“I was nine year old. My daddy wouldn’t let me have his fiddle – He’s afraid I’d break it. So, you seen these boards like they used to cover barns with, made out of white oak? I got me one of them. Just shaped it out like a fiddle, put me two keys on it. Got me two strings and put on it. I went to the barn, caught a mule’s tail turned to a crack – it was a log barn. I got what hair I wanted in my hand and I started that mule out, pulled the hair out of his tail. I went and cut me a dogwood stick, and just bowed it like a rainbow. I went to the wods and got me some pine rosum off a pine tree, these hard balls, you know? Rosumed by bow, and in two or three hours I was playing two or three tunes. And that’s the way I started.”
Clyde Davenport’s early instincts for fiddling and fiddle making have developed into superior ability in both respects. From his handcrafted fiddles, Davenport can draw bold 19th century solo fiddle tunes, sleek blues in Rutherford’s style, or racing, dexterous breakdowns. He values “good, clear notes and good, smooth bow usin’,” and these qualities are always present in his fiddling. In addition to his fiddling, Davenport is also known for his banjo picking skills, and has released several albums of banjo music (Monticello – DU 33014 and Homemade Stuff – DU33028) in addition to his classic fiddle recordings originally released on County Records and currently under reissue by Sandrock Recordings. Since his birth near Mt. Pisgah, Kentucky, in 1921, Clyde has served in the army, worked in Indiana factories, owned farms in Barrier and Stop, Kentucky, run a truckstop in Mayland, Tennessee, and operated an instrument building and repair shop in Monticello. While he rarely seeks the opportunity to play, his repertoire and musicianship substantially reinforce the reputation of Kentucky’s great musical heritage. Clyde is still performing to this day, and as one of the last remaining carriers of the orally transmitted old time fiddle tradition continues to attract a nearly constant stream of devoted pilgrims to his home in Kentucky.
Many more photographs of Clyde Davenport can be seen in this Flickr Gallery.
Even more photographs from his recent 94th birthday party can be seen here.
Clyde’s beautiful album, Clydeoscope, is currently available the Sandrock catalog.
Clyde Davenport and Bobby Fulcher, 2015
Photo by Rachel Boillot