Francis Fisher - interview

With Jim Haggerty and Robbie Jean Rice NOTE: This interview took place in Summer of 2015. Unfortunately, Francis (Loppy) Fisher passed away at the age of 85 on June 30, 2017.

0:00:12 Robbie Jean
I think what we'd like to do first of all is have you state your name so that we have that to begin with.
0:00:18 francis
Hi, this is Francis Fisher. I'm trying to get some of my mind going on a violin player [Grant Rogers] that I knew quite well years ago when I was a little boy, and tell as much as I can about him. I always liked him and as I remember right, he and my father used to do rivals. You know what I mean? Say who's the best violin player, and my father did win. He was awful mad, but [there] wasn't a thing he could do and he was mad at him for a long time. Yes, he was.
0:00:58 francis
But then again, he was a guitar player. He could play the guitar too, but he never took that up.
0:01:05 jim
So your father was mostly a fiddle player?
0:01:08 francis
My father was mostly a violin player. Yes, he was.
0:01:13 francis
I think Grant Rogers actually had a bigger itinerary (repertoire) than my father. The older songs that people liked to hear.
0:01:23 woman
All you and your brothers were brought up to play instruments?
0:01:28 francis
Yes. Yes.
0:01:29 jim
How many brothers did you have again?
0:01:31 francis
0:01:35 jim
Did they all play music?
0:01:36 francis
Most everybody could play more than one instrument.
0:01:40 jim
What kind of instruments? Fiddle, I'm sure. Guitar.
0:01:43 francis
I can play guitar [and] banjo. I started playing banjo. That's how I got my nickname because it was somebody on the radio. The Georgia Wildcats. I was playing at the banjo at the time, and the Georgia Wildcats' name was Loppy. So, that's where I got my nickname. I've held it since, but I kind of like it. Then again, when I went playing professionally, they just took my first name and shortened it.
0:02:25 woman
Did you play more than the banjo?
0:02:30 francis
Piano. Guitar. Yup.
0:02:36 woman
So, your whole family.
0:02:46 woman
So, tell me, you all would play at home together?
0:02:53 francis
Oh yes. Then my father, he taught us a little bit of something, you know. I would sit down [and] he taught me how to play the banjo. So, I played the banjo, and we used to play square dances. I used to be pretty good at it, but piano was my gig. That is what I wanted to do, so he taught me a few chords on that.
0:03:44 francis
It was always at night, and when everybody was around my father would have to catch us and set us down. "Come on, we're gonna play here." Play all these songs.
0:03:59 jim
So, was it mostly instrumental music like jigs, reels, hornpipes, dance music, or songs? What kind of stuff? Just a variety?
0:04:16 francis
It was a variety, I would say. We would play whatever my father could, you know what I mean? It would be in two or three chords.
0:04:29 woman
What was your favorite song you all played, what did you warm up to, or what did you play the most?
0:04:38 francis
One of my [mother-in-law's] favorites was the "Alabama Jubilee." So, I used to play that for her, [and] she liked that. Then we were playing square dances, you know, "My Little Girl," the sweeter songs.
0:05:02 woman
So, you played square dances.
0:05:05 francis.
We played square dances for years, oh, my, yes.
0:05:08 woman
Did you do house dances, too?
0:05:10 francis
Yes. House dances, barn dances, especially, too.
0:05:14 jim
What period, what time was this, would you say? What years were they?
0:05:22 jim
You were born in '32?
0:05:24 francis
When I started playing the banjo [at] 14 [or] 15.
0:05:34 jim
Okay, forties.
0:05:35 francis
Then from there things took care of [themselves]. I mean, it's when the piano and music actually got me started. It has never left me .
0:06:39 woman
So, tell us about playing with Grant Rogers at Leona's family's house. I can't remember what Leona's maiden name was.
0:06:49 francis
Leona's mother and father were Gladys and Frank.
0:06:53 woman
Okay. What was her maiden name?
