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QUESTIONS ABOUT FIDDLER TOMMY MALBOEUF

Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Saturday, February 6, 2021

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Good Morning.  I hope that 2021 is treating you right so far. 

 

While I was working on the manuscript about Jim Scancarelli, I ended up chasing leads about his fiddling partner in the band "Sanitary Cafe," Tommy Malboeuf.

 

After word about my forthcoming book about Jim Scancarelli got around - now in the hands of the publisher, with an expected date of publication late this year - I was asked to do a 2000 word essay for Fiddler Magazine about Tommy, and a 7000 word essay for Old Time Herald - still in the works.  

 

But then, several former students, fellow musicians, old friends - and Jim Scancarelli - just seemed to have so much more to say about Tommy, and that convinced me to try to develop a book-length writing project on Tommy. 

 

So, I'm wondering whether there are any old-time musicians or bluegrassers out there in Facebook land who might be able to help me.

 

I thought it might help to start with what I know about Tommy, and then to lay out what I don't know, what I'd like to know. 

 

WHAT I KNOW

 

Thomas "Tommy" Owen Malboeuf (1933 - 2014) was adopted as an infant by Carl and Jean Malbouef.  Jim Scancarelli recalled that Tommy's biological father was a guitar picker named Bill Hendricks. 

 

Tommy attended high school in Troutman, North Carolina, and enlisted in the Navy in the early 1950's, right out of high school.  He married 16-year old Bonnie Lamberth in 1952.

 

He served aboard the USS Intrepid and the USS Bairoko.  As a Seaman in 1954, he participated in Operation Castle - the atomic tests at Eniwetok Proving Ground in the Marshall Islands conducted by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Atomic Energy Commission.

 

His enlistment ended in the late 1950s.  After his time in uniform, Tommy found intermittent employment surveying and operating heavy equipment, but for the most part he made his way by getting paid for fiddling, performing and recording with various bands, and fiddling on cuts on commercial recordings.

 

Tommy Malboeuf played fiddle with the Border Mountain Boys and recorded the LP "Bluegrass on the Mountain" with them in 1969.

 

In the early 1970s, Tommy was the fiddle player with A.L. Wood's band, the Smokey Ridge Boys.

 

Jim Scancarelli, who met Tommy in the mid-1960s at Union Grove, formed the bluegrass band called Sanitary Cafe in the late 1980s.  They recorded one CD in 1991. 

 

Tommy recorded "Twin Fiddles" on Jim Scancarelli's label, Old Oblivion, in 1996. 

 

Tommy also recorded "Leprechaun."  Tommy Malboeuf, TM-10055.  Recorded by Dewey Farmer, Kannapolis, North Carolina.  No date.

 

Tommy later recorded on the Old Oblivion label a product called "Tommy Malboeuf: Orange Blossom Special."  He used the sixth "Old Oblivion" product number (OO-6) that was assigned to the project originated by the musician Thom Case, but the recording work was never completed.  Actually, Jim did not know that until 2020 when I found a copy of the recording and brought it to his attention. 

 

Sometime in the early 1990s Jim Scancarelli borrowed a video camera and hauled it to Tommy's place in Troutman, North Carolina, where Jim shot an instructional video of Tommy playing 18 tunes, including several Tommy had written himself.  That video was never produced commercially.  Tommy's son David sent me a digital copy of the video. 

 

 

 

WHAT I DON'T KNOW

 

I'm not exactly sure where and when Tommy learned to fiddle.  The one son of Tommy's with whom I am in contact did not have a specific memory of that fact either.  

 

At least one photo suggested that he played bass fiddle while in the USN.  I don't have a date or place for that photo, but it was probably from the late 1950s. 

 

Photos in that series, possibly taken with a video camera during his USN days, suggest he knew how to play banjo, too. 

 

Did he play banjo?  And did he play guitar?  One musician said TM, in the early 1970s, taught him how to back up a fiddler on guitar.

 

Tommy in the late 1950s played fiddle with folks in and around Statesville, North Carolina in those days. 

