Smoke Dawson


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Brooklyn-born George "Smoke" Dawson was an itinerant musician all of his life, and generally an impoverished one, as he bounced back and forth between New York and the West Coast, with stays in North Carolina and Virginia, through the 1960s and up until the 1990s, when cancer and ill health forced him to settle in Spokane, Washington. He played banjo and fiddle in the old-time Appalachian string band style, and he developed a fascination for bagpipes, as well, all of which made him a distinctive street musician and busker. He recorded one album of solo fiddle tunes, simply called Fiddle, in 1971, which was then privately released in an edition of 750 copies. The album was recorded in Sea Ranch, California by a fellow street busker and bagpiper named Oliver Seeler, and consists of Dawson sawing away on several traditional Appalachian fiddle tunes. Dawson's playing is wild, primitive, and just shy of going off the rails on these reels, but his graceful speed and sense of harmonics brings a slight baroque violin feel to the equation as well, and he was truly a gifted fiddler, bringing new elements to these old mountain classics without diminishing their traditional shape. Fiddle is an intimate album, full of chair squeaks, voice clearings, and the other little accidental touches that come with a live single-microphone recording, which only adds to the album's charm. No recordings have appeared yet of Dawson's bagpipe playing, but he was good enough to be jailed for busking with bagpipes in Sausalito, California, and then summarily ordered out of town when he was released. That's talent. Meanwhile, this set is what it is: Appalachian fiddle tunes personalized and done with a simple wild grace by a veteran street busker.

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