I was born on April 16, 1962 in Huntington Park, California. My mother Carol was raised in Washington State but lived in California for several years following her marriage to my father Bart. It was during that time I and my brothers Terry and Randy were born. When I was three years old my parents relocated the family to Spokane.
At the beginning of the school year in fifth grade I saw a demonstration of stringed instruments and decided that I wanted to play the violin. As luck would have it, we lived in a home purchased from a fiddling family. The daughter was an accomplished fiddler, so I soon began taking lessons in classical violin and fiddling from her.
Two years later I began competing in local fiddle contests. My first contest was the 1974 Northwest Regional Fiddle Contest in Spokane (I placed 12th in the Junior division). My brother Terry and I attended the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho for the first time in 1976, where I placed sixth in the Junior division (he placed second in the Junior-Junior division). Two of the next three years I was able to place in the top five in the National Junior contest, the highest being third. All this time I was also playing classical violin in the Spokane Youth Orchestra and Junior Symphony. When I graduated high school I decided to concentrate just on fiddling.
In 1980, I turned 18 and began competing in the Open/Championship division in as many contests as I could get to. My first major win came in 1982 when I won my first Washington State Open Division championship.
1983 was an eventful year on the fiddle contest circuit. I went on a three week long five contest swing in June and July, resulting in four championships and one second place finish. This contest swing included the biggest win of all: the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho. It was an honor to win that contest over one of the greatest competitive fiddlers ever - Mark O'Connor.
Since then, I have been fortunate to win the National Fiddle Contest four other times -- in 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1994. Two other people have won as many times: Herman Johnson and Tristan Clarridge.
Now my grown children are carrying on the family fiddle tradition. Dennis and Kimber have won many contests over the years. It was a proud moment at the 2000 Washington State contest when Dennis, Kimber and I took the top three spots in the Open Division. Kimber was named the National Junior Division champion in 2000, Dennis won the Washington State Open Division in 2001, and Kimber continued the Ludiker tradition by winning the Washington State Open Division in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Kimber has also been National Grand Champion twice, in 2009 and 2010. Dennis plays professionally in Austin, Texas with MilkDrive and has been Winfield champion, World Champion, and three times Texas State Champion. Kimber now lives in Nashville and her band, Della Mae, was just named Emerging Artist at the IBMA (2013) and was signed by Rounder Records.
I moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 2002 and ended up getting back into classical music for a few years. I played in a string trio and served as concertmaster of the Coeur d'Alene Symphony and Chamber Orchestra. I even played once with a viola octet! In the Spring of 2004 I traveled to South Korea as part of a piano quintet and had a fantastic time playing and seeing a lot of that country. Also in that period I played a concert in Spokane with Rod Stewart.
In January of 2006 I moved to Colorado Springs to play fiddle and sing with the Flying W Wranglers,
the world's second-oldest Western singing group (next to the Sons of the Pioneers.) The only bad thing about the job was that the
summer season was seven nights a week, which meant no fiddle contests. After 30 straight years at the National Fiddle Contest I
wasn't able to attend any more. I didn't take that job lightly! I was about to start my seventh season with
the Wranglers when I was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer (January 2012), necessitating the removal of my right kidney on
March 1. Just nine days later I was on stage for one song with the Flying W Wranglers - a very emotional night.
The season was in full swing when the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire leveled the beloved Flying W Ranch in June 26, 2012.
Facing the uncertainty surrounding any eventual rebuilding of the Ranch, I decided to relocate to Los Angeles to play with
the Doo-Wah Riders, a nationally touring country band. Unfortunately, the cancer came back all thoughout my abdomen - diagnosed
in January of 2013. It is unoperable so I have been kept alive by prayer and Sutent. The toxic drug has held the cancer back,
but at the cost of many side effects which make being on the road more difficult than it should be. As I write this, I am
playing with the Doo-Wahs in Arizona, but am moving back to a slower life in Colorado (and my girlfriend) in November of 2013.
I will be teaching and rehairing bows and continuing to play music. (Updated October 27, 2013)
Many years ago when I worked at Lundin's Violins in Spokane a call came in from Ray Price's manager (I'll get to Rod Stewart part soon enough),
looking for fiddlers to play a concert with Mr. Price
at the Coeur d'Alene Casino. I called my brother and we drove down to the Casino, learned the parts and played with Country & Western legend Ray Price
that very night. At the time, I thought that I'd reached the pinnacle of musical experience.... Well, that concert ranks right up there still,
but not quite up to the
latest legend I've had opportunity to play a concert with -- Rod "the Mod" Stewart!!! I was home putzing around on Monday August 9, 2004
when the call came
from a Seattle booking agent looking for a violinist to play that Friday with Rod Stewart at the Spokane Arena. "Are you interested in playing the Rod Stewart concert on Friday?"
