Tune of the Month: Miller's Reel
One of my favorite Yogi Berra-isms went something like this. ďThat restaurant is too crowded, so nobody goes there anymore.Ē The same thing happens to fiddle tunes. Everyone seems to know Devilís Dream and the Irish Washerwoman but they donít get played that much anymore. Others, such as Soldierís Joy, are just as popular now as ever they were. One great classic that seems to fall through the cracks is Millerís Reel. Itís one I love to play for dancing whenever I can and it always seems to perk up a jam session. Itís got drive, oomph and class, plus itís not that hard to pick up and it bears up well to messing around. I guess thatís why I picked Marty Dahlgrenís version to highlight.
Sad to say but Marty passed away in 2012. As you may know he was widely known for his Western Swing fiddling and is honored in the Northwest Western Swing Music Societyís Hall of fame. He was also a great hoedown fiddler and Iíve had the pleasure of playing right along with him at square and contra dances in Seattle. He liked to mess around with the tunes or improvise around the edges as I played them fairly straight. I first heard him in the 1970s with Lance Romance, one of many western swing, square dance and country bands to feature his fiery fiddling Ė Jack Roberts and the Evergreen Drifters, Curly Johnson and the Western Melody Boys to name a few - dances with callers Joe Hall or Kappy Kappenman and a featured spot at the Festival of American Fiddle tunes in Port Townsend.
My own introduction to Millerís Reel came as a teenager back in Michigan. We used to drive up to Lansing to hear The Williams Family (Oh no! not another one). The late Larry Williams was the fiddler and patriarch of this mostly bluegrass outfit and could play some great old time fiddle music as well. I was fortunate to attend a few jam sessions and watch Larry closely, picking up this tune. By the magic of the internet I see that they are still at it, and up to the third generation now. (www.williamsfamilyband.com). One odd connection: I was chatting with my plumber (here in Seattle) as he replaced some fixtures, and it turned out that, not only did he play the fiddle as a child, he grew up in Michigan and took lessons from Larryís daughter Mary (Williams) Marker. Weird, huh?
So hereís to taking an old classic, breathing new life into it and making it your own. Try a little Millerís Reel and then mess around with some other classics and see what you come up with.
Please contact me if you have questions or requests.
Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated March 5, 2013