Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

One of Fred Kennedy's - Pearl of the Coast Revisited

Nearly six years ago, I posted what I still feel is some of the most beautiful Gaspesian fiddle music I've encountered during my time working with Brian Morris on this blog. Back in April 2010, Brian salvaged twenty-five seconds of a tune off an old reel-to-reel that his father made in the 1960s and the sound has captivated me since I first heard it. For lack of a title, Brian decided to call this tune "Pearl From the Coast" back in 2010, a reference to Douglastown's unofficial title.

Here is the twenty-five second clip

Although twenty-five seconds was enough to give me a sense of both parts of the tune, I wasn't sure if Erskine played any variations throughout the rest of the performance. Or perhaps there were even additional parts not captured in this recorded fragment?

Last month, however, Brian sent me a tune he had just found. It was on one of the remaining tapes of his father's that he had yet to digitize. Erskine identifies it as one of Fred Kennedy's tunes. As I listened for the first time, I began to smile as I knew I was hearing something familiar if somewhat distant. And then it dawned on me that this was the mysterious and beautiful tune from the early days of this project. The tempo here is faster and more driving, but it is otherwise quite close to the other performance, crooked twists and all.

Here is the latest recording, "One of Fred Kennedy's"

Douglastown - The Pearl of the Coast
We haven't been able to find out much about Fred Kennedy although he was clearly a fiddler from Douglastown. According to Joseph and Anthony Drody, he was one of the very old local fiddlers who they don't remember very well.

The wonderful site, "Our Gaspé Roots," shows a Frederick Thomas Kennedy who lived from 1855 until 1942. Given when this Fred Kennedy lived, Erskine would have known him in Douglastown from before his stint in the army; and Joseph and Anthony would have been teenagers when he died at age 87. And so it is possible that this is the same Fred Kennedy from whom Erskine learned this gorgeous tune.

If so, his parents were John Kennedy and Catherine Morris, both born in the 1810s. This Fred Kennedy's great-grandfathers were William Kennedy and Thomas Morris, both among the first settlers of Douglastown, having arrived in 1785. William Kennedy (approx. 1740-1797) was an Irish-born Loyalist refugee who had been living in New York State before the American Revolution broke out; Thomas Morris (about 1750-1792) was also Irish-born and had been a British sea captain who had fought the American's at Valcour Island and later escorted Loyalist refugees to both New Carlisle and Douglastown (where he also settled). More information on Douglastown's early settlers can be found in Al White's newsletters, the Douglastown Historical Review from a few years back. I find myself constantly returning to his newsletters for the extensive research they contain.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Uncle Peter's Tune" - Erskine & King Marion

Here's a tune that caught my ear a few years ago and is one I've been playing often for the past six months. Erskine didn't supply a title for it—this came a few years later when I found a tape of old Gaspe fiddlers in Willie Methot's collection. On the tape, Kingsley Marion played this tune during a house party and the person recording announced it as "Uncle Peter's Tune." Kingsley (or "King" as he was known) seems to have been from the Line Road, either Bougainville or Belle-Anse. Some of the old timers still remember him but he left the coast many years ago. I'm in the process of finding out more information on him. He was certainly a wonderful player. Also, if any readers thinks they might know who Uncle Peter was, drop us a line.

Both Erskine and King provide some nice footwork along with the tune, Erskine using what sounds like quite a bit of double toeing to my ears. Bill Lucas from Haldimand also played this tune and so it seems the tune may have once been in wide circulation around the Gaspé area. This lovely melody is just a little peculiar, with loads of lift. It starts off with a charming and sharp melody in G, but when the turn hits it sounds more like a bunch of syncopated bow riffs than a clear melody. As Brian Morris told me a few years ago when we were talking about the character of the old Gaspé tunes:

They’re more rhythmic instead of melodic, because the dancers loved that. I mean there’s syncopated, off-beat stuff. Man, it’s good for dancing. (Brian Morris, July, 2011)

The view from the yard at Belle-Anse School