Bob stands in the front yard of his home south of Ava.

Bob Holt

Ava, Missouri

Bob stands in the front yard of his home south of Ava.

Flop Old Turkey Buzzard

Players: Bob Holt, fiddle; Alvie Dooms, guitar

From “Got a Little Home to Go To” (Rounder Records, 1998)

Fort Smith

Players: Bob Holt, fiddle; Alvie Dooms, guitar; Jim Beeler, banjo; Ted Heavner, guitar; Patty Beeler, bass

From the Rounder CD “Got a Little Home to Go To” (1998).

Ninth of January

Players: Bob Holt, fiddle; Alvie Dooms, guitar; Jim Beeler, rhythm banjo; Patty Beeler, bass; Ted Heavner, guitar

Excerpted from “Got a Little Home To Go To” produced by Rounder Records. The story goes that Bob played this tune for a square dance and was asked what tune it was. Bob said it was “The Eighth of January.” The person who asked the question shook his head and said, “That’s not the ‘Eighth of January’.” Bob replied, “Well, then, it’s the ‘Ninth of January’!”

Rabbit in a Pea Patch

Players: Bob Holt, fiddle; Harley Newberry, guitar; Betty Newberry, bass; Alvie Dooms, guitar; Jim Beeler, banjo

From the tape “Rabbit in a Pea Patch.”

Bob Holt was born early in the century in Douglas County, Missouri. Like a lot of people in “Booger” County, he grew up on a farm, listening to his Dad’s dogs running and his grandmother’s Victrola scratching out popular tunes of the day. Eck Robertson, Doc Roberts, and the Skillet Lickers helped out with Bob’s early musical education via those stacks of records, and his family members taught him the rest. He learned many tunes and songs from his father’s whistling and Uncle Node’s banjo playing.

The little boy grew into a dark haired, deep-voiced man, and he became concerned about the necessities of life, particularly getting work, which was no mean feat in the Ozarks in the 50s. When the “Farm Depression” hit the Ozarks, a lot of people streamed out of the hills to Western and Northern factories and farms, Bob along with them. He ended up on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities in Buffalo, Iowa, working during the day and playing country dance music of all sorts, including square dances, for the legions of homesick Southerners in the Quad Cities.

Unlike many Missouri fiddlers, Bob is primarily a dance fiddler. He interacts with dancers as if they were part of his band, letting their excitement buoy his own. His style is tailored not only to his preferences, but to the dances that have been his musical bread and butter. The small bow strokes and strong rhythm, the economical bow movement, the careful, minute hand movements all contribute to Bob’s blazing fast and rhythmic dance music. As he says, there are a number of things you just can’t do in dance fiddling, or “there is no way you’re going to be able to play one of these damned long square dances.”

When Bob returned home from the Quad Cities, he found that few dances were still in existence, and he played very little for a few years. Later on, with some encouragement from others, especially Edna May Davis and Gordon McCann, he began encouraging dancers and musicians in Douglas County, and of course, the word got out pretty quickly among all kinds of people. As a result, Bob has traveled all over the country to play many dances and concerts and received quite a few prestigious awards.

He seems prouder, though, of the students he’s taught, and the dances that have sprung up all along the byways of the southern Ozarks. Bob seemed a bit bemused by his fame around the country. “I couldn’t understand that then and I probably don’t really understand it now, but I think it isn’t so much the quality of my music as the scarcity of it,” he wrote in the liner notes of his 1997 album, “Got a Little Home To Go To.” His listeners disagree: it’s impossible to sit still through his fiery dance tunes, and the mountain tunes he’s remembered over the years have all the texture and mystery of great fiddle music.

Bob recently passed away, and is deeply missed by the family of musicians who have spent many long summer afternoons playing music under the tall walnuts in his front yard, many nights camped under the stars in the back, and many long miles on the Ozarks roads, headed wherever Bob was going.

–Amber Gaddy