Bob Moss - interview

This interview took place on March 15, 2015.  Sadly, Bob Moss (b. November 19, 1925) passed away at age 92 on May 5, 2019.

Interviewers:  Robbie Jean Rice, Jim Haggerty, and George Mack (FINAL EDIT 7/5/16)

0:00:13 bob
We'd always go to house dances. I lived up Baggly Brook. That's where I was originally born and went to house dances. I got interested in the violin playing and fiddle playing and calling square dances.
0:00:33 jim
When was this?
0:00:37 bob
We moved off of the farm in '31. We went up there and there was two "Black men" that lived out on Cabin Hill. [The] Coss brothers, and they played around the square dances.
0:01:07 bob
This was after we moved away from the farm. My dad lost the farm in the Depression. We moved away, and of course we kept friends of the neighbors up there. We went back there to a house dance and they were there playing. They... [were] getting into the moonshine a little, [....] so somebody said 'Bob can call,' and they got me a stool.
0:01:41 man
How old were you then?
0:01:42 bob
About 12 or 14. I had heard enough of them, so yeah, I called. So from there on I just called square dances. Then of course we had a lot of house dances over that way. A lot of old time fiddle players there. They're all gone.
0:02:02 woman
When you call a square dance do you just sort of make it up as you go?
0:02:06 bob
Some. If you're playing an old fashioned jig or something, I make it up as I go and the rest of them, the singing calls, (the set). I kind of changed it though as I went.
0:02:27 bob
I took the fiddle up later. In 1938 we went down to Dobb's Ferry to my dad's uncle. We were talking down there, and he said there's an old fiddle upstairs under the bed. If you want it and learn to play it, I'll give it to you. So, I went up and got it. [I] took it home, got it strung up enough, and started monkeying with it. That's where I learned to play, and then right after that when I was getting ready to go to school in '40 over in Sidney, I thought I'd take up lessons. So, I bought a new violin down on River Street to learn to play violin in school. When school started I went into the mid class and didn't stay very long. [The] music teacher says, You know you're wasting your time. You're wasting mine." I said, "Why?" She said, "You never play what I put out there. You're playing by ear." She said, "You might as well quit."
0:03:43 bob
So, I quit and just got more interested in [it] myself.
0:04:11 bob
Clayton French was my neighbor over there and he knew that I liked to play the guitar some and call, and so we got together quite a bit. Then he said, "Well, I've got a promise to play to a dance. You want to play with me?" So Red Scherer went with us and the three of us played. We played quite a lot at that time.
0:04:40 man
What year do you think that was? Were you in high school yet?
0:04:45 bob
Right after high school. (In the forties) Margaret Hinckley [married Clayton French.] They got married and she played accordion with us.
0:04:57 jim
Did you have a name for the group?
0:05:00 bob
No, not at that time. Then, after we played there quite a bit, I thought I wanted a better guitar. So, I went down to Binghamton to buy one. I went to Week’s and Dickinson’s and I got a beautiful guitar, but it was more money. It was a beautiful L7 Gibson. I bought it. [Then] got foolish ten years ago and sold it.
0:05:34 bob
I got a new Guild with the money
0:05:52 man
What was a house dance like?
0:05:54 bob
We'd just move everything out, you'd set up, and you'd have a set in this room, and a set in that room, and if you had a double door you'd sit in a double door.
0:06:06 man
You'd sit in the middle of the two doors.
0:06:08 bob
Yup, and holler as loud as you could holler..
0:06:15 bob
xxx xxxx did a lot of the calling, and Bob McClennan played fiddle back in the house dances. I played a lot with Bob McClennan. The joke on Bob is [that] I was playing at our house, and we had a big register there, and the heat came up in the middle, and the air went down. Bob turned and dropped his bow [in the register] and it went down.
0:06:47 bob
[We] took the case off the furnace and got his fiddle bow out. I played some there with them, and I called for him at that time at different house dances. One of the old caller or fiddle players was Harold Smith, and he played, and Bob McClennan. Frank Fisher. There was a group of them around. [There] was a fiddle player more than, but I got into it then. I got married and went down to Sullivan County to work for a doctor down there that owned a little farm. It was a hobby of his, and I took care of it for him. Cook's Falls was a Jewish summer resort, and they'd come up there, and they'd come down around the farm and got. A fella come down, and my wife was doing his laundry for him. I had my fiddle out one night, and he said, "Oh, I play violin." So, I give it to him. I played this way, he got it [and] played it this way. Then he got laughing, he said, "You know there's three left handed opera fiddle players in the world? I'm one of them."
