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Old Blue Records

Texas Fiddling - Old Tunes the Old Way

Lewis ThomassonThe first 500 series CD, it has seventeen tracks by Lewis Thomasson (Benny Thomasson's older brother), most dating back to the early 1900s and all played in the fiddle style of those days.

Lewis Thomasson was born August 16, 1901 in Winters, Texas, eight years before his brother Benny. He grew up listening not just to his father and uncles playing the fiddle, but also to his grandfathers. They were, reportedly, successful participants in the local fiddle contests and in great demand at local gatherings. Even more important to Lewis was the fiddling that they did around the house. In particular, Lewis was greatly influenced by his grandfathers. They were around the house a lot, and would while-away the hours playing the fiddle. “Grandfather’s Tune #1,” “Grandfather’s Tune #2,” and “Cruel Master” (all on Old Blue OB-501) and “Wake Up The Neighbors” (County CD-2741) are tunes Lewis definitely traced back to his grandfathers.

His father and uncles were equally important influences on his fiddling. As was the case with many Texan fiddlers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Lewis frequently backed-up his father on guitar both at home and at outside events. A typical event would be a Saturday night dance. Men, young and old, would don their best clothes and get their girlfriend or wife. Once there, someone’s house, a hall, a school house, or a barn, they would pay 25 or 50 cents for the musicians and dance away. If the crowd was too big for the space, each couple would get a number; when it was called, they and a few other couples get out on the floor and take their turn. Lewis and his father played for hundreds of dance like that, often from sundown to sunup, under the stars if the dance was outside, or under lanterns, if inside.

Before Lewis entered his twenties, he had numerous opportunities to see and hear the fiddlers dating back to the latter part of the 1800’s, to listen to their notes and to see their bowing technique and fingerings as they played. No radio, no records,just live fiddlers. He loved their playing as much as they did and absorbed and copied their tunes and mannerisms. Early on he decided to keep playing their tunes the way they did. In 2006, Allan Ray Thomasson, Lewis’s son, e-mailed me that “Lewis did his best to preserve the old ways of playing, so that his music was as he remembered it from the first years of the twentieth century. Lewis always thought that they should be played as he remembered them from the first.” Lewis remained true to his conviction and the seventeen tracks on this CD reflect that conviction. Of the selections on Old Blue 501, at least five definitely go back to his grandfathers, uncles and father (who died in 1924): “Natchez under the Hill,” “Cruel Master,” the untitled tune, and, of course, the two “Grandfather Tunes. As well, at least two of his selections on Texas Hoedown Revisited, can traced back to them: “Straw Bonnet” and “Wake Up The Neighbors.”

In the 1920’s, 78 rpm records began to filter into Runnels County. Certainly the Thomasson family was aware of them because Benny and his brother Jim (1900-1987) went up to Dallas in 1929 to record two sides for Okeh Records. Unfortunately these two sides were never released. In later years Benny could remember one of the two sides, “Scolding Wife.” His 1969 version can be heard on County Records CD-2741, Texas Hoedown Revisited. While Benny couldn’t remember the second tune from that Dallas session, Lewis could. Appropriately, his rendition of “Star Waltz” immediately follows “Scolding Wife” on Texas Hoedown Revisited. It is typical of the way Lewis played the old tunes as he originally heard them. It is possible that some of Lewis’ repertoire came from 78 rpm recordings. “Spanish Two-Step” was recorded by Bob Wills and Adolph Hofner, each well-known Texas fiddlers, “Hickman Rag” by Charlie Bowman, “Indian War Whoop” by Hiter Colvin (in Dallas, October 21, 1929), and “Wild Goose” (as “Wild Geese”) by Ted Gossett.

Lewis never ventured often onto the well-established Texas contest fiddle circuit, as did Benny and many other well-known fiddlers like Eck Robertson and Red Steeley (of the Red Headed Fiddlers). Vernon Solomon, another icon of Texas-style fiddling, commented to me that, during the Great Depression, his father helped feed his family with his contest winnings. One reason is that Lewis was more focused on the guitar. He was a master of the finger-picking, old-time guitar playing not the modern style of Merle Travis and other country guitar masters. His repertoire included classics like “Spanish Fandango,” much lesser known ones like “Italian Fandango” and “Sevastopol,” and hi3 own compositions like “Arlington.” Given that Lewis created a number of notable guitar pieces, it is possible that some of his tunes available on CD were his own creations. Like “Arlington,” several of his fiddle tunes are named after places familiar to Lewis: “Gatesville,” “Valley Springs,” “Coke County,” “Ballenger” and “Cape Giradeau” are all places well-known to Lewis and it is possible that he put these together.

In any event, all of Lewis’s selections, his five tracks on Texas Hoedown Revisited and his seventeen tracks on Lewis Thomasson - Old Texas Fiddle Tunes Played the Old Way, look, smell and taste like old tunes. Taken together they give an important glimpse into old-time Texas fiddle tunes and the old-time Texas fiddle style.

— Charles Faurot, April, 2007

Click on the tunes with red dots before their titles to hear MP3 samples. Click the back button (or close the new tab), on your web browser once you've finished listening.

1 Wild Goose (468 kb) 2:02 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
2 Natchez Under The Hill 1:42 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
3 Cattle In The Canebreak 0:58 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
4 Grandfather's Tune #1 1:02 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
5 I Never Could Love Another Girl Like That 2:18 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
6 Ballenger 1:17 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
7 Cruel Master 1:18 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
8 Grandfather's Tune #2 0:59 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
9 Valley Springs Two-Step 2:00 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
10 Great Big Taters In Sandy Land 1:08 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
11 Hickman's Rag 1:58 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
12 Spanish Two-Step 1:00 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
13 Indian War Whoop 1:16 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
14 Bush In The Shucks 1:38 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle
15 Coke County 1:55 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
16 Indian War Whoop (788 kb) 1:18 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar
17 Untitled Tune 1:41 Lewis Thomasson, fiddle; Alan Ray Thomasson, guitar


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