Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More Pembroke 2013

My friend, Bill Erwin, from the Pontiac recently uploaded two videos of Brian, Brigid, and me playing two tunes on a relaxing Sunday afternoon at the end of the week. We learned both of these tunes from Erskine Morris and they appear as earlier posts on this blog. As we set into winter here in Eastern Canada, these videos certainly bring back nice memories of the warm days at last summer's end. Here we are playing the "Tune from the North Coast":

Here we are playing "The Little Boy's Reel":

Brian gets in some really tasty lead picking that is right in sync on the last tune.

I wanted to let the readers know that Bill Erwin's YouTube channel is probably the finest and most extensive collection of grass-roots Canadian fiddle culture on the Internet. What's amazing to me is that Bill isn't a musician himself; however, he grew up surrounded by it with an uncle who played with some of the finest fiddlers in the Gatineau Valley. Since the 1980s, has taken video and audio recordings of fiddle culture around the Ottawa and Gatineau Valleys. You can spend many hours checking out the videos on his site. Big thanks to Bill for all his great work.

Here is Bill's channel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pembroke Reflections


Brigid Drody and her guitar at the recently installed Gaspé tent.
Following the blog tradition I thought I would do a little post about another fantastic week spent at the Gaspé tent at the Pembroke Fiddle and Step-Dance week in Pembroke, Ontario. I was lucky this year to be able to spend the whole week, from Monday, August 26 until Monday, September 2nd, at the festival.

When I had decided earlier in the summer that I would spend the whole week, I was hoping to gain better perspective on the Gaspesian experience at Pembroke where a core group has been coming yearly since 1981. I wanted to see first-hand how this group prepares the site and welcomes their friends who arrive during the rest of the week. This core group arrives on the Sunday evening before the week starts in order to start setting up their reserved site early the next morning. However, staying the whole week also gave me the chance to spend some quality time with friends there before I headed back to school in Newfoundland for the next eight months.

A visit from Maurice from Valleyfield, QC
After a slight detour trying to find some desperately needed fiddle strings in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, I arrived in in Pembroke in the early afternoon on Monday, August 26. Walking over from the parking lot with my fiddle, tent, and sleeping bag, I found Jimmy, Gary, and Lonzo diligently setting up the tent while Brigid, Mary, Julia, and Dorris were having a few laughts by the Snowman trailer. After a warm welcome, I wasted little time offering my services to Brigid's husband, Jimmy, the "site foreman." Although no one seemed eager to put me to work, I waited around for work for several minutes anyways until Gary suggested a job I could do for the gang: "Go rosin up your bow and play us a few tunes." I requested Brigid's guitar services and in no time we were seated in the middle of the platform, the men hard at work around us, and into a bunch of Cyril Devouge's old tunes. I'm proud to say that the first fiddle tune played at the Gaspesian tent at Pembroke 2013 was Cyril's, "The Golden Rooster." The music was flowing smooth between Brigid and I and Gary even took a few work breaks to give us a taste of his step dancing. What I thought would be a short jam, turned in to a three hour session in the midst of an intimate and appreciative audience. I'd say the week was off to an excellent start.

George Dion and his new camper van
I appreciated the laid-back atmosphere and casual music making that happens in the early part of the week with visits from musicians from neighbouring camps. These included visits from Maurice from Valleyfield, QC and Marc Sauvé from the Chateauguay Valley.

George Dion, a Gaspesian from Belle-Anse who has spent his adult life in Nevada, arrived early in the week in his new camper. He and I had a two great after-hours jam sessions once everyone else had gone to bed. George is a really special fiddler; he manages to incorporate the great syncopated Gaspé bow-work and foot percussion into a wide repertoire of tunes he learned around Belle-Anse and from commercial records and the television. Here's a recording of George and I playing a cute F tune that he learned from a Nova Scotia fiddler back in 2004. He says he always plays this tune when he picks up his fiddle at home.

