CD-294 Frank Maloy, Paul Anastasio, Casey Driscoll & Friends "Stop, Look & Listen"
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The Wild and Wonderful World of Frank Maloy:
“Doom, Blang, Doom, Blang.” When you hear this, you know that Frank Maloy is counting off one of his many original tunes. No “One, Two, One, Two, Three, Four” for Frank. He prefers to use his late Brother Joe's count-off. Naturally, if playing a waltz he waltz he would count “Doom, Blang, Blang.” As with so many aspects of Frank's life, his way might be considered a bit out of the box. Highly musical, but just a little different.
Frank has been a musician and a composer for most of his 89 years—wildly creative and possessed with an encyclopedic memory. Frank not only remembers innumerable gigs and recordings going back well before 1940, but he can also name many of the musicians who played the gigs and even specific tunes and keys.
Atypical Frank Maloy query might go something like this: “When you listen to the Johnny LeeWills radio show #20, on 'Feed MeCorn andWatchMeGrow,' do you think that's Joe Holley playing the hot fiddle solo?” or “Remember that BobWills session back in 1946 where Joe Holley played a hot chorus on 'Sweet Sue' in the key of G?”
Naturally we mortals are lucky to even remember the recording, much less the specific tunes and keys. Frank could probably even sing or play the hot choruses. Multiply this by thousands of reminiscences, and you'll begin to get the hang of his conversations.
As accomplished a fiddler as Frank is, I was surprised to discover that he somehow also found time to learn to play alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet, guitar, bass and mandolin. He even learned to tap dance at an early age, and tapped for exercise into his 70s.
Frank truly has no idea of how many original fiddle tunes he has composed. We know that he composed at least 159, one for each Georgia county. A book of these tunes and CD set was released on Patuxent a few years back. Astonishing as it may seem, these compositions are just the tip of the iceberg. His friend and fellow
musician, Tom Mindte, estimates at least 1,000 or more. A typical Frank Maloy day might begin with noodling on the mandolin until a tune comes to him. He'll then transcribe it and name it after a place or person.
Frank was born in Milan, GA on January 2, 1927 into a family in which nearly everyone played string instruments. As a youngster he started off playing fiddle with a bow his mother haired with sewing thread. Frank studied the violin with several teachers and also completed the U.S. School of Music correspondence course, giving him a good background in music theory. Fascinated by oldtime fiddle tunes, he ordered 1000 Fiddle Tunes, published by M.M. Cole, from the Sears, Roebuck catalog, and began playing the tunes
Frank had two brothers, Grooms and Joe, both of whom were musicians. Brother Grooms, who played mandolin, guitar and fiddle, was tragically killed in action in the Philippines in World War II. Frank and Brother Joe, however, continued to perform, and by 1946 the then teenaged boys were playing on radio station WBHB in
Fitzgerald, GA with Charlie Dowdy and the Prairie Boys. By 1950 Frank began a 10-year stint playing on radio and TV with Uncle Ned and the Hayloft Jamboree atWMAZ in Macon. Later, Frank and Joe reunited in Macon to perform in their own group, The Swingmasters. During the 1980s, Frank and Brother Joe played beach music—also known as shag music—and 1950s rock and roll in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Returning to south Georgia, they performed with the Dave Mercer Band for over a decade. Brother Joe, who played bass, guitar, mandolin and fiddle, passed away in 2005.We are fortunate that Tom Mindte's Patuxent Music was able to record a terrific CD in 1999 featuring Frank's fiddling and Brother Joe's guitar work. Entitled
“TimeWill Tell,” the disc, CD-065, is still available on the Patuxent website:www.pxrec.com. Remarkably, the Maloy brothers never commercially recorded until
the release of this CD. On it, the brothers play swing-era standards—good, sophisticated tunes including “Poinciana,” “Embraceable You” and “Charmaine,” with only one Frank Maloy original. You'd think that Frank, a strong music reader, learned his tunes at least in part from commercial sheet music.
His ear, however, is so strong that he transcribes melodies and chords strictly by listening to recordings. One tune we recorded on Frank's upcoming disc, Duke Ellington's “Sophisticated Lady,” has at times four chords to the bar. It goes without saying that in order to transcribe pieces that complicated, Frank must possess what my old bassist friend, Harlow Atwood, called “ears on stalks.” For over 30 years he was a contributing writer and tune transcriber for the fine old publication The Devil's Box.
When Frank begins reminiscing, chances are he'll not only mention playing a dance back in 1946, but some of the numbers he played on the date and their keys as well. As might be expected, Frank also has loads of choice stories. One concerns a group he played with that traveled in the back of an old fish truck, arriving at gigs dressed in flamboyantWestern outfits (Frank said, “At least as flamboyant as we could get..”) and smelling of fish. Fast forward from the madcap world of the past to the present. Frank was invited to teach at Port Townsend's Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in 2015, and is invited back for this year's session. In 2015, Frank was billed as primarily a Georgia breakdown fiddler (though not in the hard-driving style of the GeorgiaYellow Hammers), which is only half true. I visited the 2015 festival and got word that Frank also played a ton of swing fiddle. After our first meeting, there was no doubt that this was true. Not only did he know the melodies to hundreds of swing standards, but he also played excellent hot choruses. Thus began our friendship. We played a dance in Port Townsend's infamous 204 building with a repertoire consisting
entirely of old swing tunes. This led to my being invited, along with fiddler Casey Driscoll, Billy Puckett and others, to Patuxent Studios in Rockville, MD to record this new CD, a mix of Frank's original fiddle tunes, swing standards and songs co-written by Frank and brother Joe. I was flattered to be asked to arrange many of these pieces for the fiddle trio of Frank, Casey and myself. Frank is truly a national treasure with a phenomenal memory and a goldmine of tunes with a matching trove of priceless stories. - Paul Anastasio
The above is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Fiddler Magazine (www.fiddle.com)