OBITUARY: Chubby Wise

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The Independent Online
Chubby Wise was one of the great sidemen in country music; a champion fiddler whose work with first Bill Monroe and then Hank Snow established him as a formative influence upon generations of bowmen.

He joined the ranks of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in 1942 at a time when Monroe, known as the "Father of Bluegrass Music", was developing the dynamic acoustic sound that has been his musical legacy. By 1946 Wise found himself alongside the innovative banjo- picker Earl Scruggs, the guitarist and vocalist Lester Flatt and the bass player Cedric Rainwater, in the classic Bluegrass Boys' line-up.

Together they cut a string of classics for Columbia, including "I Hear a Sweet Voice Calling", "Will You Be Loving Another Man", "Footprints in the Snow" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky". Eight years later, Elvis Presley turned the last of these into a classic piece of rockabilly, the flip- side of "That's All Right Mama".

Following his departure from the Bluegrass Boys, Wise turned to session work, backing, among others, Red Foley and Hank Williams. He honed his song-writing talent, co-writing "Shenandoah Waltz" with Clyde Moody, who enjoyed a massive hit with it (an estimated 3 million copies) in 1947. Wise then found a new home with Hank Snow's Rainbow Ranch Boys.

For some 16 years Wise played alongside Snow, who was the Canadian star of the WSM Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running country music radio programme, broadcast live from Nashville. Wise took part in the 1955 sessions in which Snow and his band joined the guitarist and producer Chet Atkins in adding new instrumental backing to several classic recordings by the country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers (who had died 23 years earlier).

In the 1960s, Wise cut an album for Starday entitled - rather absurdly for a man born in Florida - Tennessee Fiddler Chubby Wise and the Rainbow Ranch Boys. It proved a taste of things to come, for when Wise left Snow in the early Seventies, never to be replaced, he relocated to Texas and promptly signed with R.M. Stone's Stoneway label, eventually cutting nearly two dozen albums for them.

Wise became a fixture of the Texas scene, recording an album with his old friend Mac Wiseman, whilst another fiddling legend, the former Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble sat in the producer's chair.

Even as his 80th birthday approached, Chubby Wise remained a much sought- after fixture of bluegrass festivals throughout the US and continued to record; two albums, In Nashville and An American Original, have been released to critical acclaim in the past couple of years.

As a child growing up in rural Florida, Chubby Wise had begun his musical career playing banjo, switching to the fiddle at the age of 12 only because, as he once told an interviewer: "The fiddle bow fit my hand a lot better than them plough handles did."

Paul Wadey

Robert Russell Wise (Chubby Wise), fiddler: born Lake City, Florida 2 October 1915; married; died Washington DC 6 January 1996.