Bill Rogers grew up in the house next door to his current home in Collins, Mississippi. It is an old family house built on land his great-grandfather bought in 1897. Rogers is a public health environmentalist from nine to five, then goes home and plays bluegrass and old-timey fiddle. He didn’t start fiddling until he was a freshman in college. When dating his future wife, he would also visit her grandfather, who taught him many old-time fiddle tunes. When he got back home, he would try to repeat the tunes for his own grandmother, who would help him nail down a tune by singing it back to him, corrected. His parents weren’t musicians–this activity skipped a generation. He also took violin lessons for eight months, but he “didn’t learn enough violin to hurt” his fiddle playing.
Rogers has a nice collection of fiddles, including both a fiddle and a viola made by Dewey Alexander of Foxworth. He has played for many years in the Patchwork String Band, the house band for Roots Reunion, a twice-a-year concert of all kinds of local traditional music held in Hattiesburg. He currently performs with local bluegrass bands at festivals, at other celebrations of all kinds, and in church. His influences in bluegrass fiddling include Kenny Baker and especially Chubby Wise. Rogers is also currently interested in Celtic fiddling and is a member of the Irish music group, Celtic Crossroads
Rogers has met many of the fiddlers he admires and has learned from them at workshops at bluegrass festivals, but learns even more by studying recordings. He has a few students, some who visit him, and some whom he encounters regularly at bluegrass festivals.
Rogers loves local and family history. He repeats a story his grandmother told him: “Your great-granddaddy was a short, red-faced Irishman who could spit tobacco into the eye of a gnat at ten feet.”
Rogers also talks about the music parties his great-grandfather would host as part of his birthday: “And what he’d do, he’d invite all those fiddlers around, and they’d start playing, and he’d sit out there. I don’t think he played, but he listened to them play, and meanwhile, on the inside, starting about 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, you ran in there and you set eight plates, eight forks, and eight glasses, put a pan of biscuits on the table. People ate. When they jumped up, you washed and dried real quick and set them up because there were eight more ready to eat. And that went on until about ten o’clock at night. And that was great-granddaddy’s birthday–that’s how he did his birthday party.”
When Rogers sits down to play, it’s never easy to predict what kind of tune will come out. He knows 18th-century Scottish tunes that have come down to us in American fiddling, including “Flowers of Edinburgh” and “Leather Britches” (called “Lord McDonald’s Reel” back then), old southern tunes like “Mississippi Sawyer” and “Wang-Wang Blues,” bluegrass numbers like “Katie Hill” and “Going Across the Sea,” and church tunes like “This World is not my Home” and “How Great Thou Art.” He loves it all–he just loves to fiddle.
The Facebook page for Celtic Crossroads, the Celtic music group that Rogers plays with