Common Chords By Randall Hill
Swaby, known to the crowd as “Fiddling Phil,” is playing the lead “Johnny” during the song and is doing his best to win a shiny fiddle of gold from the devil while playing out the song’s lyrics with Travis.
Classically trained on the violin from Ohio’s Wilmington College and Antioch University, Swaby received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987 with a major in music. A black man trained in classic music, vistors to The Bowery -- filled with images of the Confederate flag and rowdy Southern rock classics -- are often surprised to see him play there.
But not Swaby.
“From my standpoint, playing bluegrass and country music is something I’ve done for the most part of my life,” he said recently from his small, one-room apartment along the Boulevard in downtown Myrtle Beach. “I was still in the 10th grade the first time I played in a bluegrass band in the D.C. area.”
He arrived in Myrtle Beach after paying gigs started drying up in the D.C. area. Swaby found he was staying with friends to keep himself going, and it was a good time for a change. “I went about this like I know what I want to do and I’m going to do whatever it takes to do it,” he said about his drive to stay solvent and the move to the South. “My resources and my luck have been on my side, I’d like to think somebody up there likes me. I was close to homeless but I wasn’t out of hope.”
Surrounded by the icons of the Confederacy at The Bowery, Swaby has a constant reminder of the battles over a flag still in the hearts and minds of folks.
“When I came to South Carolina and look at the flag here, the historical context of the flag represents problems to some and pride to others. It comes down to how they regard the land underneath them. If there are people who are native to the state who like to come to The Bowery and hear the music, then right now the Confederate flag represents us. It represents me going in The Bowery and making music and making people happy.”
at The Bowery in Myrtle Beach.
at his apartment in Myrtle Beach.