Local fiddle legend remembered

Published 1:06 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

Eula Rushing was one of the finest fiddle players this part of the country has ever known.

Maybe she was one of the finest fiddle players in the whole country but no one would have ever known that because she never fiddled that far from home.

Eula Rushing is not listed in any books taunting Alabama’s finest fiddle players. She should have been.

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Her son Reynolds had hopes that some day he and his mama might be in a book like that.

They should be. And maybe one day they will be.

That’s the hope of one of his best friends in the world, Kenny Campbell.

Campbell still wipes a tear or two from his eyes when he talks about his longtime friend. Rushing’s death in December was a low-in-the-gut blow that still pains Campbell and always will.

“It was tough to lose Reynolds,” he said.

“He was one of the best friends I ever had and one of the best men I’ve ever known.”

A smile pushed at the corners of Campbell’s mouth. “And one of the best fiddle players I’ve ever heard. The best. I miss him and I miss his music.”

Reynolds Rushing’s fiddle music is only a memory.

He didn’t have any fancy recording machine or any city-slicker producers hanging around his house.

Just a fiddle and the desire to help anybody learn to play the fiddle that wanted to learn.

But he would have liked to have his mama’s name – and, maybe, his, too — in a fiddle players’ book.

“This book came out about the best fiddle players in Alabama and Reynolds said that his mama’s name should have been in there,” Campbell said.

“He said that maybe one day she’ll be in a book like that.”

Campbell said Eula Rushing would have been proud just to know that her “boy” was making music with a fiddle and a bow.

“She went all over the country playing the fiddle and everywhere she went she amazed people,” Campbell said.

“Reynolds accompanied her on the guitar and he was a good guitar player.

But, after his mama died, he picked up the fiddle. She would have been proud.”

Campbell said Rushing learned to play the fiddle listening to records, primarily those of Kenny Baker.

“He was a self-taught fiddle player,” Campbell said.

“He styled his playing after Kenny Baker. Reynolds’ wife said when he first started learning he made so much noise he ran everybody out of the house. Reynolds was every bit as good as Kenny Baker, maybe better.”

Rushing was a peanut farmer in the Ansley community. He led a good, simple life and almost never left the farm, “except to play the fiddle.”

“Reynolds could play the fiddle like nobody else,” Campbell said.

“He could play as good as he needed to play. He was not the kind of fiddle player that wanted to show anybody up or over sound them. He’d just join in and bang or saw. He was always courteous and polite.”

“But he could play the fiddle. His fiddle was perfectly tuned. His timing was perfect. He’d just kick right off and play.”

Campbell first heard Rushing play at one of Rex Locklar’s “earliest” bluegrass festivals.

“This man was trying to play guitar along with Reynolds but he couldn’t see the chords,” Campbell said.

“You can’t see a fiddler’s chords. Reynolds got me to play the chords on my guitar so the man could watch me and learn the chords.”

“After that, we started talking and became friends right off. I admired his ability and appreciated his love of making music.”

Campbell’s dad, Newton Campbell, was a fine fiddler but he played old-timey music that didn’t have the fast tempo of bluegrass that Rushing loved to play.

“But like my dad, I liked making music, that’s what they called it back then, and Reynolds and I liked going around from place to place making music,” Campbell said.

“We went all over the country making music and having a great time.”

Rushing had a lot of favorite songs but his signature song was “Jerusalem Ridge.”

“He liked the waltzes, too, but ‘Jerusalem Ridge’ was his favorite and he like playing with other musicians,” Campbell said.

“One of the best times we had, and we had a lot, was when we went up to east Tennessee to visit his brother. That was the first time Reynolds flew in a plane. He was nervous at first but then he got used to it and he was always ready to fly to play somewhere.”

In Tennessee, Rushing and Campbell traversed the hills and hollows back to a little cinder block building where they were invited to make music with some of the best musicians in the mountains.

“Some of them were professionals but they all could play and they were all amazed at Reynolds and how he could play the fiddle,” Campbell said.

“We played until the sun came up and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better time.”

Maybe not a better time but certainly a more sentimental time. One that puts a lump in Campbell’s throat when he talks about it.

“You know, Reynolds was not a proud man and he never wanted to draw attention to himself, but there was this one festival that had a lot of young pickers at it and good ones too, real good ones,” Campbell said.

“It was kind of unusual that I went to bed before Reynolds. It was around midnight and he came in the camper and woke me up. Told me to get my guitar and come go with him. He said that he went down the hill to jam with a group that was drawing a big crowd. He said every time he started to play they all turned their backs on him. He wanted to show those fellows that he could play the fiddle.”

Rushing and Campbell combined to make their own jam session and, before long the crowded that had gathered around the young pickers had moved up the hillside to hear an old-timer who could really play the fiddle.

“It was a good sight to look out over the crowd that surrounded Reynolds and see those young pickers down the hill all by themselves,” Campbell said.

“That’s one of my fondest memories of Reynolds. He showed them all who could make music.”

Eula and Reynolds Rushing might not be listed in a book about Alabama fiddle players but anyone who ever hear either of them play knows that if, there’s fiddle music in heaven, Eula Rushing and her boy have a crowd gathered around them.