On Friday, August 30 we were joined by Brian Morris who stayed with us for two and a half days. Within a few minutes of his arrival on Friday afternoon, he and Brigid were tearing it up on the guitars. I had been chatting with the Snowmans when I heard some great picking coming from the inside of Brigid's trailer and I when I realized something special was going on, I came in to enjoy the music. I even managed to record a few tunes which Brian has offered to share with us. Brian has a really intuitive command of the Gaspe feel when he plays picks fiddle tunes on the guitar and I've always enjoyed just hearing him and Brigid play these tunes as a duo. Here are a few tunes they played in the trailer. The first is a great Isidore Soucy tune called "La gigue de sans-travail" that Brian and I both learned off the Virtural Gramophone website. Brian's father was a big Isidore Soucy fan and we have both discovered Soucy's music through his father's repertoire. The second tune is an old song called "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight" which is a favourite among many of the Gaspesians I've played for. Brian worked it out on the guitar inspired by a dobro version he heard on YouTube. He's done a great job working the dobro double stops and picking style into his guitar interpretation.The last tune Brian worked out on the guitar many years ago from Jean Carrignan's "La ronfleuse Gobeil." He gets a great feel on this tune and I love the way he doubles up on notes like his father and Cyril did in their fiddle playing; its a great way to fill out these tunes on the guitar.

Saturday Evening: The Drodys in Concert
By the weekend, we were joined by Brigid's brothers Joseph and Anthony from Scarborough, Ontario and New Jersey. I've always been lucky to learn a new tune from the Drody brothers each year at Pembroke. This year was no exception. Late one night, Anthony recalled an old tune his father and uncle used to play and he kindly taught it to me. Its a catchy short tune in that, like many of the old Gaspe tunes, has only two phrases to each a turn. The next afternoon I had a lovely jam session with Brian and Brigid and we played this tune for Anthony. Here is the recording of what I have decided to call "Anthony Drody's Tune." Thanks Anthony!

Saturday is always a special day at the Gaspe tent with card parties and the big group suppers put on by the Snowmans and the Drodys. My dinner with the Snowmans included Mary's legendary fish cakes, baked beans, and potatoes. No one went hungry that night. I wanted to personally thank the Snowmans for all the hospitality throughout the week. I think it fitting to note that we were sad to be without Ross Tuzo who passed away last Spring.
Mary Snowman's baked beans

Michel Mallette from Valleyfield joined us for a night of music on Saturday night. He's a wonderful player and a nice guy as well. Here is Michel playing a great medley of two G tunes including Lee Cremo's "Constitution Breakdown." And here's Michel playing another medley, this time "Shingle the Roof" and "Diamond Lil."

For the final evening Sunday evening we were treated to a special concert by the Drodys (Joseph, Anthony, and Brigid). Here they are playing one of their Dad's favourite tunes: "Fisher's Hornpipe." Their show was the perfect way to cap off a week at the Gaspé tent and everyone was glad to see this family doing what they've done best together for over 65 years. For me personally, this was a great send off for the long drive back to Newfoundland the next day. Thanks to all there for their hospitality and good times. See you next August!

Another year of Pembroke: The boys packing up the Gaspe tent.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Mountain Reel

Hello readers,

After a great summer in Gaspé, Montreal, and a week at Pembroke, I'm back in Newfoundland and already in the thick of it with school obligations. I'm currently in the process of writing a grant proposal and I've been listening to Erskine's music to keep me inspired. This great tune came up and I thought I'd share it with you:

Hear the Mountain Reel

This is Erskine's unique setting of a classic tune you find all over North America and Ireland where they call it the "Boys of Bluehill." Other titles for this tune in North America include "Jenny Baker" and "Twin Sisters" and "Birdie in a Snowbank".

Anyhow, when Brian sent me a tape of his father's he had just digitized, we were both struck by the great feel Erskine gets on this tune. He gets such a deep groove with Brian's guitar on this recording.

Soon to come: I'm hoping to do a little reflection of the wonderful time we had at Pembroke this year. Lots of music, video, and pictures to share.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Gaspe Party

As I gear up to head to Gaspe this Wednesday for a few weeks, I thought I'd share with the readers a great tune written by Neil MacKay, a fiddler from Saint-Urbain-Premier, Quebec in the Chateauguay Valley.