0:06:56 francis
Now, there's where I wanted to bring in Grant Rogers. I don't know this for sure, but I got thinking about it. I think Leona's mother was Grant Rogers' sister. I just surmised this. I didn't know this before, but I never knew her name. I remember Gladys. She was all right. A good woman and an old friend.
0:07:27 woman
She played the piano.
0:07:30 francis
Now, that I don't know. My mother played the piano a little bit. I used to make her sit down and play it. "The Irishman Shanty." She [was] very clever at it, but that's all she could play. It was funny.
0:07:45 woman
You would go there and play with them?
0:07:48 francis
If they had a piano, oh, yea, I was there. I'd play it.
0:07:54 woman
Grant would play the fiddle?
0:07:55 francis
No. I say Grant and my father used to play by themselves. I'd go to their house with them, my father, because I was a little tot.
0:08:12 jim
I think that was the tradition, wasn't it? That you wouldn't have two fiddlers. Today you would, but you'd just have one fiddler, right, playing for the band [at] a dance or something?
0:08:22 francis
Oh, yea, just one. It changed, though.
0:08:23 jim
Yea, Cape Breton's music is like that. They just have one.
0:08:36 francis
Country music had the old double violins. I know one of them that had three, and you talk about pretty, oh, it was great.
0:08:49 francis
That's rare. They have to bust down who gets paid, unless you sell a lot of these, then you can pay for it.
0:09:00 jim
Well, we're calling this the Grant Rogers project, but we're just as much interested in everybody, just the symbol of everybody, like your father. We'd like to know as much as possible.
0:09:16 jim
What was your father's name?
0:09:18 francis
0:09:19 jim
Frank, same as you.
0:09:21 francis
I'm Francis.
0:09:36 woman
You started to play in the forties with your dad?
0:09:35 francis
We used to play down at Cannonsville. I think that's where we started the band, down there.
0:09:45 woman
Are you from Cannonsville?
0:09:47 francis
No, Rock Rift. That was below that.
0:09:51 jim
That's where Grant Rogers was from too, wasn't he?
0:09:54 francis.
Yea, oh, yes. That's where we used to go over to his house and when they used to have a violin player. They'd play together. He and my father would play together, but he was very clever. Very clever.
0:10:11 woman
So, what do you know about Grant Rogers? Tell them the story about the cigarette.
0:10:16 francis
I remember, they'd play a couple of songs, and of course I'd listen to it. Then, he'd have a cigarette. He would take four drags of that weed, and no smoke come out. He would take four short drags, and then pretty soon, just like a cloud. It was funny. It was funny. He could do it, and put up with it. He was kind of a storyteller, too. He was good at that.
0:11:56 jim
These parties, would they last a long time at night?
0:11:01 francis
We played a dance years ago, it was nine to one. Nine o' clock until one. I couldn't do it now.
0:11:11 jim
Do you still play though? A little bit?
0:11:12 francis
Oh, yea, I play in the house.
0:11:13 jim
It's too bad we don't have a piano here.
0:11:15 woman
I do have a piano. It's even tuned. I thought I'd have him play after awhile, or ask you to play.
0:11:27 francis
Well, I'd love to play piano. There's songs I have to figure out myself. I like pretty music.
0:11:51 woman
So, do you have stories about the barn dances?
0:11:55 francis
The barn dances we used to play all over with Bruce Hoyt.
0:12:04 francis
My brother, Frank, he was a good caller, too. That's where I met my wife over in Beaver Kill. That's quite a long ways away. We used to ride over there with Bruce. We was young.
0:12:21 jim
Did you go different places?
0:12:24 francis
Oh, yea. It was Northfield. There was a barn right there, still there, right next to the road, yup.
0:12:30 woman
That was the best barn to play? Why?
0:12:35 francis
A little hay in there. It was really traditional. I remember that. I enjoyed that.
0:12:41 jim
They'd have food and stuff.
0:12:42 francis
Oh, yea, coffee and cake and all that.
