"Play Me Something Quick and Devilish": Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri

by Howard Wight Marshall


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826219947
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication date: 01/14/2013
Pages: 424
Sales rank: 629,642
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

Howard Wight Marshall is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center. He lives near Fulton, MO.

Full bio: Howard Wight Marshall is Professor Emeritus and former chairman of Art History and Archaeology, and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

After dropping out of college to join the Marine Corps in the early 1960s, Marshall took his BA in English at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and then took his MA and PhD in Folklore and Anthropology at Indiana University. He wrote his dissertation based on extensive field recording of traditional farm buildings in Missouri’s Little Dixie folk region.

Then after graduate school, Dr. Marshall worked briefly as director of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and then for several years as a curator and planner at a living history museum in Indiana, and consulted for the Smithsonian Institution. He then was called to a position at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. While in Washington, he taught a night course in architectural history at George Washington University.

Marshall left the Library of Congress after five years in 1981 to teach at Kansas State University. In 1982, he returned to Columbia to establish the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center in the Graduate School at the University of Missouri, and to teach material culture, vernacular architecture, and historic preservation in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. After the closing of the Cultural Heritage Center in 1993 (due to a campus budget crisis), Marshall served as professor and department chair in Art History and Archaeology, and took early retirement in 2000.

Dr. Marshall’s books include Buckaroos in Paradise: Cowboy Life in Paradise Valley, Nevada, Folk Architecture in Little Dixie: A Regional Culture in Missouri, Missouri Artist Jesse Howard, The German-American Experience in Missouri, Barns of Missouri: Storehouses of History, and Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri. Dr. Marshall’s latest book is Fiddler’s Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth-Century Missouri, which continues the ethnography and discussion in Play Me Something Quick and Devilish.

Marshall plays the music he studies and writes about. He credits the memory of his grandfather, Wiley Marshall, a country schoolmaster and fiddler in Randolph County, with inspiring him to want to play the old dance tunes on the violin. Later, Marshall learned tunes and techniques from central Missouri fiddle legends such as Taylor McBaine, Jake Hockemeyer, Johnny Bruce, Nile Wilson, and Pete McMahan.

Dr. Marshall confesses that the best thing about his career was the good luck to meet his spouse, the charming and irrepressible Margot McMillen. Howard and Margot live in northern Callaway County, where they operate a small livestock farm.

Read an Excerpt

Play Me Something Quick and Devilish

Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri
By Howard Wight Marshall


Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8262-1994-7

Chapter One

Fiddle Music in the Old French District

The old French mansions ... still retained the easy, indolent air of the original colonists; and now and then the scraping of a fiddle, a strain of an ancient French song, or the sound of billiard balls, showed that the happy Gallic turn for gayety and amusement still lingered about the place.

—Washington Irving, Astoria (1836), recalling being in St. Louis in 1808

we often think of the Boones, Austins, and Smiths as the first European Missourians. But families named Lalumondier, Chouteau, and Vallé were here earlier. Missouri's part of the Midwest was a colony alternately of France and Spain long before 1803, when Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase added the immense territory to the United States.

French explorers, voyageurs, fur trappers, traders, and Catholic clerics came downriver from Canada and north from Louisiana in the late 1600s. The political and social center of the broader region of French control, "the Illinois Country," was in southern Illinois. The French imprint in present-day Missouri began in 1700s river villages such as Ste. Genevieve (ca. 1750) and lead-mining hamlets in the northeastern Ozark hills. Trade ports such as Cape Girardeau, St. Louis, Carondelet, Florissant, and St. Charles soon followed. The settlements and mining areas on the west bank of the Mississippi became known as "the Old French District" and "the Ste. Genevieve district." In other parts of present-day Missouri, the French established no significant towns, but today's map indicates many creeks and rivers with French names, including Perche, Chouteau, Auxvasse, Chariton, Lamine, and Platte.

