'...the sweeter the tune'

at the Wilderness Fiddler's Jamboree


Roger Dey

Barb Pearson of Ennis shows off "Uncle Joe," one of the two fiddles she brought to play, both of which have colorful histories.

Tales of two fiddles

The Irish proverb "The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune" may not always be used to refer to the musical instrument, but Barb Pearson's pair of antique violins prove it to be true.

Pearson's primary fiddle was built at a factory in Dresden, Germany in 1906. It belonged to her grandfather Archie Frame of Big Sandy. Pearson said her grandfather traded eggs to a neighboring rancher for the violin, and that it had probably been originally ordered from Sears and Roebuck catalog. She has memories of Frame playing 'Scotland the Brave' on the old fiddle, before it was passed along to her.

"My mother handed me the fiddle when I was 11 and said 'you will play,' and here I am," she said.

The her 'second fiddle' has an equally interesting, if less personal, story. Pearson said it came to her from friends who found it in an old ranch house that had belonged to a man named Joe. When she first got the instrument, she didn't even dare tighten the strings for fear the old thing would just disintegrate. Instead she took it to fellow fiddler Dave Zimmerman, who repairs violins. Zimmerman restored the fiddle, which Pearson estimates to be more than a century old. She explained that Joe had a habit of carrying the fiddle in a sack slung from his saddle, and likely played it in all sorts of situations. After years of use, it now sports a distinctive, nearly black patina that she figures is the result of decades of exposure to "smoke, whiskey and horse piss." Nevertheless, the old fiddle she now refers to as "Uncle Joe," is still able to produce a sweet tune.

Roger Dey

Bob Kovacich of Butte puts bow to fiddle for his version of the song 'Rubber Dolly.'


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