Abe Keibler, banjo, Boatin' Up Sandy, Charley Keibler, Cold Frosty Morning, Cotton-Eyed Joe, fiddle, fiddlers, Germany, Girl With the Blue Dress On, guitar, history, Jim Keibler, John Keibler, Kentucky, Morris Allen, music, Ohio, Old Coon Dog, Parkersburg Landing, Portsmouth, Rye Whiskey, Sally Goodin, Sally Got Drunk on Irish Potatoes, South Shore, Stumptail Dolly, Susan's Gone to the Ball With Her Old Shoes On, We'll All Go to Heaven When the Devil Goes Blind, writing
Later that day, I went to see 88-year-old Abe Keibler in nearby South Shore, Kentucky. Abe was the last surviving member of the old fiddling Keiblers and a first cousin to fiddler Morris Allen, one of the sources for Parkersburg Landing.
“My grandfather, he was sixteen years old when he landed in here from Germany and he got a job out here at an old furnace,” Abe said. “He couldn’t even speak the language when he first come here, they said, and he didn’t play nothing.”
“Wow,” I said, “So fiddling started with your dad and uncles?”
“My uncles and dad, yeah,” Abe confirmed. “Jim was my dad’s name. He played a banjo — the old claw-hammer style.
Abe was raised up in a family of fiddlers, but he originally played the guitar. He began to play the fiddle at the age of 55. He wasted little time in showing me the old family fiddle, which he inherited from his uncle John Keibler. It was a good-looking instrument with a good tone, although the bridge was ready to collapse.
“Way back before I was born some fella came into Portsmouth when they had the old saloons in and he had this old fiddle and couldn’t play it,” Abe explained. “My uncle John, he seen that it was a good fiddle and he wanted to buy it and this guy wouldn’t talk about selling it. My uncle Charley, he was a left-handed fiddler. He said, ‘Now John, if you want that fiddle, I can buy it for ten dollars.’ So he bought it. It’s been in our family around ninety years or maybe close to a hundred.”
Abe said the old fiddle was hard to tune — it had seen some rough times.
“My uncle fell and busted the top all to pieces. I had a fella that made fiddles put that top off of another old fiddle on it. My uncle had patent keys put on it and I had them took out and wood keys put in it.”
I tuned the Keibler fiddle as best as I could, then reached it back with a request for a tune I’d heard Abe mention called “We’ll All Go to Heaven When the Devil Goes Blind”. He couldn’t remember it but said it was the same thing as “Stumptail Dolly”. He scratched out a melody in the key of G, then said, “Some of them called that the ‘Girl With the Blue Dress On’. ‘Old Coon Dog’ is all I ever heard it called.”
He also played “Boatin’ Up Sandy”, “Sally Goodin” (in G), “Rye Whiskey” (which he called “Cold Frosty Morning”), “Sally Got Drunk on Irish Potatoes”, “Cotton-Eyed Joe”, and “Susan’s Gone to the Ball With Her Old Shoes On” (key of G).
Every now and then, I joined in with my fiddle.
“I’m gonna learn you how to play a fiddle yet,” Abe said.