‘Fiddlin’ Andy the Cyclone Kid’ tells folk history at the Neville
The newly released documentary was created by local filmmakers with direct experience with the late musician, known for his fast playing style
By Erin Hunsader
According to fellow musicians, Andy Sanders was “wicked on the fiddle” and was a “high energy act before the phrase was coined.”
His famous playing style and aficionado on the strings are the subject of a new documentary “Fiddlin Andy, the Cyclone Kid.” Created by local filmmaker Jim Parish and archivist Lou Seiler, there was no fiddling around when it came to completing the documentary which they’ve been working on since l991. It premiered this month at the Neville Public Museum (210 Museum Pl).
The documentary, created using Seiler’s footage of Sanders in Green Bay, Milwaukee, Chicago and parts of Pennsylvania and New York in the 1940s-70s, shares the story of this string-strumming prodigy who had “several brushes with greatness,” according to Parish.
Playing everywhere from Ellis Island to the Grand Ole Opry, Fiddlin Andy could make his violin laugh, cry and sound like a freight train. His electric energy on stage captivated audiences across the country.
Sanders was born in Pottstown, PA. He took up the fiddle early in life. His mother recognized his aptitude for the instrument, as the documentary states, and she would often tell her son to avoid playing sports, such as baseball, as he was too good on the fiddle. She encouraged him to practice and it wasn’t long before he was making money playing the stringy paddle.
“My first job was playing for a church picnic,’ Sanders said in the documentary. “I got $5 and $5 back then was a lot of money.”
He ended up in Green Bay in 1951 after friends told him there was work here, and a great club scene to show off his talents. He went on to meet his wife Betty, a waitress at Green Bay staple restaurant at the time Kaap’s.
Seiler said that Sanders had plenty of places to play in Green Bay as residents were hungry for entertainment. As he put it, “before television, it was clubs and Packers.” The film also features archive footage of Sanders performing on WBAY-Channel 2 whenever he visited town.
Seiler knew Sanders after meeting him in 1970 at the Mayfair Lounge where he played guitar with his band. Seiler is incredibly modest about his own musical ability but some clips of him jamming with the band can be seen in the film as well. Seiler played with Sanders and the band on and off in the 1980s and 90s and got to know him while driving to gigs throughout Wisconsin.
“I kind of picked his brain about his career and his life and everything, which was fantastic because we were good friends,” Seiler said. “I decided I was going to tape our conversations because I knew I wanted to write a book or something about Andy.”
Seiler toyed with the idea of a book about Sanders’ life for a while, but until he reconnected with Parish in the 1990s, the idea was dormant.
“I saw Jim (Parish) downtown one day in 1991,” Seiler said. “I hadn’t seen him in some years. I said, ‘I’m playing with this fiddler in town, and I’d like to write a book about him.’ Jim immediately said, ‘Let’s make a movie.’”
Parish, who had a local television and commercial production company, said he was excited to explore filmmaking as another creative outlet. He said the duo began gathering materials from fellow musicians, Sander’s family and from all over the United States. The duo edited the film together and shot their first interview for the documentary in the early 1990s.
“We used every bit of footage that we had,” Parish said. “Nothing hit the floor in this film.”
Besides his talent on the fiddle and bass (one part of the story showing Fiddlin’ Andy holding his instrument like a guitar), the documentary tells a tale many artists will relate to—working jobs to pay the bills while also trying to do what you love.
“He was really an active, progressive musician, Seiler said. “And he had a lot of records, many of them aren’t in the movie and then all these other songs. I created a CD of 22 songs for the family. He was a very talented songwriter. He wanted to have a hit because he wanted to make some money for family.”
The documentary has one final showing at the Neville on Saturday, Dec. 18. The show starts at 2 pm and is included with the price of admission.
Seiler said the story of Fiddlin Andy, who passed away in June of 1999, was easy to tell because of his talent and love for sharing music with his family and friends.
“He was one of the greatest pros who I ever worked with,” Seiler said. “There are only two or three other musicians I could name that are in his scope. He loved doing it. He wanted to share his music. You could see it in the close-ups in the footage, you could see it—that he just loved to play the fiddle.”
Erin Hunsader is Editor of Healthy Living and Wellness magazine. She has been freelance writing for newspapers and magazines for over 10 years as well as having articles published in magazines like Guideposts Mysterious Ways and writing educational materials for TheatreWorksUSA (New York City, NY). She received her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and her Master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2010.