 

Any recollections about his music making buddies in those days, or his bands?     

 

Did you ever hear of a band called The Leonards, out of Galax, VA, or nearby?  Jim seemed to think that Tommy may have played with them. 

 

When Tommy played fiddle in various bands , did he have a day job and do you happen to know what it was?  You confirmed he worked with A.L. Wood on survey projects.  Did he ever sell insurance? 

 

Some people, including at least two former students, describe Tommy as a bluegrass fiddler, but Jim Scancarelli makes clear he was equally at home with old-time fiddle tunes. 

 

Do you remember any elder fiddlers to whom he was drawn?  Whose music he emulated? 

 

Do you recall any specific tunes that Tommy reached for on the fiddle that were his favorites? 

 

Now, I have been a banjo player since the 1960s - or, perhaps more accurately, I've been a guy whose owned several banjos, and who can take the thing out of the case without injuring myself - I'm no musician, but I play some.  Clawhammer mostly.  Last year, I started trying to learn fiddle.

 

In short, I'm not a musician, but I need to ask:

 

how would you describe Tommy's fiddle style, or his technique?  Was he rough or polished, conventional in the way he held the bow, or undisciplined?  Was he a careful fiddler, or was he just someone who ripped music from the fiddle any which way? 

 

He seemed drawn to waltzes, and he seemed - as Jim Scancarelli observed - happy playing twin fiddles.  He seemed also to enjoy playing fiddle harmony as much as melody lead.  Does any of that ring true to you?

 

Tommy, Jim said, played with the fury of Scotty Stoneman.  He had power, and he was creative, especially in the fiddle backup work he did.  He could play a 3/4 tune on his fiddle and make it sound as though an orchestra was playing it. 

 

Was he an improviser or did he stick with the conventional melodic core of tunes.

 

Now, I may be asking the wrong questions, so I'd appreciate any help you can give me on this.  If you think of something I should know, that I've not asked about, I'd appreciate the help!

 

And I thank you kindly for your attention. 

 

I've talked to A.L. Wood, Ruth Wheery, Leon Marlowe, and through cutouts I've communicated with Dewey Farmer and Ronnie Miller.  Still hunting for more names.  If you happen to think of others with whom I should speak, I'd be glad for that info. 

 

Stay well.  Make great music. 

 

Very Respectfully, 

 

Lew Stern

 



8 comments on “QUESTIONS ABOUT FIDDLER TOMMY MALBOEUF”

cnd Says:
Thursday, April 8, 2021 @6:57:16 AM

Having not known Tommy personally, here's all I can offer:
From the liner notes of discogs.com/release/11486582
"LISTENING TO THE RAIN - The Border Mt. Boys from Olin, N. C., took this Osborne Bros. tune and revised it with the skillful fiddle addition of Tommy Malboeuf. A retired Navy boatswain's mate, Tommy has played professionally with Charlie Monroe. "

From the liner notes of discogs.com/release/13134140
"TOMMY MALBOEUEF - Fiddle player for the group [Border Mountain Boys] and sings tenor(?) and high tenor. Started playing fiddle at the age of 22. Writes many fiddle instrumentals. Hobby is "just playing music."

You wrote his wife was Bonnie Lamberth. Could she perhaps be related to *L. W. Lambert* [note spelling] of the Border Mountain Boys?

I'm also attempting to assemble a discography of Old Oblivion's music. I have OO-1 and OO-4 thru -6, as well as 4 releases I don't know the numbers for which are probably OO-2 and -3. If you think you can help, please feel free to let me know.

Brooklynbanjoboy Says:
Thursday, April 8, 2021 @9:09:40 AM

CND: Thanks for your reply. To answer your question, this material on Old Oblivion is from my book:

Lewis M. Stern.
Jim Scancarelli: Fiddler, Banjo Player and Gasoline Alley Cartoonist.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2021 - forthcoming.

* * *

In the 1970s, Jim did the artwork, and engineer and design work, for seven LPs recorded on a label named "Old Oblivion," "headquartered" at 1320 South Church Street in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The first LP, "Chicken Hot Rod," recorded in 1971 and released in 1973 (OO-1), captured the music and humor of the bluegrass band Chicken Hot Rod. Jim did the engineering and design, and artwork, for this first and only album by that band.

