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GIL KIESECKER: DANCE FIDDLER FROM THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Gil Kiesecker was born in Jan. 1916 at Anatone, Washington, a small town in
Asotin County, where Oregon's Blue Mountains extend into the far southeast corner
of Washington. Gil's grandparents were German immigrants. "My early
childhood days involved wheat farming, wrangling horses and tending cattle in
the Snake and the Grande Ronde River areas. I started out working horses when
I was around five years old, and I was more or less one of the hired men time
I got eight or ten years old."
Gil's musical career started early. When he was in the second grade, a local music teacher organized a small orchestra of school children, and chose Gil to play drums because he had a good sense of timing. "My dad played the fiddle a little bit and he taught me to play the old pump organ. We always went to dances Saturday night and I'd play this old organ until I'd be played out about midnight, and the people would come along and pump this thing for me so I'd keep chording. Well, that went on until I was about ten. Then I always could start a tune on the fiddle, and about at ten years old I was able to play enough of it to get by. I only knew three fiddlers till I got to Seattle." He bought his first fiddle, a 3/4 size, from the Sears Roebuck catalogue, and later bought a full size from the Chicago Correspondence School of Music. He also played guitar and Hawaiian guitar for local dances.
"We used to ride horseback fifteen or twenty miles and play for the dances, sometimes up into Oregon. In the spring when the Grande Ronde river was high, the saddle horses would have to swim to cross the river. And in bootlegging days, you know, they'd have great turnouts there. People came in for hundreds of miles, even from down from Enterprise. We'd ride horseback and we'd start playing at dark and keep going till daylight. The dance floor manager would pass around a big hat for collection and the musicians would divide the take. If we were lucky we'd get five to ten dollars each. A dollar in the Depression days was hard to get since money from the farm crops only came around once a year.
"We'd go up into Joseph Creek, Oregon. This old rancher there, he had about eight bunkhouses and he had them full of people. We'd come in by horseback, you know, he gets down there, and he goes out on the floor and he hollers out "Now we'll have a two-step" or "we'll have a foxtrot," "we'll have a waltz", and he announced every tune, everything. So you play what he says. And I could do it.
"I learned to play one step, two step, three step, schottisches, polkas, you name it. A lot of the people that were homesteading in there were foreigners, and they had dances of their own. There was a lot of construction work, lumber yards and mills in there, and these people were Scandinavians, and those were the kind of people I liked to play for. They've got a swing in their dance that really sets me off, you know, and I get to goin'.
"Quite a bit of it was tunes that was just comin' out at the time, like The Old Spinning Wheel might be a good two-step. I didn't have too many people to learn from, and I'd have to pick up the tune the best I could. The Charleston come out in about 1930, I think it was. And they were going wild over that for a while, and then the stomp, and there were certain tunes that people were dancing to that kind of took over in the relatively younger groups."
Gil graduated from high school in 1935, and continued working in the area, driving teams, tending sheep camps, and trailing cattle. He also attended business college, and continued to play for local dances. "My first year out of high school my brother and I put on a rodeo; we went in and got the poles out of the timber, and drug them out with a horse, built a corral, and I built a dance platform that was about thirty by forty feet, and so during the summer I was giving these dances. And then I had these dances every Saturday night, and I'd give five cent dances, you know, I had it roped off so you'd play a round and then kick them off, and start taking tickets again."
In 1940 he went into the Army, serving for five years mostly in Europe, and then moved to Seattle. For the next twenty years he worked in the grocery business. He had not played the fiddle for about thirty-five years when he "joined the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association in 1974 and started to learn the tunes all over again. As days went by I began to get back in line and gained confidence playing in contests which was a challenge I enjoyed. In 1982, I formed a five piece band known as the "Stubble Jumpers" which performed together for twenty years." Gil learned a whole new repertoire of tunes from local fiddlers he met at the contests, jam sessions, and fiddle shows.
"My kids grew up and had moved away from home without knowing that I played the fiddle. My daughter, Jean Levold, was the most musical one of the children and on occasion now plays backup on the piano at contests and other events."
1. Durang's Hornpipe Gil learned this tune from California fiddler Sam Sloan, and developed his own version of it.
2. Dixie Darling One of the old dance tunes Gil played when he first learned to fiddle.
3. Rachel Gil heard this tune at the National Old Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho.
4. Finnish Waltz A Scandinavian tune played by local fiddler Harry Johnson and Stubble Jumper member Vic Alfredson.
5. St. Anne's Reel A popular Canadian tune learned from a recording.
6. Red Apple Rag From Arthur Smith.
7. Gil's Schottische An original tune put together by Gil.
8. Tennessee Wagoner An old square dance tune that Gil learned when he was growing up.
9. Clearwater Stomp Learned from John Buckley of Lewiston, Idaho.
10. Fishers Hornpipe Gil probably got this venerable tune from a record.
11. Twilight Waltz Gil's source for this tune was Canadian fiddler Elmer Bolinger, whom he met at the Weiser fiddle contest.
12. Jack of Diamonds This version may have come from Washington fiddler Henry Mitchell.
13. Florida Blues Washington fiddler Patsy Mercer was Gil's source for this Chubby Wise tune.
14. St. Adele's Reel From the "Fiddling Engineer," Washington fiddler Joe Pancerzewski.
15. Red Carpet Waltz Gil heard this on a tape of Canadian fiddling, and changed it to suit his own style.
16. Bill Cheatham Gil heard this tune a long time ago.
17. Plaza Polka An old tune from the 1840's which Gil learned from a Graham Townsend record.
18. Whiskey Before Breakfast He picked this tune up after he joined the Old Time Fiddlers Association.
19. Alabama Waltz Gil learned this from local fiddler Carthy Sisco.
20. Whalen's Breakdown This popular Canadian tune also came from Elmer Bolinger.
21. Peacock Rag Another tune learned from an Arthur Smith recording.
22. Blue Mountain Waltz Gil played this tune when he was small, in the old days in Asotin County.
23. Tulsa Hop Another tune from Arthur Smith.
24. Ragtime Annie All the fiddlers play this one! It's the Idaho Fiddle
Association theme tune.
Piano - Jean Levold. Guitar - Stuart Williams, Phil Williams (on Rachel & Fishers Hornpipe). Banjo and bass - Phil Williams. Recorded by Phil Williams. Produced by Vivian Williams, Stuart Williams, Phil Williams. Production Assistance: Paul Levold. Cover photo of Gil: Fern Young, Blue Mountain photo: Georgia Kiesecker. Liner notes include information from the Washington Traditional Fiddlers Project panel discussion at Centrum in 1986 and interview by Kathleen Oyen in 1987.
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