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Fletcher Bright is the genial, jovial leader of The Dismembered Tennesseans. He has not lost an arm. If he had, I think he would have learned to hold the fiddle bow between his toes. In all the years I have known him, he has completely thrown himself into the art and craft of fiddling.

No, he is not dismembered and neither has he lost his ear. Of all musicians, it is easier for a fiddler to lose his ear. Fiddles are fretless, and it's the frets that guide string musicians to the right place to hold their fingers. Fiddlers are totally dependent on their ears.

At the Appalachian Christmas show at Waterhouse Pavilion I was sitting right next to a speaker and could really hear Fletcher. He is on the melody like a duck on a junebug. In fact, his touch gets smoother with the years. He's a big jug of vintage wine.

We've had some great fiddlers in this part of the country as far back as I can remember. Some of the earliest I played with were Walt Phillips, Wally Clayton and Sam Freeman. Then there was the great Curly Fox from Graysville, Tenn. I did not realize the heights Curly had attained until I played the Grand Ole Opry. Backstage is a huge mural of Curly and his wife, Texas Ruby. His version of "Black Mountain Rag" is acknowledged as the classic version of that old fiddle standard.

I was a member of the "Tom Morgan Conspiracy To Get Curly Back to Fiddling." When Curly was in his 80s and ill, Tom invited me to dinner and a jam at the Wilhoits' home in Dayton, Tenn., and "just happened" to bring along an extra fiddle hoping to tempt Curly into playing again. It worked.

Of course, we all remember Uncle Bob Douglas. I had lunch with possibly the greatest historian of country music, Dr. Charles Wolfe, and he said Uncle Bob was probably the best old-time fiddler he had ever heard. You will remember that Uncle Bob played on the Grand Ole Opry on his 100th birthday. Lisa Denton's feature story on him shortly before his death was a masterpiece and should be read by every young aspiring fiddler.

In my book, none of our fiddlers have been greater than Fletcher. He is both skillful and soulful. He plays oldtime breakdowns and bluegrass with equal aplomb. One of my favorite nights of music when I had a TV show in Ft. Oglethorpe was Fletcher and Doc Cullis playing the oldtime banjo-fiddle duets. That's probably one thing that keeps his ear so clear and true. When two instruments are riding the same melody, any mistake is quite noticeable. I've yet to notice one when these two old pros ride the same horse.

To add frosting to the cake, Fletcher sings good harmony and emcees with great Frank McDonald-style humor. When I hear his humor, I think of an interview I read one time with clawhammer banjo genius Dwight Diller in The Banjo Newsletter. He said, "For years I lived, ate and slept the music of Hammons and Hemp Carpenter. I lived it until it became me." Likewise, Fletcher absorbed Frank McDonald's self-effacing humor until it is perfectly natural for him now.

His faithfulness as a friend to Frank during his long and consummately courageous battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. He picked him up every morning and situated him in his office where Frank continued to work and meet with his friends until the end. If there is anything more sacred than faithful friendship, I have never seen it.

Fletcher has been that kind of faithful friend to all musicians in this area. Through his real estate company he has underwritten all kinds of shows, including an extra year of the National Folks Festival here.

When I die bury me near Fletcher. He'll never stop, and I want to listen.

E-mail Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com

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