0:08:21 bob
He was down to the house all the time. "Just call me 'Sash,' that's all anybody ever knows me by." He spent a lot of time down to the house, and then one weekend he said, "Can I take that fiddle back to New York with me?" I said, "Yeah." He took it down, and when he came back he said, "Don't ever sell it." I said, "Why?" He said, "That's going to be a real good one." That was 75 years ago. I still have it. I got it set up in my spare bedroom; that and my guitar.
0:09:27 bob
Then I moved from there to Sidney, and was working over there. One night I went home, [and] my wife said, "You know, there's an ad in the paper for a guitar player and caller." They had his name, and so [I] called him and I told him what my background was. He says, "Come on up." So, I went up and we set there for quite awhile, and he played the fiddle. He was from Canada. Ed St. Onge. Terrific fiddle player.
0:10:41 bob
It'd be '48. We went up and he said, “You want to play, then?" I said, "Yea." He said, "I've got a job. It's in Oneonta, but it's union. You gotta be union in order to play, and I'm not union either, so we're going to have to see if they'll let us in the union." I went down and saw the head of the union. He questioned whether he wanted us to get in the union or not, but he finally gave in and we got in the union then. We played two nights a week at Joe's and Mary's in Oneonta. Mondays, or Wednesdays and Saturday nights. We played there for about five years.
0:11:33 woman
Where was that?
0:11:34 BOB
Right there in Oneonta. West Broad Street. We played square dances. We done other dances. We played some grange halls and school dances. We played for the fire department. We played a lot. We traveled. Ed had a beautiful trailer that lifted up, and the drawers slid out and the instruments all went in it. When we're going to play tomorrow night, we'd just put then in there and then hook on it the next night and just go. We did a lot of playing. I think Charles Haskins was playing sax at that time, and he was up at the college. He'd been down to the naval base or somewhere and he got polio and died. After that we kind of broke up. Then, I was here in Walton and a bunch of us called ourselves Delaware Valley Boys. We played some up on the radio, and I played fiddle all the time then.
0:12:57 woman
Who else was in Delaware Valley Boys?
0:13:00 bob
Stewart Nickels and myself. Billy Sherman and Ben Shackleton. They're all gone. Ben's dad was a great fiddle player, too. Ben was very good. We played together, and then after I retired, went to Florida. I got in down there with a group. They were just a group of guys jamming every afternoon, and so I went over and sat in with them and played fiddle. Lot of bluegrass down in the south, and so I played there quite a bit. One day there was a fella came over to play guitar, and he had his amp with him. He was from Indiana. A very close friend of mine. Carl Demarest from Elkart, Indiana. Terrific musician [with] no hand. He'd come over and he'd have his amp with him. Of course, he had to have an electric guitar. He played with the pickup group, and when he got done, they said, "Well, we'd prefer you don't come back again." He said, 'Why?" They said, "Well, we're all acoustic and we don't want electric here."
0:14:39 bob
So, I talked to him awhile after that, and he said, "You play guitar pretty well. You consider we get a group?" I said, "Yea," and we got a group together [of] all old-time professional musicians. I played rhythm. I didn't play much fiddle at that time. He played lead guitar [and] we had a bass player. We had a mandolin player. Just going down to all these summer resorts down there and playing a lot. Carl and I played with and we traveled once in awhile down to Tampa with Southland Bluegrass. They'd go down to the festivals, and they asked us to go down there and help them out. So, we helped them out and we had the group together, with Carl, and we played for a long time. Just on the go down there. It just kept us going.
0:15:45 jim
So, most of your life you've been playing music?
0:15:47 bob
Yea. Over in North Afton there's Echo Lake pavilion, and they built that and they brought country bands in. They call[ed] me and they said, "They have told us now they want square dances, too." They said, "Would you come over?" I said, "Yeah, I'll play." I went over the night they opened, and we were opening band that night and played over there. There's a barn this side of Bolster's barn. That's on 206 [near] Afton, and we played two or three summers there all summer at Bolster's barn. I played fiddle all the time there, and then I got back down south and we'd go around to trailer camps. We did some other work too, some birthday parties, and we even worked New Year's Eve a couple three times. They were great musicians, but of course that's [where] their life had ran.
0:17:22 bob
Then there was a fella come to us one day, he'd been over with the boys who'd been jammin, [and] he said he didn't care for the music they had over there, [so, he] come over. He listened to us and he said, "I kind of like what you guys play, could you use a fiddle player?" [We said, "]sure can." So, he played with us, and then he got to tell us that he had traveled out of Nashville [and] Wheeling, West Virginia. He'd worked with Porter Wagner, the big guys, and he played fiddle for us [for] a long time. Fabulous. We had a ball. He was good. Learnt a lot playing with him. It was good.
