Tennessee Valley’s Fiddlin’ John Boulware

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 - by Thomas J. Brown
Fiddlin’ John Boulware
Fiddlin’ John Boulware

Born in Dalton, Ga., way back in ’87, Fiddlin’ John Boulware was still a young’un when he started winning picking and fiddling contests. During the 4th of July around the turn of the century, John won first in the National Country Musician Beginner Flat Top Guitar competition at Smithville, Tn. Not bad for a 12-year-old his first time out, but his real blue winning talents really became apparent after he took up the fiddle.

John’s interest in the guitar developed after hearing someone doing a little picking during a Boy Scout campout. He acquired a guitar and soon began taking lessons from 19-year-old Cody Kilby at the Opera House Music Company in downtown South Pittsburg. After a couple of years of instruction from Kilby, John found himself without a teacher when Kilby was hired on by Ricky Skaggs.

So John took up the devil’s box and began instruction with old-time fiddler extraordinaire Bob Townsend, whom John had met at an area jam. Within two years of learning songs and fiddle technique from Townsend, followed by instruction from Jim Wood of Shelbyville, you can bet that Fiddlin’ John was well prepared to jump into the world of fiddling contests.

The number of contests that John has won or placed in is almost mind boggling. By age 20, Boulware had won the fiddling contest at the annual Uncle Dave Macon Days held in Murphreesboro four times. After winning two consecutive years, contestants must sit out for a year, resulting in John sitting out during 2004 and 2007. John says of the Uncle Dave competition, “I think they are ready to run me off.”

In 2006, John’s practice and ability resulted in his winning the Tennessee State Championship in Clarksville. Other contests that John has placed or won include those held in: Lynchburg, Tn.; LaFayette, Tn., and Fyffe, Ala.

John credits Bob Townsend with providing him with a good solid understanding of old-time music. After several years of lessons with Townsend, Boulware placed second in the competition held in Lynchburg, Tn. One of the judges, top-notch fiddler Jim Wood, approached John after the contest wanting to give him lessons, which in the world of old-time and bluegrass music is a pretty high compliment. John says he talked to Townsend about Wood’s offer of lessons, recalling Townsend said, “I’ve taught you about all I can.” So, Boulware began lessons with Jim Wood, who helped to broaden his knowledge of bluegrass and swing fiddling.

When asked if John was from a musical family, John kind of chuckled and said, “No, not really, but I did have a grandfather who used to fiddle. His name was Brice Bradley and he played a lot of square dances in the Chester, S.C., area. I never heard him play. He had a stroke and quit playing before I was born.”

In addition to the fiddle and guitar, John also plays the mandolin, upright bass, viola and tenor guitar. He also manages to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga full time and teach a half dozen or so students during the week. Rather impressive is the fact that he is able to maintain a 3.5 grade point average while juggling being a musician, teacher and full time student.

Long term John’s music goals include playing more music and he would “eventually like to have a band.” He says, “I have played with several bands over the years, but I have always been just the fiddler. I would like to have some creative control; I really enjoy arranging and writing.”

Keep an ear out for John; he is a living link to the musical heritage of this region’s past and a part of its future.

(Thomas Brown is a teacher with the Whitfield County School System. He is also the co-writer of the two act bluegrass musical “Fat Shirley’s: A Trailer Park Opera” and banjoist for the regional band Spatial Effects.)


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