L-R: Fiddlin' Dock Roberts, Ted Chestnut on Mandolin and Dick Parman as The Kentucky Thorbreds
Grave Markers of Dock Roberts and Annie Risk - Richmond Cemetery, Richmond,
Madison Co KY
Phillip D "Dock" Roberts ("Fiddlin' Dock") b 26 Apr 1897 Kirksville, Madison Co KY; d 1978 Madison Co KY; buried Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, Madison Co KY; s/o Willie Roberts and Rosella Murphy. Phillip D "Dock" Roberts m. Annie F Risk b 1896 d 1960 buried Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, Madison Co KY. Children of Phillip D "Dock" Roberts and Annie F Risk;
Dock Philip "Doc" Roberts-- (b. 1897, d. 1978) Roberts
was born in Madison County, Kentucky, and was among the state's first
traditional musicians to be recorded commercially. His father, Willie
Roberts (Willie Roberts b about 1865 m. Rosella Murphy b about 1865)
died at an early age, leaving Dock and his brothers to take care of the
family's farm. However, Roberts also found time to learn music and by
age seven had begun playing the fiddle. He picked up songs from local
fiddlers, and tried to emulate their styles. Early on, he met Owen
Walker, an African-American fiddler who, Roberts said, greatly
influenced his playing style and repertoire. In 1925 a neighbor, Dennis
Taylor invited Roberts to join Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in a
commercial recording venture for the Gennett Recording Company in
Richmond, Indiana. Later he also recorded for the Paramount and
American Record Companies. Among his best known tunes are: "Way Down
South in Dixie," "All I've Got's Done Gone," "Deer Walk," and "Brick
Yard Joe." He recorded 80 instrumental sides and as many more on which
he played backup.
Roberts was most active professionally through about 1934. With Asa
Martin, Ted Chestnut, son James, and other musicians he made many stage
appearances throughout Kentucky. Healthy record sales brought brief
forays into radio including the WLS National Barn Dance in 1928. He
also had programs in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1932, and Lexington,
Kentucky, in 1934 on WLAP. It was the Chicago and Council Bluffs
experiences perhaps, that made clear to Roberts that show business
success wasn't important enough to him to put up with city noise and
being away from home and family. He and his Kentucky Thorobreds were
well received over WLAP weekday mornings and on a Saturday night barn
dance program which in turn brought good paying local bookings. However
by 1935 he had decided to give full attention to farming, keeping his
hand in musically only with guest appearances on WLW and WHAS, and with
son Donald, playing for local square dances.
The folk revival of the 1960s and the achievement of academic
respectability for the study of country music led to Robert's
rediscovery (in his early 60s) when he had all but given up fiddling.
Folklorists and historians such as Archie Green, Norm Cohen, and
Charles Wolfe and a host of fans and fiddlers beat a path to his door.
The results were lengthy treatments of his tunes and talent in Green's
Only A Miner, Wolfe's The Devil's Box, the JEMF Quarterly, and
recording reissues on the Davis Unlimited, County, and Morning Star
labels. In 1974 a reunion concert with son, James, and Asa Martin was
held at Berea College. Roberts died in 1978 at age 82.
The business correspondence, record company royalty statements, and
radio listener fan mail contained in this collection will help serve
those who wish to study Roberts and/or the commercialization of
traditional music during the years 1925 to 1934.
Important subjects covered in the collection include: country music in
America from the early 1920s through the 1930s and information on the
commercial recording activities of the Starr Piano Company of Richmond,
Musician and other correspondents include: Green Bailey, Ted Chestnut,
Asa Martin, Dick Parman, Paul I. Burks, F.W. Edwards, Jack W. Elliott,
James T. Ellis, Roland Gaines, Bradley F. Kincaid, N.B. Knight, B.
Roberts, Bob Miller, G.A. Nennsteil, C.A. Nolan, C.D. Shepherd, and D.
Born in Kirksville, Kentucky. Popular country recording
artist on Gennett, ARC and Paramount labels in the 1920s and 1930s
under the name "Fiddlin' Doc Roberts". He performed shows often with
fellow local musician Asa Martin from Irvine, Kentucky, and played
shows around the state of Kentucky. Though his records were successful
and there was considerable pressure to tour nationwide, Roberts refused
and preferred to stay close to home. He had regular radio shows in
Council Bluffs, Iowa and Lexington, Kentucky which tired him out and
soured him on traveling and big cities. By 1935, at the peak of his
success, he blew off the lucrative offers to tour and went back into
farming full-time. He was "rediscovered" in the folk revival in the
1960s but by then he had all but given up fiddling. He eventually was
convinced to perform at Berea College in 1974. He died in 1978 at the
age of 82. A rare acetate recording made by him at home in 1954 turned
up after his death, and his son James donated it to Berea College's
Burial: Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, Madison County,
Plot: Lot 38, Section R.