Missouri's first important European presence, the French were eclipsed by other groups as their vast territory changed hands, first with Spanish control (1760s to 1800), three more years of French ownership, and finally through the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. People of the Old French District before 1803 saw their Creole language nearly die out and traditions change, first through the influx of old-stock Americans and later by German immigration. As Ray Brassieur and others note, the French have continually worked to "maintain group identity," and certain Missouri French traditions, in evolved versions, do continue. Musical traditions have endured despite the breakup of villages in counties such as Washington, Jefferson, St. Francois, Madison, Wayne, Perry, and Iron. These Ozark villages with economies based on commerce, mining, and meager agriculture did not achieve the prosperity or importance of Mississippi River towns such as Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis. Mines and vast tracts of virgin land were owned by the French and Spanish business class, as well as American entrepreneurs such as Daniel Boone and Moses Austin, who took advantage in the later 1700s of generous land grants and business opportunities during the period of Spanish control.

Ste. Genevieve and its area today are important as a valuable cultural-geographic region of French cultural expression. Despite the decades of Spanish ownership in the 1700s, Spanish culture made only small incursions into the French cultural traditions. French personality remains in elements transplanted from medieval southwestern France. These include foodways, colonial-era field patterns, "Creole cottages" of vertical log construction, vestiges of medieval dialect, a New Year's Eve Guillonnée mumming procession, and hints of old elements in today's fiddling. Just as with all cultural traditions altered through time and settlement by other groups, these features of cultural heritage in the Old French District are in continual evolution, which, notwithstanding efforts in cultural preservation, includes near extinction and absorption into modern America. Many descendants of the old French settlers, however, still live in the communities and retain a devotion to their Missouri French cultural heritage.

Our understanding of traditional fiddle and dance in the early Missouri French is complicated because there is scarce documentation. This was an oral culture, and paper was in short supply. The picture is also confused because of today's popular Cajun music from Louisiana. Cajun fiddling, a musical genre that evolved in the twentieth century, has little connection to old-time fiddling among French Missourians, whose families and traditions are linked historically to Canada. At the same time, however, many old-time fiddlers in the Old French District (and elsewhere across the United States) enjoy playing tunes popularized since the 1930s such as "Cajun Fiddle" and "Diggy Diggy Lo" and the Cajun music–inspired Hank Williams song from 1952, "Jambalaya."

Furthermore, Missouri French tunes and styles began being absorbed into the old-stock American repertory, and then came the waltzes, schottisches, and polkas of the German-settlement phase. Some of this new music settled comfortably with the older inherited French folk music—which was connected to regions of eastern Canada and southwestern France that had much in common with British Isles fiddle traditions (especially Celtic traditions).

Among references to fiddle music among the early Missouri French is a valuable article by Susan McCausland in the Missouri Historical Review from 1914 noting the importance on the Illinois-Missouri frontier of the "violin (fiddle) and a mouth harp peculiar to the street players of France" followed by "flute and harpsichord."

For all dances of record until well on into the [1800s] only fiddles furnished the music. On the night of the Fourth of July, 1778, the English officers of Kaskaskia [Illinois] gave a ball. The music made for this occasion was made by two old French fiddlers, and most of the dancers there were from Saint Louis....

[At] the ball at Prairie du Rocher, in the house of M. Henri Rolaine. Rolaine was, himself, the single fiddler.... "In huge slippers, bulging yarn stockings, tight breeches of blue, and a flowing coat of yellow, he was gleefully happy, and ever and anon tuned his violin lovingly."

When General Lafayette visited St. Louis in 1825, "only fiddlers furnished the music for the grand ball given in his honor." In 1839 Charles Fenno Hoffman referred to French dances in St. Louis as "gumbo balls" in his Wild Scenes in the Forest and Prairie. Travelers' accounts often mention the French people's love of music and dance, as well as their enjoyment of hunting, horse racing, and frivolities of the tavern, church picnic, and billiard hall.

Among sympathetic reports are those by Henry Marie Brackenridge, a Pennsylvania lawyer, politician, historian, amateur botanist, newspaper essayist, and travel writer who had been Andrew Jackson's secretary and a friend of Jefferson. As a child, Brackenridge had been sent west on a flatboat by his father to study French in Ste. Genevieve, "to pass the time acquiring that important language, [time] which otherwise might have been spent in rolling hoops or playing marbles in the streets." Young Brackenridge lodged with the Vital St. Gemme Beauvais family and stayed for three years (today the house, built in the mode of construction known as poteaux-en-terre [vertical wall posts set in the ground], is featured on tours of Ste. Genevieve historic sites). In 1834 Brackenridge wrote about dances and balls.

