Donald Perkins

At the age of five my Grandmother Perkins gave me a fiddle. Due to health issues I was unable to engage in the extracurricular activities that other children my age took for granted, so my mother would sit at the old upright piano in our living room and spend hours chording and humming the old fiddle tunes while I figured out how to play them on the fiddle. After many years of squeaks and squawks, and mother’s faith and persistence, I played my first square dance in the family band at the age of ten.

To play an instrument was a challenge, so I felt driven to play electric and acoustic guitar, bass, mandolin and the 5-string banjo. I was a member of the rock and roll band The Placid Rockers. On occasion, I would help the orchestra conductor at the local high school tune the students’ violins prior to their practices and concerts. My younger brother, Dewey, played in a band called The Young Set. Sometimes a member of that band was unable to make a gig so he would ask me to fill in.

In 1957 Sonny Burgoyne, another local musician from Lake Placid, and I participated in a program called Santa’s Toy Lift. The focus of this program was to distribute Christmas presents to handicapped children. We donned Santa Helper costumes, grabbed our instruments, and boarded an airplane accompanying Santa Claus to various cities along the east coast. While Santa handed out presents Sonny and I furnished the music. It was the first time I had ever been on an airplane and personally rewarding to be a part of such a worthwhile cause.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to entertain with many bands. One group, based out of Saranac Lake, NY, was called The Wee 3. Consisting of Sonny Burgoyne on guitar/vocals, Vince Van Yserloo on drums, and me on guitar and fiddle, we had a grand time entertaining throughout the region. I also played at a bar called the Double M on the Military Turnpike in Plattsburgh churning out 50’s and 60’s pop and rock and roll with fellow musicians Herm Green and Del Berghorn. Amazing what music we put out in the old days with only three people. I used to travel to Glens Falls, NY, with Doc Otis joining Bucky Stewart and Al Buroughs to play country music. Doc, Bucky and Al have long passed away but many good memories linger. There was no finer lead and harmony singer than Bucky. When he and Al blended their voices there was no better country sound to be heard. To this day I get goose bumps thinking about the purity of their voices. Many a Saturday night I entertained with the Clem Hawkins Band. What a good time I had putting out the old country sounds with Junior, June, Tommy and a very young Julie Venne. I also played fiddle with the Gibson Brothers, IBMA Entertainers of the Year, early in their bluegrass career; in fact they were still in high school. I used to head up to their farm in Ellenburg, NY, meet up with Bobbi Erdman (bass) for practice sessions.  What a warm and welcoming family the Gibson's were. 

I met Fred Pike, Sam Tidwell, and the Kennebec Valley Boys from Cambridge, ME, in the late 70’s. Fred was a master of bluegrass music and when he asked me to join the group I learned much about how bluegrass music should be played. My sister still recounts that she has never seen me work so hard, and step up to the challenge, as when I was entertaining under Fred’s tutelage. Our friendship lasted for years and the bluegrass community lost one of its greatest musicians when Fred passed away.

While entertaining with the Kennebec Valley Boys, I came to know yet another stellar bluegrass band from Maine, the Bluegrass Supply Company. What a privilege to be a part of this group and entertain at various festivals throughout Maine.

Fiddle contests were very popular during the 70’s and early 80’s. What fun to have the opportunity to travel and participate in contests held throughout New York, Vermont and Canada. Back in the 70’s I placed third in the Northeast Fiddlers’ Association Contest in Vermont and took first place in the New York State Fiddlers Contest in Osceola, NY. One of the most memorable contests I remember was held in Shelburne, Ontario back in ‘77. Out of 125 fiddlers I placed 24th. It was exciting to be a part of this contest.

Two highlights of my musical career: 1. Being inducted into the Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame in Osceola, NY, in 2001 and 2. Our family being awarded the North Country Heritage Award given by Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) in 2002.

It has been a lot of fun playing music for the past 68 years. I’ve met so many people, had the opportunity to entertain with some well-known bands, played at festivals and Council on the Arts events and recorded in Nashville, TN. I’ve kept company with fiddle greats Frank Orsini, the late Ken Bonner, Jimmy Hamblin, George Pratt and Rollie Swinton.

Thinking back, I have had some pretty memorable experiences. The first one that comes to mind is the time I was jamming at a bluegrass festival in Hillsdale, NY. Listening a few feet away was Bill Monroe, considered to be the father of bluegrass. I never will forget him turning my way, tipping his hat, and saying to me “mighty fine job, son.” The second one is having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on the stage and twin fiddle with Bobby Hicks at the Fiddler’s Picnic in Osceola, NY, back in 2008.

In retrospect, I’ve come a long way since that little boy sitting on a couch sawing away on the fiddle. I owe much to my wonderful parents who had faith in my musical ability and helped me so much along the way. Thank you Mom and Dad.