The papers of Dock Philip ("Doc") Roberts were placed in
the Berea College Department of Special Collections and Archives in
October of 1998 by James Roberts, Dock Roberts' son, and were opened
for research in November of 1998.
Fiddling Doc Roberts
Classic FIddle Tunes 1927-1933
1 BRICK YARD JOE
2 NEW MONEY
3 BILLY IN THE LOWGROUND
4 FAREWELL WALTZ
5 DID YOU EVER SEE THE DEVIL UNCLE JOE?
6 CUMBERLAND BLUES
7 BLACK EYED SUSIE
8 OLD BUZZARD
9 SALLY ANN
10 I DON’T LOVE NOBODY
11 RUN SMOKE RUN
12 WEDNESDAY NIGHT WALTZ
13 CRIPPLE CREEK
FIDDLIN’ DOC ROBERTS
One of the finest and most recorded old time fiddlers of country music’s golden
era was Fiddlin’ Doc Roberts of Madison County, Kentucky. Although Roberts has
spent the greater portion of his life in the county of his birth, his style show
a considerable “Texas” influence which caused some early scholars of fiddle
music to think he was from that place. In a decade of recording, Roberts and his
associates waxed over 200 sides of old time vocal and instrumental music. This
album is a tribute to the latter type of music produced by the group with
Philip (Doc) Roberts was born near Richmond, Kentucky on April 26, 1897. He
first learned to play fiddle at the age of seven, picking up a lot of tunes and
techniques from the best old time musicians in his locality. With the passing of
time, Doc too became one of the best fiddlers in his region. He also became
quite proficient on the mandolin.
In 1925, Roberts began his recording career with the aid of Edgar Boaz on
guitar. In 1927, he recorded eighteen issued sides in Chicago for Paramount with
a group known as the Kentucky Thorobreds which also included Ted Chestnut on
mandolin and Dick Parman on guitar. About this time, he is also believed to have
recorded with another Madison County band known as Taylor’s Kentucky Boys.
Also in 1927, Doc and Asa Martin began to record in Richmond, Indiana, the site
of most of their early sessions. Martin who was born June 28, 1900 and James
William Roberts (later known as James Carson) born February 10, 1918 were to
remain his principal recording partners through the rest of his career. They
also backed various vocalists on record from neighboring communities such as
Welby Toomey and Green Bailey.
On the vocal numbers, the trio became known as Martin and Roberts (Doc played
fiddle or mandolin, but sang on only two records in his entire career) while on
the instrumentals the records were issued under Doc’s name or as the Doc Roberts
Trio. The group continued to record together until August, 1934 when Doc did his
last session. Asa Martin continued to record as a soloist and did some duets
with Roy “Shorty” Hobbs. More interested in professionalism than Roberts, he
headed the popular “Morning Roundup” show on WLAP, Lexington for several years.
Among the significant performers who began their professional career with him
were Martha Carson, Mattie O’Neil, Don Weston, Granny Harper and the late Dave
“Stringbean” Akeman. James Roberts under the name of James Carson was half of a
popular duet during theforties with his wife, Martha, primarily at WSB, Atlanta
and also cut twenty-eight sides. As a sideman, he also recorded with Wilma Lee
and Stony Cooper, the Masters Family, the Jones Sisters and the Lonesome Pine
Fiddlers. He wrote a number of gospel songs and worked at WWVA and for Cas
Walker at Knoxville. Today Asa lives in retirement at Irvine, Kentucky while
James resides in Lexington.
Doc Roberts seldom considered himself a full-time musician and it was usually a
contest to work his farm near Richmond where he still lives, and to play music
on the side. However, during the height of his recording career he made numerous
personal appearances through central and eastern Kentucky. He also went to
Chicago and played at WLS for a few weeks. During the mid-thirties he and James
went to Iowa and did radio work for several months. He did occasional radio work
in Louisville and Lexington. After several years of retirement, Doc gave what
was probably his last public performance on July 20, 1971 when he was united
with James and Asa for a concert at Berea College. Now past seventy-seven and in
ill health, it is unlikely that he will ever perform in public again.