0:18: 05 woman
[Now,] back to the house dances. What were the popular songs that you sang or played at that time?
0:18:13 bob
"Red River Valley."
0:18:19 bob
"Wabash Cannonball," that kind of stuff. You could [call] whatever you wanted to call in them.
0:18:27 man
Did you ever take part in the dance, or did you ever call? I know you called, but did you and Betty ever dance, or did you always call?
0:18:35 bob
At most of the house dances, Betty and I weren't married at that time. We were married in '47.
0:18:51 jim
When did you learn? You sort of sound like you just picked it up, but [were] there any of these old timers that you learned a lot from?
0:19:00 bob
No, I don't think so. I just got it from listening. A lot of the time I listen to the radio [and when] I hear something, I shut it off right away so [that] I can keep humming it and get the fiddle.
0:19:17 jim
It's a different side of your brain when you do that than the ones that learn by reading.
0:19:35 man
Did you hear of Grant Rogers when you were a kid or later?
0:19:38 bob
Grant was not that much older than I am now.
0:19:41 man
So, you were contemporaries?
0:19:44 bob
Yea. There was a fellow down to Cooks Falls in Sullivan County. His name was George Lashonnic, and he played real good fiddle. Then, of course, Clayton French, and it was one of the Coss boys and Fisher boys, their fathers were all fiddle players. I don't know whether the Hulses dad played a lot, but I don't think he played fiddle
0:20:24 jim
So, basically jigs and reels that you played; fiddle dances.
0:20:27 bob
No, we used to [play] regular songs a lot. That's basically what I played. We were playing one night, I played fiddle that night, just putting on a little program. Fella came up to me and he said, "Could you play an Irish jig for me?" I said, "Yea, I think so." I told [the] boys, and I started it. The guy stood there and kind of looked. He said, "Thanks a lot. You just made an old Irishman happy." He left, and I never saw him again.
0:22:26 bob
If you play by ear, you play a song totally different than it [is written]. [It's] just a matter of what your brain recorded. You put some different notes in it; some different changes. I played with a fellow that lived right across from me down there. [He] picked a real good guitar. I'd go over there and sit with him. We'd laugh. He'd put a lot of minors in which I didn't [do] that much. I was putting sevenths in. Both of us played by ear.
0:23:05 bob
The nice part of when I played with St. Onge was that Ed kept track of the tunes that were coming out each month. Where we played we had our own stand, and opened it up. [It] had a light on it, and [we] set our music in there. Of course, I didn't read music, but he got music for whatever songs he wanted for the month. He'd get them for the sax player, and Ed was sax himself, and then trumpet. He got the guitar. All that showed was the music chords, so that was that was my help. That's what he done, and that was it. It was fun playing with them. It was more up to date, and some real good music. "Tea for Two," and all [those] kind of songs.
0:23:55 woman
So, they would dance; not square dances, but just dance.
0:24:02 bob
Yeah. It was funny; we went to went to work there to Joe's and Mary's, and the first night we played there we played three tunes, love tunes, and then we had the square dance and filled up the floor [with] dancing . They got done with that, we started right into another one, and here comes the boss man, "What are you guys doing?" "We're just playing," and he said, "Yeah, but if you don't stop for awhile and let them drink, I won't make any money." So, that was the time we would we would play three rounds, and then we'd do a square dance, a real fast one on the end, and then just take 20 minutes off.
0:24:50 woman
Did you ever get to play with Grant Rogers, meet with him, or talk with him?
0:24:56 bob
No, I didn't know Grant that well.
0:25:00 man
Bob, you know the way the unions were kind of important; I think to hear that story will bring people back to a time we don't remember.
0:25:16 bob
All the places in Oneonta had signed that they wouldn't hire a band that wasn't union. So, in order to get a job up there, people would call the union for a band and tell Linus Houck, [the head of the union]. If it was a good sounding job, Linus took it [for] his own group. [We got] a square dance.
0:25:46 jim
Could you describe how the music changed over the period? For example, you started out with the house dances and square dances, and later on more modern songs came in and the music changed.
0:25:59 bob
The grange halls started coming along about that time. When that first started it was mostly house dances, then the granges. The[re's the] [grange] in Walton, [and] there was one in Hamden that was upstairs, and you played up there.
0:26:16 jim
For the house dances, would [that] be square dancing, or jigs or reels or something, [and] then you'd play maybe waltzes with it?
