All posts by Paul Tyler

Indiana Fiddle Bands I (DDCD-112 )

Though I am a few days late, I would like to kick off this planned series of posts with an item that honors my native state of Indiana. In 2016, Hoosiers celebrated 200 years of statehood. My commemorative gift to my home state is an album of old-time fiddling recorded by musicians from Indiana, all of it recorded in Indiana between 1928 and 1933. With this, I begin a series that is the fruit of my long love affair with  old-time music as recorded during the era of 78rpm phonograph discs. For a number of writing projects over the last 15 years, I have been compiling and editing sounds and data from that period into playlists that shed some light on Midwestern contributions to American folk and vernacular music. With this offering, I turn my studious playlists into virtual CDs for all to share.

Of the 24 sides included in this first posted album, 13 have never been commercially reissued on LP, cassette tape, or CD. And about half of those that have been reissued for modern consumption can be found only on non-American labels. The portion of the music business in the United States that is interested in old-time rural music has largely ignored the Midwest. I like to think of this series as centered on what Frank Fairfield calls “The Outsiders of Old-Time Music.” I will explain more in future posts.

Meanwhile, enjoy listening. I have written up introductory sketches of these outsider artists. And I have compiled basic discographic information in a file that can be accessed and downloaded in the link that follows. (The conventions and forms of my discographic entries are shown in the DrDosido CDs page linked in the menu bar above. A list of instrument abbreviations can also be found there.)

112 Indiana Fiddle Bands I (discography, plus album cover).

In a not-yet published article, country music historian Pat Huber described Floyd Thompson & His Home Towners as an Indianapolis-based studio band of “trained, sight-reading professional musicians” who, with the addition of transplanted Kentuckian Emry Arthur, presented “a colorful blending of Midwestern urban jazz and popular music and Southern rural vernacular traditions.” What is implied here is a strict separation between not only Midwestern and Southern musical styles, but also between trained musicians and folk musicians, as well as between urban and rural sensibilities. I am not convinced that musical experience can be so neatly compartmentalized. And then, after agreeing with Tony Russell’s assessment that the Home Towners, were inspired by the “Broadway hillbilly music of Carson Robison and Frank Luther,” Huber further claims that it is Arthur that gives the Home Towners genuine old-time credibility (Russell, 2007, p. 97; Huber, np).

Where to start? Russell is correct in suggesting that Floyd Thompson was probably inspired by the commercial success of Robison and Luther, leading him to bring together the Home Towners, an ephemeral and changing assemblage of violinists, vocalists, guitar pickers, and harmonica blowers, in order to make recordings of old-time music. However, it is not fair or accurate to reduce the band’s music to an act of copycatting. The Home Towners were clearly comfortable with a variety of vernacular material, plus they brought with them a number of Thompson’s original compositions (several will be heard on another offering in this series). While fans of old-time music might respond differently to the various sounds that constitute the genre, individual aesthetic preferences do not provide a sound definitional basis.

Huber, also, is on the right track in describing the music of the Home Towners as a colorful blend. But he is mistaken in suggesting that the different strands of that blend can be ascribed to the regional provenance of individual members of the group. In other words, what differentiates the music of the Home Towners from other contemporary popular styles was not the mere presence of Emry Arthur. “Trained, sight-reading, professional musicians” are not necessarily divorced from the vernacular music of their communities. In my generation, most trained professional musicians know rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and the American songbook. In the 1920s, it would have been natural for such musicians to be familiar with string band music, social dance music, and square dance tunes. Yes, even in Indiana and the whole of the Midwest.

Give a close listen to the 3 fiddle tune standards that open this album, all recorded at the band’s first recording session in Indianapolis in June 1928. Emry Arthur did not join until the next month when the Home Towners traveled to Chicago for their third session. The lead fiddler on these first 3 tunes may have been Frank Owens, a professional singer who was often touted, along with Floyd Thompson on the pages of the Indianapolis News as a featured soloist with the American Harmonists, a theatre orchestra. Whatever his musical training, Owen’s fiddling on Ida Red shows he was familiar with the folk idiom of square dance fiddling, widespread at the time. The same cannot be said of the second fiddler heard on this side–Russell thinks it may have been Thompson–who drones some chordal harmony devoid of the rhythmic pulse required of a square dance band (to be properly documented as this series unfolds). Apart from the stylized and polished vocals on these numbers–led by fellow American Harmonist Jack Tilson–particularly on the Rye Waltz, the rest of the accompaniment from several guitars and a harmonica is solid old-time country. Whether these unknown musicians were Hoosiers or transplanted Southerners or both cannot be ascertained from their playing.

Floyd Thompson & His Home Towners
1928
1. Little Brown Jug

2. Ida Red

3. Rye Waltz

There is no doubt about the old-time authenticity of the next band up–James Cole’s String Band, also known as James Cole’s Washboard Band–though these musicians also faced catagorical challenges. The record companies of the day expected blues from the African-American artists they recorded for their “Race” series. But James Cole and his associates, including Tommy Bradley, were equally at home with styles and repertoire more commonly associated with Anglo-American musicians: square dance tunes and songs from Tin Pan Alley. For a long while, not much was know about the backgrounds of Cole or Bradley. Discographer Dick Spottswood suggested“they may be from central/western Kentucky, where, even by the 1920s, black and white string band styles and repertoire were still quite close” (Spottswood). And perhaps that is where they came from, but Tony Russell has recently asserted that they worked out of Indianapolis, while also teaming up with compatriots in Cincinnati.

The instrumental pieces recorded by Cole and Bradley defy categorization. Bill Cheatem, of course, is an old chestnut in Anglo-American fiddle traditions. But could the tune possibly be named for African-American showman William Cheathem, who along with his brother Lawrence, founded the Cheathem Brothers’ Black Diamond Minstrels in St. Louis, Missouri in 1898? (Abbott & Seroff, p. 92). According to record producer Marshall Wyatt, Runnin’ Wild is from a 1922 pop song composed by A. Harrington Gibbs (Wyatt, p. 25). Sweet Lizzie has not been traced, but it closely resembles Sweet Sue, Just You, a hit song introduced in 1928 in Chicago, where the song’s composer, Victor Young, had been a member of Ben Pollack’s band, who recorded the latter song in April of that year.

James Cole’s String Band
1928
4. Bill Cheatem

5. I Got a Gal

James Cole’s Washboard Band
1930
6. Runnin’ Wild

7. Sweet Lizzie

Nicholson’s Players-Salem, Indiana
Unlike the first two groups presented here, Nicholson’s Players hearken from rural and small town Indiana: Washington County and the county seat of Salem. Banjoist William Jefferson Nicholson (1886?-1958), the leader of the group that went to the Gennett studios at the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana in January 1930,  is listed in the 1910 census as ‘musician.’ For subsequent censuses, he chose to call himself a ‘farmer’ or ‘farm manager.’ A good overview of the musical lives of Nicholson and his compatriots–fiddler Tilfer Floyd, harmonica blower Paul Ashabraner, and guitarist Glen Spurgeon–can be found in Tony Russell’s recent Old-Time Herald article devoted to this little-noticed band. There was some overlap between the group that recorded in Richmond and the Salem Melody Makers, a varying configuration with horns and drums that occasionally broadcast on radio station WHAS in Louisville. It is apparent that these musicians did not strictly limit themselves to old-time string band music, but also played pop standards and new hits. Based on stories I’ve heard of other rural Indiana bands from this time-period, it was common for small town dance bands to keep up with the latest “foxtrots” and other pop songs, for round dancing, while still giving out hoedowns for an old-time square dance.

