Fiddler extraordinaire played for governor

By Don McAlvay: Local columnist

I’ve lost track of Alva J. Parker. Last I knew he was with his daughter in Farmington. I hope he’s still kicking. Parker won more fiddle contests left-handed than most right-handed fiddle players won.

He did not change the order of the fiddle strings. Parker shared his fiddle with his two brothers, but when he attempted to reverse the strings on that one fiddle, his brothers said “no, you can’t mess up our only fiddle.” So, Parker had to learn to play it backwards, so to speak.
Parker was the Senior Champion Fiddler of New Mexico in 1985. He represented New Mexico’s senior division in Weiser, Idaho at the National Contest in 1986. This certificate of award was placed in the Fiddler’s hall of fame.

As I recall, this is what Parker said after winning:
“I give credit to my friend Howell Merrick, for his devoted help, for accompanying me in all my winnings, and endeavors to keep old time fiddle music alive.”

Around 1985-86 Parker was a member of “The Castaways Band” which included T.J. Floyd, lead guitar; Fred Chandler, fiddle, guitar, vocals; Werner Abromaitis, drums; and Maudine Harrigan, piano. They played all over — even in Clovis. (Jim Hill of Portales was once a member of this band.)

Parker was good friends with Gov. Bruce King. Their wives, Alice King and Thelma Parker, were also close friends. When King won his last election as governor in 1993, he asked “The Castaways” to play for the ball that had been arranged for him. “The Castaways” were asked to play the Grand March for when the governor and his wife and entourage entered the hall.

The only Grand March Floyd could think of was “Under the Double Eagle,” but they wanted The Castaways to play “Zacatecas,” the famous Mexican folk song. Floyd was given a tape of the music a few days before and worked hard to learn to pick that song on his guitar. The rest of the band chorded or picked up on Floyd and everyone at the ball thought their rendition of that song was great. When the band finished the song, Floyd said it was so short, he told Parker “To do it again.” And so they played Zacatecas until the entourage was almost settled in their seats.

A story has Parker told about him when he served as a Constitutional Convention Delegate in Santa Fe. This was on Sept. 12, 1969. A clever four-line poem about this occasion was published.

The incident prompted a flurry of creativity from the “poet laureate” of the convention, delegate Dwight Ohlinger of Alamogordo. He wrote:

The fiddler from Roosevelt County
He died and is now down below.
When St. Peter gave the roll call for heaven
Poor Alva woke up and said ‘No!

In 2003, Parker attended the homecoming at Floyd. His late wife, Thelma, should be given the credit of seeing that Parker continued playing his fiddle for his many fans.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: