Jim Shumate—Bluegrass Fiddler Supreme
Reprinted from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine
April 1979, Volume 13, Number 10
It’s a long drive from Raleigh, North Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee. Before Interstate 40 was cut through North Carolina, driving west from Raleigh meant winding through such towns as Siler City, Mocksville, Statesville, Hickory, and Old Fort. Bill Monroe is no stranger to that road. In the forty odd years he has been performing, he has worn out many a set of tires driving that road. Being a bluegrass musician has meant accepting show dates spread out all over the country; it never seems to matter how many miles lie between.
To pass the time, Monroe has often tuned in the nearest radio outlet in hopes of catching a country music station. One day in early 1943, while driving near Hickory, North Carolina, Monroe chanced to pick up WHKY, broadcasting from downtown Hickory. It was noon time and Don Walker was doing a live show with his Blue Ridge Boys.
The program presented by Don Walker and his group was typical of many country bands during that period. There were two guitars, a mandolin, fiddle and banjo. Along with the usual comedy routines and skits, their show featured both sacred and secular songs interspersed with fiddle tunes like “Katy Hill” and “Grey Eagle.” It was the fiddling that especially caught Monroe’s ear as he was traveling down Highway 64 & 70 headed toward Nashville. Before the program was over, Walker had introduced all the band members, and Monroe did not forget the name of the fiddler: Jim Shumate. It was not long after Monroe reached Nashville that he put in a call to the twenty-year old musician. Howdy Forrester, who had been Monroe’s fiddler, had just given his notice. It was war time, and the Navy had plans for Howard Forrester. Suddenly needing a fiddle player, Monroe chose Shumate.
“One day I got a call from Bill Monroe. ‘Course all my life I’d always wanted to be at the Grand Ole Opry. That was my idol. I’d listened to those guys ever since I first started playing the fiddle, but never dreamed I’d ever be there. So the telephone rang and a voice said, ‘This is Bill Monroe.’ That shook me up, you know. He said, ‘Now you play the fiddle, don’t you? You’ve got Howdy Forrester, Tommy Magness, and three or four others all mixed up together. If you play that type of fiddle, that’s what I want’.” So Monroe offered Shumate the job as fiddler with the Blue Grass Boys. Within days, Shumate packed his bags, tucked his fiddle under his arm, and caught the bus to Nashville.
Although Monroe had only heard Shumate fiddle a few tunes over the radio before hiring him, he knew that he’d found the fiddler for the job. But he was mistaken in thinking that Shumate had learned from Howdy Forrester or Tommy Magness. Shumate’s real influence was Fiddling Arthur Smith. “I learned off of Arthur Smith and The Dixieliners, the king of the fiddlers. He was what enthused me to want to play the fiddle. I fiddle a lot of his tunes today; I never have gotten away from it.”
“I never got to see Smith in person but one time. It was at the Grand Ole Opry when he was playing fiddle with Jimmy Wakely. I admired him all of my life, from the time I was a little shaver on up. He was considerably older than I was. I didn’t even get to talk to him. The dressing room was so full, so many people crowding around. Jimmy Wakely was a pretty big movie star at that time, and I just got close enough to see Smith. He was a genius, a flat genius, when it comes to playing the fiddle. He fiddled stuff like nobody else, like nobody you ever heard. Smooth…he didn’t fiddle a whole lot of fancy stuff, he was flat, down to earth. Like Earl (Scruggs) on the five string. Earl don’t play a lot of fancy banjo, but what he plays is right; it’s there. And that’s the way Smith’s fiddlin’ was. He didn’t do a lot of fancy, show-off, kick-up-the-dust stuff, but when he fiddled a tune, it was fiddled just like it ought to be.
“When I got to the Opry, Curly Fox helped me a lot too. Curly Fox was a real good fiddler, one of the best. Curly Fox and Texas Ruby had a program in Nashville at the same time we did. We had a program on the Checkerboard Jamboree. It was a network thing. He (Fox) and Forrester and myself—we’d all work together, and naturally one would show the other what we knew. I learned a lot from Fox. Anything like ‘Buckin’ Mule’ or ‘Lee Highway Blues’ and stuff like that that I needed to know, why during the program I’d say ‘Get back here, Fox, I want you to show me something.’ And he was very gracious to do it. He’s a splendid fellow, and he’d help you in any way he could. Now some people will and some won’t. Some of them say, ‘Now I’m Mr. Big, and you can learn like I did, the hard way.’ But not Fox, he is a splendid fellow. That’s what it’s all about, one helpin’ another. I don’t care who you are, somebody can fiddle stuff that you can’t fiddle.”