Tilfer Floyd (w guitar)
Of the 9 sides that Nicholson’s Players recorded for Gennett, the 4 included here represent well their abilities to mix traditional fiddle tunes with popular melodies. Noteworthy are the variety of banjo playing styles, using both fingers and a pick, that Nicholson brings to My Honey, a version of the well-known Black and White Rag, and the lovely interplay with the fiddle on Muskakatuck Waltz. The latter tune is named, but not spelled, after the Muscatatuck River that flows through the north portion of Washington County. I first encountered Black and White Rag in 1979, as fiddled by Hector Phillips from Petersburg, Indiana. And Muscatatuck Waltz was a favorite of fiddler Ken Smelser of Paoli, Indiana in Orange County, which neighbors Washington County to the west, when I visited him on several occasions in the early 1980s. During that same time, two other Orange County musician also played the tune for me: Cyprien Dickey on fiddle and Maurice “Mousey” Wininger on piano. They thought it had come from the Brown County Revelers.

Nicholson’s Players
1928
8. Irish Washerwoman Medley

9. Turkey in the Straw Medley

10. Muskakaktuck Waltz

11. My Honey

Were it not for the prodigious research of the late, great Gus Meade, we would know nothing at all about the musicians who made up the Hoosier Rangers. Clyde Martin & the Hoosier Rangers recorded 4 selections at the Gennett studios in Richmond in 1931. According to Meade’s Fiddlers Compendium, the band’s leader, Clyde Martin, played piano. The rest of the Rangers were all named Wright. Cecil Wright, the lead fiddler, was born in 1904 in Washington County, Indiana, and was of the same generation as the younger members of Nicholson’s Players, i.e., Ashabraner and Spurgeon. Perhaps musical connections were made. (Cecil, by the way, spent his later years up north in LaFountain, a town with Tyler family connections.) The other Wrights, likely brothers or cousins, were Elmo Wright on guitar and Howard Wright, who, according to Meade, played the banjo. However, banjo is not audible on either selection included here. Meade asks whether Howard played the mandolin that can be heard on Little Brown Jug/ White River Bottoms. I would further ask if it was Howard Wright who played the droning 2nd fiddle on Shuber’s Hoedown.

A bit of a side note illustrates the magnitude of Gus Meade’s discographical and historical accomplishments. As he died in 1991, all his research was done with little help from the nascent internet or the World Wide Web. A quarter-century later, an hour’s worth of research in an online newspaper archive disclosed that Clyde Martin, leader of the Hoosier Rangers was something of a celebrity in the mid-1920s. Born around 1886, Martin was a college graduate, basketball star, and a community leader in Palmyra, Indiana, where he built Ranger Hall to provide recreation for the community after the local school board voted against adding a gymnasium to the school. Ranger Hall was well-used by the community for basketball games, roller skating, amateur dramatics, checker-playing, and a slot machine for games of chance. These activities were a threat to the local Church of Christ–they approved of basketball, but not of roller skating–and in a 1926 trial that received nation-wide attention, church officials charged Martin with heresy and excommunicated him for being “too worldly.” Undeterred, Martin announced that he would keep Ranger Hall open and would become a Republican candidate for Congress. His candidacy did not succeed.  In the summer of 1929, he turned in part to music, as the Steedman Symphonic Society of Louisville sponsored a series of summer concerts that included the “Hoosier Ranger and His Gang, direction, W. Clyde Martin, Palmyra, Ind.” (Courier-Journal: August 25, 1929). Two years later, he took his gang north to the Gennett studios in Richmond.

Back to the music: the second piece in the aforementioned medley, White River Bottoms, is of special interest. Gus Meade notes in Country Music Sources that the tune was played by Jimmy Campbell of Dolan, Indiana in 1956. I listened to Meade’s field recordings of Campbell, as held in the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, and met Jimmy Campbell in 1980, a few years before his passing. Inspired by Meade’s field work, I undertook my own search for White River Bottoms and the like, and collected it from a handful of Hoosier fiddlers, ranging from Frank Wisehart’s home recording in the 1940s to frequent performances by both Cyprien and Lotus Dickey in the 1980s. One Crawford County fiddler who moved north to Indianapolis, Noble Melton, described the tune as a glorified version of Boil Them Cabbage Down. I have played the tune often over the years. After one performance, musician, historian, and 78 collector Kinney Rorrer told me about the Hoosier Rangers 78 and later sent me a taped dub. I am extremely grateful to Kinney and all the friends and acquaintances who have generously shared a rich wealth of old-time music from the fascinating era of the 78rpm phonograph disc.

Clyde Martin & the Hoosier Rangers
1931
12. Little Brown Jug/ White River Bottoms

13. Shuber’s Hoe Down

While Nicholson’s Players, and perhaps the Wright brothers. were all from Hoosier families, the next band up, Richard Cox & His National Fiddlers was new to Indiana. Richard Cox (b. 1915) was from Huntington, West Virginia, where he began his radio career as a teen in 1929 on WSAX, and was soon dubbed West Virginia’s Master Mountaineer, despite his youth. After leading bands in the three-state area around Huntington (Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky), in 1932 Cox took a band west along the National Road (US 40) and landed in Richmond, Indiana, where they recorded nine pieces–blues, songs, and fiddle tunes–two of which are heard here. Over the next few years he appeared on several Midwestern radio stations (Detroit, Windsor, and Gary).  By 1936, according to historian Ivan Tribe, Cox “joined forces with two old pros from the deep South, Bert Layne and Riley Puckett, and an Ashland [KY] youth, Slim Clere, as part of a group called the Mountaineer Fiddlers. This band played radio shows and personal appearances in the Gary, Indiana/Chicago area” (Tribe, p. 40).

Besides Richard Cox, the National Fiddlers, included fiddler Bernard Henson and guitarist, Frank Welling, who recorded extensively for Gennett between 1927 and 1933. One might surmise that the elder Welling (b. 1900), also  a resident of Huntington and veteran performer on WSAZ, arranged this trip to the recording studio in Indiana for the younger musicians. Russell’s discography credits the fiddle and guitar to either Cox or Henson, but gives no acknowledgment to the steel guitar heard prominently on these performances. It is likely that Frank Welling played the Hawaiian steel, which he learned in 1919 while working with Domingo’s Filipino Serenaders, a vaudeville act (Tribe, p. 29). One of the tunes recorded by Cox, Henson, and Welling, The Downfall of Adam, is related to Mississippi Sawyer, a standard American fiddle tune that is derived from the British/European Downfall of Paris.

Richard Cox & His National Fiddlers
1932
14. East Tennessee Blues

15. The Downfall of Adam

Draper Walter, circa 1933
The Walter Family are usually regarded as Kentuckians, though they had been living in Richmond, Indiana for several decades before recording there in 1933. Fiddler and family patriarch Draper Walter (1870-1955) was born in Camp Nelson, Kentucky, in a musically rich area that was also home to the multi-talented Booker family. Jim Booker, 2 years younger than Draper Walter, fiddled with Taylor’s Kentucky Boys in one of the earliest integrated recording sessions in country music history (though not so integrated that Booker could be included in the band’s publicity photo). According to Richard Nevins of Yazoo Records, Walter and Booker played music together back in Kentucky before Walter moved his family to Richmond, Indiana in 1919 (Nevins mistakenly claims it was 1921).

