Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Vol. 3 No. 77 Byron Berline, Javelin Thrower and Bluegrass Fiddle Legend

      Byron Today                                       Back in the Day

In 1963 when I was on the track team at University of Oklahoma,  a football player , came out for the track team as a javelin thrower.  I knew little about him, but had occasionally heard him playing the old time fiddle in the football dorm , Washington House.   He had left the football team and moved over to Jefferson House where the non-revenue sports athletes lived.  It was a big step down in real estate to come from Washington to Jefferson.  We were two to a room in those days and could only accomplish that by sleeping in bunk beds.  The rooms would be considered inhumane by today's standards for prisons.  Except we could walk out of there anytime it pleased us. 

The fiddler's name was Byron Berline, and he was already making a name for himself in the music world.  He had learned fiddle from his father Lou Berline , a rancher on the Kansas-Oklahoma line.  Byron and Lou were invited to play in the prestigious Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island where Bob Dylan once broke up the place going electric.    Byron had already played with one of the top bluegrass groups in the country, the Dillards and had been crowned National Old Time Fiddle champion before he graduated from college.  He would earn that title on three occasions.   His musical career includes playing with the Flying Burrito Brothers (formerly the Byrds) and being a session fiddler with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and even appearing on a Star Trek episode as a violinist in a Baroque String Quartet.  He told me they dubbed in that music.  He also gave Vince Gill his first paying job as a musician.

Byron held the javelin record at the U. of Oklahoma at 225 feet.  And his friendship with coach J.D. Martin as fellow musicians and golfers extends back for 50 years.  On track trips there were endless jam sessions with the local fiddlers, guitar and banjo players who lived in Tuscon, Tempe, Lawrence, Austin, wherever we went.  They would somehow find out where we were staying and be waiting to jam with Byron.  Fiddle makers would show up with their instruments to have him try them and give an opinion.  Google his name and you will find an incredible website.  There are numerous pieces on youtube as well.   If you drive near Guthrie Oklahoma on a Saturday night, stop in at the old Opera House, now the Double Stop Fiddle Shop and take in the show.   You never know what famous musician might be sitting in with Byron's band.    Below is a copy of an article which recently appeared in the Sooner Magazine, of the OU alumni organization.  George Brose

This link is Byron playing Sally Goodin with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys

Here is a musical tribute to Byron by Steve Spurgin.  In it there are two track pictures of Byron.

George, it was a neat article. I read it over the weekend in SOONER (alum) magazine.  Walt M. and I have been to Guthrie often times  to see/hear him.  He and Garth Brooks (OSU javelin and " musician") have had fun discussions re: javelin and music.


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