The life of Bob Douglas is a wonder and a treasure. The Louvin Brothers, Curly Fox, Clayton McMichen, the Allen Brothers, and Jess Young were among his fellow travelers. His expansive career began with the Victor Recording Company in the 1920’s golden age of hillbilly music, and never flagged until he reached the Grand Old Opry stage for their 75th Anniversary. Bob had just turned 100 years of age.
His music and charisma are preserved in this landmark release, as are the pretty commonplace performances from his 99th and 100th years of life. The film is augmented with Bob’s passionate insights, historical photos and comments from Garrison Keillor, Charlie Louvin, Fletcher Bright, Charles Wolfe, and others.
Bob Douglas passed away on May 2, 2001 at the age of 101.
This download includes 11 full performances from Bob’s fascinating regional repertoire and style, accompanied by Michael DeFosche and Bob Fulcher. The full-length documentary DVD is available for sale at the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail office at Cove Lake State Park, and is periodically made available at regional festivals & events.
Produced by Hot Planet Productions, copyright 2001. Running Time: 56:20
An Excerpt from Bob Douglas: Fiddler of the Century
Bobby Fulcher, 2008
Originally published in the Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin
Volume LXIV, Number 2, Fall 2008
On the afternoon of his 100th birthday, Bob Douglas traveled back to the Sequatchie Valley to look for his birthplace. He had to be talked into it, but it took only a gentle nudge, because he was curious, and because he loved the greening springtime Sequatchie Valley as well as anyone ever did. He never knew exactly where his father’s tenant shack stood on the morning of his birth, March 9, 1900, though he lived within a few dozen miles of it practically all his life. His father had only told him it was on the Polk Anderson farm, which they left when Bob was around five years old.
First we came across Bob’s old church, an abandoned wreck now in the tentacles of the local flora. Then, Sequatchie College, a pre-civil war academy building that gave the place name to Bob’s birth certificate. Next, the cemetery where Bob’s father, Tom Douglas, lay buried, and then, after some aimless driving, a “Roberson” mailbox matching a venerable brick house and rich, green fields. The old widow who came to the door could barely walk. Though eighty years old and physically feeble, she was sharp as a briar. She had married the grandson of Polk Roberson. The older Robersons had given her many stories about fiddling Tom Douglas and Fiddling Bob Douglas and their long-gone tenant shack. She was delighted to see Bob Douglas—the last time she had done so, Bob was a radio star fiddling at her high school. Her stout brick home had been built in 1900, the year of Bob’s birth. Bob hadn’t been there in 95 years. It was an afternoon of wonders for time-traveling voyeurs, illuminated by brawny evening sunbeams from an impending vernal equinox. And to the occasion Bob added such charm, graciousness, and nobility, it seemed no proferred honor could better crown his achievement of that great age. The following night, Bob fiddled for a wall-to-wall crowd of well-wishers and curiosity-seekers at the Mountain Opry on Signal Mountain, Tennessee. He insisted upon playing a full set of fiddle tunes, and the crowd got what they came for. In his last years, Bob Douglas seemed a miracle, playing so well, with amazing stamina, and wonderful humor and hospitality. Old people flocked to him, encouraged him to keep on living. He never claimed to heal the sick, but he surely did them no harm.
Some of Bob’s finest moments were still ahead. Most rewarding was Bob’s trip to the Grand Ole Opry, on May 5, 2000, when he became the only centenarian to play an Opry show in the program’s 75 years. Bob had never played on the Opry, although he was fiddling all over the airwaves before the Opry’s first legendary broadcast. A suffocating bout of pneumonia had almost killed him during the winter, early in 2000, and by June he was bothered by dizziness that his doctor attributed to blocked carotid arteries. It took a hard campaign of both subtle and open encouragement, mostly by his music-loving sister, Nellie, to get him to Nashville, but he agreed to go. His only stipulation was, “Keep me away from the Black Hats,” —that species of country musician whose costuming seemed sillier than Nudi suits to Bob, and whose music was not at all to his tastes. The show was a triumph for Bob. He joined fiddlers John Hartford, age 62, 36 year-old Stuart Duncan, 12 year-old Jed Bulla, and 19 year-old Michael Cleveland in an intergenerational ensemble round about. Then, with the floor all his own, Bob tore down the house on “Muddy Road to Duck Town” and “Monday Morning Blues,” each with a bit of a crash-landing ending, but that seemed more like a humorous resolution to a marvelous flight. He got three standing ovations—not quite up to Hank Williams’ debut, but an experience few other Opry stars have known. That night, Bob really felt like a star. He jammed in the Roy Acuff dressing room, until the show closed down, and, except for the security guard, he was the last one to leave the building. The next morning, he was greeted in the motel lobby, at the Cracker Barrel restaurant, and on the streets of Nashville by the country music fans that had cheered him the previous night. Original: He said he only did it for “his boys,” meaning DeFosche and myself, and, if that was true, it was an incomparable gift. Perhaps no other musician in the world is represented by recorded performances from nine decades. The distinctions he earned with his fiddle are impressive—over and over, Bob Douglas proved he was worthy of an audience. At last, he assumed a transcendent position, deftly wandering along his clear connections through the century, and inspiring universal admiration for his durable spirit and his devotion to beauty, which he shaped into fiddle tunes.
To view more photographs from the remarkable life of Bob Douglas, please visit this Flickr gallery.
Design by Rachel Boillot