In Richmond, the Walter Family merged with other local musical families. Daughter Betty Lou, who sang “old ballads” as the “Singing Schoolmarm” on WKBV, married local banjoist and broadcaster Ray Agee, who helped the radio station relocate from Brookville to Richmond. Later on, according to Richmond Palladium-Item columnist Dick Reynolds, “Ray Agee organized the ‘Home Folks Show,’ a stage show whose members included the Agees’ two sons, Highly and Chuck.”  The Agees later operated a music store in Richmond. In her senior years, Betty Lou Walter Agee was still playing jaw harp with a local senior citizen band, Charlie Estes & Company (Reynolds, p. 5). Possibly this was the same Charlie Estes who played guitar with the Walter Family at the recording session in 1933.

Draper Walter, 1950 with 5 generations
The Walters and their cohort were musically active during the first years of the New Deal. In the summer of 1933, they performed regularly in a local park as “The Walter Family Old Time Orchestra.” Two years later, they performed at a local movie theatre as “Draper Walter’s Jug Band.” The make-up of personnel of these bands always included Ray Agee on banjo. I will let the words of Richard Nevins convey the complex family relationships entwined in the group of musicians that gathered around the microphone in the Gennett studios on March 29, 1933. “The personnel of the band were Draper Walter, on fiddle; his daughter Mary on piano; his son-in-law, Ray Agee on banjo; Charlie Estes, on guitar; Charlie Burdette on jug; and his son Wilburn on washboard. Incidentally, Draper Walter’s sister, Florence ‘Granny Bug’ Williams, appeared for years over John Lair’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance Show under the pseudonym of ‘Granny Harper’” (Nevins, p. [2]).

Walter Family
1933
16. Flying Cloud Waltz

17. Walter Family Waltz

18. That’s My Rabbit, My Dog Caught It

19. Shaker Ben

The last band on this album features the fiddling of another West Virginian, Jess Johnston (1898-1952) from Wyoming County. From 1930 through 1933, Johnston was a regular visitor to the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana, where he participated in at least nine sessions with a variety of old-time artists, starting with Byrd Moore from Virginia. Here is a list of Johnston’s studio work.

September-October 1930, w/ Byrd Moore
December 1930, w/ Roy Harvey
June 1931, w/ Ernest Branch & Bernice Coleman (West Virginia Ramblers)
June 1931, w/ Roy Harvey (West Virginia Ramblers)
September 1931, poss, w/ Jess Hillard
October 1931, w/ Duke Clark
October 1931, w/ Ted Lunsford
November 1931, own session, with Bert Froste
February & July 1933, with Jess Hillard His West Virginia Hillbillies

Byrd Moore & Jess Johnston

Three of the musicians on this list–Harvey, Branch,and Coleman–are fellow West Virginians. And like Byrd Moore, Roy Harvey was a prominent old-time recording artist. During his multiple visits–or extended stay–in Richmond, Jess Johnston did well in an Old Fiddlers Contest held at the local high school in October 1931. He took first place in fiddle, comic song, blue [sic] singing, piano solo, and Arkansas Traveler.

At the end of the above list is a Hoosier, Jess Hillard, who also made a respectable showing at the Old Fiddlers Contest, with second place in Comic song and third place in Duet song. (I am not sure if there is any connection between Jess Hillard the guitarist and Jess S. Hillard of Boston, Indiana, who was wanted for passing bad checks in 1920; or with Jess C. Hillard of Richmond, who injured his hand in a gun accident in 1949). Born in 1895, Jess Hillard the guitarist had many connections to Richmond. Harry Hillard, likely Jess’ brother, and Duke Clark, an occasional musical partner, also appeared at the same fiddlers contest and other events in the area. All three, in various combinations, made recordings at Gennett, with Jess being the most prolific: 42 sides recorded at 14 sessions between April 1931 and July 1933.

At the last of those sessions, Hillard was rejoined by Jess Johnston for 7 fiddle tunes and 2 songs, all released as by Jess Hillard & His West Virginia Hillbillies. Five of those tunes are included here. All of them have evocative names and familiar strains that hearken to other well known tunes. Rolling River is clearly related to the Dubuque family of tunes. Hell Up Flat Creek recalls Cricket on the Hearth. Make Down the Bed and We’ll All Sleep Together is an interesting twist on Rocky Mountain Goat.

1933 was a good year for Jess Hillard and Jess Johnston. In April, the West Virginia Hillbillies took top prize for the second straight year at an old-time band and fiddle contest sponsored by the National Fiddlers Association of Indianapolis. Besides Johnston on fiddle, Jess Hillard’s lineup that night included Duke Clark on guitar, Clarence Johnson on tenor guitar, and Nelson Hillard (another brother?) on guitar. Jess Hillard continued to be active in the area through at least 1936 with a billing that regularly noted he was a radio star on WKRC in Cincinnati. It is likely that Jess Johnston was still part of that group of West Virginia Hillibillies.

Jess Hillard & Jess Johnston
1933
20. Make Down the Bed and We’ll All Sleep Together

21. Rolling River

22. Dixie Rag

23. Wild Goose Waltz

24. Hell Up Flat Rock

– Paul Tyler, PhD (aka DrDosido)
January 6, 2017

References Cited

Abbott, Lynn & Doug Seroff. 2002. Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895. University Press of Mississippi.

Huber, Patrick. 2013. Floyd Thompson and His Home Towners. Unpublished paper.

Meade, Guthrie T. N.d. The Fiddler’s Compendium. Typescript.

Meade, Guthrie T. Jr. with Dick Spottswood & Douglas S. Meade. 2002. Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music. Southern Folklife Collection.

Richard Nevins, Liner Notes to Old Time Fiddle Band Music from Kentucky, Vol. 3: Way Down South in Dixie. Morning Star Records 45005, 1980.

Reynolds, Dick. 1982. 82-Year-Old Twanger Earns Ovations. Richmond Palladium-Item (March 1): 5.

Russell, Tony. 2004. Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942. Oxford University Press.

Russell, Tony. 2007. Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost. Oxford University Press.

Russell, Tony. 2013. Nicholson’s Players. The Old-Time Herald 13 no. 5: 28-35

Spottswood, Dick. 2005. Liner notes to Tommy Bradley-James Cole Groups, 1928-1932. Document CD-5189.

Tribe, Ivan M. 1984. Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia. University Press of Kentucky.

Wyatt, Marshall. 2002. Liner notes to Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s. Old Hat CD-1004, 2002.

Neil Rosenberg, Dean of Bluegrass Scholars

Neil Rosenberg, folklorist and author of Bluegrass: A History is visiting Chicago this week. He and his wife Terri will be part of a public conversation and performance on Friday (2/26) at the Northwestern University Library in Evanston. On Tuesday, they dropped by the Old Town School of Folk Music for an invitational jam session with a dozen bluegrass and old-time instructors and students (see below).

