Flippin’ fiddler Scott Woods bringing Don Messer tribute to Islanders

Canadian fiddler will also honour late Island musician Cecil McEachern

Published on April 21, 2014

Born in Ontario, Scott Woods has been playing the fiddle since he was four years old. Growing up, he always knew Don Messer’s name, and his dad owned all of his fiddle books and records. The Woods family would listen to those recordings to improve their own playing, he said.

Submitted photo

By Maddie Keenlyside/JOURNAL PIONEER  

NEW LONDON – Hearkening back to the days when Don Messer and his “Islanders” band ruled the airwaves, Scott Woods’ Old Time Jubilee band will be coming to New London on April 28.

The act is a live tribute to Canadian folk legend Don Messer’s Jubilee, one of the most popular musical radio and television acts in Canadian history. Messer was born in New Brunswick but moved to Charlottetown in 1939, where he first formed the band called the “Islanders.”

Wood’s band will also honour the late Island musician Cecil McEachern, who was the original guitarist for Messer’s band.

The last surviving member of the original lineup, he passed away in January, and would otherwise have been attending the show, Woods said.

“He’s been at all of our shows that we’ve played in the Island, for the last several years.”

Guitarist Bruce Timmins will be performing one of the musician’s most popular compositions, the “Guitar Boogie Breakdown.”

“It was one of those catchy tunes that Cecil wrote and performed, and always had a lot of requests to play on the guitar. We have a special tribute in honour of Cecil,” added Woods.

A sixth-generation fiddler, Woods has been nicknamed ʻThe Flippinʼ Fiddler’ as a result of his acrobatic playing style, including flips, stepdancing and barrel stunts while performing.

Though Messer’s performances did not feature such physical feats, they will be incorporated into the New London show.

“We’re not trying to imitate Don Messer’s band, or impersonate them. We’re only trying to evoke the memories of the energy and enthusiasm with which they played those tunes.”

There was something that Messer had in his sound that was so clean and sweet, said Woods.

“It was almost like he emphasized the melody to the point that it was perfect.”

Instead of driving the music with aggressive bowing, he used the band as the rhythm – the guitar, the upright bass, the piano and drums.

“Don Messer’s fiddle was really more like a lullaby singing sweetly overtop of this driving boom-chuck band, to give it a very distinct sound. You would go home whistling the tune,” added Woods.

A multiple Canadian Open and Canadian Grand Master Fiddle champion, Woods began competing in the old-time fiddle contest circuit when he was about eight years old.

“It’s very strict and very competitive.”

To break up some of the stress of the serious aspect of the competition, some of the contest organizers came up with the idea of a novelty class.

“You could do just about anything with the fiddle you wanted to. There were no rules.”

Fiddlers like Graeme Townsend and Sleepy Marlin would do tricks, he said.

“They’d play under their leg or behind their back with the fiddle, and several of us copied those tricks.

“At some point, when I was about 11 or 12 years old, I started doing the running somersault with the fiddle. I don’t know exactly how I do it, I think if I thought about it too much I’d probably freak out and smash the fiddle by accident,” he laughed.

The novelty playing is a carry-over from show to show, and a tradition of their own, said Woods.

His parents met through his father Merv’s band, when the elder Woods hired her as a pianist, he said. He and his siblings grew up studying music and playing with the Merv Woods Band.

Woods was the youngest, only four years old when he started taking violin lessons. To ensure his technical skill, his lessons had him learning studies and exercises and etudes, boring stuff for a five-year-old, he said.

“My dad knew that classical music gave a good foundation. As a reward for practising, he would teach us a fiddle tune in the style of Don Messer, a jig or a breakdown that was fun to play.”

They wanted to be like their father and play those square-dance tunes, and that was their motivation to get into fiddling, rather than classical music, he said.

His mother, who just turned 74, toured with the younger Woods as a pianist until last year.

“She decided that she’s been on the road long enough, and maybe should take a little break.”

The Scott Woods Band travels across Canada each year performing 150 fundraising concerts, almost all of which support churches, charities and other community groups. Also touring with the band is 16-year-old Emma March, a champion fiddler and stepdancing champion from the Ottawa Valley.

On Monday, April 28, at 7 p.m., the Scott Wood’s Jubilee show will take place at the New London Community Complex.