April 15, 2008
Tift Co.-- Sometimes a musical legend looks like any other person-- until he plays his instrument of choice or writes songs.
Few people would know about 81-year-old Frank Maloy unless they play a violin, or fiddle, as many people call it. "You can use the terms violin and fiddle interchangeably to describe the four-stringed instrument you play with a bow," says Frank.
He was born into a musical family. His father, mother and both grandfathers played the fiddle, and his mother, Clara Maloy, became Frank's first music teacher. "I learn to play by ear first," says Frank who would become a songwriter and performer. "I started in either 1939 or 1940 when my brother, Groome, went to World War II."
Frank plays seven instruments-the mandolin, the guitar, the saxophone, the clarinet, the banjo, the guitar and the fiddle, his first love.
Frank also enjoys composing songs, writing literally hundreds and giving them away. "I'm glad to do it," says Frank whose mind seems to always think about composing his next song.
He often writes songs for young fiddle players like 11-year-old Chasidy Howell. "I was very excited," says Chasidy when she found out that Frank would write her a song, "The Chasidy Howell Waltz. Never had my own song before," says Chasidy with a big smile.
Frank and Chasidy played it at the Fiddlers' Jamboree held recently during the Georgia Agrirama's Folk Life Festival. Frank played guitar and Chasidy played the fiddle. After the song, Frank complimented the young player.
That's one thing about Frank Maloy. He says something positive about every thing, complimenting people on their efforts. "My mother said, ‘If you can't say anything good, keep quiet. That's good advice,'" says Frank who rarely keeps quiet. He particularly enjoys telling stories about fiddle playing.
He often sits in the back corner of the stage at the Agrirama, patting his foot in time with the music and gently clapping his hands.
A close look at his hands shows two fingers noticeably bent from years of playing, his hands immediately conforming to the neck of whatever instrument he plays.
Frank's last project was to write an original fiddle composition for each of Georgia's 159 counties. "Just something to capture the sound of the old fiddle tunes heard at county fairs and frolics," says Frank.
In the 1940s, people had to make their own entertainment before electricity and running water.
But, how did he come up with 159 original tunes? "Every morning the first thing I do is go to the bathroom. That's kind of my music studio," says Frank who takes a fiddle or a mandolin in with him.
"Then, I run to play the melody into a tape recorder before I forget it," says Frank who then translates it to sheet of music.
Why the hurry to record? "Once it's gone it won't come back. I won't think of that particular note sequence again," says Frank. "That's something everyone does."
But not every composer gives away his creations. He hopes the 159 original fiddle tunes get put into the hands of every music teacher and every student. He's not looking to put any money in his pocket. He wants his creations easily photocopied and played.
He hopes fiddle players throughout the country will take the idea and create tunes for counties in their states.
The idea comes from an energetic 81-year-old fiddle player, a man of note who does all he can to keep the music playing.
Frank was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.