In addition to Bill Monroe and Jim Shumate on fiddle, there was a comedian and banjo player in the Blue Grass Boys named Stringbean (the late David Akeman). “When I sang bass on the gospel numbers,” Shumate recalls “String would sing the baritone. String and me also did a comedy act together—I worked (as the) straight man. People used to come up to Stringbean after he’d left Monroe and say ‘you know that Earl Scruggs can really pick a banjo.’ String would say ‘Yeah, but you ought to hear both me and him play at the same time.’ He never would let himself down, and he never would say that Earl could pick. String and I used to room together in the hotel. We buddied around together quite a bit. He was a card. We used to rib him about being stingy. I came in one day, and I guess he’d heard me coming. There was a trash can sittin there beside the door. Just as I opened the door he had his pocket book out shuffling out one dollar bills out into this trash can. He said ‘How in the dickens did all them ones get in there?’ As I started walking toward the trash can, he dived in there to get ‘em.”
Playing guitar with the Blue Grass Boys was a young musician and singer from Tennessee by the name of Lester Flatt. Shumate recalls that, “Lester had just started working with Bill when I joined the band. He’d been with Bill two or three weeks. He’d been singing tenor with Charlie Monroe. So he left Charlie and went with Bill at the Grand Ole Opry. I had met Lester when he was working with Charlie, so I was glad he was with Bill. We were both rookies. I remember that Lester always had a funny run on the guitar, and we used to kid about that run. I accused him of doing it just to let people know that he was still there. That’s about the truth, because we’d be going so fast, he’d just hit one string here and there and then every chance he’d get, why he’d run something in there.”
The fifth member of the Blue Grass “Boys” was Sally Forrester, Howdy’s wife. Shumate remembers that “we always called her ‘Sally Ann.’ She did a solo sketch on each program as well as doing the books for us; she was the bookkeeper. Everybody thought that Sally Ann and me were brother and sister. Where ever we went, old boys would get to aggravating us and she’d say ‘I’ll call my brother and straighten you out.’ I remember walking in a cafe one night and some old guy was harassing her, and she said ‘Here comes my brother, and you better level off, hear?’ He came running over, and man, you should a heard him apologize. I said ‘I suggest you stay just as far away from her as you can, old friend,’ and that was the end of it.” Rounding out the Blue Grass Boys was Andy Boyette, from Florida. Boyette was a comedian and worked a blackface act along with Stringbean.
Like many fiddlers before him, Jim Shumate was surprised to discover that Bill Monroe does not often sing in the keys in which most musicians are used to playing. While most singers stick to the keys of G, A, D, and C, Monroe prefers B, Bband E. Shumate recalls his experiences playing with Monroe: “Oh my! That was the first time I’d ever hit B, Bb and I’d never played anything in E ‘til I got on the stage of the Opry. The one thing about Monroe, you didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes when we was getting ready to play a tune, he’d whisper over to me ‘This is going to be in Bb or B natural.’ With Monroe, you had to be set and ready for anything. But one thing about him he’d never let me down. He’d always kick it off with the mandolin, which gave me a chance to feel out the first verse and be ready, ‘cause he’d always expect me to come in to kick off the second break. I had to do the second break, always. If there was any doubt in my mind, why there was a look I’d give him, and he’d take it himself, because he knew I wasn’t ready. On some of those ones I’d never played, me being a rookie to start with, why sometimes he’d have to make two rounds before I’d have it figured out.
“I’ll never forget the time when I was a rookie with Monroe, new at the job. After we finished the Opry, we was going to play a show in Evansville, Indiana, not too far from Nashville. We loaded up and started out from Nashville. Bill had one of those twelve passenger busses, a forty-one Chevrolet. It would really run. We were sailing along down the road and had a flat tire, so we got out to fix it. It was dark as the dickens. We didn’t have a flash light. I got the extra tire out of the trunk and started to roll it around the bus, and it was heavy. There was some trees chopped down there where we had pulled off the road. And I thought it was a log that I rolled the wheel up against. I pushed and pushed, and that old wheel was heavy. I finally got it on over the log, and just as it got on the other side Bill yelled from under the bus, ‘Who in the dickens is that rollin’ that wheel over me?’
