhere there's some old-recordings that were made around the house. The audio quality is pretty bad though, probably nothing worth listening to". Again, as is my custom I tell the person that I don't mind if the audio quality is a little rough and I can guarantee them that the audio quality of some of the best fiddle playing ever recorded is almost certainly in far worse-shape than their dad's or grandfather's home-made tapes (see John Salyer and Ed Haley recordings). In an effort to further persuade them, I stress that by this point, my ear has become so accustomed to the hiss and scratch on old-time fiddle recordings that I kind of miss it if it's not there and really, I'd love to hear their dad's home made tapes.

Fast-forward about a year and a half, this guitar player comes in and has learned some great northeast Kentucky tunes from a talented young fiddle player on Youtube. Suddenly, there is someone else at the jam learning tunes like Coon Dog, Yellow Barber, and Briarpicker Brown. Needless, to say it was great to not be the only one that knew the melodies to these tunes and these tunes were really being given a great interpretation on the guitar. At some point in the next month or two, the subject goes back to his Dad's playing and again I push for possible recordings. He half jokes that if he sends me some of his Dad's tunes, I should learn some and we could play them at the jam. Well, if me struggling to learn some twisted Quebecois tunes and breaking the jam's strictly Old-Time & Bluegrass Code of Conduct by playing them there was what it was going to take to hear some of this stuff, then so be it.

After a little more prodding, around early December of last year (2009) I received an email with two tunes of his father's playing that were recorded at a family reunion about 25 years ago ca. 1985 at an Uncle's house in Douglastown, Quebec.

Needless to say, I was stunned by what I heard. This was some of the most exhilarating, syncopated, and driving fiddling I'd ever heard and the musicianship was easily equal to that of many of the players who are revered among southern old-time fiddle aficionados.

So all of a sudden this staunch adherent of southern-old time fiddling is all mixed up trying to learn these complex and confusingly syncopated tunes from the Gaspé.

This blog is a result of my current mix-up and through it I hope to share the music of Erskine Morris, a wonderful old-time fiddle player from Douglastown on the Gaspé Coast with anyone interested.

Of course none of this would be possible without the hard work of Erskine's son, Brian Morris. He has spent countless hours transferring old recordings from reel-to-reel and cassette tape to a digital format and cleaned up the recordings. As well, he has been a great source of advice and anecdotes about his Dad and the Gaspé.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Erskine,

    Your blog link to Learn Canadian French is dead.

    If you liked that site you might enjoy:

    Keep fiddling!

    Brent Van Arsdell