Playing a fiddle for a living for nearly forty years is even more fun than it would seem. The fiddle still calls from its place on the wall every single day. It has a golden glow that promises adventure, and delivers, more and more with each passing year.
David Greely took up the fiddle at 17, after hearing Richard Greene play through an amp with a wa-wa pedal in concert at the Warehouse in New Orleans, when Seatrain opened for Black Sabbath. David bought a fiddle at a Baton Rouge pawnshop the next day, and found it was the easiest instrument he’d ever tried to play. David had gone from “Iron Man” to “Sally Goodin’” in less than 24 hours. Within weeks after finding the fiddle, he’d been invited to join his first band, Cornbread, playing hardcore bluegrass and western swing between Colorado and New Orleans.
David went from folk rock to folk, his passion for history compelling him burrow deeper into the days when music was the only escape from a life of hard labor. He became infected with the same peace and reverie he saw on the faces of those old musicians whenever they played all those old tunes, and, at about the age of 19, he realized that he wanted to be just like those old men, minus the hard labor.
One November Saturday in the late ’80s David went to the Savoy Music Store jam session in Eunice, LA, where he met and played music with a 95 year-old fiddler named Denis McGee, and an 18 year-old accordion player named Steve Riley. David and Steve formed a band that became known as Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, and spent the next 23 years together traveling literally around the world, searching archives for tunes, writing songs, making records and getting nominated for four Grammies. They spent half the year in Louisiana Dance halls, where audiences vote with their feet: on the dance floor or out the door. The other half was spent on the road, playing folk festivals and concert halls.
Now, nearly 20 years after his apprenticeship to Dewey Balfa, and burrowing deep into the Cajun music of his ancestry, David is more fascinated than ever, for more reasons. Cajun music is not only what his family played, it happens to be where his soul finds itself most at home. “I find my emotions moved more by Cajun melodies than by any other form of music. It’s a blend of ancient tones, black, white and rural. It’s rooted in the French language, so its rhythms tend to swing. In it I find everything I need to express myself musically.”
David’s favorite violin was made by Thomas G. Sparks in 2004. In 2008 he found a large Eastern European violin with a faux label and a thunderous voice that he calls “The Bear.”