Old Oblivion's second recording, "The Mole Hill Highlanders: Old Time String Band Music," (Old Oblivion OO-2), was recorded by Sam Rowe, and produced and designed by Jim; the cassette was digitally re-mastered at Audioworks in Charlotte, North Carolina, by Mike Robinson, and released as a home-made CD in 1993. The recording featured Clyde Williams on fiddle, Mark Wingate on harmony fiddle, Chuck Dunlop on guitar, Jim Whitley on bass - and playing Jew's harp on the cut of "Molly Hare" - and Jim Scancarelli on banjo. That recording was made in Chuck Dunlop's backyard in Huntersville, North Carolina.

The third recording released as a cassette on the Old Oblivion label was "The Mole Hill Highlanders: Old Time String Band Music, Volume 2" (Old Oblivion OO-3), with music by the same lineup. Jim wrote in the liner notes that in the spring of 1970, the band stopped in Statesville, North Carolina, at radio station WFMX where Odell Wood, the brother of banjo player A.L. Wood, broadcast a daily radio show of country and bluegrass music. When the analog tapes of those broadcasts were re-mastered to digital form for the CD released in 1993, Jim pointed out that the band "discovered things on them that were previously inaudible years ago. The thought struck that if we put the tapes back on the shelf another 20 years, with the inevitable future technological electronic advances, perhaps we would discover things that were never on them to begin with."

The fourth release under the "Old Oblivion" label was "Carl Joyner: Hot Tarheel Fiddlin'," recorded at a session in June 1974. Jim did the production and recording work, and the cassette design. Two of the musicians who played with Carl Joyner on the recording - Jim Whitley and Darrell Gray - had just gotten off the college circuit playing with the band Chicken Hot Rod. Jim Scancarelli wrote in the liner notes: "I set up my recording equipment outside in Mother Nature's own studio on Jack Reddick's farm and you can hear roosters crowing and bird chirping in the background. Thank goodness the cows were out on the south 40 that day." Jack Reddick played guitar on the "Hot Tarheel Fiddlin'" recording. He passed away several years after that cassette was made.

Number five released on the "Old Oblivion" label was "Bluegrass Sanitary Cafe," featuring Jim and Tommy Malboeuf. Don Wright played banjo on the recording, and Steve Kilby played guitar, mandolin, and mandola. Bill Williams played bass, and Pat Cocklin provided vocals. Tony Anaya played guitar and Angelica Anya played cabasa on one cut. The sound effects were recorded at the Philadelphia Deli in Charlotte, North Carolina, and prepared as cassette tapes from those original recordings in December 1991 by Mike Robinson at Audioworks, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The sixth "Old Oblivion" product number (OO-6) was assigned to a project originated by the musician Thom Case, but the recording work was never completed. Case's goal may have been to record his original compositions and songs in order to be able to send them to agencies and radio stations, but that effort never resulted in an Old Oblivion product. Jim recalled that a "demo" made by Thom Case in Nashville, Tennessee, featuring songs he wrote was assigned an Old Oblivion number (OO-6) but the project never came to fruition, and Jim never received a copy of what Case had intended to turn into a cassette. Interestingly, at some point, Tommy Malboeuf utilized the Old Oblivion label, and issued a home-made recording as 00-6. The product was called "Tommy Malboeuf: Orange Blossom Special." That recording featured the fiddling of Tommy Malboeuf who was joined by Hannah Vogel (guest fiddle), J.P. Van Hoy (bass, guitar, keyboard), Clay Lunsford (guitar, banjo), Mary Umbarger (autoharp), Gay Tatman (flute, penny whistle) and Stephanie Spranta (vocals). J.P. Vanhoy engineered the recording, and Tommy's son, Danny, designed the cover. Jim allowed the possibility that he had simply told Tommy Malboeuf to go ahead with his project, and to use the OO-6 number and Old Oblivion label but had forgotten the sequence of events that led to the release of the "Orange Blossom Special" cassette.