“The one thing, about it, you didn’t practice with Bill. He’d check you out, I reckon, before he hired you. The only practicing we did that I can remember, was one time when there was this particular tune that we were going to do on the Opry on Saturday night. He and Lester worked one out one night, I remember. Ernest Tubb had recorded one during the war that was going pretty good, ‘Are You Waiting Just For Me.’ Bill and Lester did it on the program one night out on a show, they kicked it up bluegrass style. And it was real good, real pretty. So we went to the hotel room to brush that one up a little bit and use it on the Opry on Saturday night.” After Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys’ success with “Are You Waiting Just For Me” on the Opry, it wasn’t long before other Opry performers started doing the song too. According to Shumate, “the one thing about it, we set the pattern up there. Everybody did it after we started doing it on the Opry.”
In addition to introducing new arrangements of country songs to Opry audiences. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys also added new techniques in playing the songs. In fact, it was Jim Shumate who introduced what is now the standard fiddle kick off to songs. “Nobody kicked off a tune with the fiddle ‘til I started doing it. Lester Flatt got me to kick ’em off with the fiddle. Why after that, all over the country, we was settin’ space up there. I remember the first one I kicked off, ‘Daisy Mae.’ That was one of Ernest Tubb’s numbers too. So I kicked it off with the fiddle, and from then on, everybody started kickin’ off solos with the fiddle. I guess I must be the originator of that fiddle kick off. I never heard nobody do it before. Flatt said he never had either, and after we did it, everybody started doing it. I was talking to Sonny Osborne not long ago, and he said ‘You boys were the originator of that, I never heard nobody do it before.’
It was in one of the rare practice sessions that Shumate came up with the fiddle kick off. “Lester had a funny lick on the guitar. Bill would kick it off with the mandolin, but he couldn’t turn him in. When Lester would come in to pick up the rhythm to sing, somehow or another they’d miss a beat. I kept standing and listening and I knew right off the bat what was happening, ‘cause one of them was coming in a lick ahead of the other. Flatt turned around and said, ‘Jim, see if you can kick that thing off with the fiddle.’ He’d been hearing me in the background, I was kinda kickin’ it off a little. So I just kicked if off and when I wound it up and turned him in, he hit that thing right on the button. So we kicked it off three more times before we hit the stage, and man, it was right. From then on, we kicked off everything with the fiddle; everything that we did, of course. If Monroe had something that he wanted to kick off, he did. If Lester had one he wanted to sing, Monroe left it usually up to the guys, because he was straight with us, Bill was, all the way through. If he thought we could handle one better the way we wanted to do it, why that’s the way he let us do it. After all, if we flubbed, he was the one that took the rap.”
The life of a Blue Grass Boy in the 1940’s often meant being out on the road all week, and getting back to Nashville just in time to play the Opry on Saturday night. On one trip out with the Blue Grass Boys, Shumate had borrowed Bill’s violin while his was being fixed. Shumate explained that, “When we were packing up after a show, we’d take turns loading up the music in the bus. My fiddle was small, and it was the last thing to be put in the truck. I’d always just lay it on the bumper. When Bill stuck in his mandolin, he’d always lay my fiddle in with his mandolin on top. He had a little compartment there on the side just for those instruments. I laid Bill’s fiddle on the bumper as usual, and Bill was busy doing something else. We got loaded and started to leave. I got in the bus to drive, and see-sawed around. We had a short place to turn, and I had to back up a little. When I backed up I felt the bus hit something and then I heard it. It made a racket. I said to Bill ‘Did you put my fiddle in the back?’ He said ‘No, didn’t you put it in?’ I said ‘Ah, you gotta be kidding,’ We was always ribbing one another, and hiding instruments. He said, ‘No, I swear, I didn’t put it in.’ So I told him we better look to see what I run over back there. So, sure enough, when I started moving the bus, it just pushed Bill’s fiddle off the bumper and I ran right over the middle of it. It ground that fiddle up. As luck would have it, Birch Monroe was traveling with us, and he had a case that had two fiddles in it, so I finished out the week with one of his. My fiddle was in Nashville. This old fiddle-maker in Nashville put that fiddle back together, and man, you couldn’t even tell it. It didn’t hurt the tone a bit.”