BILLY IN THE LOWGROUND August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar.
One of the more widespread traditional tunes, this number was also recorded by
Blind Richard Burnett & Leonard Rutherford and Fiddlin’ John Carson among
OLD BUZZARD August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. This is a
variant of the tune BUCK-EYED RABBIT which was wazed by Al Hopkins & His Buckle
Busters. The Roberts title, however, seems to be unique.
NEW MONEY August 24, 1928. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. One of the
rarest of old time fiddle tunes, this number was allegedly learned by Roberts
from a black fiddler named Owen walker. Although Doc recorded another version
that remains unissued and the Martin and Hobbs team later in cluded it in their
1933 “Medley of Breakdowns,” no other versions of this tune exist either in
printed collections or recordings
CUMBERLAND BLUES August 16, 1933. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. This
is said to be an original compostion of Doc Roberts.
CRIPPLE CREEK August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. A standard
number from the early days of fiddle recordings to the modern bluegrass
festival, this tune was also recorded early by Al Hopkins and the Hillbillies
and by Charlie Poole’s North Carolina Ramblers as “Shootin’ Creek”.
WAYNESBORO August, 1927. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. An old tune
found in eastern Kentucky, this piece is related to GEORGIA RAILROAD and PETER
WENT A FISHING, that were recorded by such Georgia groups as Gid Tanner, and
Riley Puckett. Another Kentucky version was field recorded by the Library of
Congress at Hazard in 1937.
RUN SMOKE RUN August 24, 1928. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. More
familiarly known as RUN, NIGGER RUN, this tune is one of the more recorded old
time numbers as both a song and an instrumental. The vocal refrain “Run Nigger
Run, the pateroller’ll get you” refers to the days when slave patrols pursued
runaway slaves. Recorded as RUN NIGGER RUN by the Skillet Lickers and Fiddlin’
John Carson, it became RUN BOY RUN on versions by Fiddlin’ Eck Robertson and Dr.
Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters. Uncle Dave Macon recorded it as a banjo
song and in 1958 Jimmy Driftwood used the tune for his folk composition about
the Whicky Rebellion, RUN JOHNNY RUN.
BRICKYARD JOE August 24, 1928. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin, guitar. The
Roberts’ version of this was a first recording. However, a related tune, MARTHA
CAMPBELL was also recorded by Roberts and by J. William Day (Jillson Setters).
For a Missouri version, see Bob Christeson, An Old Time Fiddlers Repertory
(Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974), p. 124.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT WALTZ March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James
Roberts, guitars. A popular old-time waltz tune, this number was also recorded
by the Leake County Revelers, Kessenger Brothers and the Stripling Brothers
among others. In 1962 the Blue Sky Boys recorded it with lyrics.
DID YOU EVER SEE THE DEVIL UNCLE JOE March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa
Martin and James Roberts, guitars. Also recorded by the Red Fox Chasers, a North
Carolina group, old time fans of the Grand Ole Opry may recall that the Possum
Hunters did this number as DON’T MIND THE WEATHER, SO THE WIND DON’T BLOW. Most
fiddle enthusiasts will recognize this tune as a very close variant of the HOP
LADIES-MISS McCLOUD’S REEL tune.
FAREWELL WALTZ March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts,
guitars. One of the less common waltz numbers found on old time recordings.
SALLY ANN March 5, 1931. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James Roberts,
guitars. This tune was recorded by the Al Hopkins band and Fiddling’ John Carson
prior to the Roberts recording. Another variant is DARNEO by the Blue Ridge
I DON’T LOVE NOBODY March 25, 1932. Doc Roberts, fiddle; Asa Martin and James
Roberts, guitars. Common as a song and tune, other versions of this include
recordings by the Skillet Lickers and the Earl Johnson band both of which were
Georgia groups. CRAZY COON by Walter Morris on an early Columbia recording is
also the same song.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Robert Hyland, Asa Martin, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr., Reuben
Powell and James (Carson) Roberts. More complete data on Doc Roberts and
associated artists appeared in various issues of the JEMF Quarterly, The JEMF is
also preparing a longer work on the Roberts-Martin-Roberts aggregation of old