August 8, 1867 – February 13 1935 Remembering Fiddlin’ Jim Pate

Texas Farewell
Description:recorded Dallas, TX Wednesday, October 16, 1929 Fiddlin’ Jim Pate, f; acc. Tom Pate, g.

Remembering James Rankin Pate or Fiddlin’ Jim Pate (August 8, 1867 – February 13 1935)
won a DallasTexas contest so much he was asked to not compete again~!

Profile by Thomas James (Jim) Pate, III – April 10, 2017
Two weeks before the Great Stock Market Crash in October of 1929 (aka “Black Tuesday”) My Grandad, Tom Pate, and his Dad, James Rankin Pate, boarded a Dallas Bound train, leaving Nacogdoches behind them for a couple of days, in response to Captain James Bonner’s invitation and exciting opportunity to record their own songs…to make a record with RCA VICTOR RECORDS. Recorded in Dallas,Tx in October, 1929,The songs “TEXAS FAREWELL” and “PRISONER BOY” were original works featuring one of the best Fiddle players of the time, if not all time…My Great Grandfather, Fiddlin’ Jim Pate. He was accompanied on the two tracks by his son, Tom Pate (my grandad) who played acoustic-rhythm guitar. Now, almost 90 years later, the two songs appear on at Least 6 Compilation Albums featuring Texas OldTime Country And American Fiddle Music, including the Pate titled “TEXAS FAREWELL” and “PRISONER BOY” which begin and end the album respectively. All of Fiddlin’ Jim Pate’s albums are still available on Vinyl, CD, and are also available digitally on Amazon, Google Music, YouTube, and of course, ITunes. Take a minute to listen sometime…you will be convinced that there are at LEAST two, or maybe three fiddles playing together…but it’s just a father and his son taking their guitar pickin’, fiddle sawin’, foot stompin’ creation from their front porch in East Texas, to the studio…and back….and remember, this was LONG before multi-track recording had been invented.

November 17, 2017 – An ad appeared in the January 17, 1930 edition of The Timpson Times announcing that Bussey’s Drug Store had received the new Fiddlin’ Jim Pate record. The ad went on to say that “Jim Pate is an old-time fiddler, lives in the Arcadia Community, just south of Timpson.” Though few in Shelby County remember Mr. Pate’s recording career, his records are prized by collectors of early country music and digital recordings are available on the internet. In a effort to learn more about Fiddlin’ Jim Pate, the Timpson Area Genealogical and Heritage Society viewed old photographs and newspaper clipping, heard from his grand and great-grandson, and listened to some of his recordings at their November 15 monthly meeting.
Throughout human history, the only way to hear music was to be in the presence of the musician until Thomas A. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. Just as language was learned from hearing others speak, music was learned by hearing others play, and that created local dialects and accents in language and styles of music. For example, even though the “Cajuns” of South Louisiana live only a relatively short distance from Texas, their accents and music are very different. “Texas-style Fiddling”, of which Fiddlin’ Jim Pate was a master, developed in the same way.
Though musical performances had been recorded since the earliest days of the phonograph, record companies considered country music too unsophisticated to be commercially viable. Music historians generally cite the recordings done by then 35 year old Texan Eck Robertson and partner Henry C. Gilliland for Victor records on June 30, 1922 as the first country music ever recorded. Though their recordings of “Sallie Gooden” and “Arkansas Traveller” were released in September of 1922, they were not in wide circulation until April of 1923. The person responsible for boosting their popularity in 1923 was Fiddlin’ John Carson.
Born in Georgia in 1869, Fiddlin’ John Carson had long been a fixture at old-time fiddling contests in the South when, in 1923, he recorded “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “ The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Gonna Crow” for Okeh Records. Doubting that the record would be successful, Okeh pressed only 500 copies, but it was an immediate hit and the first pressing sold out in days. Record companies now realized their error in avoiding country music and began scouring the South for country musicians. One of those discovered was East Texan Jim Pate.
Born August 8, 1867, James Rankin Pate was, like Eck Robertson, the son of a Confederate veteran. A resident of Shelby and Nacogdoches Counties, Jim Pate was a master of old-time Texas style fiddling and a frequent winner of the old-time fiddling contest at the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport. A clipping from the October 29, 1922 Shrevport Times, supplied by Jim Pate III, features a photograph of the contestants and the first place winner, Jim Pate of Timpson. According to James Pate of Chireno, Texas, his grandfather won the contest so many times the organizers told him not to come back.
The article erroneously states that Jim Pate was 80 at the time, though he would have actually been 55. It is noteworthy that Mr. J. F. Gary, also of Timpson, placed fourth.
Jim Pate III shared that his great-grandfather, Jim Pate, and his grandfather, Tom Pate, boarded a train in Nacogdoches bound for Dallas in October of 1929, where, at the invitation of Captain James Bonner, himself a renowned Texas fiddler and Victor recording artist, they made a record. Accompanied by his son Tom on guitar, Fiddlin’ Jim Pate recorded “Texas Farewell” and “Prisoner Boy”. Jim Pate III revealed that he has been in contact with Tony Russell, a historian of American country music in London, England who knows of Fiddlin’ Jim Pate and owns a copy of the record. Mr. Russell says “I own a copy of his record, which is a treasure. I know other collectors of old-time 78’s also have a high regard for your great-grandfather’s fiddling. It’s a great pity he was not asked to make further recordings”. Mr. Russell has researched the Victor record files, establishing that the record sold 3591 copies, which was about average for a new artist but not enough to merit a second record. Fiddlin’ Jim continued to play for the rest of his life but never recorded again. He died in Feb 13, 1935 at the age of 68 and is buried in Chireno.
Though his recordings were not big hits and his name is hardly a household word today, Fiddlin’ Jim Pate was a contemporary and the artistic equal of others who are better known. He worked in the first decade of recorded country music and, as evidenced by Tony Russell’s comments, historians and collectors in other parts of the world know of and prize his records.

About the author

I enjoy researching Bluegrass, Bluegrass Gospel, and Country birthdays, anniversaries and interesting trivia dates. I am a piano/organ performance major who has taught privately and served as church accompanist since 1968 in North Carolina and Central Kentucky. Although classically trained, I appreciate all genres of music. My mother, who was also a church musician and taught public school music grades K-12, knew that Bluegrass music was the purest American music. She always introduced her students to this fine genre and began my musical studies with her at age 2. Bach to Berachah Valley, Mozart to Jimmy Martin, Sibelius to Stanley Brothers, the list goes on, I hope you find some moments of enjoyment and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
I am thankful for the many resources we have at our fingertips including Google. FaceBook and BluegrassBios by Wayne Rice. It was he who inspired me to tackle the task of trying to pass on knowledge about Bluegrass music. Thanks Wayne~!
Lou Ellen Wilkie