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Tune of the Month: The Boggy Road to Texas

The Boggy Road to Texas

Thanks to the WOTFA volunteers and festival staff, this year's Fiddlers Showcase Concert at the Northwest Folklife Festival was a smashing success - great fiddling of all ilks. One ilk, ably represented by Marty Dahlgren and Ramon Selby, was that crossover area where old time fiddling meets swing. Both of these gentlemen have a solid handle on the old time dance tunes and can knock out some pretty hot swing as well. At the WOTFA workshop Marty taught 'Gold Rush' and Ramon (Ray-mun) taught one that Hugh Farr put together called 'The Boggy Road to Texas.' I've been wanting to learn this for some time now and am happily practicing away now. I trust you will enjoy it too.

Ramon Selby, Allyn, WA, was born in 1942 in Casper, Wyoming where he took up the fiddle at the tender age of eight. He was soon playing in the family band for square dances and other shows around town. Among his early influences were a fiddler by the name of Jack Blakely and a friend of his father, the amazing Hugh Farr, who had retired to Casper upon his retirement from life on the road with the Sons of the Pioneers.

Hugh's father, a Texan of Irish/Scottish descent, and his Cherokee mother both played the fiddle. At eight years of age Hugh (b 1903) was accompanying his dad on the guitar for dances till the wee hours. As he relates, We had an old dog of a guitar…that guitar almost killed my fingers….I told my dad, 'this guitar has got to go...I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to learn to play the fiddle and you can play this dog of a guitar.' So one morning about six o'clock…. I told him, 'if you let me stay home today from school, I'll practice all day on the fiddle.' And by the end of the day - Every number he and I played for those country dances, I could play it, and I could play it better that he could. And it just tickled my father… So anyhow, I played fiddle for the dances from then on. A crackerjack old time dance fiddler, he soon began delving into the modern, jazz influenced music he heard on the radio.

As side men to the Sons of the Pioneers (featuring Roy Rogers) Hugh and his guitar wielding brother Karl added a great deal to the band sound. However, their solo instrumental work, in that band and on separate recordings is utterly phenomenal. The famed conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Leopold Stokowski, was once asked who he thought was the greatest natural violinist. He replied that it must be two people - the left hand of Fritz Kreisler and the right hand of “…that fellow who plays with the Sons of the Pioneers.”

Ramon Selby plays many tunes from Hugh Farr's repertoire and captures a certain essence of his style that is wonderfully compelling. Check out Ramon's triple shuffles on 'Texas Crapshooter' (Northwest Folklife's Washington Traditional Fiddler's Project: Volume II). That tune, aka Crapshooter's Rag or Texas Skiparoo, was composed by yet another Williams, Hugh's brother in law, Larken.

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Stuart Williams, Music Editor
stuwilli@mindspring.com

Updated Decemer 20, 2013

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