During this period of the early forties. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were playing the Opry on Saturday nights, during the week there were appearances at school houses, theaters, clubs and radio stations. In the summer, Monroe put on tent shows in little towns all over the South. Shumate explained that. “There was a tent crew that went along ahead of us. When we got there, everything was ready to go. We had a big tent that held about three or four thousand people, plus bleachers and chairs. They’d put the chairs down out front. They were reserved, and the bleachers were different prices. It was like a carnival, so to speak, except it was under one big roof, one tent. They had a popcorn machine, and all that stuff. Lester Flatt’s wife operated the popcorn machine. She was one of the Stacy sisters that used to be with Charlie Monroe years ago.”
As many a former Blue Grass Boy can testify, working with Monroe meant a lot more than making music. In the forties, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were not only a bluegrass band, but also a baseball team. Shumate explained how this worked. “We had quite a ball team back then. We’d get to town early, usually around three or four o’clock. I’d go to the pool hall or somewhere where I could find some young guys and ask them if they had a ball team there in town. Most of them did, and I’d tell ‘em who we was and that we had a bluegrass team and we’d like to challenge ‘em. Oh man! They’d get busy and get their gang together and meet us at the field. Sometimes they’d meet us in an hour. We did that all over the country. Sometimes we had good crowds just for a ball game. We had a lot of fun. We played for keeps and had a good team. We had uniforms and everything. I played shortstop and was a pretty good hitter too. I could lay the timber to that ball.
“String pitched, he was a good pitcher. I believe Lester played third base. We had two or three of the tent crew boys that were good ball players. Bill played pitcher, but he was a better hitter than anything else. I’ve seen him just bust bats and break ’em wide open. They’d just splinter when he’d hit ’em.”
What with working tent shows, keeping a bluegrass band and a baseball team together, plus doing his own booking, Monroe did not find time to make any recordings in the period from October 1941 until February 1945. Unfortunately, this was when Shumate was working with the Blue Grass Boys.
“We did cut a lot of transcriptions that we used when we’d go out in the towns to ballyhoo the shows, but we never did release anything. I guess it was because he was just so busy. He wrote a lot of stuff and I guess he was just getting it all together. He never did give no reason for it. He was propositioned to record time and time again when I was with him, but we just never did. We really didn’t have time, I don’t reckon. We had our session up to be cut when I left, but it had never came through.”
By 1945, the members of the Blue Grass Boys had been working together steadily for over two years. To add variety to the show, Monroe hired Lew Childre to work the tent show circuit with them for one season. The hiring of Childre was the catalyst that led to other changes in personnel in the band which resulted in a dramatic change in Monroe’s sound. Many people argue that this event would mark a major turning point in the history of bluegrass. Shumate, who was a central figure in this episode, put it this way: “We hired Lou Childre to work with us on a tent show one season. He was an actor, a good musician, dancer, this, that, and the other. He and Stringbean got to fishin’ together and they decided to come up with their own outfit—just the two of them working together as a team. So, Stringbean quit. Bill told me that Stringbean was quittin’ and asked me if I knew anybody in North Carolina that could play the banjo. I said, ‘Yeah, I know a fella, but he don’t play Stringbean style.’ He said, ‘Who is he?’ I said, ‘Earl Scruggs, lives in Shelby’.”
Shumate had met Earl Scruggs in Hickory, North Carolina some years before. “We used to have a thing in the city auditorium in Hickory called the Carolina Jamboree. Earl came up there one night with a bunch of boys from Shelby and Earl was back in the dressing room picking banjo with a fella named Grady Wilkie, who was singing and picking the guitar. And that’s where I met him. I liked his banjo pickin’ and I hadn’t forgot it. I remembered how good I liked it, and that’s how come I knew where he was.
“Bill asked me if I knew how to get in touch with him, so I called Earl. His mother said he was in Nashville then, working a tour with a fella by the name of Lost John (Miller). So I called the radio station and they said he was doing an early morning radio program. I went up to the station and caught him. I was living in the Tulane Hotel, had a room at that time, and asked Earl if he’d be interested in playing with Bill Monroe at the Grand Ole Opry, and he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, come on down to the hotel and I’ll call Bill and have him come on over and listen to you,’ and he said, ‘alright.’ Earl came down to the hotel room, I called Bill and he came over there and brought his mandolin. We took the mandolin, fiddle, and banjo there in my room. Earl was as nervous as all get out. Boy, he really laid the timber to that banjo. Bill had never heard nothin’ like that. I said, ‘What do you think?’ Bill said, ‘Gosh, that’s good, I’m gonna hire him.’ So he went ahead and hired him. So that week I come back to North Carolina and I tuned in the Opry on Saturday night to see if he really hired him, and there he was, he hired him. When Earl hit the stage, he really tore that place up.”
When Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, a new chapter in bluegrass history was opened. In Scruggs’ first appearance on the Opry, it happened that Jim Shumate was no longer playing fiddle with the Blue Grass Boys. The month just before Scruggs was hired marked another period of personnel changes for the Blue Grass Boys. Jim Shumate had originally been hired to replace Howdy Forrester who had been drafted into the Navy. According to the rules established during the war, a returning veteran can have the job back that he gave up to join the service. “I found out that Howdy was back and wanted his job, so I turned in my notice. I knew it wouldn’t have been fair for me to have stayed. When Howdy joined up, that left Bill with three fiddlers: Howdy, Birch Monroe, and myself. Birch had been singing bass on the gospel songs, and fiddling old-time hoedown numbers. I had a job waiting for me in North Carolina, working in the furniture business, and had been wanting to quit anyway. I could have kept on working if I’d a wanted to, but I was glad and it worked out fine. I wanted to come back to North Carolina anyhow; I’d had me ‘nuff of it. I believe I only stayed a week after Howdy came back. During that week, we all played together on stage. If there was a song, sometimes Howdy would break it, and sometimes I would. And sometimes both of us would play it together. We twin fiddled some, but not much. I never was too good at twin fiddlin’. Now Howdy was, so I’d take the lead and he would second it.”
Even though Jim Shumate had left the Blue Grass Boys and had returned to North Carolina, he was still very much active in country music. It wasn’t long after returning to Hickory that he joined up with Dwight Barker and the Melody Boys who had a regular television program on WSJS. He also managed a country music park and had his own bluegrass show on radio WHKY.
By 1948, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had both left Bill Monroe and were putting together their own band. Their first choice for a fiddle player was Jim Shumate. Shumate recalled how it happened: “Lester, Earl, and Cedric Rainwater, (Howard Watts) came over to the house and said they’d pulled out from Bill and were organizing their own show and were going to call it the Foggy Mountain Boys. They said they were going to use “Foggy Mountain Top” as the theme song and they needed me to play the fiddle. I debated around a while because I really didn’t want to but I thought well, since they went to all this trouble I may as well. So we decided to just split down the board. Lester said they were going to need one more man so they were going to hire Mac Wiseman. I’d never met Mac. So we got set up and did our first program over WHKY in Hickory. I think we worked a week there. We went from there to WCYB in Bristol, Virginia, and there we set the woods on fire. Everywhere we went, we turned them away. We played everywhere—at school houses, ball parks, auditoriums, and airports. Wiseman kind of acted as our agent. He could type and was a pretty good bookkeeper. The letters would come in from people wanting us to come to so and so, and Mac would answer back and give them the terms and open dates, and there’d come back a contract, and we would sign it. That’s all there was to it in those days.”
Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys seemed to be taking the country by storm. Their days of hustling for jobs were well in the past. As Shumate recalls “We had no trouble at all getting work. Goodness gracious! If we did anything, we turned ’em down.” Before long, Lester and Earl were signing their first contract together to record for Mercury records.
In their first recording session held in a radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee, they recorded “Cabin in Caroline,” “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart,” “God Loves His Children,” and “I’m Going to Make Heaven My Home.” Shumate fiddled on the first two cuts. He tried singing baritone on “God Loves His Children,” but as he admits, “My baritone was so weak, it wouldn’t come out. Earl, he’d never sung baritone much, but he did it on that one. It sounded good; they got a good cut on it. Earl picked the guitar Merle Travis style.”
When Lester, Earl, and the Foggy Mountain Boys were in their first recording session, Shumate remembers that “Everybody was very calm; we knew what we were doing. We’d done it time and time again on radio, and we knew how we were going to do it. Some people come to a session not knowing what they’re going to do. It’s not a good idea to practice on a record. You should know what you’re going to do. I don’t mean you should try to play the same break over and over every time. Every time I’d take a break I’d try to play it a little bit different. I never did try to play it the same way over and over. I like to try to add a little something to it, or take something away, to give it a little contrast.
