Tune of the Week for June 4, 2012
Brian Marshall is a fiddler and band leader from the Polonia (Polish colony) of East Texas, between Houston and Dallas. He was raised with old village dance music played by local fiddlers like John Meleski, Raymond Zievert, and–most influential of all–Steve Oksonski. While Brian leads a full-on polka band, The Tex-Slavic Playboys, the following tune from his solo CD features and old country sound.
Brian Marshall & Ron Kasowski on fiddles, Mark Rubin on bowed bass
This notation is just a skeleton. Get Brian’s CD from CDBaby and hear his exciting variations every time through.
Låt i veckan för maj 28, 2012
Anders & Maria Larsson of the Swedish band Svanevit will be guests at Fiddle Club on Monday, June 4 at 7 pm in Room E124 — Old Town School East (4545 Lincoln). Click here to register ($15 for a single meeting).
This tune, from their album Rikedom och gåvor (Wealth and Gifts), is actually two waltzes. The first is played on bagpipes. The second waltz starts when the fiddle joins and is played in D, then raised an octave, and finally changed to the key of G. Both the album and the tune honor John Enninger, from Skåne in southern Sweden. A fiddler, writer and tune collector, Enninger (who died in 1908) played his best after “partaking of some schnapps and about half a yard of boiled eel!”
Tune of the Week for May 21, 2012
Edwin Johnson was born in 1905 in Rättvik, Sweden in the province of Dalarna. That’s almost like being born in Galax, Virginia or Mamou, Louisiana, the heart if a vibrant regional folk music tradition. At the age of 19, he joined the stream of Swedes emigrating to the United States, and made a new home for himself in the twin cities Minneapolis and St. Paul. As he helped raise a family, the old Dalarna fiddle tradition was passed on–as heard on this 1977 recording–to his son and grandson.
Lead fiddle by Edwin Johnson, seconding by Bruce Johnson & Paul Dahlin
Don’t miss this special opportunity to hear some masterful Swedish musicians at Fiddle Club.
Anders & Maria Larsson of Svanevit
Single meeting dues is $15: register here
Nota Bene: The Old Town School website has been migrating to new servers, and access to the Fiddle Club blog has been a bit spotty over the past week. All problems should now be solved.
Paul Tyler, convener
Tune of the Week for May 14, 2012
How ’bout a Cajun waltz?
Varise Conner (1906-1994) should be better known than he is. He quit playing for dances in the 1930s in favor of more intimate sessions with friends, like Lionel Leleux. The first album dedicated to his music was not issued until ten years after his death. And what a dandy it is! The CD is made from field recordings by folklorist Barry Ancelet in the 1970s.
This lovely waltz was recorded in 1938 by J.B. Fusilier & his Merrymakers, a band that at one time included Varise Conner. This is one of two tunes that Fusilier named for his wives. The other is the better known Chère Bassette.
Chère-Bouclette by Varise Conner of Lake Arthur, Louisiana, circa 1975
Fiddle Club is proud to have brought some great Cajun fiddling to your ears. In our inaugural season of 2008, our lineup of featured guests included Will & Holly Whedbee of the Chicago Cajun Aces. (Click their name to hear some of the tunes.) Will was a first teacher of our featured guest for the next Fiddle Club of the World meeting.
Dorian Gehring, Cajun
Single meeting dues is $15: register here
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
-Paul Tyler, convener
Tune of the Week for May 7, 2012
I got to dance to Wally Heppner when he represented the Ukrainian community of Alberta, Canada at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2006. The band at that event was called Zabava, and besides the fiddling of Mr. Heppner, it featured a tsymbaly, or hammered dulcimer.
That same core of fiddle and dulcimer is heard in this Tune of the Week, by the Radomsky Trio from Alberta, with Metro Radomsky on fiddle and Metro Lastiwka on tsymbaly. This 1952 recording was just recently posted by my old friend Paul Gifford, whose website devoted to northern old-time music just went online. Check it out: Paul Gifford’s Collection of Old-Time Fiddling, Dulcimer Playing and Songs from Michigan and the Great-Lakes Region. (The Radomsky Trio can be found under Dulcimer / Ethnic Dulcimers.)
