As one who can play music with either hand, Bill Gilbert uses the left to play the fiddle. He’s been a fan since he was only wee as his father played country swing fiddle. When his dad was playing for dances, young Bill would sleep behind the amps on a pallet. He started his musical affinity on guitar, playing with right hand, by age seven. Occasionally he would get the chance to sit in with his father’s band and it wasn’t long before he gravitated toward the fiddle. He practiced on the sly until one day he played a full tune for his father, who was not only surprised to hear it but also to see it, as Bill was playing with his left hand. His parents quickly went out to purchase his first fiddle for him and welcome him to the family’s musical tradition.
Bill formed his first band with a friend by the age of thirteen, playing at community dances and musicals through his years in high school. Once he moved on to attend college at Tarleton, played with the Sunset Playboys and at Texas A&M, he played with the Aggie Ramblers. He graduated in 1958 and returned to his home on the ranch in Millsap, Texas. Married and raising a family, the fiddle took a back seat to daily life and Bill didn’t pick it up for many years.
It wasn’t until he took upon the role of teaching science at a local school in 1964 where he ran into a fellow enthusiast that his interest was reignited in playing fiddle. He and B.F. Chestnut started getting together to jam, he on fiddle, Chestnut on guitar, and they quickly moved forward into attending contests. Bill wanted to learn a certain style of fiddling and asked Norman Solomon to record some tunes for him to practice. He sat in and listened, excited to get away with the tape and start practicing. Bill was so eager, in fact, that he left the tape on top of his car and drove off without realizing it. When he did catch on and circle back to find the lost tape, he had to spend many hours patiently rewinding it before he could get to practice. Another example of haste making waste! Bill has played often with Norman since that time but no one is sure if he shared his secret about the tape.
Bill perfected some of the tunes that he wanted to learn and as time went on, began to play at more and more contests across the state, meeting and becoming friends with numerous other fiddlers. They’ve all helped each other along the way, teaching songs, laughing and practicing. They all stand as loyal supporters of the Texas fiddling style. The world of fiddling has many stories of those that have risen to help another out and had a great deal of fun and success along the way. It is what they stand for and Bill is one that recognizes that the relationships that are built in the world of fiddling are just as important as the music.