Old time fiddler
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Alan Murphy is eastern Iowa’s premier fiddler. He has been playing since he was a teenager, influenced by his Uncle Leo, who was a fine old time fiddle player. Named four times as a Master Artist for the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, Alan continues to pass his skills and knowledge along to younger players.
Old time fiddling is a little different, depending on where in the United States the tradition emerges. In the Appalachian region, Scots-Irish and British tunes dominate; in New England, some French Canadian tunes enter into the mix. In northeastern Iowa, old time means old time Scandinavian music, while in the western part of the state, Danish and German tunes are part of the repertoire. In eastern Iowa, which was populated by settlers from the upland South, Missouri, and the eastern part of the Midwest, the mix is mostly Anglo-Scots-Irish with a dash of German thrown in—hence the popularity of polkas as well as reels, jigs, and the like.
The influence of radio in the 1920s and 1930s also added in popular period songs to the mix, and later on, country and then bluegrass. The folk song revival of the 1940s and ’50s and then the second revival in the 1960s reinfused the repertoire with another layer of British ballads and Irish tunes. As well, the popularity of barn dances in the 19th and first half of the 20th century assured that dance tunes were an integral part of what has come to be known as old time music.
Al Murphy first recorded in 1972 with banjo frailer and folklorist Art Rosenbaum; that record has become an old time classic. His solo fiddle album Through the Fields was named Fiddle Album of the Year by County Sales 1987. Al has recorded widely with many type flight musicians, such as Greg Brown, Kenny Baker, Bob Black, and Guy and Hannah Drollinger. He performs both with his band Harvest Home and with his wife, Aleta Murphy.
Murphy and his colleagues are regulars at Iowa City’s annual Fiddlers’ Picnic and other such events. They were also featured at the 1996 Festival of Iowa Folklife and the 2004 Midwest Folk Fest and are part of the Cultural Express program on Iowa Old Time Music.