Tour de fiddle

Bill Gibson

PHOTO BY vic cantu

There are a lot of old-timers in Chico’s music scene, but 90-year-old Bill Gibson has most, if not all, of them beat. The energetic fiddler has been playing in local traditional Irish band The Pub Scouts for about 20 years, and he credits his longevity to his lifelong habit of riding a bike. He’s been cycling since the 1940s (a veteran of World War II, he even rode in France when he was stationed there—until a speeding truck crumpled his bike during a bombing raid) and these days still logs 50 miles a week. You can find Gibson sitting in with the band at Duffy’s Tavern most Fridays, 4:30-7:30 p.m.

How did you end up in The Pub Scouts?

I played with an informal group at Michael Cannon’s place in 1993, which later became The Pub Scouts. We played early gigs at the Reddengrey Pub—which burned down—near Chico State, and I’ve played at Duffy’s with them since. I don’t get paid, I just do it for the enjoyment.

Fiddler or violinist?

I’m a fiddle player because of the amount of beer spilled in the bar. Sometimes the beer lands on my fiddle.

When did you pick up the fiddle?

When I was 7 my mother got me into it in San Diego. I wanted to play piano because of the range of chords, but I didn’t have a choice. I mostly played classical music until I left home.

What brought you to Chico?

I moved here in the early 1980s because Chico had more excitement than Lassen County. I got tired of their snow and ice, plus I liked that Chico had more organized cycling, music and a university. Once here, I played in a Chico State music orchestra called the Philharmonia.

Where did you serve during World War II?

During the D-Day landings I sailed across the English Channel on a landing craft with about eight soldiers and a truck. The beach in France was already secured. My main position was in tank retrieval, where we followed Gen. Patton’s army into Germany picking up disabled tanks and machines from the battlefields. I wasn’t on the front lines until the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944, when I was switched to the armored engineers. That’s when we received fire from the enemy. Luckily I was never wounded.

That had to be a scary time.

No, when you’re 18 you don’t think you’re ever going to die. But I was glad I didn’t drown sailing across the channel because I was in a heavily laden craft.

Did you play the fiddle during the war?

A little. We “liberated” violins and other instruments—which means we took them—from places in France and Germany that had been abandoned by people who fled the devastation of war. We’d live in abandoned villages and I’d occasionally play for my own amusement. It wasn’t always safe to make noise because you might alert the enemy.

How do you stay in such good shape?

I still drive a little—so watch out!—but I ride my bike about 50 miles a week. Those who think that’s really hard haven’t tried it yet. It’s fun and makes your body feel pretty good, as long as you stay on the bike and don’t crash.