Trading Licks With Alabama Master Fiddler Jim Brock

Twin Fiddling with Jim Brock

I traveled to Tuscaloosa this weekend to give another of my Irish Fiddle Workshops to a group of adult players. As I planned my trip north I was certain that the extent of my fiddling there would be the Irish tunes I’d be teaching throughout the day-long workshop. But on the suggestion of workshop organizer Jo Moore, I came to town the night before to meet and sit in with Alabama Hall of Fame fiddler Jim Brock, who was playing with a country band for a monthly dance held at a community center just north of town.

As I drove north past the catfish farm ponds and rolling hills of west-central Alabama, I have to admit I was a little nervous about playing even a few tunes with Jim. The man is a legendary fiddler, with an historic career that includes a long stint playing with bluegrass legends Jim and Jesse McReynolds, touring with Bill Monroe and Charlie Louvin, and making numerous appearances on the Grand Old Opry. As a youngster he even learned tunes at the knee of Charlie Stripling, the most well-known Old-Time Alabama ‘brag fiddler’ ever!

Now, I’d put in my time as honky-tonk fiddler as a member of country singer John Anderson‘s back-up band in the 1980s and recently finished a three-year turn with a local bluegrass band as well. But would I pass muster with a master of double-stops and swinging, blistering bluegrass licks honed over a fifty-plus-year career?

The tight country band, led by Gene Robertson, was already playing when I showed up and took my fiddle out of its case, but I got the nod from Jim and the boys (they never missed a beat), so I plugged in my Barcus-Berry electric fiddle and waited for a sign. Soon enough, Jim & I were trading licks on timeless Merle Haggard tunes and doing twin fiddle lines on Bob Wills classics like ‘Faded Love’ and ‘Misery’. It all came back to me I guess, and I was suddenly transported back to those Texas honky-tonks where I had honed my fiddle-playing craft with John Anderson. I still had to stay on the ball, however, and studied Jim’s fingers intently through every tune as I tried to play harmony licks on the fly and keep up with his tasty, inventive double-stop runs on every tune.

After the set, I sat down down with Jim and the boys in the band over plates heaped with a delicious pot-luck supper and we talked like it was old times. Jim told stories about working with some of the Giants of the Fiddle, including Kenny Baker and Buddy Spicher. I thanked my lucky stars (and Jo Moore) for deciding to come into town early to be part of this event. Not only was Jim a great fiddler, but a generous man who made me feel right at home from the first lick we played together. I want to thank all the band members for being so kind to me and allowing me to sit in with them. It was a memorable evening of fiddle playing for me and I hope I get the chance to do it again next time I’m in town!

You can read about Alabama Music Hall of Fame fiddler Jim Brock here. Learn about Jim’s mentor Charlie Stripling in Joyce Cauthen’s excellent book on the history of Alabama Old-Time fiddlers, With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow.

3 comments to Trading Licks With Alabama Master Fiddler Jim Brock

  • Sounds like you had a blast Tom! Glad you were able to make it up there.

  • It did bring back memories of my early country fiddling days. And even if I play lots of Irish jigs & reels these days, I still love the sound of twin fiddles on a Bob Wills song!

  • George Morley

    What a nice way to spend an evening. Each time I hear about someone collecting experiences I think about the old saying “get an education, no one can ever take it away from you” or something like that. Anyway, experiences and memories can’t be taken away and it was great that you had the opportunity to add one more that you can have with you always. So glad to hear about your enjoyable experience.

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