Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Monday, September 20, 2010

1990 Tape: A New Find of Rare Old Tunes!

Recently while visiting Brian's aunt in Douglastown, we were given a bag of 15 cassettes that Erskine and she had made featuring Erskine and other Douglastown fiddlers. Among these was an extra special gem that contains perhaps some of the most powerful playing and footwork that Erskine ever recorded. Here is how Brian described the circumstances surrounding this recording:

"I remember talking to my Mom around the time this cassette was being recorded. She told me, if I can remember correctly, that his brothers and some sisters wanted my Dad to record a cassette with all up-tempo tunes and fast playing. He commented that he hadn't played like this since the good old days when he played for all those dances and parties.

Anyhow they got their wish here"


Although 77 years old when this was recorded, Erskine is at the top of his game here and is really playing the devil out of his fiddle. One of the things Brian always tells me about his Dad's playing was that he really went to town when he played, putting all his effort both mental and physical into his music. When visiting with Cyril Devouge earlier this year, he remembered playing with Erskine many years ago under a big tent in Douglastown and that when Erskine played, the sweat would come pouring down his face from all the effort he was putting in. The recordings on this tape really show a man completely invested in his music, playing as if his life depended on it.

Listening to the music on this tape is like stepping back in time 100 years or more. There are many rare tunes on this tape that come from local Gaspesian sources that Erskine knew. Also, there are other tunes we can't find any information on in the tune databases with the titles Erskine supplied, strongly suggesting they could be of local Gaspesian origins or settings. We feel this collection of tunes might offer one of the most extensive recorded glimpses into the oldest Douglastown area tunes and the pre-20th century old time style which had been handed down for over 150 years in the Gaspé. As well, this tape includes many more well-known fiddle standards like Dusty Miller, Money Musk, Devil's Dream, and Fisher's Hornpipe, but played in non-standard settings with a very old Gaspé style with the fiddle tuned to either AEAE or ADAE.

Here are a few cuts from this tape.

The first is a tune that Erskine would have learned from his main fiddling mentor, Joe Drody (Sr), who was Brigid's father. The tune is "Joe Drody's Jig" and the fiddle is tuned AEAE, what Erskine referred to as Double Tuning. Erskine would walk many a night from his home on the main road in Douglastown (now the Route 132), on a trail through the woods to Joe Drody's homestead up on the 1st Rang road where Joe would teach young Erskine the old time tunes from the area. This tune is perhaps the most intense and powerful playing I've ever heard from Erskine. Its a simple tune but played with so much fire and conviction its almost unbelievable. Erskine also takes the footwork into the stratosphere on this one.

Hear "Joe Drody's Jig"

The second tune is a haunting and highly syncopated D modal tune in ADAE tuning. The source for this tune was a relative of Erskine's who was a parish priest up in Fox River (Rivière au Renard), a Father Elias Morris. Brian remembers people saying that Father Morris was quite musically talented. There is a footnote about Father Morris in the appendix of this article from the GoGaspe site which also attests to his musicality as a "great singer and musician, a real descendant of the Irish Minstrals of Erin". We are going to try to find out more information about Father Morris and we'll update the readers if we find out anything. This playing really captures both the Irish and French Gaspesian influences. The melodic content is very Irish but the delivery and phrase structure has Erskine's classic Gaspé treatment.

Hear "Father Morris' Tune"



The third tune also ranks high among Erskine's most powerful performances. This tune is an A modal tune called "The Blue Shannon" and is again a beautiful melding of Irish and French Gaspesian influences. The title suggests that this might be a tune from Ireland named after the Shannon river that flows there. However, searches through tune databases have yielded no tunes by this title. It could be possible that it was brought over with the early Irish settlers in the Gaspé or was composed by one of them to pay homage to that river.

Hear "The Blue Shannon"

Brian and Erskine's ancestry (indeed all the Morris' of Douglastown) can be traced back to a one Thomas Morris who came to Douglastown from County Wexford in South East Ireland with the British Navy fighting against the American Revolutionaries in the Siege of Quebec and the Battle of Valcour Island. An amazing account of Thomas Morris' voyage can be found here at the Douglastown Historical Review.

We have 35 tracks recorded on this tape. As Brian and I feel the music is extra special on this tape, on account of how rare many of these tunes are and how authentically they are played, we are in the process of investigating ways to put together a little cd of this recording so that this music can reach a wider audience. We'll keep you all updated as this side-project develops.

In the meantime, enjoy these tunes

3 comments:

  1. Such a joy to wake to find these tunes. Would gladly buy a cd of these tunes, so please go ahead with this project.

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  2. Great fiddling! Thanks for helping to preserve a unique style of fiddling. The tune that you have labelled "Liverpool Hornpipe" is actually "Victory Breakdown," which was recorded by Don Messer. The first parts of the tunes are quite similar.
    Vivian Williams

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  3. Thanks Vivian for the tip. I've re-labelled the Liverpool Hornpipe.

    Thanks for the encouragement Griffey.

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