by Warren Waldron
Warren Waldron is a master fiddler and a stalwart in Cincinnati’s old-time music community. With his wife Judy and also Barb and Russ Childers, he can be heard in many local venues in the Rabbit Hash String Band. Here he recounts his meeting with Tom Taylor, who died December 13th.
When I came to the Miami Valley in 1974 and settled in Oxford, I began seeking out people who were moved to play the Old Time Music. I met Judy Angus and soon we found ourselves playing in a local old time string band that we named “The Water Tower Wobblers.” Our bass player told us of a group of musicians he had encountered at a street fair in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. He urged us to seek them out as they included several older fiddlers who could “really play the old tunes.”
We learned they met every first Sunday at a log house near Lawrenceburg, so the next month found us at the meeting of the Tri-State Old Time Fiddlers Association among numerous guitar pickers, banjo players and fiddlers. For us it was like striking Gold! Our fiddler, Kevin Vidmar, followed the fiddlers; I was studying the banjo players and Judy was thrilled to be playing alongside folks who had grown up and spent their lives playing old time country and bluegrass music.
I can remember trying to understand the technique of the many banjo players. I was also impressed by the skill and repertoire of the fiddlers gathered there. There was one fiddler, though, to whom I was especially attracted. The way he played appealed to my sense of the music. He asked me to play a fiddle tune for him and I played the “Flop Eared Mule.” Then he played his rendition of “Flop Eared Mule” and I became a “student” of Tom Taylor. Tom played in a bluegrass gospel band and had performed with various bluegrass bands throughout the tri-state area. He had lots of licks and technique that I worked to get my fingers around. We became friends with Tommy and his older brother Ballard “Pappy” Taylor. Pappy was a great fiddler (in the style of G.B. Grayson), banjo player, and comedian; we had the good fortune to enjoy many afternoons playing music with Pappy and Tommy at Pappy’s apartment in Covington, Kentucky. We were delighted to accompany them during their performance at the 1989 Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music.
Eventually, Tom heard Judy and me playing a tune from the repertoire of Clayton McMichen. He told us how much he loved Clayton’s style of fiddling but never could find musicians who appreciated that kind of music. He told us of his friendship with Clayton’s daughter, Juanita McMichen Lynch and her husband Clifford who lived in Louisville, and how Juanita enjoyed giving presentations and telling of her adventures while traveling with her father’s band, The Georgia Wildcats. Tom asked Judy and me to join him in adding some McMichen style music to Juanita’s presentations. As I recall, we did several of these programs in Ohio and Kentucky. It was about this time that Tom asked Russ and Barb Childers to join with him and Judy and me to form the Rabbit Hash String Band. We all were thrilled to be playing in a band with Tommy. Playing twin fiddles with Tom was great for me. His fiddling was complex and fun. He brought to us and to our audiences the life experiences of a kid who grew up in Adair County, Kentucky, on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. Tom always told us that both states claimed him. “Kentucky claimed I was from Tennessee. Tennessee claimed I was from Kentucky.” We tell folks that he was the “spark plug” in our band. It’s hard to include everything Tommy was to us. He was a true master fiddler, an entertainer and an inspiration to us all.