When the average person thinks of the major instruments that are featured in the average rock and roll group, one springs immediately to mind: The electric guitar. This will normally be followed by the bass guitar, the drums, and for a few fans, the electric piano or organ. However, there is a whole other stringed instrument that has played a small but significant part in the history of rock and roll music: The violin!
Believe it or not, the violin has played a more than casual role in the history of rock music. Perhaps its first prominent outing was The Beatles’ legendary “Eleanor Rigby” single, but it has played a role in the music of many artists since that time. The psychedelic sound of cult British act High Tide would not have been anywhere near as memorable without the electrified violin of legendary master Simon House.
Closely allied to the developing musical movement in the 1960’s was the underground freak scene of New York City, perhaps best exemplified by acts such as The Velvet Underground. The sound of this particular group was highlighted by the electric viola (a close enough relative of the violin to count in this essay!) of Welsh classical student John Cale.
Within the past half century, the electric violin has come a long way. While it is still not the most commonly featured instrument in rock music, it has been highlighted on a number of memorable occasions, particularly within the contest of the modern improvisational or “jam band” scene.
Although the violin has not received a great deal of praise or attention, there are some who bravely choose it as their own preferred means of musical expression. Boyd Tinsley, who is the current electric violinist in residence with The Dave Matthews Band, is only one of a known breed of performers who are concentrating on this increasingly more common instrument.
Even though the violin, acoustic or electric, may never become a high priority instrument at the same level as the electric guitar, Boyd and others are proving that this instrument does have a part to play in the advancement and evolution of popular music. One day, the electric violin may just become too cool for school!