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Over the course of a musical career spanning four decades, Durham's Ron Cole has developed a distinct, exciting fiddle style that blends elements of rags, blues, jug band, and old-time music. The Los Angeles-born musician explains that he was introduced at the age of 14 to what was eventually to become his instrument, the fiddle, through a recording by Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks. “I got stung by swing even before old-time music,” Cole laughs.
By the time he was 16, however, the young musician was fully immersed in traditional string band music, and learning to play by listening to recordings by masters of its various styles, such as Tommy Jarrell, Howard Armstrong, Hugh Farr, Sid Page, and Eddie Anthony. Cole states that his greatest influence came from the fiddling of Ron Hughey, a Missourian who settled in Fresno, California, not far from the young musician's home.
Asked about his own unique style of playing, Cole explains that it's all in the bow. “What makes my fiddling a hybrid is the fact that I learned Appalachian bowing patterns first-hand from some great fiddlers like [California-based old-time musician] Tom Sauber,” he says. “While I eventually got away from that kind of fiddling, I still apply some of the basic bowings to do what I do. I think learning bowing patterns is crucial to becoming a great fiddler.”
Ron Cole is among the most highly regarded fiddlers in the Piedmont region, having appeared on releases by the Carolina Jug Stompers, the Blue Ridge Road Gang, and the Blue Ridge Mountain Minstrels, and his love for traditional American music is clearly evident. “What draws me to vintage music is its simplicity and purity, even with the most complex of melodies,” says Cole. “It's a fascination that has been with me since I was a teen.”