Varise Conner

Jan 17, 2019

Hi, I'm Mitch Reed. Welcome to my vlog again. It's been a while since I've made a vlog. I've been very busy. I'm a dad again. I have a seven-week-old daughter, so a lot of new stuff going on. I moved up here to Maine and finally settling in up here. I'm surviving the winter. It's about eight degrees outside right now, but it's beautiful. I have a window over here and I'm looking out into the Atlantic Ocean and it's amazing to be living over here in Old Orchard Beach, not too far from Portland, Maine.

And my fiddle's tuned standard right now. I've actually been playing standard a lot. I don't live in Louisiana anymore. And down in Louisiana, where the Cajuns are, is where you tune your fiddle down, starting with the little string, you tune it down D, G, C, F. I'm up here now and they play a New England fiddle style and they tune their fiddles just standard. So I've kinda been doing that. I've been teaching Cajun tunes in that standard tuning, but I still do play tuned down.

But yeah, I thought today I would talk about a great fiddler from Louisiana named Varise Conner. And he was a really interesting guy. Almost around the same age or generation as Dennis McGee. He was from a different part of Louisiana. He was from more to the West of Louisiana, not too far from Texas, which I think is what made his style very interesting. He was another Irish musician, though, an Irish family that moved to Louisiana and became Cajun, you know, spoke French and that kind of thing. His last name was Conner. Just like Dennis McGee. But you know, he definitely had some of that Texas swing influence in his playing, I think. But his tunes were very old, like Dennis McGee, so he played mazurkas and he did cross tunings and stuff like that. So a very interesting character. He had a sawmill and he was a woodworker, and I guess you could say a lumberjack. He would go into the woods and cut down trees and bring them to the sawmill and he was a really big, strong, tall guy. Michael Doucet and Barry Ancelet always tell a story about going to visit him. And he was maybe in his early seventies, and they found him in the woods and he was carrying this giant cypress log on his shoulder with another guy helping him. Just one hand like that. And they followed him back to the house and asked him to play his fiddle and he was just telling them that he plays a little fiddle and they were like, "Well, you know, can you play?"

And he said, "Well, I just play a little fiddle." And he was a real jokester and they were like, "Okay." And so he goes in the back room and he had this little bitty fiddle like for a child. And he came out playing it. "I play a little fiddle." He was a real character and then he still wouldn't play his fiddle. So they begged him and begged him and then he said, "Well, I need a little diesel." And he was rubbing his elbow like that. So they thought he meant diesel. 'Cause in the old days, some of the old people would rub diesel on their knees if they were hurting real bad; they thought that would help. So they thought, "Oh, okay, well we'll get you some diesel." And he said, "No black labeled diesel". Ah, some whiskey. So they went to the store and got him some whiskey and then brought it back to the house, drank some whiskey, played all night long till the sun came up. So they recorded a bunch of his tunes. And this is one of them. So he calls this "Milton's Waltz". It's a beautiful tune. It goes like this. [04:02]

Alright, so a neat old waltz by Varise Conner and just a very interesting guy. They do have this music in the archives at UL in Lafayette. And there was a CD that was put out maybe by Folk Roots. I don't know if it's still in print, but it might be. I've heard most of his tunes either played by David Greely. He got into his music and played a lot of his tunes. So I heard David play some Festival Acadian. And Mike Doucet also, when I was in Beausoleil, played a lot of Varise's stuff. So and then just heard some field recordings. So really interesting old-time Cajun fiddler. It's always interesting how some of the old fiddle players, Cajun fiddlers, had Irish names. That always fascinated me. A lot of Irish did come to Louisiana for the Spanish land grants and mixed in with the French people there. So I'll play another tune. This one, Varise tuned his fiddle cross tuned but it also has the dropped E, so it's like a black mountain rag tuning. So let's see how we do this. So we'd go like this. [07:18] My fiddle doesn't like this.

So that's just a cross tuning there. That's E, A, E, A. I'm going to drop the E to a C, I guess that would be. [07:43] Let's see here. It's a C sharp. I never think about notes cause I do different tunes. A lot of times I just put it out of my brain when I think about notes. [08:11] I always remember patterns and finger patterns. [08:16]

So is one, Dennis McGee also did this tuning, and also Bébé Carrière. So the Creoles played this as well. So I think this was a tuning that was around way before the accordion came around. They do it in Appalachia, so who knows how it got to Louisiana. So this was one that he did, he called this Malita is, it goes like this. [08:48]

Sorry, I was still a little out of tune. [10:32] That's the only thing when you go to that tuning, it takes your strings a little while. [10:40] So Varise played a lot of American fiddle tunes, or the old-timey tunes, "Devil's Dream", things like that. I'm finding out that "Devil's Dream" is actually kind of a New England fiddle tune, living up here in Maine. It's maybe Scottish in origin, but not too far here from Nova Scotia. So it's played around this area as well. [11:12]

So they called this tuning black mountain rag tuning and he played black mountain rag. Let's see if I remember it though. This video is very spontaneous. I've not rehearsed any of this stuff, which is how it should be on YouTube. [11:35]

Alright. Varise Conner. So check out his stuff if you can. He's on YouTube. Definitely, people playing his tunes. And then he's in the archives at UL. If you ever get a chance to go down to Lafayette for Festival Acadian or Festival International, at the university there's a great archive and you can go in there and look up his stuff. But just another great old-timey fiddler that played tunes. He never made any records really. Later they put out some of his field recordings that were I think done by his son and maybe also Barry Ancelet and Michael Doucet. Anyway, I hope that was fun to listen to. It was fun to play these tunes and just to think about the old players and stuff like that. There's actually a bunch more stories that I heard about him, but we'll save that for another time cause some of them are kind of dark. Not so much about him but about his family. So it's pretty interesting stuff.
But yeah, stay inspired, keep on fiddling. And my fiddle today was tuned standard and then I cross tuned it or did black mountain rag tuning. So it's fun to do all that stuff. Just keep an open mind about it all. And I definitely love the older styles of fiddling, in Cajun and Creole fiddling especially; we can't let them die. Gotta keep them going. So anyway, hope you have a great day. Stay inspired and hope to see you soon. Thanks so much for joining me.

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