Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


Robert Norman (Bob) Townsend Jr.,South Pittsburg, Tennessee (RTOWMNS4161@AOL.COM)

Bob was born April 10, 1956 in Decatur, Georgia. His first career was cut short: "When the coal mines closed, I went back to school after a 15 year hiatus." He now holds an Associate Degree in Physical Therapy and works in home health physical therapy. Bob is a member of Chattanooga Area Friends of Folk Music, International Bluegrass Music Association, and he recently joined North American Fiddlers Association.


Bob's heritage is Scots Irish and German. His parents were born in Georgia and Michigan. Before Bob, there were no other fiddlers in the family; he began learning how to play in his late teens, while living in south Tennessee. He did not originally take private lessons but after playing for about a dozen years, he took twice-monthly lessons for about a year from Jim Wood, "whom I had known and played with and against in contests". In the last year, Bob has participated in workshops with Bruce Molsky and John Hartford. He remembers that his first fiddle tune was Sally Goodin, which he learned by listening to recordings. Today he has "too many" favorite fiddle tunes to list, let alone favorite fiddle players.


Bob enjoys playing different fiddle styles, from old time tunes to bluegrass, two steps, and a few jigs. He utilizes cross tuning in some of these tunes. Bob also plays guitar, tenor guitar, and mandolin, and his favorite backup instruments are, perhaps not coincidentally, those same three. Bob has played in church and can also be found playing at dances, festivals, concerts, weddings, and at house jams.


You can also find Bob attending and playing in fiddle contests. His first contest was at Powell's Crossroads in 1978, where he played Sally Goodin and Tennessee Waltz, with guitar backup. He has also entered the fiddle contest at Galax, Virginia. Bob does believe a competent contest judge should be a fiddler.


Bob describes his fiddling as "bluegrass/Texas contest/old time" and names Chubby Wise and Benny Thomasson among "too many" earlier influential fiddlers. He considers there to be "as many styles [of fiddling] as there are fiddlers", but where he lives mostly bluegrass and contest styles predominate. Bob plays in a band and is featured on the following recordings: Marion County Bluegrass, Mountain Valley Bluegrass, and Mountain Valley Bluegrass - Bluegrass Memories.


The violin Bob played for this recording was made by Joseph Bohman, in Germany, 1889. It is a Strad model with a warm and loud tone, "good in all climates". He uses no shoulder rest to play and prefers to draw his pernambuco bow across D'Addario Helicore strings. He collects violins by trading and does his own setup, although not bow rehairing.


Many fellow Fiddle-listers can relate to Bob's reasons for playing the fiddle: "enjoyment ... challenging".


Bob recorded Smoke Behind the Clouds and Chinquapin Hunting. He learned them from other fiddlers within the last few years. His backup is provided by bandmate in Marion County Bluegrass, Charles Higgins.