George "Smoke" Dawson was by most accounts (including his own) a mainly itinerant -- and often impoverished -- fiddle and bagpipe player who passed back and forth between New York and the West Coast for decades, and while he worked at times as a commercial fisherman, a wrestler, an aerial photographer, and plenty of other assorted jobs, it was music that formed the essential arc of his life.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on June 5, 1935, Dawson began playing the banjo in the mid-'50s, and joined a string band trio, MacGrundy's Old-Timey Wool Thumpers, as a banjo player in 1960, a group that also included future Holy Modal Rounders member Peter Stampfel on fiddle. In time, Dawson picked up the fiddle himself and developed a wild, raw sound on the instrument, Appalachian in feel. He lived, starting in 1960, for some eight years at the famed Caffe Lena coffee house in Saratoga Springs, New York, doing odd jobs around the place when he wasn't playing music. At some point he took a prolonged Southern road trip, living in North Carolina and Virginia for a time, during which he met both Doc Watson and Wade Ward.
Colorful, eccentric, and definitely a part of the experimental pop culture of the '60s, Dawson next moved to Florida, busking with his fiddle and bagpipes there until he relocated to California at the end of the decade, playing for a time with the collective Golden Toad, which actually opened for the Grateful Dead. Dawson, for the most part, remained in California until settling in Spokane, Washington in 1992 following a bout with cancer. That's the barest, broadest outline of Dawson's life, a man who had, after all, been arrested and jailed for playing bagpipes on the streets of Sausalito, and then curtly ordered out of town. Luckily he recorded one album, simply called Fiddle, in 1971, which was released privately in an edition of 750 copies, and then went on to become somewhat of a cult album in hippie and folk circles. A set of raw, wild pre-bluegrass Appalachian fiddle instrumentals, the album was reissued on CD in 2014 by Tompkins Square Records. Three years later, George "Smoke" Dawson died in October 2017 at the age of 82. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi