(Host) A new C.D. is reviving interest in one of Vermont’s great cowboy bands. VPR’s Neal Charnoff has this profile of “Don Fields and His Pony Boys.”
(Charnoff) In Vermont of the 1930s and 40s, entertainment was limited. Barn dances and Grange Hall concerts were well-attended and for a time, live music could be also be heard on the radio.
One of the most popular and influential groups of the era was Don Fields and His Pony Boys, who combined cowboy music, swing and old-time fiddle music to play what Fields called “synthetic western.”
(Song, “Cripple Creek”)
The Waterbury group was a regular on radio station WDEV and Fields was one of the station’s first announcers. Despite being courted by many musicians who came through Vermont, Don Fields never recorded an album.
Mark Greenberg of Montpelier is a producer and musicologist. Over the years, Greenberg had heard so many old-timers talk about the music of the Pony Boys, he was determined to track down whatever recordings might exist.
In the early 1980s, Greenberg located some original off-air recordings from the 1940s, but he felt the sound quality was too poor to be commercially released. More recently, modern technology allowed Greenberg to improve the recordings, and now a new generation is being introduced to the magic of Don Fields.
(Song, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”)
Greenberg says that at the height of their popularity, Don Fields and His Pony Boys would play to crowds of more than a thousand people, and that their influence on local musicians was enormous.
(Greenberg) “The old-timers all remark on Don Fields’ tone. He had a very emotion-laden kind of tone. He really loved classical fiddlers like Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, who really laid it on – the Russian-style of fiddling. And while Don never really became a jazz player, that pop-sing, that place where jazz and popular music sort of came together in the 1930s really appealed to him, as well as to a lot of people.”
(Song, “Honeysuckle Rose”)
(Charnoff) The CD “Don Fields and His Pony Boys” contains more than a dozen of these original off-air recordings. In 1983, Greenberg met with Fields and some of the original Pony Boys and convinced them to sit down for some new off the cuff performances.
(Greenberg) “He lived in this modest house with a lot of birdfeeders around it on the road to Camel’s Hump. And it seemed like he had this very nice quiet life and he liked it that way. Rarely playing the violin, until I was able to persuade him finally to let me tape a session of him with Lois and Smoky Cary, two former Pony Boys from the later days of the 40s, and into the 50s and 60s. And they were delighted to do it and Don, a little reluctantly, picked up the fiddle and the results are, most of the tunes that they played, without having played them for years are on this CD that we brought out.”
(Charnoff) Don Fields died shortly after these new sessions were recorded. Greenberg says he’s thankful he finally got to meet one of Vermont’s musical legends and points to the popularity of the CD as a testament to the timelessness of the Pony Boys.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff.
(Song, “San Antonio Rose” ends.)
For more information:
“Don Fields and His Pony Boys” is released by Rootstock Records, Multicultural Media. www.worldmusicstore.com