0:12:48 jim
They'd just dance all night.
0:12:50 francis
Dance, yup. The allemande left, grand right and left. We had a ball.
0:13:01 jim
That kind of music is just wonderful.
0:13:05 francis
Oh, yea, back to the basics.
0:13:15 woman
The modern day [square dancing] is more tightly done and much more synchronized. It's very predictable, and what he did, he would change it around. He thought everybody was getting too comfortable, and he'd make you go the other way or whatever. You had to listen and you had to pay attention. It was way more fun. You['d] have to take lessons to do it today, but in those days, everybody could allemande left. If you didn't know how to do it, they'd [take] right a hold of your hand and drag you around. Showed you how to do it.
0:14:05 francis
Every Saturday night, years ago in Walton, we used to play that, too. On Main Street they used to have a square dance there.
0:14:13 jim
Yea, there's a picture in the library of Hilt Kelly playing a square dance on Delaware Street.
0:14:23 francis
He just died, too.
0:14:26 jim
Just a couple months ago.
0:14:24 woman
He had cancer.
0:14:30 francis
How old was he?
0:14:34 jim
He may have been 90. He was playing, though, right up until the time [he died].
0:14:41 francis
He always played square dances.
0:14:44 jim
We always went to [see him] when we ended up at The Roxbury for the fiddle festivals. He would always play.
0:14:49 francis
Was he there?
0:14:50 jim
Yea, and he would run into a jam once in awhile, and we played with him actually. We knew the old time tunes like "Liberty."
0:15:09 woman
So, you started out playing in Cannonsville. Where did you play in Cannonsville?
0:15:13 francis
We played at a gin mill and they called it Buckey's.
0:15:18 woman
You played there every Saturday night?
0:15:21 francis
Yea, for awhile it went until winter, and then he just cut it out.
0:15:26 jim
Did you play mostly the piano or did you do the banjo, too?
0:15:30 francis
Banjo down there.
0:15:33 jim
Banjo there, okay. Who would play with you? What instruments?
0:15:35 francis
We had a woman from Rock Rift [play], and I used to go hear her. She could play pretty good, too. Cordelia Hartley. She was kind of a big woman, too, but dad asked her to play, and she did. She could play square dances. We were lucky. We formed that band. [The people] we used to pack in down there, oh, we really did [pack them in]. Gun Town they called it. Cannonsville.
0:16:19 woman
When the reservoir came in, then where did you move to play?
0:16:27 francis
We didn't live there when that started.
0:16:31 francis
[We had] moved to Walton. My father moved us to Walton. Then we really went to town playing square dances. That's when he got older, and my brother, Frank, thought he knew it all. Then my brother Tommy came in with a guitar, very good guitar player, and my brother, Jim, on top of that, and my younger brother.
0:16:55 jim
So, they play guitars and you played the banjo or the piano?
0:17:00 francis
I played the piano there. That's when I started playing the piano.
0:17:08 francis
My brother, Frank, as I say, he played guitar and called square dances. My brother, Tom, played guitar, too, lead guitar they call it. Jim played the drums, I think. He always played the drums. He played the bass. He was a versatile [player], very versatile.
0:17:34 jim
So, mostly you played at square dances, that was most[ly] thing you did. Did you have other kinds of gigs?
0:17:43 francis
Oh, sure, I played Cass's. I played with a house band there, [at] Cass's. Margaretville. Do you know where that is?
0:17:56 woman
Cass's was the resort in Margaretville.
0:18:00 francis
Yea, it was a resort, right. I played Andes Hotel off and on for twenty years. I played the Ranch off and on for twenty years. Sixty, 65 years went by, and I had to play alone because the band busted up. I busted away from that band only because of trouble.
0:18:24 woman
I remember the Fisher brothers having own[ed] the building on Route 28 on the way to Meridale, and they played there every Saturday. Every weekend they had dances there, and we would go and dance there sometimes. That was a long time ago.
