Obituary: Dale Potter

Many connoisseurs regard Dale Potter as the finest fiddler in the history of country music.

Buddy Spicher, himself a fine bowman, had few doubts: "Dale Potter is the greatest of all time. His superb double and triple stops set him miles ahead of anybody else." The singer Carl Smith, with whom Potter played in the Fif-ties, noted: "He was one of the pioneers, along with Bob Wills, Spade Cooley and a few others, who had a different style."

This last remark would have pleased Potter, who always cited Wills, known as "The King of Western Swing", as his principal inspiration.

Potter's most enduring legacy is likely to prove the series of records he cut as a session player supporting the likes of Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells and Ray Price. His characteristic heavy bowing style adorns many of the finest tracks cut in Nashville from the late Forties to the late Fifties, and has proved highly influential.

In March 1949 he played alongside the electric guitarist Zeb Turner, steel guitarist Don Davis and the rhythm guitarist Jack Shook on two Hank Williams sessions. Among the numbers cut were Leon Payne's "Lost Highway", and three songs by Hank Williams, "May You Never Be Alone", "Mind Your Own Business" and "You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)". Later that same year Potter played alongside the guitarist Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland on Red Foley's classic "Sugarfoot Rag".

In 1952 he joined Homer and Jethro, Chet Atkins and the steel guitarist Jerry Byrd to cut an album as the Country All-Stars. Entitled Jazz From The Hills and featuring stunning numbers like "Fiddle Sticks", it is now widely available on the German label Bear Family.

A native of Missouri, Allen Dale Potter had begun playing the fiddle as a child, winning several important contests before he reached his teens. He performed on local radio before moving to Arkansas and teaming up with the guitarist Thomas "Butterball" Paige. Together they headed for Nashville, eventually recording some now rare sides for the Bullet record label. Paige joined Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadors, while Potter opted for Milton Estes' Musical Millers. At the age of 18 he made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, the country music radio station; work with Hank Williams and other stars of the era quickly followed.

Although Potter's musical career was interrupted by military service in Korea, it easily resumed when he returned to Nashville. He recorded extensively with Webb Pierce and Carl Smith and at the end of the Fifties even performed with "the father of Bluegrass Music", Bill Monroe.

He seemed somewhat unsettled after this point, moving first to Las Vegas, where he played in Judy Lynn's band, then Hawaii and Dallas. There was however, to be one last flowering of his talent as he cut three albums for R.M Stone's Houston-based label, Stoneway: The Unique Fiddle Style of Dale Potter and Country Waltz Time - recorded within two days of each other in July 1977 - and Super Fiddle (1979). These feature popular fiddle tunes including "Listen To The Mockingbird" and "Black Mountain Rag" alongside western swing standards like "Faded Love" and "Maiden's Prayer" and are now much sought after by collectors.

Potter remained an inspiration for his fellow fiddlers, and not just in terms of his playing. As Buddy Spicher concluded: "The things I like best about Dale Potter are his gentle attitude and kind heart. He will take pains to show another fiddle player anything he wants to know, and he's always sharing new ideas."

Allen Dale Potter, fiddler: born Puxico, Missouri 28 April 1929; died 14 March 1996.

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