A professor emeritus at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Neil Rosenberg has spent his life in the midst of living folk music traditions. Raised in Berkeley, California, he was heavily influenced by the Berkeley Folk Music Festival in the late 1950s. He attended Oberlin College, an early outpost of the old-time and bluegrass music that followed the folk revival. After graduating in 1961, he made his way to Bloomington, Indiana and began graduate studies at the Folklore Department at Indiana University. Just a half-an-hour drive away was Bill Monroe’s Brown County Jamboree, run by his brother Birch (this was four years before Monroe’s famous Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festivals began). Young scholar Rosenberg soon found himself a member of the house band at this weekly country music show.

Upon receiving his PhD, Dr. Rosenberg joined the Folklore Department at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he became a colleague of the estimable Herbert Halpert (1911-2000), a pioneering folklorist among whose achievements a collecting trip to Mississippi in 1939 looms large. Dr. Rosenberg continued Halpert’s careful study of local folk music traditions, while also continuing his thorough scholarship along the pathways blazed by bluegrass music’s founding generation.

It is a true joy to welcome gentleman and scholar, Neil Rosenberg and his fiddling wife, Terri, to the Windy City.

Mitzi & Jeff, Neil & Terri RosenbergMitzi & Jeff, Neil & Terri Rosenberg

Mighty Dark to Travel (by “the Chicago Bluegrass Philharmonic”)

Whiskey Before Breakfast (a Canadian tune popularized by Andy DeJarlis)

The Rosenberg Jam – 7 fiddlers, 2 banjos, 2 guitars, & bass
The Rosenberg jam

The National Barn Dance

Happy 90th birthday.

(I missed it by a day.) It was on April 19, 1924, a Saturday, that the National Barn Dance began it’s 36-year run on radio station WLS in Chicago.  In fact, the Barn Dance had more than a run. It dominated. It was model for all the live country music radio jamborees that followed, close to 500 in all. It’s most eager competitor, the Grand Ol’ Opry, copied the National Barn Dance from the start and lagged behind it for twenty years. Through the 1930s and into the war years of the 40s, there was no country music radio show, and few from any other category, that had as large and popular a cast or as strong a cultural presence as the National Barn Dance. During the Depression, a poll of listeners identified Lulu Belle & Scotty, the Prairie Ramblers (with Patsy Montana) and the Arkansas Woodchopper as their favorite members of the Hayloft Gang. All three acts stayed at WLS for the better part of three decades.

The Barn Dance itself was more than a single broadcast. It was a brand that encompassed about 5 hours of Saturday night radio shows, 2 two-hour long live theatre shows, 2 print publications plus regular coverage in its parent company’s magazine (The Prairie Farmer), and an extensive artists bureau that maintained regional road shows and regular personal appearances by its many Saturday night stars.

DrDosido and the Hayloft Gang

But I just missed it. By the 1950s, the National Barn Dance was past its prime, and WLS ended the show sometime in 1960. In October of that same year, I received a transistor radio as a birthday present. So when I could put my own hand on the dial and search the airwaves for myself, there was no Hayloft Gang to be found. (Actually, the Gang and the show had migrated to WGN in Chicago. There it possessed but a shadow of its earlier grandeur, and WGN was not a strong enough signal to be picked up in my upstairs bedroom in Hoagland, Indiana). As a teen and young adult, I became vaguely aware of the fact of the National Barn Dance, because my uncles had enjoyed Lulu Belle & Scotty and some of the other stars. My mom didn’t like the song “Barbara Allen” that Bradley Kincaid had popularized during his stay on WLS in the late 20s, and she had little affinity for other country songs: “They’re all about trains or prisons.”

The Fiddlers of the National Barn Dance

But my interest in the National Barn Dance was piqued during the first big field recording session for my 1979 grant from the Indiana Arts Council (see the Indiana Hoedown section in drdosido.net). Fiddler Francis Geels of Decatur, Indiana listened to the show every Saturday night as a kid, and had learned several pieces from the broadcasts, most notably from the playing of Slim Miller of the Cumberland Ridge Runners. Give a listen to Mr. Geels playing this fine, rare old tune: Get Aboard the Ship.

Then fast forward twenty years to my historical research on traditional fiddling in the Old Northwest. I started poking around to find more about the early days of the National Barn Dance. I had long known of George Biggar‘s account of the first broadcast on April 19, 1924: “Tommy Dandurand, if I’m not mistaken, was in charge of the first little fiddling band.  The announcer thought a square dance caller might be of help, so a call was put on the air.  Tom Owen telephoned that he ‘used to call dances in Missouri.’  So down he came.” Biggar, however, had not yet started his long tenure as a WLS program director. His account is not first-hand. What I found in the Chicago newspapers of the day is that “Timothy Cornrow from Ioway” was the first fiddler. In succeeding weeks, the fiddlers who played on the Saturday night variety show were described as generic “barn dance fiddlers.” When summer came, WLS held an on air-contest for old-time “fiddle teams” that was won by George Adamson of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Frank Hart of Aurora, Illinois and William McCormick of Marseilles also placed.  A picture of these two, plus guitarist J.B. Priest, became an icon for the early National Barn Dance.

WLS Old-Time Fiddlers
My conjecture is that that either Mr. Hart or Mr. McCormick was the fiddler heard on 1926 recordings of Tom Owens WLS Barn Dance Trio (listen to Hell on the Wabash). Tommy Dandurand, a retired streetcar operator from Kankakee, joined the National Barn Dance in the fall of 1924, and led the show’s house band of fiddlers until at least 1930. Along with fiddler Rube Tronson and square dance caller Ed Goodreau, Tommy Dandurand & His Barn Dance Fiddlers recorded 14 sides for Gennett in 1927 (listen to McLeod’s Reel). In the early 30s, Mr. Dandurand’s younger partner took over as leader of the Texas Cowboys (the National Barn Dance Orchestra of the 1933 Bluebird sessions?). By the middle of the decade, the house band had given way to showier string bands like the Cumberland Ridge Runners, the Prairie Ramblers and the Westerners.

Francis Geels and the Hayloft Gang

It was the 1930s when young Francis Geels and his siblings began to learn tunes, songs and stagecraft by listening to the Hayloft Gang’s Saturday night broadcasts, and by attending WLS-sponsored Home Talent Shows and other personal appearances by Barn Dance stars. Many years later, I began to consult with filmmaker Stephen Parry of Chicago, as he began work on The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance for Hayloft Gang Productions and Independent Television Services. My contributions to the documentary included  serving as music supervisor and as author the lead essay, “The Rise of Rural Rhythm,” for the companion book published by the University of Illinois Press.
Hayloft Gang bookHayloft Gang book
Perhaps my biggest contribution to the project was to introduce Stephen Parry, the director, to Francis Geels and his sisters, Helen Loshe and Esther Mowrey. A movie crew traveled from Chicago to Decatur, Indiana and interviewed the 3 siblings on the old family farm. Several heart-warming clips are included in the documentary. And the home DVD version of The Hayloft Gang, which showed up in my mailbox 90 years to the day after the National Barn Dance’s debut, includes a last performance by the Geels Family Band under the Extras menu.

Hayloft Gang book

DrDosido and Mr. Seeger

Like any respectable folkie I sang along with Pete Seeger in concert several times. All that took, of course, was a ticket.  The somber news of his passing, and the many well-deserved tributes that sprang up on Facebook and other media made me pause to reflect on how his singular humanity and distinctive musical commonality influenced my life. (I am not sure that these flowery descriptives come at all close to expressing his impact and my admiration.) A couple of memories did force their way to the front of my meditations. I had a few face-to-face encounters with Mr. Seeger in the halls of the Old Town School of Folk Music, and also back stage at the Orchestra Hall concert he headlined to mark the School’s 35th anniversary in 1992.

