Ron Yule has proven to be an indefatigable researcher and prolific writer on Louisiana folk music traditions from bluegrass to Cajun and commercial country music. A fiddler himself, Yule has produced an excellent volume of some 62 profiles of fiddlers ranging from famous fiddlers such as Doug Kershaw and Gatemouth Brown to renowned and honored musicians—notably Dewey Balfa, Harry Choates, Leo Soileau, Rufus Thibodeaux, and Michael Doucet. He also includes the undeservedly obscure: Dobber Johnson, Tex Grimsley, Hiter Colvin, and Preacher Harkness, among many other talented musicians. Throughout the book, Yule demonstrates the depth and scope of the prodigious [End Page 94] fiddling talent born and/or nurtured in Louisiana.
Louisiana Fiddlers is based on a mountain of research. Yule has combed through thousands of pages of local newspapers and conducted hundreds of interviews in addition to consulting the relevant scholarship. Each entry includes source notes, and he has appended a comprehensive list of references and scores of photographs. Yule not only carefully credits his sources, but he has also included articles and letters by other researchers and artists’ relatives. His citations of researchers, including Tim Knight on Harry Choates and Kevin Fontenot on Leo Soileau, are especially strong. There are also a few superfluous entries, such as a reprint of Yule’s account of the 1974 state championships and a collection of anecdotes concerning former governor and country music pioneer, Jimmie Davis, who was, incidentally, a non-fiddler. Yules misses mention of some African American fiddling traditions, including important jazz artists, although he does include profiles of African American fiddlers Canray Fontenot and the aforementioned Brown.
Yule obviously is writing for a general audience, thus he seldom delves into the technical aspects of fiddling. Often he refers to a “Texas style” or “Cajun style” or “long bow” versus “short bow” fiddling. But he doesn’t include in-depth analysis. While his comments allow for some understanding of the sounds he describes, certainly a CD sampler would have added significantly to his study.
As a snapshot of the variety of fiddle styles and stylists, it is worth noting the breakdown of various categories and the number of fiddlers. They are as follows: Cajun, 21 musicians; commercial country music (including more eclectic fiddlers), 16 fiddlers; old-time country/string band music, 11; western swing, 9; bluegrass, 5. Two of the fiddlers profiled are women fiddlers. The generational range covered ranges from fiddlers born in 1862 to 1970, with the largest number seemingly born during the 1930s. Virtually all geographical areas of the state are represented, except for metro New Orleans south of Lake Pontchartrain. In this section, Amanda Shaw would have been a welcome entry.
Still, Yule’s contributions are substantial, his passion for his subject is palpable, and his selections and commentary judicious and accurate. I can note only four omissions: Frenchie Bourque, Link Davis, Jr., Floyd “Gib” Guilbeau, and Amanda Shaw, all of whom are artists who deserve inclusion. To such minor criticisms and opinions, any such a work is vulnerable, but putting these aside, Ron Yule is to be commended for producing such an entertaining, informative, and even handsome book.