Having a fiddle of a time

2012-11-08T00:15:00Z Having a fiddle of a timeRamona C. Sanders rsanders@yourjournal.com stltoday.com
November 08, 2012 12:15 am  • 

It's no surprise that Collinsville resident Ron Dailey hones his championship fiddle-playing skills sitting on a sofa in his basement and using the arm rest to support his instrument.

While the old-time music might fire up his artistic passion, the retired 70-year-old is pretty laid back about being one of the top fiddlers in the state. Dailey was named the “Over 70 Division” state champion in the 48th Annual Illinois State Old-Time Fiddle Contest held in Effingham Oct. 21.

“I really don't care if I win or not,” said Dailey. “I just go (to competitions) to keep old-time music going for the younger generations.”

Old-time music is described as a genre of American folk music originating in Ireland and Scotland and popularized in the Appalachian Mountains that is played mostly with fiddles, banjos and guitars.

Dailey, who retired as a heavy equipment operator for Local 520 Operating Engineers, said he initially started playing old-time music with a guitar and mostly served as an accompanist to the fiddle.

“I used to back up my dad on the guitar when I was young,” Dailey said. “My dad used to go to fiddle contests all the time. I went to Vietnam, I came out and got married and I didn't play for a long time. After I retired, I started getting into it a little.”

Dailey said it was playing with his neighbor and fellow retiree John Bell that inspired him to switch to the fiddle. When Dailey and Bell started playing together about 10 years ago, Bell was the fiddler and Dailey was the guitarist.

“I was wanting to learn how to play the guitar and Ron wanted to learn how to play the fiddle,” Bell said. “I think we came to learn together.”

Bell was one of four other musicians who gathered in Dailey's basement last week for a “jam session.” And while Dailey may be concerned about keeping the tradition going, old-time music was alive and well in his Collinsville basement.

Jamming toe-tapping country hoedown music, swinging bluegrass and smooth waltzes, the group included Fred Sparks, Dailey's uncle, who plays the lead guitar; Sam Sparks, Fred Sparks' son and Dailey's cousin, who plays the bass guitar; Bell, Dailey's longtime playing buddy who plays banjo and guitar; and Janice Nirscher, a former orchestral violinist who also plays bluegrass.

In between the sessions, Dailey and his uncle and cousin reminisced about growing up in a musical family in their “old home place” near Worden. They said it was nothing for the whole family to spend an hour just tuning their instruments before playing well into the night.

And Sam Sparks said that's something the musicians still do to this day.

“Sometimes we'll play for eight, 10, 12 hours,” he said of the current group's gatherings.

Dailey said he has no plans on slowing down. Last week he returned from the Bluegrass Shack competition in New Athens with a first-place prize in the senior category. The following week, he and his wife of 42 years, Lorraine, will be traveling to Patoka, Ill., for yet another contest.

But Dailey is not doing it to win prizes, it's obvious he simply has a love for old-time music.

“Every winter we're gone to all these bluegrass festivals,” Dailey said. “And we'll do jam sessions. We'll play for hours. Sometimes we play good, sometimes we play bad. It's all according to how we feel.”

Contact reporter Ramona C. Sanders at 618-344-0264, ext. 136

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