The one extended conversation we had was by phone. It was occasioned by the oral history project I was assigned to mark that same anniversary. My interviews had to be recorded so that excerpts could be used on a WFMT radio special celebrating those 35 years.  So I called Pete up. He was sitting in the comfort of his home in Beacon, New York.  I was in the studios of public radio station WBEZ in the Chicago Loop, using their special recording equipment. I viewed the situation as momentous. For Pete, it was much more mundane. I wanted him to remember the legendary night in the late 1950s that he dropped by the Old Town School’s Second Half and led some songs for the assembled students.  The event looms large in Old Town School lore. Pete couldn’t recall it. But he could frame it in the bigger picture – his mission and ours.  The world, he told me, needs an Old Town School of Folk Music in every city to help people learn to play and remember how to sing together.

Pete Seeger helped me learn how to play. Not directly, though I did use his How to Play the 5-String Banjo tutor back in 1976, after I constructed my own banjo from a Stewart-MacDonald kit. Earlier, in the summer of 1969, when I was back home after my freshman year of college, I made regular trips to the Allen County Public Library to check out record albums from their surprisingly (to me) large collection of folk music. By that time, I knew was through with rock and roll, and that folk music was what I wanted to pursue. I didn’t know much back then about folk music, about  the large and growing scene of folkies devoted to traditional music. I didn’t know enough to realize that the music I grew up with locally, mostly wedding and square dance bands, was in fact folk music. My own LP collection at the time contained only a couple of Beach Boys albums and a record of bluegrass instrumentals by an unidentified band, an LP that Dad had won as a door prize somewhere. The albums I borrowed from the library that summer included several of Pete’s.

I don’t remember any particulars about the albums or the songs.  But I remember being impressed that Pete sang songs that came from people all over the world.  I realize now that Dad must have had reservations about Pete’s politics.  But he never expressed them to me out loud.  He did ask why I was borrowing these LPs from the library. I told him I wanted to do with my life what Pete Seeger was doing with his. Dad requested further explanation. My answer was that I wanted to go everywhere and learn the songs that regular people sing. Pete was my model.

Pete Seeger helped turn me into DrDosido. He, at least, helped move me down that path. In fact, Pete’s younger brother Mike became a more influential role model. Like Mike, I mostly narrowed my focus to Anglo-American traditional music. And following Mike’s footsteps, I began to seek out unheralded country fiddlers and other local musicians. I began to visit community events where friends and neighbors made their own music together, often for dancing. I began to realize that I had grown up with folk music and dance all around me. But I followed my own path. I didn’t go out looking for authentic mountain music or old-time southern music. For several decades my gaze was frozen on my home region: the Old Northwest, the Great Lakes states, whatever name you want to give to my Midwestern home. I did what Pete Seeger did. I just didn’t go very far away.

It’s good that I can complete the circle I started inscribing with these memories. On one of those visits to the library while home on a college break, I took the advice of my best friend, Steve Winters. He suggested I check out a Mike Seeger album called “The Second Annual Farewell Reunion.” It consisted of Mike doing duets with different musical friends on a variety of old-time and traditional songs. If my memory is reliable, one of the pieces on that LP was a duet of two Seeger brothers doing a song Pete wrote, adapting a melody and turn of phrase from the Scottish ditty, “Well May the Keel Row.” Pete universalized the sentiment into “Well May the World Go.” Since news of Pete’s death, I find myself whistling that tune every morning as I’m making coffee. I learned it over 40 years ago. I never sang it for anybody until last week.

Well may the skiers turn, the swimmers churn, the lovers burn.
Peace may the generals learn, when I’m far away.

Well may the world go, the world go, the world go.
Well may the world go, when I’m far away.

Sweet may the fiddle sound, the banjo play the old hoedown,
The dancers swing ‘round and ‘round, when I’m far away.

Well may the world go, the world go, the world go.
Well may the world go, when I’m far away.

Strong may the trees grow. Clear may the streams flow,
Blue above and green below, when I’m far away.

Well may the world go, the world go, the world go.
Well may the world go, when I’m far away.

A Guided Tour of DrDosido.net 2.0

Want to hear the music I’ve recorded in musicians’ homes and at community events over the last bunch of years (starting in 1976)?  This post will show you how to get there quickly.  Want to know a little more about these traditional musicians and the events they participate in?  This post will also show you the paths to take to learn more.  Start here.

gatewaysThese five links live directly below the banner photo on drdosido.net. They will always be there.  The first four are gateways that lead to DrDosido’s collections of recordings.  The last leads to written reflections about the people I’ve met, music collected and friends made. These gateways open on to the multiple paths I’ve followed in my life as a folklorist and fiddler.  I’ll describe each pathway in just a bit. First, it might help you to know how the site is put together.

When you click a link to pass through any of the collections gateways, you’ll come to anlanding page explanatory landing page.  On the right is a sidebar with links that lead you down one of three separate paths.  The top three links lead to rosters of artists and events arrayed as tables of pertinent data.
menu
browsing pageThe rosters contain more links that lead you directly to recordings of a particular artist or event. On the top of each roster is a link that gives you the option to browse the whole page of recordings covered by that roster.

The bottom three links in the sidebar let you bypass the roster and go straight to a browsing page. In a few of cases, additional links lead to more browsing pages. All browsing pages have links that lead back to their related roster.

Brief descriptions of the four collections gateways and their pathways follow.

hoedown sidebarIndiana Hoedown was the name of a show I did on public radio in Fort Wayne for a few years.  In 1979 I received two grants to 1) make field recordings of traditional musicians in the state of Indiana, and 2) present highlights from these recordings in a special series of 26 radio shows.  In the mid-1980s I received two more grants to 3) record ethnic dance bands in Northern Indiana.  The field recordings roster links to two browsing pages.  When uploaded, the radio programs will be linked directly to the radio roster with no separate browsing page.

adler sidebarAdler House, aka the David Adler Cultural Center, was an arts and music center in Libertyville, Illinois, where  I was variously engaged for the span of twelve years.  The three pathways linked here are a 1) fieldwork project for which I was the contracted folklorist in 1987.  The 2) concerts link presents some relevant performances from before and during my time at Adler House.  3) In the Tradition was a special series of concerts for which I began as project folklorist and ended as producer in the later formats.  It gets its own subsidiary landing page.  The In the Tradition roster is presented complete, and is also broken into three smaller segments, each with its own browsing page.

oldtown sidebarOld Town School highlights my quarter century (and counting) at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.  In 2008 I established the 1) Fiddle Club of the World for alumni and friends of the fiddle program. [After six years, the Fiddle Club is now independent, but still on friendly terms with the School.] In 2003, I began an annual 2) Midwest Fiddle Championship held in conjunction with the School’s annual summer festival. The last link presents recordings from 3) selected visitors to the School – concert and workshop artists – that I had the good fortune to work with.

catcher sidebarTune Catcher covers smaller contract and research projects I have done, as well as the informal collecting that goes along with being a part of a national and international community devoted to traditional music.  Two of the three pathways that begin here split into separate forks.

greatlakes sidebarThe 1) Great Lakes pathway is devoted to traditional music in the Midwest.  I’ve divided it according to my graduate school years in Bloomington, Indiana from 1978-86 (including some prior activity from my time living in Detroit), and my Chicago years, since 1986.  I’ve devoted a whole separate pathway to Lotus Dickey of Paoli, Indiana.  He was my mentor and friend. 2) Here & There highlights musicians from states outside the Midwest, including a handful that hail elsewhere in the world.  I also give separate space to my contract fieldwork for the Wyoming Arts Foundation.  The last pathway leads to 3) recordings that were shared with me by my friends.

