Instruments: Fiddle
Date of Birth: 1883
Place of Birth: Bug Tussel, Alabama
Date of Death: 1952

"Fiddling" Tom Freeman was a plain, old-fashioned fiddler whose personality and antics made him well-known in Cullman, Walker and surrounding counties. He had such a knack for capturing attention that a reporter from the Birmingham Age-Herald wrote in 1938 that "next to Nero, he's the most publicized fiddler Birmingham's seen in many a day."

Freeman began fiddling at the age of 9 on a gourd fiddle that he made for himself and soon was playing for dances and fiddlers' conventions. In 1905 he took up moonshining, a common trade in the hills of Walker and Cullman counties at the time. Twenty years later, he was arrested for illegal manufacture of whiskey and sentenced to two and a half years in Kilby Prison. There prison officials kept him busy fiddling for visiting dignitaries and for local "breakdown dances."

When he was released from prison, he decided to use his fiddling for higher purposes. He began "fiddling for candidates" and "fiddling people out of trouble." He would select his favorite candidates for national, state, and local offices and fiddle for them at political rallies. He became so known for this that when he died, the Cullman Tribune noted that "Candidates will have to get themselves elected this year. They can't depend on Fiddling Tom Freeman to 'swing' them into office with his famous 'Leather Britches' or any other tune."

Freeman gained greater publicity when he tried, but failed, in federal court, to fiddle his Bug Tussle friends and relatives out of legal problems which resulted from ordering large quantities of items from mail-order houses on credit and not paying for them.

Like many fiddlers of his era, Freeman played unaccompanied. Guitarists who attempted to back him up soon noted that he changed tempos and lengths of phrases to suit hinself. This is obvious in "Flop-eared Mull," which was Freeman's part in a set of home-recorded letters from the Freeman family to Tom's daughter, Ruth, in Florida.

Joyce Cauthen

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Track 8-"Fiddling" Tom Freeman:  Flop-eared Mule (2:31)

 

 

 

 

 

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