A 1790s ball in French St. Louis given in honor of Antoine Soulard was hosted by the titled French Canadian mine owner and surveyor general of Upper Louisiana, Julien Dubuque, whose Spanish land grant was along the Mississippi, in southern Iowa. Dubuque, "a wealthy and powerful personage," with "all the suavity and grace of the typical Frenchman," made quite an impression at the dance. "Sieur Dubuque took a violin from one of the performers and executed a dance to the strains of his own music, which was considered a great accomplishment, and as an adult was received with tremendous applause."

As a child, Brackenridge had attended Sunday-afternoon bals in Ste. Genevieve in the late 1790s and recalled that they were strict, formal affairs, "by no means a place of frivolity, but rather a school of manners," and children were welcomed whether rich or poor. Brackenridge learned to dance the minuet and believed that practicing such genteel courtly dances was why "the awkward clownish manners of other nations were scarcely known among the French." Balls were given on religious and secular holidays, from the bals du rois (the King's Balls, which began on Twelfth Night, Epiphany) that began in colonial French days to the American Independence Day on July 4.

Brackenridge might have mentioned that many of the British and old-stock Americans also loved to host genteel balls. Balls and cotillions have continued in Missouri to the present time, and writers point to the continuing importance of musical instruments in today's French community. Rosemary Thomas has noticed that "amazingly large numbers of people will still attend the community dances on the coldest winter evening or in the most torrid summer heat," while commenting that local dances, "at which modern 'rock' numbers alternate with traditional fiddle tunes and square dances, are the modern successors of the neighborhood 'setting up' parties and bouillons that had prevailed in the 1930s."

Two Cups of Bouillon

In addition to large community gatherings such as balls and dances, other venues where food and music are shared include bouillons, picnics, fish fries, jam sessions, house dances, and barn dances. Bouillon is a Missouri French term for informal, private get-togethers in homes. The word is used both for the wintertime event and for the special chicken soup eaten with crackers and pickles. Bouillons have been a focus of community gatherings in the French region since early times. Bouillon is typically served in a cup or mug, with the chicken and vegetables as side dishes. While some bouillons with music take place, fiddler and square-dance caller Ray Thebeau of Old Mines says that most bouillons today emphasize card playing, conversation, and food rather than music. The midnight supper on New Year's Eve, part of the Guillonnée ritual procession, includes bouillon and crackers.

Lena Boyer Lee of Luebbering, born in Old Mines into a large clan of French American miners and musicians, is known for her bouillon. She and her brothers, cousins, and uncles played fiddle music, although Lena was often consigned to the role of "seconder" (guitar accompanist) at house dances and parties. Lee does not have a written recipe:

Just cut up a chicken. Put it in a pot, cover it with water, and let it boil. Take the meat off the bones, and boil it again.... Put in some chicken bouillon cubes. I cut up an onion and two to two-and-a-half stalks of celery and put that in. I like the flavor. Let it cook together, with the bones. When the chicken is done, I add yolk-free egg noodles. ... I let the noodles cook till I think they're done, then shut off the heat and let it steep a half hour or so.... [A]ll the neighbors would come, play the fiddle and dance.

Lena's husband, Bob, a tenor banjo player, asked me, "You know how you can tell if you're a good fiddler? They give you two cups of bouillon!"

People like the Lees like to remind us that the old tradition requires a stolen chicken to make the best bouillon. Some insist on a rooster. Better yet is a chicken swiped from a neighbor or from the chicken house of the host. According to Bob, "First, you have to steal the chicken. Get the fattest one you can find. You may get shot at before you get out of there." Lena adds, with tongue in cheek, "They used to say, if you didn't steal one, it didn't taste any good." In most versions of the narrative, the host or neighbor, when tasting the bouillon of the chicken stolen from his or her own henhouse, declares that this is the best chicken he or she has ever tasted.

Much of the Missouri French repertoire—the tunes—passed into obscurity to be seldom heard beyond the Old French District. This evaporation of most of the markedly "French" fiddle tunes took place before the advent of recording devices and before the attention of ethnomusicologists, folklorists, scholars, and collectors. By the 1940s, the traditions of storytelling and fiddling were fast fading because of the increasingly Americanized scene; fiddling was dominated by the old-stock American and German American tunes and performance styles as well as radio and country music records.

