Farewell Bill Eddy

I regret to report that we have lost another elder statesman of traditional Missouri fiddling.

Roy W. (Bill) Eddy, Sr., died August 2, 2010, in Slater, Missouri, at the age of 95. He had been ill for several years, and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Graveside services will be held at the Slater City Cemetery, Thursday, August 5, at 10:30 a.m. Visitation will be held at Weiker Funeral Home in Slater at 9.30 a.m. Memorials may be presented to the Gilliam Baptist Church.

Bill Eddy was a farmer from the Gilliam area, east of Slater and several miles west of the Missouri River in Saline County, a community known for its fine fiddlers and dancers as well as it exceptional agricultural land.

Bill was one of the featured fiddlers in the University of Missouri documentary project, “Now That’s A Good Tune,” in 1989 (reissued in 2008 by Voyager Records), and he was an excellent proponent of the classic Little Dixie style of fiddling that is representative of central Missouri traditions. He was a strong supporter of the Missouri State Old-Time Fiddlers Association and took part in its activities and dances.

Bill Eddy played many interesting local tunes, as well as all of the “big” Missouri tunes, such as “Grey Eagle,” “Rachel,” and “Leather Britches.” He composed several fiddle tunes, such as a hornpipe he called, “Phyllis Gale Breakdown” (in honor of a daughter), which can be heard on the “Good Tune” CDs. He competed in fiddler’s contests throughout the season and enjoyed these events. He was a keen observer and commented on the differences between playing fiddle for dances and playing in fiddling competitions.

Bill was a solid contest fiddler and had been competing in contests since the 1920s. Bill was often called upon to help judge fiddler’s contests. In 1981, he helped judge the first Minnesota State Old-time Fiddlers Contest (Cotton MN). As a judge, Bill recognized the complexities of judging these exciting and sometimes volatile events. He often took time after a contest to visit with young fiddlers, in order to praise their playing, encourage them, and offer tips on fiddling technique. He was particularly fond of the older hornpipes and, in many conversations I recall, Bill was convincing in his opinion that they should be played “straight.” My last visit with Bill was at a fiddler’s contest in Boonville at the annual steam thresher’s reunion several years ago.

I enjoyed his fiddling and I appreciated his perspective on traditional fiddle techniques, which he had accumulated through some 70 years of involvement in the music and involvement in the fiddle contest scene.

If anyone has old photos, recordings, newspaper clippings, anecdotes about Bill Eddy, and the like, that they would like to share, and, hopefully, contribute to the “Missouri fiddle archives” in the State Historical Society (Western Historical Manuscript Collection) in Columbia, please contact me.

–Howard W. Marshall (hmarshall [at] missouri [dot] edu)