Gary Lee Moore, a 4th generation Oklahoma fiddler and multi-instrumentalist living in Seattle, has been playing fiddle for 45 years. Uncle Pig is his terrific first recording, one which might have gone unmade if it hadn't been for the gentle but constant prodding of his musical friends.
I watched Gary Lee in a jam circle at Wintergrass this year, and I remember thinking, "wow, there's the real stuff." Sitting there in his hat and overalls, slapping time on his Gibson, barking at the fiddler across the circle to "git it, boy!" he was strangely out of place among the mob, in the best possible way. He was authentic. That was something that stuck with me.
The buzz about this record is as one might expect when a guy who's been loved and respected for years finally puts some playing down on tape. Gary Lee's self-written liner notes reveal his childhood inspirations and tune sources. His casual, familiar references to great old-time fiddlers like Orville Burns are a delight, as are the tunes with names like "49 Cats in a Rain barrel" and "Whoa Mule, Can't Get the Damn Saddle On!" it quickly becomes obvious that Moore specializes in what he calls the "different stuff." He's spent a lifetime gathering songs, playing with the greats all over the country, and it's all condensed here in a sweet little hour-long listen. (Jim Smith, Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Store, Seattle, NorthwestAMP Magazine)
While skulking around the woods and between the motorhomes at the Darrington Bluegrass Festival, I was drawn toward the sound of some people playing better than the "name" acts on stage and having so much fun I wondered shy no one had gotten the law after 'em. I found myself standing behind Gary Lee Moore, who was barking orders and encouragement out from under one side of his bushy moustache to a couple of harried-looking young fiddlers, while slipping saucy asides from under the other to jam pal Pete Martin. I'd never seen Pete laugh so hard. I sure couldn't tear myself away: Gary Lee Moore is part Uncle Dave Macon, part Bill Monroe, and part shy genius who, by his own admission, had to be dragged into the studio by Martin and Phil Williams to "record a keepsake album." Friends, this is no mere keepsake. This is a smash, a must-own, a nominee for record of the year. For starters, Moore plays with the same glee in the studio that he does in jams, and pushes accompanist Martin and encourages him to push back. Some judicious overdubbing of tenor guitar and tenor banjo gives the record the full string band sound, so this is not some "documentary", this is a foot-to-the-floor pickin' album. The next thrill is with the tunes themselves. Moore has a reputation among the fiddle crowd as the keeper of the weird and forgotten, old specials that he learned as a boy in Oklahoma from relatives and competitive fiddlers and early heroes Clark Kessinger and Orville Burns. And what great tunes! "49 Cats in a Rain Barrel"! "Rat Cheeze"! "Kill 'Em"! Moore plays them with all the sass and gusto their titles suggest. Other titles are more familiar, but Moore gives them all his own twists. In his "aw, shucks" liner notes Moore always calls the originals better, and excuses his including the canonical ("Bill Cheatum", "Soppin' the Gravy") with "Hell, it's just a good old tune" . . . . but he's too modest. These are some of the best versions out there. Get this CD today! (Tom Peterson, Victory Review)
Oklahoma turned Seattle fiddler Moore presents a collection of 27 favorite tunes that range from the familiar ("Bill Cheatum,""Hell Among the Yearlings") to the not-quite-so-well-known ("49 Cats in a Rain Barrel,""Kill 'Em). Moore's style is lively, fluid and energetic, and occasionally ventures into the key of F, likely to make him an instant favorite of guitar players everywhere. (Sing Out!)