Reflections sidebarThe Reflections pathway is similarly constructed, though the rosters and browsing pages are merged. Published Articles and Short Pieces are rosters presented as a graphic bibliographies. As you browse these pages, some of the links you find will lead directly to an piece written by DrDosido. Others may lead you to your local library. I’ve just begun construction on a photo gallery.  DrDosido.net also hosts two blogs: the Fiddle Club of the World blog and this one (DrDosido’s blog).

 


Finally, I should mention the menu buttons that appear above the banner photo.  The Road Map provides two different  views (1 or 2) to help you figure out what is where and how to get there.  Additions contains notices of recordings recently uploaded to Drdosido.net.  This is, after all, a work in progress.  Related Links and About DrDosido are standard fare.

Enjoy DrDosido.net
Paul Tyler, PhD (aka DrDosido)

The Remaking of DrDosido

Welcome to 2.0

So here’s how it all started.  As summer 2010 ended,  I was approaching my 60th birthday. I visited a bookstore and bought a couple of beginner’s books on how to build a website.  I had only read a couple of chapters when I decided to build my own site from scratch.  Rather than using the simple “Try It Yourself” exercises contained in the book, I settled on working with my own material.  And after just a couple of weeks of html coding, DrDosido.net was born. It worked. It did what I wanted it to do. It had a certain character of its own: part naivete, part passion. But it was also clunky, with a chronic irrationality to boot. DrDosido.net 1.0 showed why good design requires a complete and consistent plan as the first step.

1.0 was launched on October 4, 2010 with 30 recordings for users to browse.  Through the first fifteen months I frequently uploaded new additions, and by 2012, there were nearly 350 recordings scattered throughout half of the sites 45 pages.  Then life served up several screwballs and I left the site (and this blog) alone for a long stretch while attending to other matters.

As 2013 raced through its final week, I impulsively decided that it was time to upgrade to version 2.0. My coding chops long dormant, I downloaded several website templates from the ‘Net, and settled on a common design on the grounds that it must be tried and true.  But it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, so I began taking it apart piece by piece. I had to learn CSS (cascading style sheets) in the process, which allowed me to simplify and  rationalize the infrastructure of my website. CSS is a bit tricky for the uninitiated. And most of the advice found through google searches is either too opaque (assuming too much on the part of the seeker) or too obvious.  The rest of it is downright contradictory.

But I soldiered on, and after several complete rebuilds, DrDosido.net 2.0 was launched on January 20, 2014.

What’s new about 2.0?  It looks a little sharper. The navigational menus and links are laid out consistently. The pathways through the site unfold with greater clarity. I have presented more basic data along each pathway and have built at least one browsing page at the end of each path, on which recordings will be shared. All but one of the twelve paths now contains sound files for you to listen to. And the framework is in place for me to upload many more of the recordings I intend to share.

The Accomplishments of DrDosido.net 1.0 are the starting point for version 2.0.  Here are some numbers to tell part of the story:

DrDosido.net 1.0 (as of January 2012)

Path Tunes Total Pages
Indiana Hoedown 46 8
Adler House 60 11
Old Town School 35 4
Tune Catcher 186 14
Reflections 0 4
Site  327* 45

The new remake starts out with the same number* of recordings.  Each pathway now has its own explanatory landing pages, artist and project rosters, browsing pages, and pages for additional notes.  More numbers:

DrDosido.net 2.0 (as of January 2014)

Path Rosters Browsing Total Pages
Indiana Hoedown 3 3 9
Adler House 3 5 14
Old Town School 3 3 8
Tune Catcher 6 12 22
Reflections 0 5 7
Site 15 26 66

That brings us to a grand total of 66 pages in the new version of DrDosido.net.  Plus there are now two blogs hosted on the site.  In the next post, I’ll provide a guided tour.

* 327 is the correct number, counting links to YouTube. The number 348 reported elsewhere is wrong.

 

Back to backlog

You all figured out, of course, that Do-si-do is French for ‘back to back.’  I will set a few more square dance puns into this post intended to forward my plans for DrDosido.net. I really hope to corner the market now that all the exams are graded and final grades are turned in. As owner of this grand website, it is my right to do things at my own speed, but I don’t want anyone left waiting too long for new tunes to be posted.  So, as a courtesy, this gent will turn to the subject at hand and circle in on how I’ve partnered my field recordings to my twelve subject tracks. *

In recent weeks, I populated all twelve paths through my collections with links to music. The most recent addition is devoted to the “Fiddle Club of the World (under Old Town Fiddle).  Now in it’s fourth year, the Club has featured 25 guest artists from five countries and a dozen States.  All but four have recorded tunes especially for Fiddle Club sessions.  All of these recordings can still be downloaded from the Fiddle Club’s blog, formerly on the Old Town School’s website. The page on DrDosido.net is a roster of Fiddle Club guests with quick links to their tunes, so you don’t have to scroll through years worth of posts on Fiddle Club blog.

Old Town Fiddle > Fiddle Club

I also recently added a page for highlights from the Midwest Fiddle Championship I began in 2003 in association with the Old Town School’s Chicago Folk & Roots Festival. Plans have just been announced for the 9th annual contest. In the coming month, I’ll be processing recordings and photographs from previous festivals in order to tell the story of this most unusual, multicultural fiddle contest. There are few sample sound files posted now, plus links to videos at DrDosido’s YouTube Channel. Lots more will be uploaded soon.

Old Town Fiddle > Fiddle Contest

* On a scale of 1 to 5–with 5 being really bad–how were the puns? Some were worse than others.  Did you catch all thirteen?

Dyngus Day

In 1987, as part of my Indiana Arts Commission grant project on Ethnic Dance Music in Northern Indiana, I visited South Bend to witness one of the largest Dyngus Day celebrations in the United States.  A notable Hoosier I met that day was Frank O’Bannon, who was then running for the Democratic nomination for governor.  He settled for the office of Lieutenant Governor the following year.  In 1996, he was elected governor, and led the state through a period of prosperity.  His second term in office was cut short by an untimely stroke in 2003.  His term was finished by Lieutenant Governor Joe Kernan of South Bend.  In my notes below from 1987, I misidentified Mr. Kernan as Joe Kearney, who was then a candidate for mayor of South Bend.  But Dyngus Day is a Polish celebration, and Mr. Kernan’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Richard Jasinski, received a much heartier welcome.  Here are my fieldnotes from that day.