0:18:42 francis
Did you enjoy yourself? Everybody that went there they still talk about that. My granddaughter, she works at Cooperstown hospital. Anybody there that's 70 years old now ask her who she is, and then she starts in with the background a little. They just bust something open. I went up there a couple times, you know, just to see how things are going. Oh, I enjoyed myself, too. Dancing , you know.
0:19:17 francis
Yea, you should have been there. Kick your heels right up there.
0:22:01 francis
I don't engage in too much. I don't know why I don't, you know what I mean? I've got to loosen up more than I do. Since my wife passed away, you know what I mean, a part of me; it kind of confused everything.
0:22:13 jim
That's the same with Bob Moss.
0:22:15 francis
Oh, I know. Last time we saw him was in church. Bob's okay though, if you want to talk.
0:22:22 jim
Oh, we talked to him
0:22:26 francis.
I'm glad.
0:22:31 jim
He enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling too well. I think he had another stent put in.
0:22:38 francis
Yea, he did. Is that where he lives, [in Sidney]? He comes to Walton to church.
0:22:47 woman
Yea, his daughter goes to church with us.
0:22:52 francis
I watched Jane play the bells. I love the bells. I love them. I love it; Christmas Eve, Christmas time. I like it, anyway.
0:23:14 jim
So, you still play anywhere publicly?
0:23:16 francis
0:23:17 woman
So, did you ever come here and do a house dance?
0:23:20 francis
Where, here?
0:23:21 woman
Here, yea.
0:23:22 francis
0:23:22 woman
No? Did you do house dances anywhere around here?
0:23:32 francis
Bruce and I, we played up at Bruce Hoyt's when he had a barn dance. He had a brother, Hilton, who called square dances, too. He was very good. He was better than Bruce, really, they say, but I played with him, too, at square dances.
0:23:51 jim
Do you know Eddie['s] son, Wes, St. Onge? His father, Eddie, he played with Bob Moss.
0:24:23 jim
His son is Wes, who plays country music [and] guitar. He also plays the fiddle.
0:24:32 jim
Wes St. Onge and his father, Edwin St. Onge. He has his father's fiddle. He wants to meet Bob because Bob knew his father real well. Has a lot of stories about his father, so I just wondered if you knew him at all.
0:24:49 francis
0:24:51 woman
You must have played with Bob Parsons, too, right? Bob Parsons played with Bruce Hoyt?
0:25:02 francis
No, I never played with Bob Parsons. I have filled in for him. Over around the dam there they had a place that had square dances, and he used to teach Sunday school in your church. I got in the car with him, [and] I don't know if I should tell this or not...
0:25:25 woman
Oh sure, go ahead.
0:25:28 francis
...and we would say enough and go play to play. He said, "You want a beer?" I said, "No," but here he is, [a] Sunday school teacher.
0:25:44 woman
Sunday school teachers drink beer, too.
0:25:51 woman
What about the Shackletons? Did you play with them?
0:25:57 francis
Oh, yes, I played with Mrs. Shackleton [and] Glenn Shackleton. Sweetest violin player on Earth. Oh, my god. It was just wonderful. He was a farmer. He was always there. We hired him to play, and he gets the boys, he was in service. We played at Rock Rift, too. Used to play down there. We played all over.
0:26:32 jim
Did your father ever tell you any stories from like where and when he learned it, or how he got into music? Do you know anything about that?
0:26:37 francis
You know, he never did.
0:26:41 francis
It leaves you in the lurch, and now I was thinking about that. Now, where did he get that from? It puzzled [me], but I did figure that one out. Where Gladys was a sister to Grant Rogers. I used to go over there and see them all the time. They were farmers. I was going to tell you to contact Frannie, Cappie's sister. She would know, she's older. I kind of had a little [thing] for her years ago. Does she belong to her church? I got to talk to her. She'd tell me everything. Cappy, I don't think he's good. I've heard that.
0:27:34 jim
Did you say you were born in '30, '32?
0:27:42 francis
I'm 83.
