Biography:Benny Thomasson

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Benny Thomasson

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Biographical notes

Benny Thomasson was one of America's truly innovative musicians. He was to fiddling what Bill Monroe was to country music, what Charlie Parker was to jazz. Benny was the main influence on the development of a unique style of American music, what is commonly called Texas style fiddling. This fiddling style is used by many players at major fiddle contests in the US. Born in Runnels County, Texas, in 1909, Benny was raised in Gatesville. He was one of 10 children, and was exposed to fiddling very early. His dad Luke and uncle Ed were widely known fiddlers. One of Benny's earliest memories was of his dad Luke working out the now well-known Midnight on the Water. Some of the best fiddlers in Texas, such as Eck Robertson and Lefty Franklin, were regular guests at the Thomasson home. When he was 19, Benny entered a fiddle contest in Dallas, figuring to be among the top players. Benny says: "This was a pretty big occasion right there, and I thought I was a real good fiddler. And I went up to this contest and there was I guess over 200 fiddlers up there. They was pretty good ones, but I still thought I ranked along about the top numbers there.... And when it come my time to play, .... I thought I was really getting after [my three tunes]. Come to find out nobody even noticed. And so when that come about, I decided right then that something had to be done, so I could be up there amongst the rest of the good fiddlers. So I went to work on these old tunes there, and didn't change the tune or anything like that, but actually what I did was just to make the different variations of the same parts, but maybe in a different location on the fiddle, or rounded them out, and smoothed them out to where finally they began to give me a little recognition there. And that made me work harder, so I worked on those things for years and years." It obviously worked, because Benny won his share of fiddle contests, including the Texas state fiddling championship 15 times, the World Championship in Crockett, Texas, 3 consecutive times (where he was retired), National Fiddle Championship at Weiser ID, and countless other contests. Benny moved to Washington State in the early 1970's, and had a major influence on young local fiddlers in the area, including Mark O'Connor. He died in 1984, in Ellis County, Texas.