South Bend, Indiana – songs, dance music [Polish] – April 20,1987
Dyngus Day celebration at Mike Berta’s Place, a bar
Jerry Kurdys’ Polka Party
(click links above for musical selections and field notes)

The Search for German Old-Time Music

More accurately, today’s topic is the old-time music played by musicians from German communities around Hoagland, Indiana. The question of how much of the music played for barn dances and house dances was actually German is a question I’ve never been able to answer fully. There’s no doubt that square dancing was very popular in these German communities as far back as the 1880s. But why? Daily life then was carried on in Plattdeutsch (low German),  Square dance calls were in English. My Great-Grandpa Flaugh was a caller, and Clara Franke, my grandmother verifed that he used standard English calls as ‘promenade’ and ‘allemande left.’ Amos Kline, who ran Kline’s Barn, a commercially successful dance hall east of Fort Wayne near Zulu in the 1930s and ’40s, told me that the crowds of dancers who kept him in business were all the German folk from down in the area between Hoagland and Decatur.  And by the 1980s, when square dancing around Hoagland had been supplemented with a self-consciously German revitalization of the polka, one of the favorite bands (from the equally German area around Napoleon, Ohio) regularly announced that it was now time for a set of “English square dances.”

First, a little background. German immigrants were the first European-Americans to settle in southeastern Allen County, Indiana, beginning in the 1840s. It was an area of wooded wetlands–swamps, if you will–and not a suitable location for villages of the locals, Indians of the Miami confederation. There was a well-worn Indian trail, later named Wayne Trace, that cut across the surveyed grid of roads legislated by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Wayne Trace was a dirt road that stopped about a half-mile to the southeast of Hoagland. It started up again at the Minnich road and ran northwest up through the Soest community and on into Fort Wayne. In my day, that stretch of Wayne Trace was only partly paved. The old Indian trail connecting these two stretches would probably have passed right through the Tyler property on Hoagland Road. In the 1950s and ’60s there was no obvious evidence of this earlier history, except for a historical marker placed near the end of our driveway by the Allen County Historical Society. It noted that Hoagland was platted in 1872.

A few Anglo-Americans established themselves in the area before 1872, but it was the huge earlier influx of Germans that made the dominant cultural imprint. Immigrants directly from Lower Saxony and other areas of northern Germany came to this part of Indiana and Ohio to claim homes, drain and clear the land for fields, and build communities. A circuit-riding German Lutheran minister (his great-great-great grandson was a college classmate of mine) helped establish several congregations in the 1840s: St. John’s Bingen (two miles south of Hoagland) and Emmanuel Soest (a few miles northwest) were the first, followed soon after by St. John Flatrock (two miles East). Flatrock, the church and school attended by the Franke family, and thus central to my story, was founded in 1849. Within ten miles of Hoagland, south in Adams County, are three more German Lutheran congregations formed at the same time, two of them even older. Zion Friedheim and St. Peter’s Fuelling were founded in 1838, with Immanuel Union Township coming along in 1849.

This account is intended to convey the depth of the German presence in Hoagland, or more accurately, the open country around Hoagland. That cultural presence extends beyond this core towards other rural German communities, such as Marquardts outside of Monroeville and Hessen Cassell, between Hoagland and Fort Wayne. The latter is the only German community centered around a Roman Catholic church. Even Fort Wayne must be regarded as one of the most German cities in the United States. I grew up in this arguably most German area of the country with a love for old-time square dancing and a curiosity about how these Good Germans came to have such a strong love for a social dance form with French roots, English calls, and a thoroughly American history.

Some of Hoagland’s older citizens in the period from 1976 to 1988 provided partial answers.  My grandmother’s memory stretches the furthest back into the 19th century. She told me a story related to her by her mother of an incident that happened before 1890, the year my grandma was born.  Here are Clara Franke’s words: “Mom would used to tell, it tickles me.  She used to tell about when she was a little school girl.  And the kids played. . . .  And she said that Uncle Duff Dauer. . . he was older than she was. . . and they used to play they was dancing.  And he’d call.  He’d call ‘Teleman left,’ he’d say; then ‘all a prom, all a pomay.’  ‘All promenade’ you know, ‘ all a pomay.’  She used to tell that.  It would always tickle me so.”

Grandma remembered well the time when barn dances and house dances were a most important social gathering in the neighborhood for all generations. The square dance, which they called a quadrille, was central, but not the only dance. “They’d dance three changes [of the quadrille].  Then they’d play a waltz, a three-step, a two-step . . . I  don’t remember whether they danced a foxtrot or not. Now I never did learn to waltz.  I tried a couple of times, but I just couldn’t learn.  And Daddy never waltzed.  Daddy never danced anything but a square dance.”

Grandma remembered some of the older musicians, but she could not tell much about the tunes they played.  Here’s another bit from my interview on December 28, 1976.

CF: Grandpa [Fred Franke, my grandfather] played the mouth harp, and Bill Ahlfelt–here this house, way back in the lane, you know, on the Hoagland Road, across from Ervin Koeneman’s, that’s where Ahlfelts live. Bill Ahlfelt played the guitar and Henry Ahlfelt played a mandolin. . . . For our wedding, we had the Rohrbach boys.  One played the violin, I know. . . . Bill Peppler, did you know Bill Peppler?
PT:  The name’s familiar.
CF:  Well, they belonged to our church.  He’s buried here on the cemetery.  Well,  she is too, she is too. They’re buried right close to where Dad and I have our lot.  And uh, Bill Peppler used to play the accordion. That was a little box about like this when it was closed up, and then, they could pull it way out, you know.  It was nice music. . . . Oh, if Lena Peppler was living she could tell you . . .Bill would play at a dance and Lena would go along.  She’d go along and she’d dance to beat the dickens.

I got a little bit more information about the old-time German musicians of the Hoagland area from the early years of the 20th century from a few other conversations.  My first attempt at an interview didn’t go so well.  Edgar Witte lived just down the road from us.  He knew my family, but I didn’t really know him.  When I showed up on his door step in December 1976, he didn’t know what to make of a long-haired college kid asking him about the old days.  He never invited me in, and I never got to ask about tape-recording his memories. I also regret that I never went back to try to establish a better rapport.  When I left his front steps, I sat in my car and wrote what I could remember into my notebook.  Here is a paraphrase of what he told me:

Talk to my brother. He would tell you more about that. He’s got my banjo. I played for about ten or 15 years. We played all over, even over in Ohio. We had a lot of different people in the band. One guy would have a clarinet, one a violin. This one would drop out, then that one would drop out. Once we played back in a platform back in the woods. Most of the time we played in barns. They were cold. We played the same kind of music they have on the records they have on TV. ‘Paw and Maw’ I think they call it. [Hee-Haw ?] We didn’t have any microphones in them days. You had to play your heart out to be heard. Now you just touch the thing. Stand close and you’ve got a good loud sound.  I played the banjo. Plectrum. One guy had a mandolin. A ‘bug,’ we called it.

I had become a much better interviewer by May 22, 1988, when I went to visit Elmer and Velma Grotrian in their farm house about a mile from the Franke homestead. They were avid dancers, starting with the old-time barn and house dances of the early 1900s through the rise of the polka revival in the 1980s. Elmer was born in 1904, and full of vivid memories.  In the old days, one of the most popular musical ensembles in the Hoagland area was Wilbur Scheumann’s orchestra, with Wilbur on saxophone, Gus Macke on concertina; Herb Milan on banjo; and Pete Hockemeyer on drums. Here’s an excerpt from that interview.

