Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


45.

Ramon Selby, Bremerton, Washington (illaheemanor@comstation.com; http://www.comstation.com/illaheemanor)

Ramon was born in Casper, Natrona County, Wyoming, on June 21, 1942. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from California State - Fullerton in 1968 and is currently the innkeeper of a bed & breakfast. He is a member of Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association and is past chair of District 5.

HERITAGE, HISTORY, LESSONS, FAVORITE TUNE

Ramon's heritage is 1/8 German, 1/8 Cherokee, and a mixture of English, Scot, Irish. His father was born in Mitchell, Nebraska, and his mother in Casper, Wyoming. "[I] grew up in a very musical family: great grandfather hauled a pump organ in a horse-drawn wagon all over western Nebraska, playing for dances. Grandmother played organ & piano, father plays guitar & sings, mother plays piano, Hawaiian guitar, bass, tenor guitar, banjo & uke, sisters both play piano, accordion & bass; but I am the only family to ever really play fiddle. [I] began playing at age 8 in Casper, Wyoming. My mother's music teacher when she took Hawaiian guitar lessons in the late '30's was still teaching, so I and my sisters all took lessons from him in the '50's. His name was Jack Blakely & he was a very versatile musician. He moved to Wyoming from Oklahoma during the depression-dustbowl days; so was a fan of Milton Brown, Bob Wills, etc., but also an ardent admirer of classical music. He played fiddle, guitar, banjo and taught fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, banjo, bass, accordion, piano -- about anything with strings. Weekly lessons from him were o.k., but most of what I learned & enjoyed came on Sunday nights when he and a lot of other folks would come to my parents' home to jam. I and Jack were the only fiddlers. He knew lots of tunes, but did not remember the names of many & after all these years I remember even fewer names. But even now I will suddenly begin playing songs I heard forty-five years ago and had totally forgotten since.

"Our family played regularly for nursing homes, churches, lodge meetings, PTA meetings, etc., so we rehearsed many evenings when other kids would be watching TV. We learned all sorts of songs together: western music a la Sons of the Pioneers, popular ballads of the '50's, hymns and spirituals, old time songs of every sort. Also, when the Sons of the Pioneers would visit Casper we would get to spend some time with them and sometimes jam with Hugh Farr, their fine fiddler. I also jammed with Hugh on occasion in the '70's when he was living with my folks. Other informal lessons occurred in sitting in with bands at dances and then during high school years I played regularly for country dances at the Sweetwater Schoolhouse near Independence Rock on the Oregon Trail, the VFW Hall at Powder River, Wyoming and Midwest & Kaycee, Wyoming. In fact, for over a year I played every Friday, Saturday & Sunday night for dances somewhere."

Ramon has attended a couple of workshops: Washington Old Time Fiddlers (1994), and Mark O'Connor's Camp (Fall, 1995). He learned his first fiddle tune, Bear Creek Hop, from a 78 record, before he began taking lessons. He doesn't remember who was playing on that recording. "My favorite fiddle tune of all time is Boggy Road to Texas. I learned it from Hugh Farr. He played it the best. And he is my favorite fiddler."

TYPES OF TUNES, INSTRUMENTS, VENUES

"I enjoy playing hoedowns, waltzes, schottisches, marches, two-steps, swing, jazz, about anything. I learned many cross tuned songs years ago and still remember a few. It's been difficult to remember lots of tunes, because I basically quit playing for thirty years: married to a woman who didn't care for it, then too involved in other things. Also, the only opportunities to play for dancers in the '60's [were at] smokey bars. If I had kept on playing those places I am afraid I would have ended up like so many musicians have: hooked on booze or worse or dead.