Neil played for Gaspé parties in the Montreal for many years and was featured in the audio documentary I produced for the StoryNet project. One of the great things about spending so much time working on this project was that I had the chance to listen closely and repetitively to a bunch of great music. This tune was one of the pieces featured in the documentary. I'm really touched by all the people (over 218 at the time of this writing) who have listened to the documentary and left positive feedback since it was released last week. Knowing how much this music means to the Gaspesian community is a constant reminder of why I love doing this kind of work.

Anyhow, as I'm looking forward to quite a few Gaspé parties in the kitchens around Douglastown in the next few weeks, this tune, called "The Gaspe Party," only seemed appropriate.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Audio Documentary - 600 Miles of Music


Its been a slow year for posting here with school and other projects since I decided to devote myself to the music path full-time. Anyhow, I spent the entire month of June working on an audio documentary for the StoryNet oral history project run by the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network.

The audio documentary features three of my favourite people that Gaspe fiddling has introduced me to over the last few years: Brigid Drody, Cyril Devouge, and Neil MacKay. My idea for the documentary was to explore how music has connected these three musicians across six decades and six hundred miles, from the Gaspe Coast to the Chateauguay Valley, and to "hear" these musical relationships through Brigid's ears.

You can listen here:

The music featured spans six decades and is played exclusively by the three musicians or their friends and families in the Gaspe and Chateauguay Valley—from the archival collections of Brian Morris, Brigid Drody, and Glenn Patterson. The music is:

1. A Bruce Armitage Tune – Gerald Giroux and Brigid Drody (June 2013)
2. Unknown Tune – Unknown Douglastown fiddler (late 1950s – 1960s)
3. Reggie Rooney’s Tune – Erskine Morris (1960s)
4. The Queen’s Reel – Unknown Douglastown fiddler and stepdancers (1960s)
5. Tommy Rooney’s Jig – Erskine Morris (1960s)
6. Douglastown House Dance – Erskine Morris or Charlie Drody and dancers (1950s)
7. Beautiful Gaspe – Mary Ellen Drody-Savidant (1994)
8. Unknown Tune – Joseph, Anthony, and Brigid Drody with Gary Snowman (Brigid’s birthday/New Year’s in Howick, 1991)
9. The Tadoussac Reel – Ernest Drody and Rita White (Douglastown, 1960s)
10. Cyril Devouge’s Hornpipe – Cyril Devouge (Pembroke, 1990s)
11. Leslie Devouge’s Tune – Cyril Devouge, lilting (Chateauguay, 2010)
12. Leslie Devouge’s Tune – Cyril Devouge and Brigid Drody (Howick, 1990s)
13. The Golden Rooster – Cyril Devouge, lilting (Chateauguay, 2010)
14. Unknown Tune – Cyril Devouge and Brigid Drody (Howick, 1990s)
15. Roland White’s Tune – Cyril Devouge, harmonica (Chateauguay, 2010)
16. Frenchie’s Reel – Neil MacKay and Brigid Drody (Howick, 1990s)
17. Sandy MacIntyre’s Trip to Boston – Neil MacKay and Brigid Drody (Athelstan, 2012)
18. The Traveler’s Jig – Neil MacKay (Saint-Urbain Premier, 2013)
19. Gary’s Fiddle – Neil MacKay (original tune, Saint-Urbain Premier, 2013)
20. The Gaspe Party – Neil MacKay (original tune from his album, “Chateauguay Valley Aires”, 2000)
21. The Gaspe Party – Neil MacKay (Saint-Urbain Premier, 2013)
22. Unknown Tune – Neil MacKay and Brigid Drody (Howick, 1990s)
23. The Winter Reel – Neil MacKay and Brigid Drody (At Cyril’s rest home, Chateauguay Quebec, 2010)

The Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) has been very good to me and an active supporter of Gaspesian culture and English-speaking heritage in the province more generally. They do really amazing work. I especially encourage people to check out the other stories available online at the StoryNet website, a truly amazing initiative.

