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.
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.
But then again, he was a guitar player. He could play the guitar too, but he never took that up.
So your father was mostly a fiddle player?
My father was mostly a violin player. Yes, he was.
I think Grant Rogers actually had a bigger itinerary (repertoire) than my father. The older songs that people liked to hear.
All you and your brothers were brought up to play instruments?
How many brothers did you have again?
Did they all play music?
Most everybody could play more than one instrument.
What kind of instruments? Fiddle, I'm sure. Guitar.
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.
Did you play more than the banjo?
Piano. Guitar. Yup.
So, your whole family.
So, tell me, you all would play at home together?
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.
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.
So, was it mostly instrumental music like jigs, reels, hornpipes, dance music, or songs? What kind of stuff? Just a variety?
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.
What was your favorite song you all played, what did you warm up to, or what did you play the most?
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.
So, you played square dances.
We played square dances for years, oh, my, yes.
Did you do house dances, too?
Yes. House dances, barn dances, especially, too.
What period, what time was this, would you say? What years were they?
You were born in '32?
When I started playing the banjo [at] 14 [or] 15.
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 .
So, tell us about playing with Grant Rogers at Leona's family's house. I can't remember what Leona's maiden name was.
Leona's mother and father were Gladys and Frank.
Okay. What was her maiden name?
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.
She played the piano.
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.
You would go there and play with them?
If they had a piano, oh, yea, I was there. I'd play it.
Grant would play the fiddle?
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.
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?
Oh, yea, just one. It changed, though.
Yea, Cape Breton's music is like that. They just have one.
Country music had the old double violins. I know one of them that had three, and you talk about pretty, oh, it was great.
That's rare. They have to bust down who gets paid, unless you sell a lot of these, then you can pay for it.
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.
What was your father's name?
Frank, same as you.
You started to play in the forties with your dad?
We used to play down at Cannonsville. I think that's where we started the band, down there.
Are you from Cannonsville?
No, Rock Rift. That was below that.
That's where Grant Rogers was from too, wasn't he?
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.
So, what do you know about Grant Rogers? Tell them the story about the cigarette.
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.
These parties, would they last a long time at night?
We played a dance years ago, it was nine to one. Nine o' clock until one. I couldn't do it now.
Do you still play though? A little bit?
Oh, yea, I play in the house.
It's too bad we don't have a piano here.
I do have a piano. It's even tuned. I thought I'd have him play after awhile, or ask you to play.
Well, I'd love to play piano. There's songs I have to figure out myself. I like pretty music.
So, do you have stories about the barn dances?
The barn dances we used to play all over with Bruce Hoyt.
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.
Did you go different places?
Oh, yea. It was Northfield. There was a barn right there, still there, right next to the road, yup.
That was the best barn to play? Why?
A little hay in there. It was really traditional. I remember that. I enjoyed that.
They'd have food and stuff.
Oh, yea, coffee and cake and all that.
They'd just dance all night.
Dance, yup. The allemande left, grand right and left. We had a ball.
That kind of music is just wonderful.
Oh, yea, back to the basics.
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.
Every Saturday night, years ago in Walton, we used to play that, too. On Main Street they used to have a square dance there.
Yea, there's a picture in the library of Hilt Kelly playing a square dance on Delaware Street.
He just died, too.
Just a couple months ago.
He had cancer.
How old was he?
He may have been 90. He was playing, though, right up until the time [he died].
He always played square dances.
We always went to [see him] when we ended up at The Roxbury for the fiddle festivals. He would always play.
Was he there?
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."
So, you started out playing in Cannonsville. Where did you play in Cannonsville?
We played at a gin mill and they called it Buckey's.
You played there every Saturday night?
Yea, for awhile it went until winter, and then he just cut it out.
Did you play mostly the piano or did you do the banjo, too?
Banjo down there.
Banjo there, okay. Who would play with you? What instruments?
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.
When the reservoir came in, then where did you move to play?
We didn't live there when that started.
[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.
So, they play guitars and you played the banjo or the piano?
