Noted bluegrass fiddler Jim Brock passed away on October 16, 2019, at Aliceville Manor Nursing Home, Aliceville, Alabama. He was 85 years old.
James Earl ‘Jim’ Brock Sr. was born on August 5, 1934, in Lamar County, Alabama, an area with a rich fiddling tradition. He learned to play regional old-time fiddle tunes from his father and uncles and others, including those of master fiddle mentor, Charlie Stripling.
At the age of at the age of 14 he left home and joined Othel Sullivan, whose band played on Radio WVOK in Birmingham about that time.
For about ten years, starting in the early 1950s, Brock performed with Carl Sauceman and the Green Valley Boys and while with them they recorded some sides in Nashville for Capitol Records, the Republic, and D labels.
Sauceman had a syndicated TV show, recorded at WTOK in Meridian, Mississippi, that was seen in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia during this period.
In this clip Brock kicks off the song, Ashes of Love, and provides the third voice for the chorus ….
Radio stations on which this version of the Green Valley Boys were featured include WRAG, Carrollton, Alabama, and WLAC, Nashville.
Brock, along with another ex-member of the Green Valley Boys, Monroe Fields, went to work with Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, playing on the Grand Ole Opry on many occasions.
Brock helped to cut many of the brothers’ Epic tracks during the period 1964 to 1966, and then from about 1972 to 1974 he contributed to recordings released with the Old Dominion and Double J labels.
In 1974 Brock released his first album, Sawdust from the Bow of Jim Brock, helped by Jesse McReynolds, Joe Stuart, Vic Jordan, and Brock’s son, Jimmy Dale Brock (bass).
It was in the role of fiddler for the duo in the 1970s that he is featured on the first Bean Blossom, Bill Monroe and various artists album (MCA MCA2 8002). Brock participated in the closing section of that 2-LP set; the multi-fiddle rendition of Down Yonder, Soldier’s Joy, Grey Eagle, and the “old negro spiritual number,” as Monroe introduced the favorite Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, as well backing Jim & Jesse during their set that festival weekend.
Brock helped Bill Monroe on some dates during 1978 and 1979, having first filled in for Kenny Baker in July 1977 when Baker damaged his hand with a hunting knife.
He did not do any recording with the Father of Bluegrass Music, but played on four tracks on James Monroe’s Attieram LP, James Monroe Sings Songs of Memory Lane of his Uncle Charlie Monroe, on which Bill Monroe played mandolin.
His many Grand Ole Opry appearances led to him performing with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs; and many well-known country music artists such as Charlie Louvin, Gene Watson, Marty Stuart, Jerry Reed (with whom he recorded), and Hank Williams, Jr.
After 20 years on the road, he tired of traveling and settled down with his family near the Tombigbee River, in Pickens County, Alabama.
In recent years Brock performed with Gene Robertson and the Echoes, enjoying weekend gigs at the Propst Park Activity Center in Columbus, Mississippi, and at the Northport Activity Center, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he played country music, country-rock, and a few old-time fiddle tunes during each set.
Later, as a member of the Over the Hill Gang (many of whom were previously with the Echoes), he played at dances in Northport and in Vernon, Alabama.
Although Brock hadn’t done any for many years, in about 2002 he began teaching Ruby Jane Smith, then seven years old, and later the 2005 Mississippi State Fiddle Championship and a student of Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson. Aidan Dunkelberg was another of Brock’s recent students. “I enjoy seeing young people like him take up fiddling and doing a good job with it,” Brock said of his teaching experiences.
During his leisure time Brock enjoyed hunting and fishing.
His second solo album, Me and My Fiddle, was released in 2014. Three original tunes from the Carl Sauceman era are included among the 13 tracks.
R.I.P., Jim Brock
We thank Kendall Dunkelberg for his considerable help in providing and clarifying some of the information for use in this tribute.
Kendall Dunkelberg, Aidan’s father, shared these comments about learning from Jim Brock ….
“Taking lessons with Jim Brock was an amazing experience for our son. Mr. Brock was a fabulous fiddle player with an incredible repertoire. He was also a very humble and giving man, for whom passing on this music was clearly the most important aspect of the lessons. He knew hundreds of tunes from memory and never used sheet music. Sometimes, I’m sure, he had practiced from recordings prior to our lessons, but often a tune would come to him and he’d play it for Aidan to learn. Some of those may have never been recorded, as they were west Alabama tunes he learned from his father, or we would learn the version of a standard Mr. Brock knew and then look them up to learn other variations from other fiddlers later. These tunes and the stories he would tell of working with the likes of Bill Monroe, Kenny Baker, Benny Martin [Brock’s favorite fiddle player] and many others were invaluable, as was having the chance to perform with him locally. We knew him as a great local fiddler, but as we learned more about his life, we realized what an influential role he’d played in American bluegrass. He never acted like a star, though, and he was always happy to help out anyone who was willing to learn.”