I thought about it for, like, half of a nano-second, and said yes! It's usually members of the Spokane Symphony that get these kind
of calls, but the symphony had scheduled a rehearsal for that evening for its annual appearance and the Festival in Sandpoint. Too bad.... (ha)
loss was my gain, as mighty Seattle had to go outside of "lowly" Spokane (my impression of the West vs. East rivalry in Washington State) to tiny little
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for musicians! I had a blast, squared! Rod's usual fiddler/violinist/guitarist/cowbell player, J'Anna Jacoby, is a girl
I first met almost 30 years ago
while attending the National Fiddle Contest for the first time (she beat my brother out for the Junior-Junior National Championship). The last time I
saw J'Anna was around Y2K when I flew to Chicago to accompany her and my good friend, former National Grand Champion John Francis,
at a convention for some group they both belonged to.
Back to the other week, it was neat to see J'Anna do a double-take when she saw me at the rehearsal. After the very informal and abbreviated rehearsal,
J'Anna took me out to tour bus number 6 to have a look. I think I could get used to the idea of traveling around the country playing with
Rod Stewart, IF I got to ride on a bus like that. Rod, on the other hand, flies to concerts on his private jet.... The concert was so much fun:
we were able to sit in the audience to *watch* the first half, then
changed positions to be on the stage and *play* with the rock legend for the second half. I no doubt had the best seat in the house --
seated right next to the steps at the center of the stage
where Mr. Stewart made his entrances and exits. He was so close to me at one point while talking to the audience that I could
have poked him with my bow (and I did indeed have a great urge to do so, but resisted, thankfully). After the concert he was whisked away by a limo,
so we didn't get a
chance to kick around a soccer ball together or anything like that. We musicians were left with no choice but to head to a local billiards hall to talk for hours about our experience, getting home
after 2:30 in the morning. It all seems like a fabulous dream now.
This is a picture of the fiddle I've used to win dozens of contests. (I won four of my National Championships with this instrument.) It is a Maggini model made in the late 1800's in a German factory. It was regraduated at some point in its past, so it sounds pretty good. For strings I prefer Prim Medium or Orchestra guage with a Dominant wound E. For a plain steel E, I'll use a Pirastro Wondertone Gold Label. For classical music, I was recently turned onto Thomastik Vision strings by my friend Rachel Barton.
The bow I use for fiddling is a German brazilwood bow that my mom picked up at a garage
sale along with a banged up fiddle about 30 years ago. She paid around thirty
bucks for the whole outfit. The celluloid frog was added some years later. It
has great camber and stiffness. I can play with this bow so that the hair
is just off the stick and the hair is still nice and tight -- that way the
bow never bounces when I'm nervous. For classical music I've also been using a CodaBow
Classic I got for my 42nd birthday (also my indestructible teaching bow).
In 1980, the contest committee of the National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest
decided to use these bronze statues as the trophy for the National Grand
Champion. They were to be given to the winner of the next ten contests. Mark
O'Connor was the first to receive one when he won his second national title
in 1980. I won my first in 1983, and the second in 1989. Fortunately, the
bronze trophies were so popular that it was decided to continue awarding
them to the winner. Because of this decision, I was able to add to my collection
in 1991, 1993, and finally, 1994.
This is my 1990 Gibson Advanced Jumbo guitar. It's one of the early re-issues out of the Gibson factory in Bozeman, Montana. I had the pleasure of picking it up personally from the factory in May of 1990.
My only complaint with this particular instrument is the finish. Gibson was using Fullerplast (ala Taylor Guitars) at the time they started re-issuing the AJ. The finish didn't adhere well to the binding, so it's cracking off all around the edges. My good friend Rod Anderson has an AJ made five days before mine with the same problem. When I'm bored, I spend time chipping the finish off the binding. (In Gibson's defense, I have had two people write me after reading this with a report that their AJs of the same time period has a fine finish -- maybe Rod and I were just unlucky.)
Despite the bad finish, the sound of my AJ re-issue is great. I've had
many compliments over the years on the sound of my guitar. The only way to
improve on its sound would be to own an original from the late 30's, like
my friends Bob and Ray (names changed to protect their anonimity).
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