0:26:23 bob
Well, very seldom play[ed] much round dance. Very little. They did one. They want[ed] square dance; that was a house dance. Everybody brought something to eat, we'd play for awhile, and sit down. They had a great big pot. They'd put a two pound bag of coffee in there and let it perc. That was pretty much the house dances, and that was then. They kind of faded out [when] people started getting cars and the grange started operating. Then the style of music started changing.
0:27:00 jim
Changing; like the big bands and all that kinds of stuff?
0:27:25 man
Did the churches ever get into music or that was forbidden?
0:27:28 bob
No, there were some gospel bands around, and the fella that played guitar and his wife had been with one of those bands. She was terrific singer, and when we [did] shows out in the different parts we always made her a part of it. He was good and they harmonized sometimes, but they were professional. [They] had been on the road, and they're both gone.
0:29:01 jim
Annie from the library had these pictures of square dances in the main street, Delaware Street, in Walton. It was all roped off, and he was playing. This was in the fifties. Did you ever play?
0:29:17 bob
Yup, on Gardiner Place.
0:29:24 jim
Was that a square dance there on that block?
0:29:27 woman
What about at the fair? Did they have square dances at the fair or anything?
0:29:32 bob
No, nothing like that, no. We played a lot of street dances--whole block dances they called them.
0:29:41 woman
Even in the 60s, 70s, [and] 80s. The Presbyterian Church did that. We had a block dance. Some of you guys came to play.
0:29:54 bob
It was an interesting life because with Ed St. Onge it was a big step for me [from] playing some old house dance. [He got] it kind of organized, we travelled quite a bit, [and] then we had our regular music.
0:30:13 man
Where would you go when you travelled?
0:30:15 bob
We played out towards Catskill some.
0:30:22 woman
Sometime in that 70s period, we used to go to barn dances in the springtime. There were a lot of them.
0:30:36 bob
The big one was up here on the hill, right on top. When they built that barn we played in there a lot. Huge, huge crowds.
0:31:12 bob
Then, when we played with Ed, we played in South Kortright [on] the second floor of the big chicken coop up there. The old hall on Main Street, they always wanted St. Onge's orchestra for New Year's Eve, and we were working New Year's Eve in Oneonta. So, they held theirs the next night and we come over there and play.
0:31:41 woman
Did you have practice sessions ever, or did you sort of work it out?
0:31:45 bob
You could tell when our practice session was when we were playing. Joe's and Mary's, they couldn't sell drink from 12 to one, so you had to shut off on Saturday night. We were supposed to play until one o'clock, so that's when we used our practice session.
0:32:11 man
There were no bars, here, right?
0:32:13 woman
No, even when we first moved here there were no bars here.
0:32:19 man
I brought in your fiddle. I don't know if you're going to fiddle.
0:32:22 bob
We played in one down in Hancock for a long time. Delaware Valley Boys. We were down there just the other side of the bridge into Pennsylvania. We went down there for awhile.
0:32:35 woman
Did you ever play with Bruce Hoyt?
0:32:37 bob
Very little, very little. Bruce was a good caller. He called a lot. They had dances up to Art Paul's, [and] I think he called some up there with them. Harold Smith was up there playing fiddle that time and Griffin played drums. I forget who else was playing there. Then there was another fiddle player and his son that played up at the grange hall in north Franklin. We called him Andy Gump. He had a great big long nose. I set right by him the night he passed away. George Storehg over here on Upper Loomis, he played fiddle, him and his boy at house dances.
0:33:38 man
Did they charge people to come to house dances?
0:33:40 bob
Yea, men paid a dollar a piece, believe it or not. When I started playing first, three dollars a night.
0:33:56 woman
After you got married, did Betty go with you to the gigs?
0:33:58 bob
Sometimes she did. Not a lot because the kids were growing up.
0:34:05 jim
A lot of this was before television, so was this like a main form of entertainment that people had?
0:34:19 bob
Weekends always were busy.
0:34:24 man
Every weekend there would be something playing?
0:34:25 bob
Yeah, we played somewhere all the time. When we played with Ed up there, St. Onge, normally three nights a week we played. It was [a] funny thing, but the granges quite often had the dance on Monday night.
0:35:09 bob
Ed was a great fiddle player.
0:35:14 jim
Well, his son's pretty good too.
0:35:17 bob
Then when we had round dances he played saxophone, and Charlie always [had] to switch from bass to trumpet, and Rose Bell, she played piano, of course I played fiddle. It was good being with them. I learned a lot by playing with them.
0:35:34 woman
Were there other woman fiddle players?
0:35:37 bob
I didn't run into any, no.