“I did the fiddle kickoff to ‘Cabin in Caroline.’ When I was playing that song when we were on stage, I’d pull the bow on the kickoff. But on the record, I pushed the bow because I couldn’t take a chance of squeaking the bow. You are subject to screech on the fiddle when you’re going both ways. If you go the same way all the time, you ain’t going to screech. It’ll come out smooth. When we went to record, we did have a problem with ‘Cabin in Caroline.’ My fiddle is so loud. The boy at the controls stopped us a couple of times after we’d got started. He came in there and said there’s something making a noise. They had me on a microphone all by myself with the fiddle. I was kicking it off. Directly, he came steaming out of the control room and said ‘I know what it is.’ He said, ‘Shumate, hold your fingers off the strings, You’re touching them.’ I was a little nervous, you know, watching the cue card and the clock on the wall. They said it sounded like horses walking. They had the thing set high. They have to have the masters set high. He said ‘Hold your fingers off of that fiddle. That’s the loudest fiddle I ever heard.’ So I thought, ‘Uh, oh, I’m in trouble, ‘cause I’ve got to have my position on the fiddle.’ But I’d played it so much, naturally, I dropped right in. I just held my fingers up ’til he gave me the cue.”
As a veteran bluegrass fiddler, Jim Shumate had the opportunity to influence the many young fiddlers he came in contact with. “I’ve taught a lot of young guys over the years. One I remember was Lester Woody. He used to fiddle with the Stanley Brothers. I sort of started him off. He used to come to my radio show when he was just a kid and hang around with me. I got him to get his fiddle and helped him. He’d just play along with me and first thing I knew he was just a splendid fiddler. The Stanley Brothers came down to Hickory and wanted me to play the fiddle for them. I told them I wasn’t interested in playing the fiddle at that time and they asked me if I knew anyone that might be interested. I told them I knew a fella that could cut the mustard with you boys if he’s interested. I told them he lived in Valdese, North Carolina at that time. They got hold of Lester and he just fell right in there with them. He fiddled with them a long time; he made a good fiddler.”
Although Shumate had passed up a chance to work with the Stanley Brothers, he did eventually work with them for one week, on one of his vacations from his regular job. Playing fiddle with the Stanleys up until the time that Shumate joined them was Leslie Keith. Shumate had met Keith some years before while Shumate was fiddling with Flatt and Scruggs.
“That Keith was some fiddler. But the worst I ever saw Keith hurt was when I beat him in a fiddler’s convention. He’d take that ‘Black Mountain Blues’ and win every convention in the country. He could do that thing. When a man writes a song, it’s his, you know, and he could handle it like nobody else. So we did a show at the National Fiddler’s Convention at Richlands Virginia, in 1949. We had Buck Ryan on the program who was playing fiddle for Jimmie Dean at that time, Leslie Keith, who was doing a show out of Bristol, Chubby Wise, who was working with Hank Snow in Nashville, and myself. I was fiddling with Lester and Earl. There was a huge crowd, about 9,000 best I can remember.
“They run a fiddler’s convention sort of like a beauty contest. They started off and matched to see who was going to go first, and I came out last. I usually like to get in the middle, or pretty close to the first. That gives you a chance to pick your tune. I would have picked ‘Orange Blossom’ if I could have got on first. But Chubby Wise got to play first, so he played ‘Orange Blossom.’ Keith came up next and he did the ‘Black Mountain Blues.’ Then Buck Ryan came up and did ‘Listen to The Mockingbird.’ He really laid the timber to that thing. He could really play it. So I said, ‘Cedric, what in the dickens am I going to play? They’ve done played everything.’ He said ‘Play the ‘Lee Highway Blues,’ and them fellows can’t touch you with a ten foot pole.’ That made me feel more confident, because those boys were good fiddlers—they were the best. So I played ‘Lee Highway,’ and just laid them boys in the shade. So the first round the judges dropped off Keith. The next round they dropped off Chubby. The next one they dropped off Ryan, and that left me standing there. That made me feel good. I’d taken that thing by a landslide.
“I remember that Mac Wiseman backed up all of us on guitar. That way, they’d be no feudin’. Nobody could say ‘If I just had so and so behind me I could have won.’ The only disadvantage I could see to those guys was that Mac was working with us at that time, and he knew that ‘Lee Highway’ up one side and down the other. Every time I’d turn, he’d be right there. So that was a lick in my favor too.”
Jim Shumate is long overdue to receive credit for the changes he helped create in bluegrass music. At 56, he still resides in Hickory, North Carolina and can fiddle even better now than he could in the earlier years. He is without a question—bluegrass fiddler supreme.