JOHNNY WILMOT died in April of this year (1993). During our long friendship he introduced me to dozens of musical people around the Cape Breton countryside. I will never forget his generosity and inspiration. They say his fiddling used to drive the dancers crazy. He certainly turned my life around. I remember the first night I met him and his uncle Joe Confiant, at Teddy Snow's place. When I returned home around midnight, I was so wound up that I stayed up learning tunes till dawn.

A native Cape Bretoner, Johnny was born in 1916. His father was from Mabou and Johnny spent the first three years of his life there. Afterwards he was brought up with his mother's people, his grandparents, the family of his uncle Joe Confiant, in Centerville, between North Sydney and Sydney Mines.

Both Johnny and Joe learned some of their music by listening to their uncle, Henry Fortune. The Fortunes were from Bras d'Or, Cape Breton County. They were accomplished Irish fiddlers who in Johnny's words played with "long-slurred-bowing" complete with lots of fingered embellishments. Differing from the Fortunes, Joe added a variety of new types of embellishments to his music, some of which he likely gleaned from the Cape Breton Scottish traditions and others from the recordings of Sligo fiddlers. His bowing included effortless bowed cuts (trebles) regardless of direction, momentum or positioning. His music was lively and yet the tempo wasn't fast. His timing was rock solid for dancers even when improvising. Although Johnny played Cape Breton Scottish style tunes with the best of them, most remember him for his Irish music. During the fifties, Johnny Wilmot and his Irish Serenaders played a regular live radio broadcast from CJCB Sydney … Irish music with a Cape Breton swing. His 78 records, made in the same studio, with Tommy Basker and Margaret MacPhee, all featured Irish tunes, played with his characteristic drive and intensity. During this period he made three trips to Boston where he played with, and for, some of the legendary figures of Irish music, including Paddy Cronin and Joe Derrane. Paddy was heard to say that Johnny was the liveliest Irish jig player he had ever encountered.

Musically, Johnny was fluently bilingual. He was one of the few musicians I ever met who had thoroughly digested both Cape Breton Irish and Cape Breton Scottish styles. While his own compositions often straddled this Irish-Scottish fence, his settings of traditional tunes kept the two separate, always displaying personal style without sacrificing the beauty and integrity of the 'original' melodies.

Johnny was exposed to live Irish and Scottish styles of music from the time he was an infant. Starting in the late 'twenties he began listening to the Irish 78s of Coleman, Morrison etc. and and later to the Cape Breton 78s of the Inverness Serenaders. He played most of the 'mainstream repertoire' including the majority of tunes recorded and played by other Cape Breton fiddlers between 1930-65. Many of these tunes were found in easily available books such as Cole's One Thousand Fiddle Tunes, J. Scott Skinner's, The Scottish Violinist, The Scotch Guard and The Skye, O'Neill's and Kerr's Collections.

Many of the 'traditional' tunes in his repertoire were Scottish, Irish and Cape Breton composed, some were 'Northside Irish' tunes from his uncles Joe Confiant and Henry Fortune, and some were Inverness County tunes. He also played a variety of other tune types &emdash; French and 'Oldtime' American tunes, barndances and waltzes &emdash; most of which he interpreted in an Irish style. He learned these tunes from any available source &emdash; some from recordings, some from his uncle Joe, and others from players he associated with while living in Toronto (1959-75).

Throughout his life Johnny always shared his musical experience with younger musicians. His repertoire has been passed directly (to friends) and indirectly (through recordings) to dozens of receptive musicians including myself and many others … Bobby and Brenda Stubbert, Doug MacPhee,Tommy Basker, Paul Wukitsch, Eddie Poirier, Otis Tomas, Kim Vincent, Jerry Holland, Arthur Muise, Larry Parks and Joe Peter MacLean.

Johnny Wilmot CD & MP3 clips

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last upddate 8/6/98