40 years later, Fruita fiddler bows instrument once owned by Bob Wills

Fiddler Rodd Taylor, right, jams with Jim Moratto on banjo in the front yard of Moratto’s Grand Junction home.



Rodd Taylor had crosses on his heart, cowboy boots on his feet and an Oklahoma accent on his lips.

In other words, he wasn’t the sort of man to cry easily.

However, even Taylor got teary-eyed when he retold the story of how an uncle he hadn’t talked to in decades gave him the surprise of a lifetime: a Bob Wills fiddle.

For a fiddler such as Taylor, who has toured the world with various bands throughout his 22-year career, including the band Shenendoah, the opportunity to own and play a Wills fiddle is difficult to verbalize.

“To me, it’s a dream,” Taylor, 52, said recently inside his Fruita home.

Wills helped create the Western swing genre. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1968, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

“I know everything about Bob Wills,” Taylor said. “It’s an honor to have a fiddle that belonged to him.”

The story of how Taylor got the fiddle began nearly 40 years ago when, as a young boy in rural Oklahoma, Taylor learned to play fiddle with his Uncle Bill Taylor, whom Rodd Taylor simply refers to as “Uncle Bill.”

“He picked it up pretty good,” Uncle Bill, 74, said when reached by cell phone at his Oklahoma home.

Although the exact details surrounding the purchase of the fiddle are fuzzy for Uncle Bill, and he has no papers to prove prior ownership, Uncle Bill is confident the fiddle that he bought in Tulsa, Okla., decades ago belonged to Wills.

People who traveled in the same country music circles as Wills verified the instrument’s authenticity, the fiddle smelled of Wills’ cigar smoke — still does — and the sound that came from the fiddle was unparalleled.

“It had the best sound I ever heard,” Uncle Bill said. “It’s got a talent of its own.”

Unbeknownst to Rodd Taylor, his Uncle Bill had kept the fiddle for nearly 40 years with a sole purpose to one day gift it to his nephew. That day came two months ago.

“(Rodd) always wanted it,” Uncle Bill said. “He broke down because I kept it all those years.”

Taylor confirmed there were tears. He couldn’t believe an uncle he had not talked to for decades after a family disagreement had remembered everything about a fiddle.

Now the tiger-stripe, maple instrument is nearly always in Taylor’s hands when he performs in the area.

In 2007 Taylor left country music for bluegrass, an easy transition for the longtime fiddler.

Whenever possible, he teams up with friend and longtime banjo player Jim Moratto, 57, for shows.

Moratto teaches bluegrass at South Plains College in Texas, but returns to Mesa County for summer breaks.

“Boy, I like that bark, Jim,” Taylor said to Moratto as he was playing his new fiddle.

Moratto can appreciate what having a Wills fiddle means to Taylor.

“It would be like me having Earl Scruggs’ banjo,” Moratto said.

 

 


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