Two-step from a 1952 Stinson recording of the Radomsky Trio
Used with permission from Paul Gifford, who supplied this link for more on Metro Radomsky and Ukrainian-Canadian old-time.
Tune histories are funny things, especially because different names are often given to the same tune, while, at other times, different tunes are given the same name. And often, some tunes seem to slip through the years without any name attached. Little Billy Wilson is a case in point. I think. Are we talking about the same tune?
Check out what the Traditional Tune Archive has to say about Little Billy Wilson. It names Billy Wilson, as recorded in 1926 by Uncle Jimmie Thompson, the first fiddler on the Grand Ole Opry, as the ultimate source for the tune as played today. Lynn “Chirps” Smith, formerly of Grayslake, Illinois, now living on the other side of the Cheddar Curtain in Wisconsin, can play the tune Uncle Jimmie’s way (as well as anybody can that I know.) But this recent recording by him mostly follows the common contemporary setting of the tune.
Little Billy Wilson, Chirps Smith of Lagrange, Wisconsin
That distinctive first strain appears in many other tunes. According to Guthrie “Gus” Meade, the tune scholar who compiled the incredibly mammoth and helpful reference work, Country Music Sources, Little or plain old Billy Wilson resembles such tunes as Ace of Spade, Jack of Diamonds, Possum Up a Gumstump and Indiana Home. Of course, some of those titles also float around a bit, and have been attached to dissimilar tunes. Nearly 25 years ago, I recorded an Indiana fiddler who played that first strain in a tune he called “Old Woman, Stop Your Quarreling.” Are we talking about the same tune? I’m not sure. And that first strain can be found in two unnamed breakdowns in A, printed in the Old-Time Fiddler’s Repertory: one each in Vol 1 (#37) and Volume 2 (#14). R.P. Christeson collected both of these pieces from Bill Driver of Iberia, Missouri. Paul Gifford also learned a few unnamed breakdowns with that A strain from old-timers in Michigan.
But I think it is the second and/or third strain of Little Billy Wilson that carries some of the distinctiveness of this week’s Tune of the Week. That distinctive flavor is reflected in this unnamed tune found in a rare tunebook published in Fort Wayne, Indiana the same year that Uncle Jimmy Thompson recorded Billy Wilson. Check out old number 29 below from Charles Blee’s Ball Room and Country Dance Music: Quadrilles, Schottisches, Watlzes, Polkas and the Danish, Rye Waltz, Varsouvienna, Oxford Minuet.
And then give a listen to this unnamed tune on hammer dulcimer, recorded by Paul Gifford in 1975 (click on Paul’s name for more traditional dulcimer playing).
[Little Billy Wilson], Paul Van Arsdale, Frewsburg, New York
The Abcs that follow are fairly generic, based on how the tune has commonly been played since the old-time music revival of the 1970s.
- Paul Tyler, convener.
Dorian Gehring, Cajun Fiddle
All meetings will start at 7:30pm, except * May 20, which will start at 6:30.
When thinking of English folk music, most folks probably picture foremost a variety of squeeze boxes–concertinas and melodeons–and with good reason. But Merry Old England did enjoy a wealth of master fiddlers, and the influence of English fiddle traditions upon American old-time music proved just as strong as that of the more celebrated “Celtic” traditions of Ireland and Scotland. This week’s tune is a tribute to the lively and driving traditional music that English folk have danced to for centuries, throughout the length and breadth of their land.
The Bismarks are Nina Hansell (fiddle), Gareth Kiddier (piano) and Ed Rennie (melodeon).
It’s a long story. Actually, two stories, for this Tune of the Week entry is in fact two separate tunes from two opposite sides of globe, two completely different peoples, and two separate, but intertwined, histories.