0:35:39 jim
Did you ever hear this guy Belcher?
0:35:43 man
Belcher from Delhi? They associated a tune called Belcher's Reel" with him. He was a black guy.
0:35:55 bob
I was trying to think of the guy up in north Franklin. Lived up on the mountain. They played there. They played a lot for awhile. It was it was funny. The night he played there [in] north Franklin we was there, and [when] I wasn't dancing I'd sit up on this stage by him. I'd been talking to him and sit[ting] there. He loves to tip his head over like that and hear the hum of that fiddle. He set there, and we'd been talking, and set there, and his hand slowed down a little bit and he slid down, and fiddle come down like that--he's gone.
0:36:45 bob
His son never played after that.
0:36:49 man
Was he a young man when he died?
0:36:51 bob
No, he was getting up pretty well.
0:36:55 man
Should I give you your fiddle and you can open up and show it to us?

ZOOM0021 Bob Moss music 11:35 FINAL EDIT 7/5/16
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That's when it changed keys in the voice. They didn't want you to play because they had their capos on, and this is the other one.
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0:01:32 jim
What's [the] oldest tune you can think of? One of the first tunes you ever learned, maybe, or something like that?
0:01:39 bob
I don't recall what it would be.
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0:02:17 bob
Yea, it's been a lot of fun. Like I say, I've traveled more and done more probably than a lot of the fellas around here. Of course, they played maybe more here than I did, but I traveled out more than they did. Then, when I got in Florida, there was a lot of traveling down there. There was Southland Bluegrass that's done a lot of traveling. They were really good.
0:03:56 bob
Country music is crazy down there. The old timers down there and the parks--elderly people. We go there and they say, "What do you charge?" "We don't, we just play for the fun of it. We've done our playing, [and] now we're going to play for fun." "Ok, we'll pass a hat." Some night's you'd be surprised by how much you've got. Then you'd go back a week later, [and] they'd be there, and they asked you for certain numbers. One guy, every place he went, always likes to come up and wants to know if I'd sing "Waltz Across Texas." I always had to play that one. "Waltz Across Texas." I can't play it. I never tried it. I played guitar and sang it. The whole band played.
0:04:56 woman
Now when you switch to guitar, it's different fingering, right?
0:04:59 bob
Oh, yea, different tuning and everything, yup.
0:05:02 woman
That's hard.
0:05:05 woman
Not if you have ear and have talent. It's hard for me.
0:05:11 woman
Once you started it that way, it's hard to switch.
0:05:25 woman
How long have you been retired?
0:05:26 bob
30 years first of November.
0:05:28 woman
I was thinking it'd been a long time.
0:05:29 jim
Play one more before you put that away. One more.
0:05:38 bob
One that we used to close with [and that] we quite often played [was] "We’re Using Our Bible for a Road Map." The lady that done the gospel, she done two or three on the end. Then we'd close with "Bible for a Road Map." That was our thing.
0:06:02 man
"Using Our Bible for a Road Map."
0:06:05 bob
That was our theme song.
0:06:14 jim
What wonderful memories you have.
0:06:19 woman
Did you play on Monday, ever, at the grange hall?
0:06:22 bob
At grange halls sometimes we did on Monday.
0:06:26 woman
In Mundale?
0:06:27 bob
Nope, never played at Mundale.
0:06:49 bob
Bruce's brother, Hilt, I played with him quite a lot, and the other one. He was a real good caller. His brother had a great voice. Hilt, Hilt Hoyt.
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0:08:15 bob
"Over the Ways Walls."
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0:10:48 bob
There's a lot of those old songs. I got so much in[to] bluegrass in the south.
0:11:06 bob
It's a different beat, and you'd be surprised, but a lot of those guys down there play every day in the park where I was. Two to four they had a jam session every day, and the guys come up [to] their place.
0:11:30 woman
Where were you in Florida?
0:11:31 bob
Eustis, Florida. Leesburg area. Southern Palms RV Park.

part 3

0:00:00 bob
They put up a camp up in Connecticut.
0:00:02 woman
This was a class?
0:00:03 bob
The class of '40. I graduated there. Senior class. My wife and I went with them. Two or three other couples went with them. We got up there and they were going to close the halls up. We talked to them, and they finally said we'll leave the hall open, but there was nothing for them to do. Well, somebody mentioned that [they] had a guitar with them, you know, they pounded on, and one of [the] Shackleton boys [played]. So, we got out there and got the kids square dancing, and those kids had the best time with nothing to do.
0:00:45 man
Were they graduates of Walton or Sidney?
0:00:48 woman