0:27:46 jim
Well, hey, you look great.
0:27:54 jim
Well, I mean, we're all like that. Enjoy every day, and music is so great because you've got that.
0:27:59 francis
Last night I was playing. The TV was lousy, so I got my black maple piano set up, and got right in there. Good for my mind.
0:28:14 woman
Oh, definitely. So, did you meet Margot when you were playing?
0:28:19 francis
That's where I met her. The square dance in the Beaver Kill. Yes, I did. She says she wanted to meet that piano player. Her father had a resort over there, and they had a girl there that worked for him. She knew me because her mother played at square dances, too. They used to go up to Art Paul's, it's right at the top, and it was as you turn to go to Oneonta. Oh, my, that place had square dances at it with Art Paul.
0:28:57 jim
Now, did you do what they call round dances, too? Fox trots?
0:29:05 francis
Oh, yea, round dance, oh yea.
0:29:07 woman
What were round dances?

0:29:08 jim
Someone said it was like fox trot, couple dancing, right?
0:29:12 francis
Yea, couple's dancing. yea.
0:29:16 francis
They still have that in Binghamton. It's kind of like polka, but they sort of slow it down. It's good, too.
0:29:24 jim
So, how was the music different for the two? [For a] square dance they have certain tunes. Would [it] be the same tunes for a round dance, [or] would it be different tunes?
0:29:57 francis
Well, you've got to have a little rhythm, I've seen it completely without rhythm, but you gain your own step. I think that's what they call it.
0:30:11 woman
Is there a different rhythm for square dancing than there is for round dancing?
0:30:15 francis
Round dancing? No, I don't think so.
0:30:15 jim
Yea, that's what I was kind of wondering. Just the same music, just different form.
0:30:23 francis
Like a song. "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." That's a waltz
0:30:29 francis
I love waltzes, oh, yea.
0:30:37 woman
What was your favorite square dance?
0:30:39 francis
"My Little Girl."
0:30:42 francis
"My little girl, you know I love you, and I long for you each day."
0:31:02 francis
There's many square dances. Bruce Hoyt and Hilton Hoyt, they'd take right off. They'd have us call for that. You didn't stump them. You just couldn't do it. They tried. They so-called thought they could play the guitar. Well, they called [him] "One Finger Bruce." He played the guitar with one finger. He could keep rhythm, and that really meant a lot.
0:31:50 woman
I called Bruce to see if we could talk to him, too, but he didn't call me back. I know Bruce pretty well.
0:32:09 francis
He's not good.
0:32:11 woman
Oh, [I] didn't know that.
0:32:12 francis
Yea, don't think so. No, he don't drive anymore, either.
0:32:16 woman
I know that.
0:32:18 francis
The last time I saw him, it was in TA's and he was having lunch with his girlfriend. Bruce is near 100 I think.
0:32:26 woman
Well, he's 92 or three, yea.
0:32:28 francis
Well, his mother lived to be 100.
0:32:30 woman
Yea, his sister's 101.
0:32:33 francis
Oh, yea. Well, that's my plan. I never even knew that until a while ago that they were brother and sister.
0:33:00 francis
I never knew, I was just a kid, I didn't know where he worked or anything like that. He worked in a stone quarry. I didn't know about that.
0:33:17 jim
Well, people in the community played music. You didn't have to get somebody from somewhere else to come and play music, everybody just learned. A lot of people played. So, there were a lot of people playing music in the community?
0:33:37 francis
Years ago? You mean a lot of people playing music? Yea, I don't know.
0:33:42 jim
I guess they all danced.
0:33:46 francis
Not at Rock Rift, anyway.
0:33:47 jim
But they danced. That was the big thing.
0:33:49 francis
Oh, yes, oh, yes, they danced. Absolutely. There was a place for them to go. They have a little outlet they call it, plus they had two gin mills. Did you ever go there?
0:34:07 jim
Well, I don't know if we called it that, but the equivalent.
0:34:12 woman
What was it like growing up in Rock Rift?
