Monday, December 1, 2003

A Three Piece Iron Hand Fluter

Dear Friends,

  Gather round, children, for I have a story to tell.  A story that will capture your imagination and lift your spirits. Be careful, though, or you might learn something along the way... about antiques!
  The story of Harris's Fiddle Tune dates back to age of the Old South, to the days when aristocratic jack dandies lazed away hot summer days, resting their mint juleps on the backs of hard working cotton gins. Legend has it that the greatest fiddle player in Kentucky in the early 19th century was a man by the name of Harris, and he was about as far from an aristocrat as you could get. Fiddle players in that particular time and place weren't exactly what you or I would call law-abiding, and Harris was no exception. He did it all. Gambling, petty theft... Why he even robbed a stagecoach or two.  I guess you could say that crime was his day job, and fiddle playing was more his hobby. Nobody would want to run into him in a dark alley, even if there were any back then, I'm telling you. But in the dance halls and in the juke joints of the Shallow South, Harris was a bona fide hero. His signature piece was a blazingly fast solo number that became known simply as "Harris's Fiddle Tune."  
  One night after a particularly raucous show in a Louisville cat house, the local sheriff caught Harris beating an old grocer with a three piece iron hand fluter. 
  Harris tried to escape, but his feet were no match for the sherrif's 31" antique lead tricycle. 
  Harris was immediately arrested and sentenced to hang the next day. The good judge sat down with Harris to draw up a will, but it wasn't really necessary - the only thing Harris owned was his old wooden fiddle. (The hand fluter belonged to the grocer, and Harris gave it back after the beating.)  Harris' fiddle, however, was nothing to be sniffed at. It had a tone so rich and so pure that every fiddle player in Appalachia coveted it more than an intricately detailed shoe made of pure gold.
  Harris promised to leave his fiddle to anyone in the county who could match his skills at his signature tune. The day of his execution, the sheriff led Harris down from jail to the town square, sat him on the back of a horse and tied the noose around his neck. Dozens of fiddlers lined up single file and took turns performing their renditions of Harris' Fiddle Tune. Harris listened patiently, but when the last fiddler put down his bow, he realized that none of them had the skills or the passion to carry on his legacy. He could never bequeath his magical figgle (as he called it) to a two bean imitator. 
   As the crowd watched in awe, he hoisted the instrument high above his head, as if he was about to hand it to one of the fiddlers. Suddenly, he brought it crashing down on the horse's rump with a wild crack. The fiddle was smashed to pieces and the horse took off running, leaving Harris dangling like a rare bronze stirrup.
  Harris' ashes was placed in an antique copper urn, the predecessor to the modern day Thermos. The fiddle's ashes were placed in a tin one. Legend has it they were never buried, but left beside a horsecart somewhere south of Owensboro. 
  Over the years, the fiddle tune itself was lost.  No one could play that song like him, you see, so it was long forgotten by time you and I were born. This month's Hard Taco song, "Harris's Fiddle Tune," is not actually a rendition of that forgotten tune, but rather a tribute to the story of Harris and his legacy. I recorded a low-fi version of this song in 1996, which has also been lost somewhere in the archives of history. Since then, I have become related by marriage to a gentleman named Harris, who by pure coincidence is both the most gifted fiddle player and fearsome criminal mastermind I have had the pleasure to know. Ain’t life a funny roll in the mud, sometimes?

With warmest regards,