Fourth generation Oklahoma fiddler Gary Lee Moore began playing as a boy and is a consistent contest winner. Among the 300+ contestants from nearly 40 states at the National Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho, Gary Lee is a regular among the adult division winners. I began my assessment of Gary Lee Moore's "Uncle Pig" album by listening to 4 different versions of "Soppin' the Gravy" (not only Gary Lee's but also Vernon Solomon's, 5-time national champ Herman Johnson's, and John Francis'). Each has a unique rendition with their own vitality, drive and innovation. Johnson's smoothness is hard to beat, Solomon's tempo is more high-energy, and Francis' contest version is clean and absorbing. Gary Lee Moore's personal expression is right in there too with excellent tone, pitch and rhythm. Throughout this album, Gary Lee's precise long-bow technique is flawless, smooth and pleasing. He has a style with tonal beauty, and his melodic accuracy is combined with creativity and rhythmic steadiness. It's this very consistency that helps a champion fiddler like Gary Lee take home his fair share of prize money and trophies.
In Texas and Oklahoma, fiddle music is heard at contests, dances and other occasions where townsfolk just get together to entertain one another. I've always enjoyed the ornate and decorative nature of Texas fiddling, with the fiddler putting plenty of turns into the tunes, while also playing the same lines in a variety of ways. Gary Lee's imagination introduces us to new, concise and tasteful themes, chords and melodic variations in his more familiar tunes like "Hell Among the Yearlin's." Of particular interest are the many less familiar tunes (like "49 Cats in a Rain Barrel" or "Kill ''Em") among the 27 tracks.
Gary Lee's nice set offers not only hoedowns, but also some beautifully-rendered waltzes ("Rose of Sharon" and "Too Old to Dream") and rags (like "Steeley's Rag," "Redskin Rag," and "Birdy" which he calls a parlor tune meaning it wasn't fit for much else). I would've enjoyed hearing some of Gary Lee's trick fiddling too, but then again in a contest just a little plucking or similar antics will get a contestant disqualified. And perhaps even a hornpipe, schottische or march on "Uncle Pig" might've given us even more variety in the hour-long set.
Gary Lee's real forte is the hoedown. Besides tunes learned his own father ("Bill Cheatum"), grandfather ("The Little Forked Deer"), and great grandfather ("Birdy"), he credits some fantastic fiddlers for his inspiration, among them Clark Kessinger, Orville Burns, Benny Thomasson, Howdy Forrester, Major Franklin, Louis [sic] Franklin, Norman Soloman, and Dick Barrett. All very well-known among the ranks of famous and smooth Texas fiddlers. Major Franklin competed against the likes of Eck Robertson, Oscar Harper, Red Steeley (of the Red Headed Fiddlers), and Ervin Solomon. Lewis Franklin, Major's nephew, began playing about age 8 when his grandfather started teaching him tunes. As a youngster, Norman Solomon started going to contests to accompany his father, Ervin, and then began entering the junior divisions.
Like many fiddlers, Gary Lee Moore is also a skilled guitarist and tenor banjo-player. On this album, he is backed up by Pete Martin and Rich Levine (guitars), LeeRoy Jackson (tenor guitar), and Chester Butterworth (tenor banjo). These guys are expert Texas fiddle accompanists, and their "sock" guitar style offers notes and chords that closely follow the tunes, always complementing and not competing with the fiddle. For a fuller sound, Gary Lee could've added piano and/or bass to a few tracks. But it's very clear that these musicians know each other well and have jammed and played together considerably. They have fun adding some coloring of their own to an old tune like "Bill Cheatum." The CD also captures a few laughs along the way, such as after a favorite Clark Kessinger tune called "Rat Cheeze." As Gary says in his self-penned liner notes, "Wish someone would've had a camera the day these knotheads showed up. Those 3 in one place, scared all the bugs from the garden."
Gary Lee Moore is a formidable fiddler, and it's truly a pleasure to hear a full set of his tunes with his creative variations. Any fan of solid Texas fiddling will really enjoy these melodies, along with their tone coloring, phrasing, bowing and rhythmic variations. One of these days, I'd like to hear Gary Lee Moore in the context of a full dance band like Herman Johnson's Oklahoma Ragtimers, Harmony Boys, or Melodiers. (Joe Ross)