One of my favorite Yogi Berra-isms went something like this. “That restaurant is too crowded, so nobody goes there anymore.” The same thing happens to fiddle tunes. Everyone seems to know Devil’s Dream and the Irish Washerwoman but they don’t get played that much anymore. Others, such as Soldier’s Joy, are just as popular now as ever they were. One great classic that seems to fall through the cracks is Miller’s Reel. It’s one I love to play for dancing whenever I can and it always seems to perk up a jam session. It’s got drive, oomph and class, plus it’s not that hard to pick up and it bears up well to messing around. I guess that’s why I picked Marty Dahlgren’s 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 Society’s Hall of fame. He was also a great hoedown fiddler and I’ve 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 – 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 Miller’s 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 Larry’s daughter Mary (Williams) Marker. Weird, huh?
So here’s to taking an old classic, breathing new life into it and making it your own. Try a little Miller’s Reel and then mess around with some other classics and see what you come up with.