Remembering Fiddler "Bitt" Rouse

Remembering Fiddler "Bitt" Rouse

Palmer Stiner “Bitt” Rouse
1923 - 2007

The Fiddler has Played his last Tune.

The fiddler has played his last tune for the night, but Bitt Rouse will not soon be forgotten. Most people would not know of whom you were speaking when you mentioned Palmer Stiner Rouse, because nearly all his life he was known by his nickname. My sister, Dorothy Kitts, had him as a 5th grade student at the old Rush Strong School in Lead Mine Bend. Then he was called “Bitty” Rouse because he was so small for his age, but he grew to quite a tall man. The nickname was shortened to “Bitt.”

Music was Bitt’s life. Of course he farmed, ran a sawmill and other things for a living, but music was his life. When called on to play, he was always so gracious and so willing to participate without pay to make an event successful. One of my dreams is that the time will come when Union County musicians can and will be paid for their wonderful talent and hours of practice. A few Union County musicians have achieved that–Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Chet’s brother Jimmy Atkins, Carl Smith and Kenny Chesney -but they had to leave Union County to do it. Many of our wonderful musicians have chosen to stay home.

Bitt Rouse was a mentor and a source of encouragement to many younger Union County musicians. His group was known as the Union County Ramblers, and play they did. Earl Bull, whose band played at the funeral, recalled how gentle and encouraging he was. Earl said, if you missed a note, Bitt would just say, “Don’t worry about it–you’ll get it the next time.”

Bitt lost part of his right hand to an accident in 1979. His right arm was caught in a corn-picking machine, and it was several hours before anyone heard his cry for help. Myrel Dykes recalled visiting Bitt at the hospital and he asked her to rub his aching arm, which she did for two or three hours. With determination, rehab and a custom-made prosthesis to enable him to hold his bow he continued to make music to the end. I’m told that his friend Roy Acuff was helpful in getting a local orthopedist to make the prosthesis. When Roy vacationed at Cedar Grove–as he frequently did–Bitt, Roy and Pete Sanders fished together by day and played music at night. This began before telephoning was so easy, so Roy would sing “Down in Union County” as a clue to Bitt and Pete that he was headed to Union County.

The Earl Bull Band gave Bitt quite a send off at his funeral. Ernest Graves, who used to play with Bill Monroe, played guitar; John Ingle of Jonesville, Virginia, played guitar and sang tenor; Marvin Lipe of Rogersville played mandolin and sang baritone; Larry Cadle of Harrogate played fiddle; Charlie Blade of Johnson City played standing bass; and Earl, of course, played banjo and sang lead. The group rendered Bitt’s favorites, Old Brush Arbor, Angel Band, and Uncle Penn improvised to “Uncle Bitt.” Jan Daniels “Janiper” Longmire, who is a dear friend of Bitt’s niece, Phyllis, honored him with the following poem. Bitt nicknamed her “Janiper”:

The Fiddler
Tune up that old fiddle, Uncle Bitt, that’s what we’d always say,
It’s Saturday night at old Rush Strong. Let’s dance with night away.

Tune up that old fiddle, Uncle Bitt, there’s a crowd gathered ‘round,
All waiting just to pat their feet at your fiddle’s striking sound.

Play Golden Slippers, Uncle Bitt, play Down Yonder too!
Play Uncle Penn and Old Joe Clark, and we will dance for you.

Tune up that old fiddle, Uncle Bitt, how we’ll miss those words so dear,
How will we ever dance again without you and your fiddle here?

Tune up that old fiddle, Uncle Bitt, for your journey to Heaven so fair
To meet with greats like Bill Monroe and play in that Bluegrass band there.

Tune up that old fiddle, Uncle Bitt, and play Amazing Grace,
Play Jesus Hold My Hand, as you look upon His face.

Tune up that old Fiddle, Uncle Bitt, for that greatest Bluegrass Band,
And our hearts will still be listening while you rest in Jesus’ Hands.

Jan Daniels Longmire,
Used by Permission

The evening Bitt died, Saturday night, November 24, 2007, he had gone up to the Rush Strong School building to build a fire to have the building warm for another Saturday night hoedown. He died at the place he loved and where he had brought much joy to the neighbors with his music.
Bitt was laid to rest in his beloved coveralls at Taylor’s Grove Cemetery. This Union County Rambler will surely be missed!

Picture caption –Palmer Stiner “Bitt” Rouse

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