Oklahoman fiddler Byron Berline is remembered for his musical prowess and uplifting lyrics


From recording the violin solo for “Country Honk,” the Rolling Stones’ country version of “Honky Tonk Women,” on a Los Angeles street to instruction from Arnold Schwarzenegger on how to handle a violin and a convincingly bow for the 1976 film “Stay Hungry” to don one of the famous red shirts and play with a classic quartet in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, Byron Berline’s musical career is already legendary.

But his legacy extends far beyond his star-studded credit list or even his undeniable musical prowess.

“She was just a beautiful soul,” said Jeff Moore, executive director of the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture under construction in Tulsa. “He was quite a violin virtuoso like anyone on an instrument. And that skill and then his Okie-ness allowed him to travel the world and be extremely influential in many ways with a group of musicians. and such diverse entertainment projects. … And he enjoyed the trip. “

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The iconic violinist’s journey ended on July 10 when Berline died of complications from a stroke he suffered in May. He was 77 years old.

“Byron Berline was one of the best”, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford posted on Twitter. “Countless musicians have learned from him and the music industry is forever touched by his passion. … May his legacy continue for years to come.”

Byron Berline is playing on July 5, 2019 in the new location of its Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall in Guthrie.  After Berline's Double Stop Fiddle Shop was destroyed by fire in February 2019, it opened a new store across from the old one.

“Always make fans”

When the Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Berlin’s Music Hall in Guthrie burned down in 2019, benefit shows were quickly staged at the Tower Theater, the OKC Jazz Festival and the historic Scottish Rite Masonic Temple of Guthrie. Within months, Berline reopened the Double Stop in a new location just across the street.

Barry Patton, Berline’s nephew, said the violinist’s son-in-law Colin O’Connor helped lead the Double Stop, where a full day in memory of Berline is scheduled for July 17 at 10 a.m.

Byron Berline and John Hickman worked on guitar at Double Stop Music Hall and Berline's Fiddle Shop in Guthrie on September 25, 2001. In addition to working together, they were members of the Byron Berline Band.  Hickman died on May 11 at age 78 and Sedan on July 10 at age 77.

A memorial service is scheduled for July 20 at 10:00 a.m. at the First United Presbyterian Church, with Vince Gill, Tim McDonald, the Hunt Brothers and Patton performing. Seating will be limited, but the service will be webcast at www.facebook.com/FUPGuthrie.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made to the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival Scholarship Fund. The 24th annual festival is scheduled from September 30 to October 30. 2 on the grounds of the Cottonwood Creek Festival in Guthrie. Patton said members of the Byron Berline Band will perform at the festival with the Hunt Brothers and mandolin player Henry Burgess as the BBB Legacy Grass Band.

“It’s a legacy,” said Patton, a bone player based in Winfield, Kansas. “Byron was still making fans at 76 … and he’s going to keep making new fans somewhere, because people will listen to his records and say, ‘I like that. That’s really cool. Who is he. ? ‘”

Left to right, Byron Berline, Richard Sharp, Jim Fish and Billy Perry warm up before performing at Berline's Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall in Guthrie, Oklahoma on July 26, 2014.

“A real Okie”

The youngest of Lue and Elizabeth Berline’s five children, Byron Douglas Berline was born on July 6, 1944 in Caldwell, Kansas, near the Oklahoma border. His family owned farmland in Kansas and Oklahoma, but Berline grew up in Grant County on the Sooner state side.

“He was a real Okie.… He played football for Bud Wilkinson at OU. He’s kind of an Oklahoma legend,” Moore said.

Although Berline briefly played football at the University of Oklahoma – after injuring his right hand, he switched to the javelin throw on the track team – he told The Oklahoman in 1996 that ‘he had started making music so young that he couldn’t remember not playing the violin.

“My dad was a violinist and my mom played the piano. I have two sisters and two brothers and everyone except my older brother plays something,” Berline said. “We have performed in violin competitions, at pie suppers, at PTA meetings.”

Three-time national violin champion, Berline continued to perform with the Dillards, Bill Monroe, Elton John, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Rod Stewart, Emmylou Harris, Earl Scruggs, the Eagles and the Rolling Stones.

The Grammy nominee helped the Country Music Hall of Famer and fellow Oklahomaniac Vince Gill make his debut, inviting the then-teenage singer to come to California to try out his band, Byron Berline & Sundance, and sang backing vocals on “Knockin ‘on Heaven’s Door” enters playing the violin on Bob Dylan’s soundtrack from Sam Peckinpah’s film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”.

“Byron was admired and loved by countless people in the Oklahoma arts community. He was a music visionary, and despite a resume featuring some of the most legendary artists of all time, he remained humble and committed to her home country, investing her time, talent and passion in the community of Guthrie, ”said Amber Sharples, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, in an email.

“He was a generous soul and an extraordinary musician who will be sorely missed.”

Byron Berline, left, and Scott Gordon, cast in the 2004 Pollard Theater production "violin on the roof" poses for a photo to promote the Guthrie Theater show.

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“Synonym of Guthrie”

After living in Los Angeles for over 25 years, Berline and his wife Bette moved to his hometown of Guthrie in 1995 after the death of his stepfather. Justin Fortney, director of tourism for the town of Guthrie, said the couple had become “kind of synonymous with Guthrie”.

In 1996, Berline hosted the first Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, which over the years brought together Gill, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Willie Nelson, as well as bands from Japan, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The violinist also opened his Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall in Guthrie in 1996, and Fortney said it’s not uncommon to see tour buses parked outside the downtown landmark. Global superstars Mumford and Sons, bluegrass multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien and American band Nickel Creek are just a few of the many musicians from around the world who have stopped by to shop, visit and jam with the legend.

“When you start to think of all the musicians who make music now, because they bought Byron an instrument, took a lesson from him, or just stopped by for a conversation, the ‘ripple effect of what he created, it’s just crazy to think about it,’ said Fortney.

“He was an incredible musician, but I feel like what made him most unique was that he wasn’t just happy to be a great player.… There are circles of people who have had their lives enriched by his ability to be a cordial and encouraging art evangelist. ”

“I just rocked my world”

Berline is survived by his wife Bette, daughter Becca and son-in-law Colin O’Connor, and four grandchildren, all of Guthrie; and her sister Janice Byford, of Edmond. But he also leaves behind many musicians who see him as an influence, especially fiddlers from Oklahoma like Lauren Lee, who calls Berline his “first violin hero.”

“When I was 13, I saw him play… and Byron was the first time I went to a show specifically to see a violin player. And it just rocked my world. Life changed when I “Met Byron as a violin player. It sealed the fact that I wanted to learn this instrument,” said the Oklahoma City musician.

“There’s a kind of magic he had up there in Guthrie – and that was just him. It’s just who he was.”

Blake Parks, co-founder and fiddler of bluegrass band OKC Steelwind, got his first violin from Berline and learned to play through his instructional videos.

“He was such a talented violin player that he could have been quite arrogant. But he wasn’t – he was so sincere and kind and just plain genuine. That’s what I really love about him, that’s his character, ”Parks said. “He has always been a great source of inspiration for me.

As a teenager, Parks also had the chance to inspire the icon when he visited the Guthrie store to purchase some of the Berline CDs, opened his wallet, and was embarrassed to find it empty. Berline playfully nicknamed him “a Flatbroke Fiddler” and gave him the CDs. Berline later wrote the song “Flatbroke Fiddler” as the title song on one of his albums.

“It definitely made it a fun experience – in everything,” Parks said. “He always made a joke to make you smile or to give you a little headache to make you blush.”

Byron Berline warms up before performing at its Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall in Guthrie, Oklahoma on July 26, 2014.

‘Just so good’

Tahlequah fiddler Kyle Nix said many of the violin tunes Berline wrote became standards, and the legend continued to write and record new music. Berline’s latest album, the three-CD set “First Thing in the Morning”, featured 63 original songs.

“I was so captivated by that, like, ‘Wow he’s always on top of his game, because he creates every day,” Nix said. “His playing style became kind of a benchmark, because he was really good.”

Berline is a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, but Nix has said he wants to start a campaign to add it to country music, bluegrass and rock halls of fame ‘ n ‘roll.

Better known as the fiddler of Oklahoma Red Dirt Turnpike Troubadours, Nix asked Berline to record a track on his debut solo album, 2020’s “Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories”. He even asked Berline to release. the violin he used to record on the Rolling Stones’ “Country Honk” to play his track “If Ruby Ain’t Happy”.

“It was so awesome that he did it for me, and I’ll never forget it. We had a lot of fun joking around in it, and he took it out of the park like always,” recalls Nix. “He was my friend. But he was also my hero.”

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Byron Berline commemorative jam

When: 10 a.m. on July 17.

Or: Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Music Hall, 211 E Oklahoma, Guthrie.

Information: https://www.facebook.com/doublestopsupport.



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