We do, however, have several lines of fiddlers that carried some French music through the years. These include people of French ancestry such as Roy Boyer, Joe Politte, Charlie Pashia, Quintin Huck, Jess Drury, Vallé Winters, and Lloyd Lalumondier. Among the new crop of Ste. Genevieve district fiddlers is Charlie Pashia's great-grandson Tyler Sappington, a fiddle student of Quintin Huck; Sappington is learning his great-grandfather's tunes by listening to copies of old home recordings. Together with German, American Indian (mostly Cherokee), Scotch-Irish, and Anglo-American fiddlers who shared this music, we hear both stability and change in the performance styles and repertories. As Ray Brassieur notes, "Tunes and techniques were borrowed, blended, re-organized, and incorporated into what is now called Anglo-American music."

Older fiddling styles in the Old French District can be heard in recordings of fiddlers such as Joe Politte (who also played cello accompaniment), Charlie Pashia, members of the Boyer family, Vallé Winters, Jess Drury, and Lloyd Lalumondier, as well as in the region's Anglo-American fiddlers such as members of the Goff family, Charlie Keller, and Roy Clark. The generations that got started playing music before the 1950s, while influenced by radio fiddlers and records, were not pulled as strongly to nationalized, stage-performance styles and bluegrass music that began to influence fiddlers' playing and repertoires in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fiddle styles across Missouri's cultural regions do share much. The old French styles suggest connections with central and northern Missouri. This general style among older Missouri French fiddlers of my acquaintance echoes central Missouri (Little Dixie), featuring straightforward, smooth, legato, rather notey bowing. The bowing often favors single-note playing—predominantly one note per bow stroke, with sparse and subtle slurs, or more than one note on the same bow stroke. This notey, clear playing, without the saw-stroke shuffle bowing that is more popular in other regions, works well with difficult hornpipes that demand clarity and precision, like "Sailor's Hornpipe," as well as with the hard-driving hoedowns so characteristic of the Saturday-night square dance, like "Soldier's Joy." Both these tunes are of old British origins and were played among French District fiddlers in early Missouri just as in virtually every other group. Notwithstanding today's revival and acceptance of Louisiana Cajun fiddling styles (dominated by accordion), recordings of older Missouri French fiddlers demonstrate similarities with central Missouri styles.

The Guillonnée New Year's Eve Ritual in the Evolving Community

No part of the old French culture is more exciting to visitors as well as to inhabitants as the rejuvenated tradition of la Guillonnée. The Guillonnée (spelled variously) is the New Year's Eve ritual of procession, mumming, music, and feast that evolved in Europe and came to North America. It was once common among Celtic peoples in France, Spain, and Celtic Britain as well as French Canada, Illinois, Missouri, and Louisiana. Brassieur notes that the Guillonnée in recent times has been performed only in a few towns, such as Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, and Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. A fiddler traditionally leads the procession and ritual singing of the Guillonnée.

On New Year's Eve, men dress in carnival costumes, some of them in blackface, and parade through the town, stopping at each house to sing and perform la Guillonnée. The lyrics, delivered by the boisterous and wild-looking revelers in comic tones, demand that the elders in the house present their eldest daughter as well as drink and food. The elders comply, and, following ritual teasing of the girl and consumption of food and drink, the revelers bid goodnight and dance away to the next residence, where the same routine is performed. "At some point, before day, the whole settlement assembled and held mass. After mass all the children and grandchildren made their way to their parents where they placed themselves upon their knees and implored a parental blessing. This pleasing custom of submitting themselves to the authority of their parents and of imploring a blessing upon them was one of the peculiar customs of the French settlements." Although scholars have noted the passing of the Guillonnée tradition since the 1930s, the New Year's Eve ritual has proved attractive to modern people, and the tradition has been revived and manages to hang on.