The seventh recording, "Twin Fiddles," (OO-7) - released as a CD - featured the music of Jim Scancarelli (lead fiddle), Tommy Malboeuf (harmony fiddle), and Jim Greene (guitar). The three met at Greene's home in Charlotte for a jam session in June 1996. "After a couple of tunes," Jim Scancarelli wrote in the brief liner notes for that recording, "Jim Greene reached over and turned the cassette player on and recorded the music for our enjoyment later. All tunes were done in one take and whatever clinkers and imperfections were left in as we kept the tape rolling. Tip, Tommy's dog, can be heard banging his tail against the microphone stand."

(From Lewis M. Stern, Jim Scancarelli: Fiddler, Banjo Player and Gasoline Alley Cartoonist. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2021 - forthcoming. All rights reserved.)

cnd Says:
Thursday, April 8, 2021 @9:24:56 AM

Perfect, thanks for the help -- that fills in all my holes!
Perhaps unrelated, perhaps not, but Thom Case did release a song in 2008 titled "What Christmas Is About"

I've got a recording of Tommy from the first record I listed above. I'm not a fiddler but I'll see what some of my friends who do think and can tell you more about his styling.

cnd Says:
Thursday, April 8, 2021 @9:25:28 AM

Forgot to mention, Case's recording was released by Old Oblivion. You can hear it here: airplaydirect.com/music/LizardThomCase/

Brooklynbanjoboy Says:
Thursday, April 8, 2021 @9:33:58 AM

Thanks for the Thom Case link, CND!

cnd Says:
Thursday, April 8, 2021 @4:00:18 PM

I just updated Tommy's page on Discogs (discogs.com/artist/6335030-Tommy-Malboeuf) as part of some work I'm doing, I figured you'd also appreciate having the sources:
newspapers.com/image/3156710 - Statesville Landmark, Nov 20 1967, p. 3A
newspapers.com/image/3882129/ - Statesville Landmark, Apr 24 1968, p. 1A
Those give his playing with the Smokey Ridge Boys
The photo is from UNC's Fiddler's Grove site (exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/...item/1688) and the nickname "Red" comes from the Wiki page on his son.
Let me know when the book comes out!

Brooklynbanjoboy Says:
Friday, April 9, 2021 @1:54:16 AM

Thanks CND. I will say that there is indication Tommy started learning to play fiddle when he was in his early teens. And that the nickname "Red Tommy" came pretty early in his life, but was especially emblazoned as part of his story in the late 1950s/early 1960s, during his Union Grove-going years. Tommy's story unfolds in dribs and drabs, in small packages of memories that reveal themselves when the slices of the story come out of the recollections of old band mates, fiddles' convention friends, students from his fiddle teaching days. Keep up the good work. Take care, Lew

Brooklynbanjoboy Says:
Monday, December 13, 2021 @2:05:23 AM

The publisher's production proofs for the book on Jim Scancarelli are in my hands, and I have begun work on proofreading the text, and building an index for the book. The publisher, McFarland of North Carolina, has the book in its catalogue available for pre-order in 2022.

mcfarlandbooks.com/product/jim...ncarelli/

I owe them the finished work on the proofreading and indexing parts of the drill by the first week in January, leading me to guess that they might have the book done and ready for sale in early or mid-February.

There is a good deal in the book about Jim Scancarelli about Tommy Malbouef, especially their time together playing double fiddle in the band "Sanitary Cafe."

I'm guessing the book about Tommy Malboeuf will be published in mid-2022, but that's just a guess.

mcfarlandbooks.com/product/tommy-malboeuf/

Thanks for your interest.

I've been feeding a Facebook Group on the progress of the Jim Scancarelli book:

facebook.com/Book-on-Jim-Scanc...338401512

I've also been feeding a Facebook Group on the Tommy Malboeuf book:

facebook.com/Tommy-Malboeuf-No...701822467

Again, I appreciate your interest. Have a fine holiday,

Lew

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