I played the piano there. That's when I started playing the piano.
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.
So, mostly you played at square dances, that was most[ly] thing you did. Did you have other kinds of gigs?
Oh, sure, I played Cass's. I played with a house band there, [at] Cass's. Margaretville. Do you know where that is?
Cass's was the resort in Margaretville.
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.
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.
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.
Yea, you should have been there. Kick your heels right up there.
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.
That's the same with Bob Moss.
Oh, I know. Last time we saw him was in church. Bob's okay though, if you want to talk.
Oh, we talked to him
He enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling too well. I think he had another stent put in.
Yea, he did. Is that where he lives, [in Sidney]? He comes to Walton to church.
Yea, his daughter goes to church with us.
I watched Jane play the bells. I love the bells. I love them. I love it; Christmas Eve, Christmas time. I like it, anyway.
So, you still play anywhere publicly?
So, did you ever come here and do a house dance?
No? Did you do house dances anywhere around here?
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.
Do you know Eddie['s] son, Wes, St. Onge? His father, Eddie, he played with Bob Moss.
His son is Wes, who plays country music [and] guitar. He also plays the fiddle.
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.
You must have played with Bob Parsons, too, right? Bob Parsons played with Bruce Hoyt?
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...
Oh sure, go ahead.
...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.
Sunday school teachers drink beer, too.
What about the Shackletons? Did you play with them?
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.
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?
You know, he never did.
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.
Did you say you were born in '30, '32?
Well, hey, you look great.
Well, I mean, we're all like that. Enjoy every day, and music is so great because you've got that.
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.
Oh, definitely. So, did you meet Margot when you were playing?
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.
Now, did you do what they call round dances, too? Fox trots?
Oh, yea, round dance, oh yea.
What were round dances?
Someone said it was like fox trot, couple dancing, right?
Yea, couple's dancing. yea.
They still have that in Binghamton. It's kind of like polka, but they sort of slow it down. It's good, too.
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?
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.
Is there a different rhythm for square dancing than there is for round dancing?
Round dancing? No, I don't think so.
Yea, that's what I was kind of wondering. Just the same music, just different form.
Like a song. "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." That's a waltz
I love waltzes, oh, yea.
What was your favorite square dance?
"My Little Girl."
"My little girl, you know I love you, and I long for you each day."
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.
I called Bruce to see if we could talk to him, too, but he didn't call me back. I know Bruce pretty well.
He's not good.
Oh, [I] didn't know that.
Yea, don't think so. No, he don't drive anymore, either.
I know that.
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.
Well, he's 92 or three, yea.
Well, his mother lived to be 100.
Yea, his sister's 101.
Oh, yea. Well, that's my plan. I never even knew that until a while ago that they were brother and sister.
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.
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?
Years ago? You mean a lot of people playing music? Yea, I don't know.
I guess they all danced.
Not at Rock Rift, anyway.
But they danced. That was the big thing.
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?
Well, I don't know if we called it that, but the equivalent.
What was it like growing up in Rock Rift?
It was a ball, oh, my gosh. I wouldn't take a million dollars for it.
Were you on a farm?
No. Those times was hard. Very hard.
It was the Depression.
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.
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.
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.
That was the only time that you played with him?
That was, just once. That's the only time I can remember.
When was that, do you know?
Oh, my god, no.
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.
Who was his secretary?
Fran Watson was my husband's secretary. She introduced us to Grant Rogers.
Oh, yea, she worked up at [Cooperative Extension].
I always liked Frannie. Little short girl, and Leona, she's tall.
John is not good, is he?
What's wrong? His heart?
I thought maybe he was going to tell us about growing up in Rock Rift, but he didn't .
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.
Ok, tell me what a boyer is.
I mean, because I like mechanic work.
So you so you went to school in Rock Rift.
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?
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.
Keep you on the farm there, right?
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.
And you played music.
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.
Charlie Fumiero's father had a bar? In Rock Rift?
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.
He can't walk or speak.
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.
Yup. This is one of my rides