Master of Barroom Percussion Instruments
The following is a recollection from field notes written by folklorist Robert Bethke when he met Gerald “Snooks” Martin of St. Regis Falls in the summer of 1979 and observed Martin playing folk percussion instruments—namely beer bottles and a bar tray—to a recorded traditional fiddle tune.
U1 and V1 over there on the jukebox," said the burly patron in
suspendered work pants, looking every part the classic Adirondack woodsman.
"I'll show you how to do it." Gerald "Snooks" Martin, of
St. Regis Falls, just happened to be at Bert Susice's roadside Blue Mountain
Inn, on the way to Santa Clara, on the afternoon of August 6, 1979. Varick
Chittenden and Bob Bethke, bearing tape recorder and camera, were there to
interview Bert Susice, known to play several instruments.
folklorists were totally unprepared to find "Snooks, who took
interest in the talk at the bar when it turned to playing the clapper bones. Saying
he never could manipulate them, Snooks then very deliberately arose from
his seat and went behind the bar, where he retrieved an old beer tray and two
empty long-neck beer bottles. By then the jukebox was playing "Peace
River Breakdown" by legendary Canadian fiddler Don Messer.
pulled up a chair at a table and began to keep time with the piece. He played
the bottles in clapper bones style, and used the beer tray to emulate an
Irish bodhran [frame drum akin to
large tambourine], rhythmically striking it with the back of one hand. The
effect was mesmerizing, even magical--pure chance to witness improvised
percussion in accompaniment and traditional style, not unlike what one
might have witnessed years earlier at the same locale, when
lumberjacks would stop in.