In 1981–while living in Bloomington, Indiana–I was invited to a friend’s house for an intimate session of tunes and folklorist chat with Bobby Fulcher, a banjo-player and park ranger (actually, a cultural conservation officer) for Tennessee State Parks. Bobby had spent years researching the rich old-time music tradition of the Cumberland Plateau that stretched back to the pioneering 1920s recordings of the banjo and fiddle team of Richard Burnett and Leonard Rutherford. That duo from Monticello, Kentucky had a huge impact on music of players from the region, such as Clyde Davenport and the Troxell brothers, Ralph and Clyde. But many locals held that the best fiddler around had been Cuje Bertram, an African-American who had long since moved North.
After much searching, Bobby had finally located the Bertram family in Indianapolis. That was the reason for Bobby’s visit to Bloomington. It was a stopover the night before his long anticipated meeting with Cuje Bertram. The next day Bobby had an extensive interview with Mr. Bertram about his life and music. Sadly, the octogenarian could no longer play. But the family allowed Bobby to duplicate a home recording from 1970 that contained a couple dozen tunes.
That tape was not intended for commercial consumption, but a European record company issued it anyway, without permission from the Bertram Family or Bobby Fulcher. This, of course, is just another sad chapter in an old story of the commercial co-opting of minority cultural for the gain or advancement of others. I came into possession of a copy of those home recordings, but until I can obtain permission from Bobby Fulcher or the descendents of Cuje Bertram, I will not post the recording here. However, one of the traditional songs that Mr. Bertram played and sang is of continuing interest. His Big Cat, Little Cat is a version of a song recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in 1927.
The Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm Uncle Dave Macon & his Fruit Jar Drinkers
The melodies of the two settings are very similar, though Mr. Bertram is set a step higher in the key of E, an usual key for an old-time fiddler.
The lyrics of the two performances are also similar in theme, but they differ in actual wording. A transcription of Mr. Bertram’s lyrics are here.
Then, just this week, I was introduced to a new You Tube video of an Australian band playing an old dance tune The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye (in a medley following the Jenny Lind Polka). The video contains a graphic that reads: “This lively Australian Bush tune was popularised from the version performed by minstrel favorite, Dan Emmett.” Daniel Decatur Emmett, a native of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, was a founding member of the Virginia Minstrels, a four-piece string band that took the theater world of New York and beyond by storm in 1843. The four minstrels were all white men who performed in black face, pretending to be African-American while co-opting Black folk expression for their own financial gain.
The history of Blackface Minstrelsy is fascinating and difficult. Much of America’s old-time music tradition passed through the maelstrom of minstrelsy and was distinctively transformed. Sufficient for our consideration is that both our Tunes of the Week have a theme of confrontation, difference, and power struggle. I’ll leave it to you for further contemplation and consideration. You may want to start with this fascinating discussion about the two songs on the Mudcat Cafe. Most contributors to that thread were not aware they were discussing two completely different melodies. If there is any common ground between the two, it resides in the life and career of Dan Emmett.
Here is notation for The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye. It was collected on Cape Barren Island in the Australian state of Tasmania by folklorist Rob Willis. He learned the tune from local musician Les Brown.
The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye by Warren Fahey’s Australian Bush Orchestra
-Paul Tyler, convener
Ed Cosner & Katie Bern
Katie Bern drove up to Lincoln Square from Palos Heights to enter our Midwest Fiddle Championship for several years running. (Her younger sister Kristen is still a regular entry, but Katie has missed the last few contests as she completed a degree in music education at Belmont University in Nashville.) In 2006, Katie placed fourth in the Fiddle Team division in a duet with her neighbor Matt Danaher. They came back the next year and took 2nd place.
This week’s tune of the week (submitted just in the nick of time) was played by Katie and Matt in the Championship finals in 2007 on the main stage at the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival. “Poor Muriel” was composed by local bluegrass and jazz guitarist John Parrott.
[Click the arrow to hear only Poor Muriel. Click the blue title to hear the whole medley, along with Katie's introduction of the tune, in which she mentions their teacher. He, of course, was Ed Cosner. BTW you can right-click the blue title to download and save the link, meaning the mp3.]
More info about Katie’s visit to Fiddle Club — and more tunes! — is posted below.