Larry Wallace, once the banjo player for Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys and later the leader of his own band, remembers ….
“Jim Brock was a great friend and a great man. He was affectionately known by many as just Brock. I first saw Jim Brock in the sixties with Jim & Jesse many times, and then again as he filled in with them in the seventies. A few years later, I was totally amazed with his fiddle playing on Allen Shelton’s banjo album Shelton Special.
After my college years at Mississippi State University and my ten-year tenure with Jimmy Martin, I formed my band in 2001. I knew Jim lived only an hour from me and I called him and asked him to fill in between fiddlers. He explained he had a current ongoing gig at a country dance that occurred often, and agreed to fill in when he could. He did for three years, from 2005 to 2007. He made every one of my bookings and also made all of his country dance gigs. We made it work.
No question he enjoyed being in my band and we enjoyed him being in my band. We were doing traditional bluegrass quite well. Us younger guys were elated to have him on the stage with us, and he was enjoying playing bluegrass again. And, I had a bus like Jim & Jesse had in the sixties. I guess our whole package brought back memories to him, and it gave him a somewhat opportunity to go back to old times. He would sit up front and look out the windshield while I drove, and would talk and talk. We would drive by old schoolhouses and he would point them out by saying, “I played there with Sauceman,” or “I played right there with Jim and Jesse.” What memories for us both! These three years of playing and friendship culminated into our album, The Larry Wallace Band with Jim Brock. It is traditional bluegrass with fiddling from one of the greatest fiddlers bluegrass has ever known.
Throughout his career, with Carl Sauceman and Jim & Jesse, and with everybody, his playing was clean and smooth and every note had meaning. Every single note he played just FIT the song. He just had a knack for hearing what needed to be played and he played it!
Jim Brock was a close friend and I’m so glad I knew him.”
In May 2013 Brock appeared on The Marty Stuart Show; in this clip he performs East Tennessee Blues…
Stuart’s friendship with Brock began while Stuart was still a child as his parents attended as many Carl Sauceman and the Green Valley Boys’ shows as they could.
- Sawdust: From the Bow of Jim Brock (Atteiram AP I 1502, released in 1974)
- Me and My Fiddle (unknown, 2014)
Carl Sauceman and Green Valley Boys
- Early Days of Bluegrass, Volume 7 (Rounder 1019)
Monroe Fields with the Green Valley Boys
- 1950s-60s Broadcasts (Patuxent CD 259, 2014)
Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys
- The Old Country Church (Epic BN 26107, 1964)
- Y’all Come! Bluegrass Humor (Epic BN 26144, 1965)
- Berry Pickin’ In the Country: the Great Chuck Berry Songbook (Epic BN 26176, 1965)
- Sing Unto Him a New Song (Epic BN 26204, 1966)
- The Jim & Jesse Show (Old Dominion OD 498-04, 1972)
- Superior Sounds of Bluegrass (Old Dominion OD 498-05, 1974)
- Homeland Harmony (Double J DJ 1002, 1983)
- The Old Dominion Masters (Pinecastle PRC 9001, 1998) (4-CD set)
- The Epic Bluegrass Hits (Rounder Special Series SS 20, 1985)
- Bluegrass and More (Bear Family BCD15716, 1993) (5-CD set)
- Bean Blossom (various artists) (MCA MCA2 8002, November 1973)
- Bluegrass 1970-1979, (Bear Family BCD 15606, 1994)
- Sings Songs of Memory Lane of his Uncle Charlie Monroe (Atteiram AP I-L 1532, 1976)
- The Best of James Monroe: 30 Years of Recordings, Vol. 1 (Rain Tree Records 148, 2004)
- Shelton Special (Rounder 0088, 1977)
- Clifton And Company (County 765, 1977)
- Around the World to Poor Valley (Bear Family 16425 HK, 2001)
- Banjo Hits (Sugar Hill SH 3737, 1983)
Larry Wallace Band
- Larry Wallace Band with Jim Brock (Cedar Creek CCR 0806, 2007)
Jesse McReynolds & Friends
- Play the Bull Mountain Moonshiner’s Way (Pinecastle Records 1232, 2019)
- Can’t You Hear Me Callin’ – Bluegrass: 80 Years of American Music (2004)
- The Man with The Golden Thumb (RCA Victor AHL1-4315, 1982)