"My daughter got me interested in playing again in 1993 & I joined WOFTA & started learning all over. Don't have much time to play, but sure enjoy it when I do. Am trying to learn mandolin and guitar, but I would not say that I "play" them." Ramon notes that he prefers guitar for backing up fiddle tunes, but he also enjoys piano, accordion, bass, banjo, mandolin... "hell, I'll play with anybody! I've played for many dances, played in church, played for funerals, wakes, weddings you name it, but any more it's mostly nursing homes - they really enjoy old time music - and WOFTA jams and shows."

CONTESTS

"I entered the Washington State Fiddle contest in 1993 and 1995 - placed third in the adult division both times. Don't remember the names of other contestants. I enjoy contests, but only the fun of it & the jamming & playing in front of an audience -- I could care less about the competitive aspect of it. It's great to be able to get together with better fiddlers, like Vivian Williams, Pete Martin, Stuart Williams, Glen Berry, Tony Ludiker and Paul Anastasio; plus the great backup players that go to fiddle contests are just wonderful fun to play with. There is nothing that's more fun than a fiddle contest as long as you keep it that: FUN. I've never judged, but think it is necessary that judges be fiddlers to be good judges.

STYLE

"My style is a mishmash of things I learned from Jack Blakely & Hugh Farr many years ago, things I stole from great fiddlers of the past -- Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Keith Coleman, Joe Holley, etc.; things I'm stealing now from Cliff Bruner, Darol Anger, Byron Berline, Johnny Gimble, Svend Asmussen; but most importantly the things I'm stealing from great Washington fiddlers right now: the Ludikers, Vivian, Stuart, Pete, Glen and what I'm going to steal from the other participants in this project -- so I got a lotta style, I just ain't got much class. My view is there are about as many styles as fiddlers -- all of them good, none of them bad. Vivian would have a much better idea of what the dominant style would be in the Northwest, so I'll go along with whatever she says.

"I do not play in a band regularly -- would love to, if I had the time. My only official recording is Track 28 of "Washington Traditional Fiddlers Project, Volume II, 'Generations.'" Northwest Folklife, Seattle, Washington.

THE INSTRUMENT

"In 1954 on Hugh Farr's recommendation my parents took me to Callier's Violin Shop in North Hollywood, CA. There I bought a German Strad copy that Herr Callier warranted was over one hundred years old at that time. I don't know that it was, really, but it doesn't matter, because that day I did get to play a genuine Stradivarius for 30 minutes or so. Mine has "Grand Concert Violin" engraved on the back of the scroll where so many have "Conservatory." It probably is not worth much, but it is my main fiddle. It has a split personality -- warm and deep some days, skritchy and scratchy on others -- or is that the fiddler? It's not a bad sounding box, not the greatest, either, so I guess it fits me. I only use a shoulder rest when I'm having pain, more and more as I get older and older. It's a Kun, but I'm going to get what Paul Anastasio recommended on the list last Fall, if I ever remember what it was. I am still experimenting with strings -- can't tell what I like the best right now. Glenn Berry gave me a nice old bow he picked up at auction -- heavy, over 70g. I love it. I'd like to collect violins, but want a good mando before I add to the six or so fiddles I have now. I do basic maintenance & setup, but leave repairs to someone like Glenn or Joe Hanson (a legend here in my area). I send my bows out for rehairing, but probably not often enough. I don't build fiddles, but want to someday when I have the time -- have friends that do."

WHY DO YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?

"I play fiddle to maintain my sanity. I don't know how I got through that thirty years playing only once or twice a year. I gotta play it, gotta listen to others play it, gotta have those tunes going through my head 24 hours a day."

THE TUNES

Ramon's list of tunes and their sources:

Hugh Farr - "Boggy Road to Texas"

Jack Blakely - "Jack's Breakdown" - 'cuz he couldn't remember the name

Jack Blakely - "Blakely's Waltz" ditto

Clyde Thompson - "Ames Waltz" his father played this tune, but had died before I was born, so Clyde sort of picked it out on mandolin, and fiddle & told me when it sounded right.

All were learned about 1952-1954.

Backup musicians used are Jay Roberts, guitar & Dave Bennett, guitar.