THE LOST FIDDLER - Art Stamper

by Marty Godbey, Bluegrass Unlimited

Art Stamper is a fiddle player who will curl your hair - one who can really cut it!

There's more truth there than a bad joke: for more than twenty years, Art owned and managed his own beauty salon, "A Way of Art," in Louisville, Kentucky, and by all reports, was as skillful and innovative a hairdresser as he is a fiddle player.

Since he became a full-time musician, joining The Goins Brothers in 1978, he has given up his shop, but he still maintains his artistry in that profession by dressing hair at least one day a week, despite other demands on his time.

For many years, however, Art's reputation as a hairdresser far exceeded his renown as a musician, except among those who remembered his early recordings with The Stanley Brothers and The Osborne Brothers, and among the lucky customers in his beauty shop whom he would entertain by playing the fiddle in his infrequent spare moments.

On the rare occasions when he could get away to a festival, Art could always attract musicians eager to play and crowds to listen to him fiddle in a jam session, but more often than note, his name remained unknown to most, with a lingering, "Lone Ranger" kind of question, "What was that fiddle player with the pipe?"

During this period he also sat in on occasion with bands which appeared nearby, proving that although he was preoccupied with other things, fiddling never left his mind, his heart, or his fingers.

Originally from Knott County, Kentucky, near Hindman, Art grew up in an area which has nurtured countless fine musicians - most of them fiddle players. He is quick to credit his early influences, and is still amused by the cheerful competition that existed among three great families of fiddle players: Sumner, Stamper, and Baker.

"Kenny Baker was a great follower of Marion Sumner," Art said, "And Marion's brother Bobby was a fiddler I learned a lot from. You might say Baker and I were both influenced by Marion and Bobby Sumner.

"We were all playing over there around Scuddy and Vico (in Eastern Kentucky) and his folks said, "You'd better watch out for that Baker boy, he's getting so he can play "Dance Around Molly" near as good as you.'

"I told him (Baker) he ought to get out of that mine and go play fiddle, and he said, "I can't. I've got a family to raise."

"Then I saw him in the '70s, and he remembered and said, "Ha! Now I'm playing fiddle and you can't because you've got a family to raise. I've got mine all raised!"

Musicians in Art's family go back a long way. "My grandfather played the jews harp, and his daddy was a drummer in the Civil War. My dad was an old-time fiddler; he influenced me a lot, and my two brothers play, but not professionally. My oldest brother is a good fiddle player who is about to retire from Sears and Roebuck Company.

"I remember when I was three years old, and didn't have a fiddle fixed up. I'd listen to the Grand Ole Opry, and I'd take two pieces of wood and play like it was a fiddle. It must have been born in me to play the fiddle!"

"I first started playing fiddle when i was nine years old, and by the time I was thirteen, I was playing for the pie suppers and dances, and worked different places around Vico, Hazard, and Scuddy, Nelson Haley and Teddy Hurley and Lee Boy Sexton - I played with them as a group. I can't remember all the guys' names, it's been so long.

"I left Knott County with a group of local guys and we went to Cincinnati and played clubs, just for a few weeks, then we took off and went to Baltimore, Maryland. That was about 1950: I spent two summers up there in-between school.

"I played with a a guy who called himself "Texas Bill." He was from Virginia! He'd play the guitar and sing country music, and I'd play the fiddle. He did some sort of whip act, too. We entered a talent contest on some TV channel up there. I'm not sure which one. We had to put up so much of that old cream on back then - makeup, you know.

"I had told Mom I'd be back on Sunday, and I came back on a Sunday - three months later! I did write her and tell her where I was, though.

"I worked with Buster Pack and The Lonesome Pine Boys, then with The Sauceman Brothers, Carl and J.P. . Joe Stuart was playing with them at the time, and Larry Richardson was playing banjo. He was a fine banjoy player - next to Scruggs - and a good boy, too.

"After that, Carter Stanley picked me up in Bristol, Virginia, and took me to Versailles, Kentucky. WVLK (in Versailles) was where I started with the Stanleys.

"That Ralph! He's something else! I talked with him a few months ago and said, "If you every need twin fiddles on an album, I'll be glad to help you,' and he said, "Well, I might just hire you to sit out in the audience to keep my fiddle player awake. He plays lots better when you're out there!"

"George Shuffler and Pee Wee (Lambert) were with Cater and Ralph back when I joined: we did a record on Rich-R-Tone: "Little Birdie", Are You Waiting Just For Me, The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake, and Little Glass of Wine.

"Little Glass of Wine they recorded three times: Leslie Keith was the fiddler first, BObby Sumner second. I did the last cut in a different chord; they raised their voices a littler higher and did it in E chord. The other two times it was in D.

"That may have been in 1951 or 52. We cut it in a radio station in Pikeville (Kentucky), WSLI.

"I worked with them off and on until September of 1953, when I went in service. I was working at Ford afterwards, and Carter called me and I gave my two weeks notice.

"I left Carter in January of 1956 and went to Dayton, Ohio, and ran into Red Allen, and we hooked up to The Osborne Brothers. We joined Sonny and Bob, and did a demo and sent it off to MGM Records and got a contract with MGM. I helped Bob and Sonny with their first recordings on MGM, and Tommy Jackson also helped. There was Ruby, Who Done It, Teardrops in My Eyes, and My Aching Heart.

"Every time Red would get to (the part of the song that asks) "who done it?" he'd drop that guitar down and just break up! We tried to cut that about fifteen times, and then he told the engineer he'd get it on the next one and sure enough, he did.

"I like Red: I stayed with him when we were working around Dayton.

"I did eight instrumentals (with the Osbornes) for another company - seems like it was some company out of Cincinnati.

(...transcription of original article still in progress. More to come)

(Reprinted by permission Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine, Inc. 1-800-BLU-GRAS. All rights reserved, Copyright, November 1982.)

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