Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


29.

William Alford (Bill) Shull III, Warrensburg, Missouri (bshull@mail.iland.net / http://www.iland.net/~bshull/NAFA/)

Bill was born July 10, 1950, in Independence, Missouri. He is a Juris Doctor and is currently a practicing attorney. He is a member of National Old Time Fiddlers Association, North American Fiddlers Association, and a founding member of Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association.

HERITAGE, HISTORY, LESSONS, FAVORITE TUNE

Bill's heritage is German/Swedish. His mother was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and his father in Jefferson City, Missouri. No other family members previously played the violin. Bill himself began playing the violin at age 25, while living in Columbia, Missouri. He did participate in formal lessons, as well as "lots of jamming". He participated a workshop held in Bethel, Missouri. The first fiddle tune Bill learned was Black Eyed Susie, which he got from a book. "[My favorite fiddle tune today is] whatever tune I last learned. Seriously." In parallel to this, Bill prefers not to name a favorite fiddler.

TYPES OF TUNES, INSTRUMENTS, VENUES

Besides hoedowns, reels, and waltzes, Bill plays some quadrilles (in 6/8 time), and plays quite a few tunes in cross tuning. He states that he also plays guitar, claiming the title of "world's worst"; he enjoys having someone else play guitar to accompany his fiddling. He plays at fiddle contests, dances and also in church (cultivated music), as well as parties and in schools.

FIDDLE CONTESTS

Bill enjoys attending contests, and does enter the competitions. His first entry was in Quincy, Illinois, around 1979. He remembers playing Swedish Waltz, and Jimmy in the Swamp, with guitar as backup. $5.00 was given to every contestant. Taylor McBaine was one of the winners. A few years ago, Bill received fourth place at the Boonville, Missouri, annual fiddler's contest.

Bill has been a dedicated, active contest judge for the last five years, and in this capacity attends 12 to 15 contests per year. His pay ranges from nothing to $100.00 plus expenses. What makes a good fiddle contest judge? "A very narrow view of what constitutes good fiddling, a very broad view of the spectrum of styles in which that quality may be found, and an ear for the GOOD part of each fiddler's playing. [To be a competent judge], I believe fiddlers inevitably do the best job. But experienced and talented backup musicians can also be quite competent."

STYLE

"I wouldn't try [to describe my current style]; it's too confused right now." Earlier in his fiddling career, he emulated Cyril Stinnett, but says he's not really playing like him much now. "In the United States, there are 5 or 6 styles, vestigially speaking. But it's all homogenizing." In Bill's region, there is no integrated, definable style.

Bill has released a recording: Mel Bay Presents Cross-Tuning Your Fiddle: History, Techniques, and Transcriptions by Bill Shull. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay Publications, 1994. Audio-cassette tape, ISBN 0-7866-0090-X

THE INSTRUMENT

Bill's violin was made by Chris German in 1984. He prefers not to typify its style or sound. He does not use a shoulder rest, and probably uses Prim strings. He uses a "cheap" bow.

 

WHY DO YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?

"Because about twenty-five years ago I bought a record of Wade Ward and Glen Smith (who knows why) and I ended up playing the cut "Arkansas Traveler" over and over for about 4 hours one night (yes, I'd been drinking!). Something about that rendition of that tune grabbed me by the butt and I haven't been able to stop since then. And I'm still no good!!"

THE TUNES

For the tape, Bill chose to use two tunes from a tape recorded years ago. They are: Little Whiskey, cross-tuned AEAE, learned from Nile Wilson, a Missouri tune; and Bear Creek Sally Goodin, cross-tuned AEAC#, learned from Bob Holt, also a Missouri tune. His wife, Margaret Shull, plays backup guitar.