“Doom, Blang, Doom, Blang.” When you hear this, you know that Frank Maloy is counting off one of his many original tunes. No “One, Two, One, Two, Three, Four” for Frank. He prefers to use his late Brother Joe’s count-off. Naturally, if playing a waltz he would count “Doom, Blang, Blang.”
As with so many aspects of Frank’s life, his way might be considered a bit out of the box. Highly musical, but just a little different.
Frank has been a musician and a composer for most of his 89 years—wildly creative and possessed with an encyclopedic memory. Frank not only remembers innumerable gigs and recordings going back well before 1940, but he can also name many of the musicians who played the gigs and even specific tunes and keys.
A typical Frank Maloy query might go something like this:
“When you listen to the Johnny Lee Wills radio show #20, on ‘Feed Me Corn and Watch Me Grow,’ do you think that’s Joe Holley playing the hot fiddle solo?” or
“Remember that Bob Wills session back in 1946 where Louis Tierney played a hot chorus on ‘Sweet Sue’ in the key of G?” I just made that last one up, but these reminiscences are typical of what goes through Frank’s mind every waking hour.
Naturally we mortals are lucky to even remember the recording, much less the specific tunes and keys. Frank could probably even sing or play the hot choruses. Multiply this by thousands of reminiscences, and you’ll begin to get the hang of his conversations.
As accomplished a fiddler as Frank is, I was surprised to discover that he somehow also found time to learn to play alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet, guitar, bass, and mandolin. He even learned to tap dance at an early age, and tapped for exercise into his 70s.
Frank truly has no idea of how many original fiddle tunes he has composed. We know that he composed at least 159, one for each Georgia county. Regular Fiddler Magazine
readers might remember a review of his book of tunes and CD set a few years back.
Astonishing as it may seem, these compositions are just the tip of the iceberg. His friend and fellow musician, Tom Mindte, estimates that he has written at least 1,000. Frank’s tune titles are, to say the least, a bit idiosyncratic. “Ethelyn’s Dancing Arpeggio Waltz,” “Chuck Nation Flowery Branch Reel,” and “Billy Puckett Old Time Key of G Breakdown” are just a few examples. Considering that the 159 Georgia county tunes were composed in the span of just a few months, it’s anybody’s guess how many he’s composed in the rest of his 89 years. Fortunately for all of us, Frank shows no sign of slowing down his compositional output.
A typical Frank Maloy day might begin with him noodling on the mandolin until a tune comes to him. He’ll then transcribe it and name it after a place or person.
Frank was born in Milan, Georgia, on January 2, 1927, into a family in which nearly everyone played string instruments. As a youngster he started off playing fiddle with a bow his mother haired with sewing thread. Frank studied the violin with several teachers and also completed the U.S. School of Music correspondence course, giving him a good background in music theory. Fascinated by old time fiddle tunes, he ordered 1000 Fiddle Tunes,
published by M.M. Cole, from the Sears, Roebuck catalog, and began playing the tunes.
Frank had two brothers, Grooms and Joe, both of whom were musicians. Brother Grooms, who played mandolin, guitar, and fiddle, was tragically killed in action in the Philippines in World War II.
Frank and Brother Joe, however, continued to perform, and by 1946, the then-teenaged boys were playing on radio station WBHB in Fitzgerald, Georgia, with Charlie Dowdy and the Prairie Boys. By 1950 Frank began a 10-year stint playing on radio and TV with Uncle Ned and the Hayloft Jamboree at WMAZ in Macon. Later, Frank and Joe reunited in Macon to perform in their own group, The Swingmasters.
During the 1980s, Frank and Brother Joe played beach music—also known as shag music—and 1950s rock and roll in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Returning to south Georgia, they performed with the Dave Mercer Band for over a decade.
Brother Joe, who played bass, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, passed away in 2005. We are fortunate that Tom Mindte’s Patuxent Music was able to record a terrific CD in 1999 featuring Frank’s fiddling and Brother Joe’s guitar work. Entitled Time Will Tell,
the disc, CD065, is still available on the Patuxent website (http://pxrec.com
Remarkably, the Maloy brothers had never commercially recorded until the release of this CD. On it, the brothers play swing-era standards—good, sophisticated tunes including “Poinciana,” “Embraceable You,” and “Charmaine,” with only one Frank Maloy original.
You’d think that Frank, a strong music reader, learned his tunes at least in part from commercial sheet music. His ear, however, is so strong that he generally transcribes melodies and chords strictly by listening to recordings. One tune we recorded on Frank’s upcoming disc, Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” has at times four chords to the bar. It goes without saying that in order to transcribe pieces that complicated, Frank must possess what my old bassist friend Harlow Atwood called “ears on stalks.”
Frank’s name might ring a bell with Fiddler
readers, as for over 30 years he was a contributing writer and tune transcriber for the fine old publication The Devil’s Box.
When Frank begins reminiscing, chances are he’ll not only mention playing a dance back in 1946, but some of the numbers he played on that date and their keys as well.
[For the rest of this article, as well as transcriptions of Frank’s tunes “City of Albany Waltz” and “Paul Aiken Breakdown,” as well as some of “Frank’s Exercises,” purchase the Summer 2016 issue
[A former student of Joe Venuti, Paul Anastasio is a veteran of the bands of Merle Haggard, Asleep at the Wheel, Larry Gatlin, and Loretta Lynn. For information on 4-day intensive workshops and skype lessons with Paul, contact him at (206) 440-1844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to visit his website devoted to the music of Mexico’s Tierra Caliente at http://hotlandsmusic.org/.]
Photo: Michael G. Stewart