In November 2009, 94-year-old fiddle virtuoso Sleepy Marlin wheeled his red Lincoln Continental into a parking lot near his home in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where I was waiting, and motioned for me to come to his car. In the back seat was a cardboard box full of memorabilia. Sleepy pulled out a copy of his 1939 Drifting Pioneers songbook and said, "Is this the one you were taking about?"
"Yes," I replied, glancing at the faded cover. There were Merle Travis, Sleepy, and the Brown brothers, wearing coonskin caps and dressed as if they were pioneers. When Linda Starks, the fiddler with my band Bluegrass Messengers, arrived, we followed Sleepy to a nearby restaurant where we met his son Jace. Most of Sleepy's six sons are professional musicians, and Jace plays bass in one of the family bands, the Marlins.
Sleepy retired around 1986 when arthritis took away his ability to use his hands. From the 1930s until the 1960s Marlin had been one of the top contest fiddlers in the United Sates and Canada. He beat Clayton McMichen at a Kentucky State Fair contest and began entering the Canadian national contests in the 1950s, winning the top prize in the novelty division six years in a row. He performed and worked with some of the top country musicians of the day, including McMichen, John Lair, Curley Fox, Tex Atchison, Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls, Hank Penny, Cowboy Copas, Merle Travis, Red Foley, Whitey Ford, and Aunt Idy and Little Clifford. He toured for a year with Bradley Kincaid. In 1969 Sleepy even played with Fiddlin' Arthur Smith in what was one of Smith’s last informal performances.