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GOREE — In fiddling circles, the late Bobby Boatright (1939-2008) could fiddle circles around most fiddlers. In his other life, he was a mathematician and physicist. It was a fine art, juggling two careers. His younger brother, Johnny Boatright, remembers it all. He reminisced about his brother this week at the Bobby Boatright Western Swing Music Camp in Goree.
Bobby Boatright’s fiddling career took off in Wichita Falls when he was just 14, the younger Boatright said. The family had just moved to the Faith Village neighborhood from Denison.
“He started playing with Bill Mack,” Boatright said. “It was a live TV show.”
Johnny Boatright smiled when he said his brother was introduced as “the 14-year-old fiddle player” for about three years.
The music camp opened Sunday night with a visual presentation on Bobby Boatright narrated by Johnny Boatright.
Bobby Boatright helped found the camp, previously held near Crowell, and was the chief curriculum organizer and fiddle instructor until his death.
Johnny Boatright himself traveled from Houston to Goree to take advanced guitar lessons at this year’s camp, the first time for instruction sessions to be held in Goree. The Knox Prairie Events Center, the old Goree School complex, furnished a place for classes, dining and lodging.
At the drop of a hat — and plenty of students were wearing them — Johnny Boatright would talk about his famous brother.
“He never made a B after the eighth grade,” Johnny Boatright said. “That includes his first master’s degree, which was in math, a very difficult master’s to acquire.”
Bobby Boatright was a student at both Midwestern State University and East Texas State in Commerce, where he earned a master’s in physics.
He continued to study.
“He had over 100 hours past his second master’s,” Johnny Boatright said.
A question often asked is why Bobby Boatright never pursued a doctorate.
“I’ll tell you what he told me one day,” Boatright said. “He did not go and write his doctoral thesis because he wanted to teach at a junior college, where he could teach Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. The reason for that’s pretty obvious. That left him a three-day weekend where he could play fiddle.”
And fiddle he did, all over the country, earning a name for himself in western swing.
“Western swing is jazz played with country instruments,” Johnny Boatright said, showing his own bent for teaching. “It’s a different flavor. It’s Big Band music. It definitely swings. It’s definitely not country music. It’s much more complex, where harmony means something. The chord progressions — excuse the pun — they’re off the charts.”
Johnny Boatright talks easily about western swing, but it’s a little harder for him to talk about his late brother. Tears come.
“J.W. (Sollis, camp director), asked me to come last year,” Boatright said, talking about the camp. “It was just too soon after Bobby passed away. This year had its trepidations. Once here, all that was like a wisp of smoke. It takes me back to my own childhood when I was learning. It seems like Daddy was always teaching kids.”
This year’s camp drew mostly youngsters, ages 10 and older. Adults also enrolled, including Jack Drury, 87. Camp director Sollis is only a few years his junior.
The music spans the generations. Many songs aren’t familiar to young ears.
Guitar student Ashley Wheeler, 17, is learning the words to “I’m Confessin’,” a 1930s song popular in the Big Band Era.
“I love the old songs,” she said. “A lot of them I’ve never heard before.”
Agewise, Johnny Boatright found himself somewhere in the middle of it all. When other responsibilities forced him to leave the camp a day early, he directed his farewell speech mainly to the younger set.
“You represent everything his ideal was about,” he told the students, referring to his brother’s standards. “It’s an honor to be part of this. Good luck with your fiddle playing, your guitar picking. Play with your heart. It’s a no-miss situation.”
The camp ends today with a 1 p.m. concert at the old bank in downtown Goree.