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Fiddling Doc Roberts
Classic FIddle Tunes 1927-1933
1 BRICK YARD JOE
2 NEW MONEY
3 BILLY IN THE LOWGROUND
4 FAREWELL WALTZ
5 DID YOU EVER SEE THE DEVIL UNCLE JOE?
6 CUMBERLAND BLUES
7 BLACK EYED SUSIE
8 OLD BUZZARD
9 SALLY ANN
10 I DON’T LOVE NOBODY
11 RUN SMOKE RUN
12 WEDNESDAY NIGHT WALTZ
13 CRIPPLE CREEK
Produced by Steve Davis and Bill Harrison
FIDDLIN’ DOC ROBERTS
One of the finest and most recorded old time fiddlers of country music’s golden era was Fiddlin’ Doc Roberts of Madison County, Kentucky. Although Roberts has spent the greater portion of his life in the county of his birth, his style show a considerable “Texas” influence which caused some early scholars of fiddle music to think he was from that place. In a decade of recording, Roberts and his associates waxed over 200 sides of old time vocal and instrumental music. This album is a tribute to the latter type of music produced by the group with Roberts predominating.
Philip (Doc) Roberts was born near Richmond, Kentucky on April 26, 1897. He first learned to play fiddle at the age of seven, picking up a lot of tunes and techniques from the best old time musicians in his locality. With the passing of time, Doc too became one of the best fiddlers in his region. He also became quite proficient on the mandolin.
In 1925, Roberts began his recording career with the aid of Edgar Boaz on guitar. In 1927, he recorded eighteen issued sides in Chicago for Paramount with a group known as the Kentucky Thorobreds which also included Ted Chestnut on mandolin and Dick Parman on guitar. About this time, he is also believed to have recorded with another Madison County band known as Taylor’s Kentucky Boys.
Also in 1927, Doc and Asa Martin began to record in Richmond, Indiana, the site of most of their early sessions. Martin who was born June 28, 1900 and James William Roberts (later known as James Carson) born February 10, 1918 were to remain his principal recording partners through the rest of his career. They also backed various vocalists on record from neighboring communities such as Welby Toomey and Green Bailey.
On the vocal numbers, the trio became known as Martin and Roberts (Doc played fiddle or mandolin, but sang on only two records in his entire career) while on the instrumentals the records were issued under Doc’s name or as the Doc Roberts Trio. The group continued to record together until August, 1934 when Doc did his last session. Asa Martin continued to record as a soloist and did some duets with Roy “Shorty” Hobbs. More interested in professionalism than Roberts, he headed the popular “Morning Roundup” show on WLAP, Lexington for several years. Among the significant performers who began their professional career with him were Martha Carson, Mattie O’Neil, Don Weston, Granny Harper and the late Dave “Stringbean” Akeman. James Roberts under the name of James Carson was half of a popular duet during theforties with his wife, Martha, primarily at WSB, Atlanta and also cut twenty-eight sides. As a sideman, he also recorded with Wilma Lee and Stony Cooper, the Masters Family, the Jones Sisters and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. He wrote a number of gospel songs and worked at WWVA and for Cas Walker at Knoxville. Today Asa lives in retirement at Irvine, Kentucky while James resides in Lexington.
Doc Roberts seldom considered himself a full-time musician and was usually contest to work his farm near Richmond where he still lives, and to play music on the side. However, during the height of his recording career he made numerous personal appearances through central and eastern Kentucky. He also went to Chicago and played at WLS for a few weeks. During the mid-thirties he and james went to Iowa and did radio work for several months. He did occasional radio work in Louisville and Lexington. After several years of retirement, Doc gave what was probably his last public performance on July 20, 1971 when he was united with James and Asa for a concert at Berea College. Now past seventy-seven and in ill health, it is unlikely that he will ever perform in public again.
BILLY IN THE LOWGROUND August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. One of the more widespread traditional tunes, this number was also recorded by Blind Richard Burnett & Leonard Rutherford and Fiddlin’ John Carson among others.
OLD BUZZARD August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. This is a variant of the tune BUCK-EYED RABBIT which was wazed by Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters. The Roberts title, however, seems to be unique.
NEW MONEY August 24, 1928. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. One of the rarest of old time fiddle tunes, this number was allegedly learned by Roberts from a black fiddler named Owen walker. Although Doc recorded another version that remains unissued and the Martin and Hobbs team later in cluded it in their 1933 “Medley of Breakdowns,” no other versions of this tune exist either in printed collections or recordings
CUMBERLAND BLUES August 16, 1933. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. This is said to be an original compostion of Doc Roberts.
CRIPPLE CREEK August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. A standard number from the early days of fiddle recordings to the modern bluegrass festival, this tune was also recorded early by Al Hopkins and the Hillbillies and by Charlie Poole’s North Carolina Ramblers as “Shootin’ Creek”.
WAYNESBORO August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. An old tune found in eastern Kentucky, this piece is related to GEORGIA RAILROAD and PETER WENT A FISHING, that were recorded by such Georgia groups as Gid Tanner, and Riley Puckett. Another Kentucky version was field recorded by the Library of Congress at Hazard in 1937.
RUN SMOKE RUN August 24, 1928. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. More familiarly known as RUN, NIGGER RUN, this tune is one of the more recorded old time numbers as both a song and an instrumental. The vocal refrain “Run Nigger Run, the pateroller’ll get you” refers to the days when slave patrols pursued runaway slaves. Recorded as RUN NIGGER RUN by the Skillet Lickers and Fiddlin’ John Carson, it became RUN BOY RUN on versions by Fiddlin’ Eck Robertson and Dr. Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters. Uncle Dave Macon recorded it as a banjo song and in 1958 Jimmy Driftwood used the tune for his folk composition about the Whicky Rebellion, RUN JOHNNY RUN.
BRICKYARD JOE August 24, 1928. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. The Roberts’ version of this was a first recording. However, a related tune, MARTHA CAMPBELL was also recorded by Roberts and by J. William Day (Jillson Setters). For a Missouri version, see Bob Christeson, An Old Time Fiddlers Repertory (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974), p. 124.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT WALTZ March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts, guitars. A popular old-time waltz tune, this number was also recorded by the Leake County Revelers, Kessenger Brothers and the Stripling Brothers among others. In 1962 the Blue Sky Boys recorded it with lyrics.
DID YOU EVER SEE THE DEVIL UNCLE JOE March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts, guitars. Also recorded by the Red Fox Chasers, a North Carolina group, old time fans of the Grand Ole Opry may recall that the Possum Hunters did this number as DON’T MIND THE WEATHER, SO THE WIND DON’T BLOW. Most fiddle enthusiasts will recognize this tune as a very close variant of the HOP LADIES-MISS McCLOUD’S REEL tune.
FAREWELL WALTZ March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts, guitars. One of the less common waltz numbers found on old time recordings.
SALLY ANN March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts, guitars. This tune was recorded by the Al Hopkins band and Fiddling’ John Carson prior to the Roberts recording. Another variant is DARNEO by the Blue Ridge Highballers.
I DON’T LOVE NOBODY March 25, 1932. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts, guitars. Common as a song and tune, other versions of this include recordings by the Skillet Lickers and the Earl Johnson band both of which were Georgia groups. CRAZY COON by Walter Morris on an early Columbia recording is also the same song.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Robert Hyland, Asa Martin, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr., Reuben Powell and James (Carson) Roberts. More complete data on Doc Roberts and associated artists appeared in various issues of the JEMF Quarterly, The JEMF is also preparing a longer work on the Roberts-Martin-Roberts aggregation of old time musicians.
Ivan M. Tribe
University of Toledo