Fiddler Keeling will be missed - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Fiddler Keeling will be missed

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Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2006 6:00 am | Updated: 3:25 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Is the grass any bluer on the other side?

Did it look like old Kentucky when the gates swung open wide?

Bet the good Lord’s got you playin’ somewhere up there every night. Is the grass any bluer on the other side?

The problem with fiddle players is that heaven has the best of ’em.

The ranks of the heavenly hoedown grew by one last week when Mesa’s Lyman Keeling passed away. On Wednesday, a group of about 200 friends and family members gathered at a Latter-day Saints chapel in east Mesa to say goodbye.

Keeling left behind his wife of 67 years — Mabel “Miss Dolly’’ Keeling — seven children, 16 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren. But his extended family is counted in the hundreds. If you love bluegrass music, Lyman Keeling was family.

In 1967, Keeling met guitar player Gene Previtt, and the two put together a bluegrass band that performed throughout the state for more than 30 years. Keeling was the frontman, a genial, accomplished fiddler and master of the “buck dance.’’ Their band, The Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Band, opened the Mesa Parks and Recreation summer concert programs at the Mesa Amphitheater for 27 consecutive years.

Keeling, winner of multiple state fiddle championships, took up the fiddle at 17 and played until the late 1990s, when Parkinson’s disease interceded. Although he never pursued his music as a profession, he shared the stage with the “Father of Bluegrass’’ Bill Monroe (about whom Rhonda Vincent wrote the above lyrics) and performed his “buck dance” on the Ralph Stanley show.

As a Southerner, and bluegrass fan, I am happy to report that Keeling had the right pedigree for a bluegrass fiddler, too. He was born and raised in the Smoky Mountain region of Middle Tennessee. His grandfather, George Calvin Keeling, fought for the Confederate army in the Battle of Shiloh, a bit of family history that Keeling cherished.

Many attending Wednesday’s service also knew Keeling as a great man of faith and a loving father and grandfather. Keeling moved his family to Arizona in 1952, got a job trimming trees away from power lines for SRP and worked there for 23 years before retiring. He served in a variety of capacities in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tennessee and Arizona.

But the common thread that ran through his life was the music. It was Keeling’s gift and his passion. He was quickwitted, quick to laugh and loved to tell stories. He was a Southerner, after all. Some time ago, someone asked Keeling how he’d like to be remembered. He replied: “As a good fiddle player and a righteous man.’’

I’d say he got his wish.

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