Dwane Wilkin runs the StoryNet project and many other initiatives at QAHN and without his support this documentary would not have been possible. It was a pleasure to be able to contribute to StoryNet.

I also wanted to thank Brigid and Neil MacKay for allowing me to interview them for this project. Shea Shackleford is a personal friend and a great radio producer, originally from the U.S. and now living in Montreal, who gave me lots of guidance along the way in the nuts n' bolts of making an audio documentary and I owe him a huge thanks too. He has a bunch of podcasts and radio stories available online at

Happy Listening (sounds best with headphones or good speakers)!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Off to Little Rock - Arkansas Traveller

Hello readers,

I'm off to Little Rock, Arkansas tomorrow bright an early to present a paper on Gaspé fiddling to the annual conference of the Society for American Music. I'm excited to be sharing the music and memories that our Gaspesian friends have shared with me over the years.

I wanted to send a special thanks to Norma McDonald, Alfred Thompson, and Brian Morris who provided much of the material for my paper through their insights.

Both Alfred and Norma shared their memories of Johnny Drody with me. So for them I dedicate today's tune, perhaps appropriately, Johnny playing the Arkansas Traveller with Brigid on the guitar.

Arkansas Traveller - Johnny Drody


Saturday, March 2, 2013

From Lisa Ornstein: Tommy Rooney's Jig

Hello readers,

Lisa Ornstein, a new friend of the blog, has something to contribute to fans of Gaspé fiddling on the blog today. Lisa is a wonderful fiddler who has a deep knowledge of Québecois and Appalachian music. She was the fiddler for the Québecois super-group La Bottine Souriante for twelve years so she really knows what she is doing when she gets behind a fiddle.

She recently learned Tommy Rooney's Jig from the recording of Erskine during the 1960s that we posted a few years ago. She has made a transcription and a recording of her playing the tune over on her website:

She beautifully captures so many of the subtleties of Erskine's playing and gets an amazing groove on her recording. Her transcription is equally excellent and I encourage any music-readers out there to give it a look.

I want to take the opportunity to thank Lisa on behalf of Brian and I for helping to share the Gaspé music. Its wonderful to know that great tunes like Tommy Rooney's Jig and the memories of the people who played this music will continue to be cherished.

Have a browse around her site. There is some great music on there.

Thanks Lisa!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tunes with Brigid


Its been a long while since a post here. Here are some tunes Brigid and I played together last December when I was in town. It was great to spend time with her and Jimmy and see Brian and many other friends from Montreal and the Chateauguay Valley while I was in town.

The first is "Eva's Tune" which we've heard before on this blog. I was inspired to learn this one after hearing our friend Laura Risk play it at house parties with our Gaspesian friends. She learned this beautiful piece from Eva's brother Ernest Drody (Brigid's cousin) back in 2010. When Laura and I have been in the Gaspé, many people in Douglastown and L'Anse-a-Brillant have enjoyed hearing this tune again and remember it being played many years ago. Cyril Devouge hummed this tune to us during one of our visits and Cecil Leggo of L'Anse-a-Brillant also remembered hearing it as soon as we started playing it when we visited last spring.

Hear "Eva's Tune"

The second tune is a waltz I composed for Leona Devouge who was Cyril's only sister. She was a wonderful woman whom I got to know only briefly but I was really moved by her radiant personality that I decided to write a tune for her. Brigid is doing a wonderful job chording for me here and I can confirm this was the first time she had played or heard the tune.

Hear "Leona's Waltz"

You can hear Erskine playing a great version of "Eva's Tune." Erskine and some other older players played it in D with the bass string raised. It becomes a different tune in each key and I like them both equally. Ernest's version in G has a lovely melodic contour while the version in D seems to drive a little more and I can imagine it being good for step-dancing.

I don't think I'll have much opportunity to post stuff here while I'm in school, but I look forward to seeing my Quebec friends again in the spring and summer and being a little more active with this blog.

In the meantime, enjoy the tunes!