Volume 14, Issue 28 ~ July 13 - July 19, 2006

~ Appreciation ~

William Marquess, Fiddler and Local Music Icon: 1923-2006

by Gary Pendleton

It was in my mind that I was gifted with music and that I was going to learn to play.

William Marquess was 11 years old when he got his first violin. It was ordered from a Sears Catalog, delivered by truck to the little house in Chesapeake Beach where he lived with his widowed mother. The year was 1934. In that same little house, on the evening of July 8, 2006, Bill passed away from lung cancer. He would have been 83 on July 24.

We would listen to the Grand Ol’ Opry down there in Tennessee. There was Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys … There were the Delmore Brothers. There were so many coming up at that time.

Some refer to the music from that era as roots music. Western swing, jazz, blues and country music are styles that grew from the roots. Bill was there, growing along with the music styles he loved to play.

His own roots were planted in local soil. He was a just a boy when he became part of a trio that included his cousin and a friend. They played for tips at Chesapeake Beach Park. They played songs that they heard on the radio.

I wanted to play that western swing music, and I got in with some guys who showed me and I was able to do it.

He was a self-taught musician from the East Coast who went out west to play with some of the best musicians of the day. He succeeded in a competitive and demanding field. That was after serving overseas in Japan following World War II.

Bill loved to talk about Bob Wills, the preeminent band leader in the history of the western swing. Bill sat in with Wills and the Texas Playboys one night in California. It might or might not have been an audition, but according to Bill it led to a job with another important group called The Riders of the Purple Sage.

There is so much more to tell; about playing stand-up bass for jazz bands in New Orleans, about playing country music with Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark and Johnny Paycheck in the days when Washington and Baltimore had a thriving country music scene. He played many gigs at Uncle Billies and Joe Rose’s Bar in North Beach, too.

Bill Marquess was nearly 80 when I met him. He was fit and vigorous because he walked. He walked to Rolands for groceries, he walked the boardwalk; to some old friends he was known as walkin’ Bill.

He could sing, too, and he valued showmanship. He lit up the stage. When performing with players who were generations younger, he was the one with charisma and, frankly, sex appeal.

To me he was our local music icon. He was the roots, the trunk and all the branches of a musical tree that grew up here but spread to many places. He was a character. He was a veteran and a patriot. He was a father. He was a friend. Goodbye Bill. We will miss you.

Editor’s Note: Read Pendleton’s profile of Bill Marquess — and hear a sample of his western swing — at www.bayweekly.com/year03/issuexi31/directxi31.html.

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