Friday, September 21, 2012

Minnesota Fiddlers Archive- Kaye Brokaw

Tunes recorded by Dick Buschel.  Used by permission.

From Kaye's family-

Kaye was always full of mischief, an instigator and very inquisitive. He could make you laugh and he had the patience of a saint when teaching. He overcame many obstacles in his life but never, ever let self-pity consume him. He was raised by our Grandmother and was quite a challenge for her. Kaye was thought to be mentally retarded but in fact he was very intelligent, almost savant-like. He never finished school but read books about many, many different subjects and he was self taught in many different interests. He often said “Too many books, too little time”. Kaye learned to repair watches and clocks, made some musical instruments and also repaired them. He loved old cars and antiques and would go to flea markets and sell antiques and collectibles. While he was selling he would bring out his fiddle and play and people would stop and listen and drop money in can. He would also do this where he worked as a part time janitor at the Clearwater Truck Stop…he met many people this way. One time he collected over two hundred dollars and said “Not too bad for a retarded bald headed Irishman and a twelve dollar and fifty cent fiddle."

                                                 Tunes recorded by Kaye and family.  Used by permission.


Kaye was very proud of his Irish heritage and learned a lot of Irish music. He learned to play around the age of fourteen or so. He learned a lot from his great uncles, Hank and Bob Bodle…he spent a lot of time with them. He would play fiddle and Grandmother would play piano and they would play for family functions and get-to-gathers. He first started to play in public in Deerwood at Whitepine Inn with Bill Hanson and Gus Fletcher. Soon he was playing at many different little bars with some of his friends and he had lots of them. People who knew Kaye and became friends with him were his friends for life. Among them were Bud and Archie LaSart, Dick Kuschel, Lloyd LaPlant, Ben and Gene Marquette, Arne Johnson, Arne Wannebo and “Grandfather” Dahl of Dahl Violin Shop in Minneapolis. 

Kaye also played in many fiddle contests in Minnesota and Iowa. He played with many different bands including the Range Ramblers and The Wagon Wheelers. He acquired many friends over the years and people who met him never forgot him. His quick wit, sense of humor and mischievous smile and of course his great talent made him unique and unforgettable. He would always say, “Everyone needs music in their lives, it makes you whole.”

Kaye was also a great story teller and whenever he wrote a letter it was as if he was right there talking to you…he made every letter a masterpiece of humor and he could spell any word you gave him. I think he had a photographic memory and could remember things from when he was two years old…that was also when he learned to read. Kaye also had a great love for dogs and said they were the only living thing that was capable of unconditional love and loyalty.

 It’s hard to know what his favorite tunes were because he played so many but a few that come to mind are: Boil the Cabbage, Devil’s Dream, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Golden Slippers, Diggi Liggi Li, and Orange Blossom Special. I think Kaye will always be remembered as a humble but very unique individual with a great talent, quick wit, fabulous sense of humor and not an ounce of self pity.   No matter what life handed to him he took it with a smile, added some fiddle music to it and left us with wonderful memories of a little Irish imp who made this world a better place because he was here.


  1. Many of the masters have left us with few to take there place. Luckily, more than 50 Minnesota musicians have come together to help this music flourish again. Using old field recordings and current masters as their guide, they have put their modern stamp on the music. It is great to hear these tunes reborn.
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  2. The interesting thing about this tune is that it is a version of a tune originally recorded by Cliff and Ray in 1938 (according to Jim Nelson) as "Bear Creek Hop," from which most versions probably originate. They were from Kentucky and lived in Texas. However, it is also a version of a nameless tune played by Orin Miller, of Scottville, MI, no. 8.a. on my website, This then connects it to a whole different family of tunes.

  3. Wow! What a great post.I just found this blog. I'll definitely be back. Mandolin And Guitar

  4. Thanks for this article, and especially for the link to the newspaper clipping on Robert Bodle. He started me on fiddle back in the mid-70's, and I have such fond memories of him. He helped me find a better fiddle, because mine was, he said, "a gourd." He went out of his way to hlelp me--such a kind gentleman. I'm still happily fiddling away, almost exclusively Irish style, living in central Indiana.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. So thrilled to hear that Bob was an influence! I am his Grandnephew and knew him well! Hank was my Grandfather.

  5. Kaye was wonderful! I worked with him for a while and got the chance to play rhythm guitar with him while he played great Irish fiddle tunes. He used to tell me stories how he worked with a fiddle maker once and great care would go into the selection of woods for the fiddle. Always kind and quick witted! How he knew hundreds of fiddle tunes by memory is still amazing to me. And played them perfectly.

    He used to sit outside the Clearwater Travel Plaza and play all day. Miss you Kaye. Thank you for uploading his music!!

  6. Hello to everyone- Hope some of you are still reading this blog.
    I am the Grandson of Hank Bodle and the grandnephew of Bob.
    One of the tunes that is played-"Grandpa Bodles Tune". We are trying to determine the orgin of the tune but are thinking that this may be one that Hank learned from his Grandfather William A. Bodle 1 (1838-1920)
    Thank you all for all the kind words!

  7. I should mention that Kaye plays it EXACTLY like Uncle Bob and Grandpa did. The Durangs Hornpipe is exact as well.