Robert "Georgia Slim" Rutland
Robert Hugh Rutland, known professionally as “Georgia Slim,” ranked as one of the premier fiddlers of the 1940s. Yet he made relatively few commercial recordings. The tunes heard here come from two sets of home recordings. The first eleven tunes were recorded in about 1953 with piano accompaniment by his wife, Ivey. The last twelve tunes were recorded in about 1960, and these are solo fiddle with no accompaniment whatsoever.
Rutland was born near Tifton, Georgia, in August 1916. He played fiddle from childhood and took enough lessons to learn the basics of reading music. The young Bob Rutland admired the work of such well-known players as Clayton McMichen and Lowe Stokes, as well as the playing of Arthur Smith, the leading Grand Ole Opry fiddler of the time. From the mid-1930s, though, he most admired the fiddle skills of Hugh Farr of the Sons of the Pioneers. After finishing high school, Rutland and guitar player Max Carrington set out to see the world beyond south Georgia. Busking around a bit, they found their way to Reedy, West Virginia, where they hooked up with a medicine show operated by a man known as Chief Greyfeathers. West Virginia fiddler Harmie Smith provided Rutland with the nickname, “Georgia Slim,” that he would use throughout his career.
After leaving West Virginia for Tennessee in 1938, Slim joined forces with Herald Goodman and his Tennessee Valley Boys. While with that band, Rutland met teenage fiddler Howard “Howdy” Forrester (1922–1987) and Howard’s brother Joe, both of Hickman County, Tennessee. The Forresters, especially Howard, would prove to be lifelong friends. More than any other duo, Howdy and Georgia Slim would perfect the fine art of twin fiddling. In 1940, Slim and the Forrester brothers joined with the announcer Gus Foster for an act known as the Texas Roundup, first at KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then at KRLD in Dallas. The Texas Roundup became one of the most popular acts on Dallas radio. Radio transcriptions from that show became the source of a limited-edition album (Kanawha 601) in the 1960s. The group also recorded two sides for Blue Bonnett and had twelve sides released on the Mercury label, all made during 1947. Slim later cut four fiddle tunes for the Longhorn label and made some home recordings.
The tunes here accompanied by piano were all traditional by the time Rutland played them, and indeed had been by the end of the 1920s. For instance, “Billy in the Lowground” and “Sally Goodin” had been initially recorded by Texas fiddler Eck Robertson for Victor in 1922. “Leather Britches” had been done by William Houchins for Gennett in 1923, as had “Old Joe Clark” and “Hen Cackle” by Fiddlin’ John Carson for Okeh that same year. “Lime Rock” did not appear on disc until 1929, when Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band did it for Vocalion. “Blackberry Blossom” was first recorded in 1929, but its popularity probably owed more to a version on Bluebird by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith a few years later.
The unaccompanied tunes were also all traditional by the time Rutland played them. Two came from old pop numbers: “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” (1866) with music by J.A. Butterfield, and “Over the Waves” (1889) by J. Rosas. Although “Say Old Man, Can You Play the Fiddle” has come to be closely associated with Howdy Forrester, it was recorded as “Crippled Turkey” by Bob Wills in 1936. That tune has also been known as “Lady’s Fancy” and in Kentucky as “Snowbird in the Ashbank.”
In about 1950, Howdy Forrester moved to Nashville, where he soon began a long association with Roy Acuff. Slim in later years operated a music store in Valdosta, Georgia. In April 1969, fiddle music researcher Earl Spielman conducted a lengthy interview with Rutland about fiddle techniques. That summer, the legendary fiddler Georgia Slim Rutland suffered a heart attack and died at the all-to-early age of 53.
Notes by Ivan Tribe
Professor of History
University of Rio Grande
Bee Balm 305