Joseph Decosimo and the Tennessee Fiddling Tradition


People, place, and persistence are all part of how fiddling traditions are passed from one generation to the next. Devon Léger of Hearth Music recently put together an outstanding interview with an ambassador of old time Tennessee fiddling, Joseph Decosimo. Joseph will be joining us at Fiddle Tunes in 2013 and if you want to learn how these three elements manifest in the context of Tennessee fiddling, Devon’s interview is a can’t-miss.

One of our favorite sections of the interview:

How would you describe the Tennessee fiddle style? I hear a lot about the Kentucky long-bow players, and I hear a lot about the Blue Ridge style of Tommy Jarrell, but don’t hear as much about Tennessee fiddling.

JD: That’s a great question, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Tennessee can lay claim to some pretty amazing and diverse fiddle styles. Arthur Smith‘s slicker, notey fiddling influenced a whole generation of fiddlers throughout the South and beyond. Down where I grew up, around Chattanooga, it seems like a lot of the older fiddlers were influenced by the wild and wooly North Georgia sounds. Gid TannerLowe Stokes, and Clayton McMichen spent some time hanging out in Chattanooga back in the 20s. Maybe a lot of what gets labeled a North Georgia sound could also be called a Southeast Tennessee sound. At the same time, I hear a lot of influence from African American musicians in the music that was played around Chattanooga. One of my favorites fiddlers from around Chattanooga, Bob Douglas, played an incredible raggy piece called the “Maybell Rag.” It came to him from a black guitar player who was working on barges on the Tennessee River. One of my other favorite fiddlers from down there is Blaine Smith. His playing swoops and slides in a way that reminds me of the syncopated and swooping rhythms from African American fiddler John Lusk. They also shared several tunes in common.

Bob Douglas – Sequatchie Valley

Check out Joseph Decosimo’s version of this tune, “Sequatchie Valley” from his album.