Absie Morrison

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ABSIE MORRISON (1876-1964). A fiddler from Landis, Searcy County, Arkansas, in the Ozarks Mountains. Morrison was recorded, probably in his home, by field researcher Alan Lomax in October, 1959. Lomax's notes indicate that Morrison was a skilled violin-maker who was proud of his family heritage. He was the product of long-lived generations. His family lore was that his grandfather fought in the American War of Independence "with the Bucktail gang [Regiment] from Virginia" and lived to age 100, passing on in 1847. A grand-uncle (grandfather's brother) fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Absie's father (1842-1921) was born in the family cabin at the mouth of Long Creek (according to Morrison's figures and dates, this would mean his grandfather sired his father at age 95!). During the Civil War, Searcy County was split between those for and against secession, and Morrison said that his father served in the Union army and navy for four years. Morrison said his grandfather loved "Billy in the Lowground (1)" and "Walk along John (1)," and "kept up on all the Revolutionary War tunes" [1]

Absie Morrision, playing onstage with his granddaughter.

Kenneth Rorie's entry in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture on the "Morrison Twin Brothers String Band" [2] has a good deal more information, and tries to separate fact from family tradition. Is reproduced here in whole:

The Morrison Twin Brothers String Band consisted of twin brothers and fiddlers Abbie Sherman Morrison and Absie Sherdon (or Sheridan) Morrison of Campbell (Searcy County). The Morrisons became part of the folk revival in Mountain View (Stone County) and played music with Jimmy Driftwood in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Abbie and Absie Morrison were born on November 12, 1876 (media sources say November 11, but the Morrison family Bible has November 12) in Campbell to Lewis Calvin “Trip” Morrison and the first of his three wives, Rebecca Jane Denton. Trip fought in both the Confederate and Union armies, but his heart was with the Union. He earned the name Trip, according to family lore, from his many “trips” home to see his family during the war. Abbie received his middle name in honor of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Absie got his in honor of General Philip Sheridan.

Trip Morrison was a blacksmith by trade and a noted fiddler, as was his father, Thomas, and the rest of the Morrison men and women. Morrison family lore has it that one of the Morrisons was a fiddler for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and played at Valley Forge to liven up the camp.

The Morrison twins grew up playing the fiddle; their first fiddle is said to have been made out of a cigar box. On June 3, 1930, the Morrison twins went to Memphis, Tennessee, to record for the Victor label. They were accompanied by three of Abbie’s sons—Claude and Lawson on guitar and Hardy on banjo. Just before arriving in Memphis, Hardy broke a banjo string and did not have a spare, so he was left off the record. The band recorded “Dry and Dusty” on a 78 rpm wax disc with “Ozark Waltz” on the other side; it was issued as Victor 40323. Many believe that Abbie and Absie Morrison composed “Ozark Waltz,” but there is some question about the authorship of “Dry and Dusty,” the favored side of the recording. It was most likely adapted by them rather than written. This recording has been re-issued and anthologized, including on the noted album Echoes of the Ozarks, Volume 1.

Abbie moved to Nettleton (Craighead County) with his family around 1939. Absie remained active in music, continuing to perform alone and with family members. He made critically acclaimed recordings for famed folk music collector Alan Lomax in 1959. Abbie devoted most of his time to farming but returned to the Ozarks for visits.

During the folk revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Abbie returned to perform with his brother with encouragement from Jimmy Driftwood. The brothers played at the first Arkansas Folk Festival in Mountain View in 1963. (Their relative Lucinda Caroline “Linie” Morrison Farris Rorie had won the fiddling contest at the precursor to the Arkansas Folk Festival, the Stone County Folkways Festival, in August 1941.) On April 19, 1963, at the courthouse in Mountain View, Abbie and Absie appeared with the entire Morrison family, including their cousins from Fox (Stone County), Fate and Willie Morrison, all playing fiddles.

The men were known for wit displayed in media interviews. They were once asked the difference between a fiddle and a violin. Absie replied, “Why, you carry a violin in a case, but you carry a fiddle in a tow sack.” When an interviewer queried, “Does everyone in Arkansas play music?” Absie responded, “No, just in Searcy and Stone counties.”

The Morrison twins received many awards and honors, including Absie being chosen national fiddle champion in 1925 and given $100 in gold pieces. The twins won scores of contests held at county fairs, picnics, homecomings, and folk festivals. The twins also appeared on radio and television. Absie was three times the state’s champion fiddler.

Absie Morrison died on May 3, 1964, in Marshall (Searcy County). On June 13, 1964, Abbie Morrison played “Soldier’s Joy” at the tenth annual Leslie (Searcy County) homecoming, perhaps the last time he performed in public. Noted photographer Ernie Deane took pictures of Abbie at the event. Abbie Morrison died on July 4, 1965, in Jonesboro (Craighead County). Absie Morrison’s fiddle is on display at the Ozark Heritage Art Center in Leslie.

For additional information: Echoes of the Ozarks, Vol. 1. County CD-3506. Floyd, VA: County Records, 1995.

“The Fiddling House of Morrison, Mountain View, Arkansas, 19 April 1963.” John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection. Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas.

Southern Journey, Ozark Frontier: Ballads and Old-Timey Music from Arkansas, Vol. 7. Rounder CD 1707. The Alan Lomax Collection, 1997.

Kenneth Rorie Van Buren, Arkansas

  1. Alan Lomax interview notes from the October, 1959, sessions [1]
  2. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=5644