THE DEVIL'S BOX by Charles Wolfe


Masters of Southern Fiddling
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 Knowledgeable but occasionally arcane collection of essays celebrating the Golden Age of ``old-time'' southern fiddling (192555). Old-time fiddling has an honored place in American culture and history: The industrialist Henry Ford recognized this and marshaled his resources to spark a revival of the art and to promote traditional values. Wolfe (coauthor, The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, 1992) originally published most of these essays in The Devil's Box, a magazine about old-time fiddling. (The fiddle was sometimes called the devil's box, Wolfe notes, ``because some thought it was sinful to play one.'') Like the magazine, this book caters to those with a substantial interest and knowledge in the field. Most of the essays take a scholarly approach to such things as discographies of unreleased ``sides'' by classic fiddlers or resolving the composition credit for ``The Black Mountain Rag.'' Those already familiar with fiddling giants such as Eck Robertson, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Fiddlin' Powers, Doc Roberts, Clayton McMichen, Bob Wills, and Arthur Smith will find the level of detail satisfying; others, especially nonfiddlers, may feel awash in facts. However, there are revealing anecdotes throughout: Arthur Smith, for instance, once showed up for a photo session for the Grand Ole Opry in a suit and was forced to change into rural clothes (a more appropriate look, it was thought, for a country musician) and pose in a pigpen. The idiosyncratic Smith also once dynamited a fishing hole to guarantee himself a good catch. The great Clark Kessinger learned a few chops from the classical violinist Szigeti. Fiddling contests, the history of the Opry, and the early days of recorded country music are well covered. The collection provides a valuable storehouse of fiddling history, but copious research is generally undistilled. Not for the layperson. (13 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8265-1283-6
Page count: 258pp
Publisher: Vanderbilt Univ. Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997