Friday , July 18, 2014 - 3:40 PM
OGDEN -- Dale Pendleton will tell you he only knows two tunes on the guitar, then he will play three. Actually he’ll play a lot more. The 93-year-old is somewhat of a local legend when it comes to old time guitar and “scratchy” fiddle playing and has been a staple of the local acoustic scene since he learned how to play guitar from his father when he was 5.
But before Pendleton, a genial and sunny man, ever played guitar, he played harmonica and sang. He joked, saying Santa Claus gave him his first harmonica when he was a young farm boy. Pendleton has a collection of instruments, but decided on a relic of a harmonica that belonged to his brother. He picked up the old piece of shiny metal in his shaking hands, held it to his lips and played a tune.
“Harmonicas are like a toothbrush, they are individually, you don’t wanna be passing them around,” he chuckled and blew into the mouthpiece holes. “Santa Claus didn't tell me that the bass is on the left. I play it backwards, but I hope it’ll come out for you the right way.”
The Pendleton Outlaws
The Pendleton family has been playing music for generations. Joshua Pendleton, his grandfather, was a fiddle player who passed down the genes and the passion to William Pendleton, his father. Pendleton and his late wife Margie raised four children in a musical home, but he said none of them continue to play. His nieces, however, play piano and violin.
Pendleton played in a family band with his father, brothers and uncle. He said everyone in the family played one instrument or another. The family band was affectionately called the Pendleton Outlaws, or the Bill Pendleton Orchestra.
But Pendleton never learned how to read music, just like his father before him.
“My dad just said, ‘listen, listen to the music. Listen to the lead.’,” Pendleton said. “My dad said, ‘I don’t read music I just make music.’ He could play all night long and never play the same tune twice at a dance.”
Pendleton’s father, who was a blacksmith by trade and fiddle player by passion, lost his hearing when Pendleton was a young boy. He had to holler at his father, but said the man could still hear when he would play a wrong chord on the guitar.
“But music he could hear. It didn’t bother him, of course he led the music all the time, he was the lead player,” Pendleton said of his father. “He’d tap me on the head with the violin bow and say, ‘Dale, that was an E,’ and we’d play it again, practice. He could hear, he could hear those changes and knew where they were.”
Old time fiddler
Although Pendleton said he wasn’t blessed with fiddle skills, he jokes that he placed third in a senior fiddle contest that only had one other contestant.
“Don’t laugh,” he said, “I got $30 and a certificate.”
Besides making jokes with the Utah Old Time Fiddlers, a non-profit organization formed by Jim Shupe in 1975, he jams with the company twice a month at the Pleasant Valley Branch Library in South Ogden, and the Southwest Branch Library in Roy. He said there are about 60 players in the Pioneer Chapter, and around 800 players statewide.
“We just play for the fun of it and love to play together and learn different tunes, different techniques,” Pendleton said. “You learn something from everybody, even the young kids will teach you patience if you’re in too big of a hurry.”
Pendleton has taught several of the younger players guitar, mandolin and fiddle, respectively. He mentioned Austin Frodsham, who was once a young fiddler himself. Frodsham saw the Old Time Fiddlers playing in the old Ogden Mall when he was 6 or 7 years old and signed up to play.
“(He) won all of the music contests that he played in. Idaho: Weiser, Idaho, Jerome. Wyoming. Wherever he played, Austin won and I backed him up on guitar all those times,” Pendleton smiled as he spoke.
“He went to the Univeristy of Utah and ended up with two fabulous degrees, and now,” he chuckled, “he plays in a rock band! He was just special.”
Frodsham, who was playing the fiddle for only a few years before he found the group, said he learned more about fiddling and old time music from Pendleton than any of his teachers growing up.
“I'm sure there are a lot of musicians in Utah that would say they wouldn't be where they are without Dale Pendleton, and I'm sure they're all right,” Frodsham said. “But I can legitimately say that Dale is the number one reason why I continued to play music growing up, and ultimately, why I'm still a musician today.”
The good ol’ days
Shupe, the organizer of the Utah Old Time Fiddlers, first met Pendleton and his wife back in 1971 at the “Gold & Green Ball,” a dance originally put on by the LDS church. Pendleton described Shupe as wearing a red headband and a matching sash around his waist, and he was playing gypsy music on the fiddle around the cultural hall.
After Pendleton offered his services as a guitar player, the two started playing church gigs around the region and played together in the Yeomen Country Western Band. Harvey Yeomen stuck out in Pendleton’s memory.
“He was a very professional type of player and singer, had a beautiful voice, Harvey Yeomen.”
But when Shupe wanted to organize the fiddlers of Utah, the Yeomens didn’t want Pendleton or any of the others in the band to join for fear of losing them. And for good reason too, the Yeomen Band was one of the top bands in the area, and played everything from clubs at Hill Field to the Depot, according to Pendleton.
Pendleton was one of the early ones who got to play with the Old Time Fiddlers thanks to his friendship with Shupe and his guitar skills.
“All the stuff they were playing was what my dad taught me anyway. All the old time tunes,” he said. “So right away he wanted the big contests here. First we went to Ogden High School for years and that started in 1975, so we’ve been together all those many years.”
But before Pendleton ever met Shupe, he was in another continent far from Wanship, Utah where he grew up. Pendleton served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the supply depot. He was the go-to guy for “everything a soldier uses or wears.”
While he was in the infantry, he played in a hillbilly band with other soldiers from Kentucky. On Sunday afternoons when he wasn’t in training, he played with six other men.
He had to send his guitar back home before he shipped off to Europe. It was his first guitar, a Gibson.
His sergeant told him, “Where you’re going you won’t need a guitar!” so Pendleton mailed it back home.
“We still have the guitar,” he smiled. “We had fun, I learned a lot of the old tunes.”
Hall of fame
Wherever Pendleton goes now he will need a guitar. On July 11, he was inducted into the Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Hall of Fame at the Ogden Union Station in front of a large crowd of supporters, including the company of the Old Time Fiddlers.
Doug Anderson, the current chairman of the Pioneer chapter, said preserving old time music, especially for new generations, provides endless positive experiences for everyone. He can’t imagine what the Pioneer chapter would be like without Pendleton.
“In my opinion, it might not even exist,” Anderson said, attempting to describe the Pioneer chapter without Pendleton’s presence. “It would be much less in quality and quantity and might not even exist.”
On the Utah Old Time Fiddler’s website, it cites Pendleton as a founding member of the organization whose contributions “span many years and several generations.”
Even after all the years and all the experiences that playing music has brought to him, Pendleton still takes time to reflect on how music has shaped his life.
“They say music is for the soul, and we all have a soul,” Pendleton said, holding his father’s 150-year-old Italian mandolin. “Music, good music touches the soul with everyone.”
Contact reporter Raychel Johnson at 801-625-4279 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raychelNEWS
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