Excerpted from Play Me Something Quick and Devilish by Howard Wight Marshall Copyright © 2012 by The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

Abbreviations xvii

Introduction Notes on Old-Time Fiddling and People's History 1

Principal Regional Styles in Missouri Fiddling Today 9

Ozark Style 10

Little Dixie Style 12

North Missouri Style 18

Notes on Additional Styles 19

Rough or Smooth? 22

1 Fiddle Music in the Old French District 25

Two Cups of Bouillon 29

The Guillonnée New Year's Eve Ritual in the Evolving Community 31

Lloyd Lalumondier 34

The Goff Family: Old-Stock Americans in the Old French District 39

Observations on Women in Old-Time Fiddling 44

2 Going West 53

Thomas Jefferson and Music of the Lewis and Clark Era 54

Lewis and Clark 55

Cruzatte and Gibson 58

Westward Migration: "A Violin Makes Lively Music" 63

Horse Races and Fiddle Tunes: The Tennessee Wagner Meets the Grey Eagle 68

Mark Twain Dances a Virginia Reel 70

Fine Times at the Little House on the Prairie 71

3 The Old-Stock Americans 79

Milo McCubbin's Story 82

Scotch-Irish and Scottish Heritage in the Fiddle Music of the Galbraith Family 90

The Old Extra Beat 99

Art Galbraith Rebuffs the Fiddler's Contest Revolution 100

The "Flowers of Edinburgh" and That Scotchy Sound 102

4 African American Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri 107

Slave Times 108

The Minstrel 111

The Violin as Passport to Freedom: Lou Southworth (1830-1917) 113

J. W. Postlewaite (1837-1889) 114

Emancipation and Beyond 116

Bill Katon (1864-1934) 119

Keith Orchard, a Katon Pupil 123

Bill Driver (1881-1985) 127

Sideman Nonpareil: Bye Kelley (1892-1979) 131

5 The Legacy of German-Speaking Missourians 135

Shall We Waltz? 137

The Schottische 141

The Varsouvienne and Its Offspring 142

The Polka 143

Jenny Lind 146

The "Jenny Lind Polka" in the Old-Time Fiddler's Repertoire 150

The Opry Fiddler from Loose Creek: LeRoy Haslag 151

6 Music and Memory in the Civil War Era 163

Music: The Soldier's Steam Valve 164

The Battle of Boonville and John S. Marmaduke: Rebel Disaster, Fiddler's Legend 168

"Marmaduke's Hornpipe" Today 174

George Morris (1893-1983) 175

Jake Hockemeyer (1919-1997) 179

"Listen to the Mockingbird": From Graveside Lament to Fiddler's Fantasia 183

A Note on Hokum 188

7 The Irish and the Railroads in Post-Civil War Rural Missouri 191

Francis O'Neill in North Missouri 193

"Nolan the [Confederate] Soldier" 196

Ike Forrester, "The Merry Blacksmith" 197

Irishness and Missouri Old-Time Fiddling 201

"Very Withdrawn and Singularly Focused": Cyril Stinnett (1912-1986) 205

Keeping the Tiehacker Tunes: Nile Wilson (1912-2008) 210

8 Indian Old-Time Fiddlers 219

The Cherokee, 1838: Rocky Road to Missouri 220

From "Red Wing" to "Lost Indian" 222

Ed Tharp, Bill Graves, Jim Lindsey 225

Emanuel Wood (1891-1981): Musician, Farmer 234

Bunk Williams (1890-ca. 1978) 241

Uncle Bunk's "Bonaparte's Retreat" 245

Indian Time? 247

9 Musical Literacy in Victorian Times 251

Ear Musicians and Note Musicians 251

"Under the Double Eagle": From Trade Coin to March to Fiddle Tune 255

John Philip Sousa 257

Your Hometown Sousa Band 263

"Missouri USA Is Good Enough for Me": A German Professor in a Railroad Town 266

10 Traditional Fiddling and the Dawn of Jazz 277

Rag That Rhythm 277

Fiddle Rags 292

The Circle of Fifths 292

"Graveyard Waltz" to "Missouri Waltz": A State's Ragtime Anthem 294

Percy Wenrich, the "Joplin Kid" 298

Ragtime Fiddler Pearl Sivetts (1910-1984) 301

Conclusion 305

Interviews 309

List of Transcriptions 313

Notes 315

Selected Bibliography 349

Discography 363

Index to Text 371

Index to Voyager Records Companion CD 393

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"Play Me Something Quick and Devilish": Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a lot of very good information on the old time fiddlers on to the newer ones. I was impressed that he had information on Johnny Hartford in the book. We liked him so much! For anyone interested in fiddlers it's a great book. I just loved the CD that came with it.