Whoopin’ and hollerin’ fiddler from Bandera, Elmo Newcomer—the “Pipe Creek Kid”—was one of the more colorful figures in Texas folk music (and that’s saying something).
Jessie Elmo Newcomer was born in San Antonio, Texas, on April 25, 1896, son of rancher Andrew Jackson “Jack” Newcomer and his wife Lura Bell (née Stokes). Elmo followed in his father’s footsteps and became a stockman on the family farm Pipe Creek, Texas, about eight miles from Bandera. He served as a cook in the the Third Trench Mortar Battalion during the First World War, and was honorably discharged on March 30, 1919. Shortly after his return home, he married Miss Birdee Augusta Ellis, on April 16 of the same year, with whom he would have five children over the subsequent decades. His uniquely uninhibited style of fiddle playing was recorded in May of 1939 by folklorists John Avery and Ruby Terrill Lomax for the Library of Congress in thirteen performances at his home in Pipe Creek. Around twenty years later, Newcomer made two records for the San Antonio-based CroMart label, recreating tunes which he had previously recorded for Lomax. Though well known locally for his music making proclivities, he spent most of his life on the farm, and did not seek fame or fortune as a professional musician. Tragedy befell the Newcomers with the deaths of sons Clyde from tetanus in 1940 and William in a 1951 car accident, and Elmo and Birdee divorced at some point during the 1940s or 1950s; she later remarried, while he did not. Elmo Newcomer died from arteriosclerosis at the V.A. Hospital in Kerrville, Texas, on December 8, 1970, and was buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. His descendants have carried on his musical legacy around Pipe Creek.
The recording date of CroMart 101 is not established by any available sources, but I have it on good authority that it dates to around 1947, give or take, and was probably recorded in San Antonio, Texas. Newcomer is accompanied by guitar, likely played by one of his sons. Both performances are virtually identical to his Library of Congress recordings of 1939, albeit in much higher fidelity. The Cro-Mart Recording Company was founded by H.M. Crowe and Buster Martin of San Antonio.
Newcomer first fiddled a wild and crazy rendition of the old-time staple “Cotton Eyed Joe”, an especially popular number with Texas musicians.
He next does the “Old Grey Mare”, with his wild hollers complimented by some choice diction: “Old grey mare come a-footin’ down from Delaware, lookin’ for her underwear; she couldn’t find ’em anywhere.”