Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


 

19.

Woodrow Lee (Woody) McKenzie, Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S. (wmckenzi@runet.edu / http://www.bev.net/community/NRAC/perform/mckenzie.html)

Woody was born August 6, 1952 in Bluefield, Mercer County, West Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, and is currently an instructor of physical science at Radford University. He is a member of the New River Valley Old Time Music Association.

HERITAGE, HISTORY, LESSONS, FAVORITE TUNE

Woody's heritage is Appalachian; his parents were born in Ashland and McComas, West Virginia. His family's musical heritage is rich. One of his grandfathers played fiddle; both grandfathers played clawhammer banjo; his brother is a professional country western fiddler. His mother plays mandolin; his father played 2-finger banjo and guitar. Woody began playing fiddle at age 25, while in Nutrioso, Arizona. He mainly taught himself and also listened to some instructional tapes. His mother showed him Liberty and Golden Slippers on the mandolin; these tunes were among the first he learned on fiddle. When asked about his current favorite fiddle tune, Woody responds: "When I woke up this morning, a French Canadian tune I have been trying to learn from a Lisa Ornstein recording was going through my head. Often a [my favorite is] a different tune every day." Woody notes he has no single favorite fiddler.

TYPES OF TUNES, INSTRUMENTS, VENUES

In addition to hoedowns, reels, etc., Woody enjoys playing jigs, polkas, swing tunes, rags, blues, and breaks to songs. He also plays guitar (mostly rhythm), mandolin, a little electric bass, and is learning Anglo concertina. Woody prefers different backing instruments, depending on the tune; mostly he likes the guitar, and sometimes banjo by itself, or piano when playing contra dances. Woody plays for square dances and swing. He also plays in the local Unitarian Fellowship. He and his wife perform frequently as a duo, "for concerts & dances, children's shows, conferences, weddings, elderhostels, etc. We currently have a weekly jam in a bar down the street. I play or dance there often. [I also] play in an acoustic swing band occasionally."

FIDDLE CONTESTS

Woody likes fiddle contests, "but I like festivals with varied music better. I get tired of hearing one fiddle tune after the other and nothing else." He has not competed in a fiddle contest, but has played in the band competition at some festivals to retrieve the entrance fee, saying that he doesn't care for the competition himself but is not opposed to contests in general. "I am strongly individualistic and tend to strive more for energy and not finesse, so I would not do well in competitions. I play for the pure pleasure and for others to enjoy music."

STYLE

Though Woody's style is influenced by oldtime dance, he doesn't try to emulate any specific style; "I do well to just play fiddle." He notes that Southern Appalachian and bluegrass are popular in his region. Woody has made several recordings, including two homemade productions, "Just for kids"-- for young children, and "Fathers' Fathers"-- folk and original music. He is also featured on a live folk variety concert, "Live From Mountain Lake" (available on CD and cassette). Visit his web page for more information on these recordings.

THE INSTRUMENT

Woody has a German Strad copy made early in this century which was recently regraduated and made left handed. This is his main fiddle -- its sound is even across the strings and responsive. He has a Maggini copy with a powerful sound, especially on the bass. He also owns a "Bohemian" which is mellow and fat on the bass, but not as responsive as the Strad copy and a bit thin on the E. All his fiddles have been completely converted to left hand. He uses a high Resonans shoulder rest. He has mostly used Dominant strings, but right now has D'Addario Zyex on one fiddle and Helicores (D'Addario) on another. He does not care for solid steel strings; he prefers wound E strings, but right now has unwound ones on his fiddles. His brother recently made a gift of a C.F. Durro bow to Woody; it quickly became his favorite. He occasionally performs minor maintenance, such as bridge fitting and soundpost adjustment. He carved his own chinrests, built a mandolin case for his wife and converted his Maggini to left hand. He refinished the first fiddle he owned -- it was given to him heat damaged in a fire with a bubbled varnish.

WHY DO YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?

"Fiddle moves me. I have a driving energy that makes fiddle a drug for me."

THE TUNES

"Goin' to the Woods is a song that my wife and I wrote about ten years ago. I came up with the words and she came up with the melody. I'm not sure it is appropriate for this tape, but this is what I do with the fiddle. Buck Mountain/Wooden Nickel/Ragtime Annie is a medley of D tunes that I play at square dances. I learned the first two this past year from John Long, a banjo player who moved here from Ohio. Ragtime Annie is a tune I learned early on. Marcia, my wife, is playing banjo and singing on Goin' to the Woods. She is playing guitar on the square dance medley. She is originally from Ithaca, New York. She was classically trained on oboe as a child, but took up folk music in the early 80's. I was the person who encouraged her to learn guitar (she played mandolin when I met her and I needed a rhythm player!). When we inherited my father's banjo, she took it up too. She also plays other instruments, including piano rhythm, recorder, pennywhistle, and sings a lot."