Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mac and Curly: Curly Fox


On the left is a photo of Curly Fox. Curly was a fiddler who crossed paths with Mac many times. Fox along with his wife, Texas Ruby, became Country Music stars in the late 1930s and 1940s from their appearances on the Grand Ole Opry.

Fox was first inspired to become a professional performer when the Skillet Lickers came to Graysville TN for a road show. Curly, who played fiddle and guitar, was used by Mac and Bert to fill in on guitar for Riley Puckett.

Larry Sunbrock used Curly to play in his staged fiddle contests in the mid 1930s against Natchee the Indian and sometimes against Mac or both. [see last blog]

Curly was a fiddler strongly influenced by Mac and Lowe Stokes. Bert Layne, who was a better teacher, also helped Curly learn new tunes. Here are two bios on the early years:

Arnim Fox grew up in the East Tennessee community of Graysville learning to cut hair and play fiddle from his father the town barber. He also learned some fiddle techniques from James McCarroll of the Roane County Ramblers, one of the truly great fiddlers of the roaring 20’s. Fox served something of an apprenticeship with McCarroll’s band. Curly also got an early taste of professionalism by joining an “Indian” medicine show run by a “Chief White Owl” with whom young Arnim journeyed as far north as Indiana.

According to one familiar story, the youth yearned for a professional career in music from the time Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers came through Graysville playing a show and stopped in the elder Fox’s barbershop. Not long afterward, Curly set out for WSB Atlanta, where he joined Claude Davis and the Carolina Tar Heels (not the Victor recording act), acquired the nickname “Curly” and later started his own band called the Tennessee Firecrackers.

About 1934, the Shelton Brothers came to Atlanta and Curly joined forces with them, going to WWL New Orleans. He remained with the Sheltons long enough to do a pair of Decca sessions in 1935 and 1936, including six sides recorded under his own name. Leaving the Sheltons in 1936, Curly traveled for a while with promoter Larry Sunbrock, who staged a series of fiddling contests featuring Curly, Natchee the Indian (aka Lester Vernon Storer), and other noted fiddlers. At the Texas centennial celebration in 1937, Curly met the husky-voiced, cowgirl singer known as Miss Texas Ruby.

The following biography was used when Texas Ruby and husband Curly Fox appeared onstage as Grand Ole Opry guests on November 8, 1947.

Arnim Leroy "Curly" Fox grew up in the hill country of southeast Tennessee, where he worked at everything from saw mill to genson gathering. The evenings were spent making music at the barber shop. Besides learning to play the guitar and fiddle, Curly also got to be right handy with the razor and shears as an apprenticed barber. He followed the trade at various times in the following years, since making a living sawing a fiddle was a tough row to hoe in those days. On rare occasions, traveling string bands would come through the little town, pick and sing a few tunes, and pass around the hat to get a few nickels for gas and eats. Of course, they could always bunk up with the country folks who were glad to have them stay and play a few more tunes.

One evening while Curly and his dad were having one of their regular sessions of tune picking and singing, an old T-model Ford thundered up and came to an abrupt halt in front of the barber shop. Emerging from the steam and dust stirred up by the spitting Tin Lizzie were several dusty but otherwise well-dressed men carrying some of the finest looking banjos, guitars, and fiddles the Foxes had ever laid eyes on.

The men came into the shop flashing those personality smiles and talking freely. They proceeded to wipe the dust from their instruments, all the while insisting that Curly and his dad fiddle a tune or two. This they did without delay, and right proudly, too, since they were called the very best by the natives. Both Curly and his dad played either fiddle or guitar. So, since the old man happened to have the fiddle, he put if up against his chest and flogged a couple of hoe downs, squeaking loud and long in the smoke-filled room. At the end of the self-styled rendition, Curly insisted that the strangers play one. So, they proceeded to play with skill and tone, the likes of which Curly and his dad had never heard before.

The newcomers turned out to be one of the greatest string bands of all times, "The Skillet Lickers," famous for their recordings and later for their radio shows. Watching these professional music makers gave Curly food for thought. Immediately, he stopped holding the fiddle against his stomach as he sat cross-legged, and began holding it under his chin and standing erect. In the years that followed, through hours of practicing, he developed a double stop style of noting and unique bow movement. These have been copied by many and mastered by very few. Today, Curly Fox is without doubt one of the nation's most colorful fiddlers and versatile entertainers.

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