0:34:17 francis
It was a ball, oh, my gosh. I wouldn't take a million dollars for it.
0:34:27 woman
Were you on a farm?
0:34:29 francis
No. Those times was hard. Very hard.
0:34:48 woman
It was the Depression.
0:34:49 francis
Yup. My father worked for the town. They had workmen's stone quarry, too, never made enough. He had a lot of mouths to feed.
0:35:02 jim
Did he make some money playing music, too?
Oh, yes. That helped. I played on the radio station in Liberty for [a] couple of years.
0:35:16 woman
0:35:17 francis
Yea, at the radio station. WDOS. Then we played at a place down there, too. Nelson's Bolognaise. We played there, too. Right in down around there, Neversink, is where I played one dance with Grant Rogers. Do you remember the Hulse brothers? Their father, he played with us. I guess it was Grant that hired us. I played piano, my brother, Frank, he called, that's what it was. That was the trick. Lou Hulse played the guitar, and Grant played the violin. He did play square dances. He was good. We made it through.
0:36:07 woman
That was the only time that you played with him?
0:36:09 francis
That was, just once. That's the only time I can remember.
0:36:13 woman
When was that, do you know?
0:36:15 francis
Oh, my god, no.
0:36:19 woman
I was trying to think if Grant Rogers was still alive when we moved here. Fran Watson was Jim's secretary, so she introduced us to Grant Rogers.
0:36:29 francis
Who was his secretary?
0:36:30 woman
Fran Watson was my husband's secretary. She introduced us to Grant Rogers.
0:36:40 francis
Oh, yea, she worked up at [Cooperative Extension].
0:36:47 francis
I always liked Frannie. Little short girl, and Leona, she's tall.
0:36:57 francis
John is not good, is he?
0:37:01 woman
0:37:03 francis
What's wrong? His heart?
0:37:04 woman
Heart, yea.
0:37:29 woman
I thought maybe he was going to tell us about growing up in Rock Rift, but he didn't .
0:37:33 francis
Well, I don't know how to say it. It was a free-for-all is what it was. I was a very active guy, and I would run a wheel on a boyer at least ten miles a day.
0:37:53 woman
Ok, tell me what a boyer is.
0:37:55 francis
I mean, because I like mechanic work.
0:38:25 woman
So you so you went to school in Rock Rift.
0:38:30 jim
In those days, you had neighbors really depending on each other for a lot of things, right? You helped each other in all kinds of ways in [the] community, or not?
0:38:45 francis
Oh, yea. Rock Rift was a different place. They'd move from Walton down there, stay a little while, move back. We did, too. My father would take us all up to Walton, live there for just a short time, we got too frisky, buh-bye. The boys and the girls. Back we'd go.
0:39:14 jim
Keep you on the farm there, right?
0:39:20 francis
Friday, Saturday. We had two places that sold whiskey down there at that time, and all the people would get all drunk, inebriated or whatever, and you could hear them coming. One place to another on a Friday and Saturday. It was good.
0:39:46 woman
And you played music.
0:39:50 francis
Sometimes we would play. You know Charlie Fumiero? His father had a place down there. Fumiero's. Fight every Saturday night, same as down there in Cannonsville. Had to have a fight, otherwise it just wouldn't turn.
0:40:12 woman
Charlie Fumiero's father had a bar? In Rock Rift?
0:40:19 francis
He called it Rachel, and his wife's name was Rachel. She used to do the cooking. They hired bartenders and all, and he kept it up good, too. Real nice. Charlie, I've known him a long time. He's talked to me, and he always believed in Rock Rift, but I never knew Charlie down there. There was his brother, too, Sandy. He went away in the service, and he was a little bit older. Charlie, he's not home.
0:41:18 francis
He can't walk or speak.
0:41:25 woman
Oh, dear. I used to see him drive by here once in awhile, but I haven't seen him in a long time. I see you drive by here, too.
0:41:32 francis
Yup. This is one of my rides