EG:    Now those boys, they went out and played for anybody  who wanted to give a public dance.  Anybody that had a barn . . . that was fit to have a dance on, that they wanted to entertain like their community or group or whatever it was, why they would put on a dance; and these guys would go and play for something like that.  That Wilbur Scheuman’s  gang was a pretty popular band at that time. . . .  Now, when you’re talking violin, Bill Peppler was a violinist.  Now him again and old Bushman Rohrbach and, either Bushman Rohrbach or Charlie Judt.  Charlie Judt played the concertina too.  Now Bill Peppler, he was got about, oh, about half shot, liquor or what have you.  He’d stand one leg out like this and saw, he would saw it off, by God.  And the more the people enjoyed it, the better he could play.  He had to get about half teed up first, so he could wheel her out.  Now the Thiele boys, now Fred Thiele, he was a violin player too [Paul Thiele was the caller, Coony Meckholt (or Thiele ?) played concertina] . . . Cooney Thiele was the one, he enjoyed drinking a little bit too.  And he got wound up.  Why he really enjoyed seeing people get out and dance.  And like I said, in those days it wasn’t a matter of what they was going to get out of it as the pleasure of seeing people entertain themselves.  That was the idea.

That’s as far back as living memory has been able to take me.  The musicians named here were active in the first three decades of the 20th century.  I hope it is clear to the reader that all of their surnames are German names. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what tunes they played, though they seemed to be of the same category presented by Hee-Haw fifty years later, at least in the estimation of Edgar Witte.  The violin and concertina were important. But a lot of instruments also had a place in the old-time German dance bands of northeastern Indiana.

More to come.

A Folksong Autobiography, episode 2 (not in chronological order)

I’ve been trying to remember, but I can’t locate the first seeds of my obsession with the fiddle. It must have had something to do with Hoagland’s passion for square dancing (see They didn’t know it yet, . . . below). But I can not recall a local wedding band at the Hoagland Hayloft in the 1960s that included a fiddler. Somehow, back then, I knew that square dancing, as fun as it was, would be even better with a fiddler in the band. In the lack of any clear evidence, I probably have to give credit to television–probably a Bugs Bunny cartoon–or perhaps the radio. Maybe I heard violinist Jack Carmen fiddle a hoedown with Nancy Lee & the Hilltoppers on the Little Red Barn show on WOWO.

There was a violin in our attic. My mom had played it in high school orchestra in the early 1930s. (BTW Hoagland High School had an orchestra in 1930, but only a band in 1960!) She admitted that she was never very good at it, and the instrument in our attic had no strings. Dad played the mandolin. He kept his Gibson A-model in its chipboard case on the floor of the coat closet by the front door (the door we never used). On the somewhat sporadic occasions he’d get it out to play, he also would bring out some sheets of music, some printed and others handwritten. I don’t remember where he kept his music. But a few years after his death in 1972, Mom gave me a big binder full of music from Dad’s days as a student in the Ted Barr Mandolin Orchestra in Fort Wayne before the War. It is a totally amazing collection of mostly handwritten mandolin parts, much of it for 2nd mandolin. But that’s a story for another time. Most of the music-making in our house centered around practicing for the lessons my sister and I took. Jean is three-and-a-half years older. She started first on piano, with lessons from Mom’s first cousin, Helen Reynolds. When I was in 3rd Grade I asked to take piano lessons too. (Helen’s importance in my musical development is yet another story.) Then two years later I started taking cornet lessons with Mr. Marr at the high school next door to our house. I believe Jean followed a short time later with trombone lessons.

But there was no fiddle music in the Tyler home on Hoagland Road. Again, I don’t recall ever seeing a live fiddler at a dance at the Hayloft. But I clearly knew there should be, or could be, or had been. At some point I began asking Mom about square dances and musicians from her earlier days. She had not been an avid dancer, but she had a thorough knowledge of who was who in the Hoagland area, especially the Good German Lutherans on the farms between Hoagland and Monroeville, six miles to the East. I knew that dancing in the old days often took place in the barn. Of course everybody knew that. The Hoagland Hayloft itself, at least the first one before the fire, was a regular bank barn converted into a commercial dance and reception hall. To my surprise, I found out that the before barns were used for dances, folks would clear out the furniture and have a house dance. My Grandpa Franke (Mom’s dad) played harmonica for some of those old neighborhood dances. And he got paid for it too. But after raising a family and struggling to keep the farm during the dark days of the Great Depression, Grandpa Franke saw little value in playing music anymore. I never heard him play. He died in 1961. A decade later, I asked Grandma Franke if he had kept a harmonica. She couldn’t remember having seen one for years.

Mom was able to tell me about a few of the local bands from back in the day when it was mostly the young folks who went to barn dances. The most popular dance band in the 1930s was Hilbert Holle’s band. I later found out they were called the Hoosier Eagles. Hilbert lived three doors to the west of us. His wife, Dorothy played the piano and was occasionally a substitute organist at church. She played in Hilbert’s band. In 1976, I went over to the Holles and talked to both Hilbert and Dorothy about the old-time dances. (I have notes from that conversation filed away, so the story of the Hoosier Eagles will reappear in the future.) Another surprise for me was that Hilbert and Dorothy did not remember their music as old-time. Hilbert played the saxophone, and the Hoosier Eagles saw themselves as playing the latest and most up-to-date sounds that people wanted to dance to. Of course they included some square dances in an evening’s program. But they weren’t that interested in the old-fashioned stuff.

For the real old-time music, I had to talk to some of the remaining members of the generation before my mother’s. There were older musicians in some of the local families with names like Fuelling, Koeneman, Schoemann and Thiele. You can tell they were Good Germans, and mostly Lutheran. Again I have notes from conversations with some of these men. But the one name Mom gave me that struck me as greatly significant was Peppler, George Peppler, I believe. I could have the story wrong, or maybe Mom’s memory was only approximate, but Mr. Peppler was a fiddle player and a relative. Or maybe he was related to the Frankes by marriage, perhaps a distant cousin of my Aunt Dorothy who married Mom’s brother Edward. To be fair, Mom knew exactly who was related to who and how. That’s where my memory is fuzzy. I was more interested in who played fiddle and who played which accompanying instrument.

So this is about as far as this story goes. I’ve long thought that there was one known fiddler in my family, and his name was Peppler. I never knew him, and, as far as I know, I never laid eyes on him and certainly never heard him play. Still, he looms large as an image or symbol for my chosen path through life. If Mr. Peppler was not a fiddler, then he played what has been called variously the concertina or accordion. If the latter is true, then he played regularly with a man named George Judt, who was the fiddler. And whichever of these two men was the fiddler also played for a time with Gus Koeneman, who played the squeezebox. As I began my quest to uncover the story of the real old-time music around Hoagland, I went to Gus Koeneman’s door right after Christmas in 1976. Mr. Koeneman was ill that day, and was not in good shape those last years of his life. I was never able to interview him or find out for sure whether he played a concertina or an accordion.

I learned from other sources that the Chemnitzer concertina, a big square squeezebox with buttons on the faces at each end, was favored by a number of German musicians in the area around Fort Wayne. The Thiele Brother Orchestra in Yoder (ten miles west of Hoagland, where Hoagland Road is known as Yoder Road) played for dances for years. Early on they featured fiddle and concertina. The first Chemnitzer concertina I ever remember seeing was played by Herman Fox of Fort Wayne. In his retirement years, he teamed up with fiddler Hugh Sowers from Arcola, a small town as far northwest of Fort Wayne as Hoagland was to the southeast. After discovering him at a fiddle contest at the Allen County 4-H Fair in 1976 (my sister helped organize it and I was a judge, because I’d been to a fiddle contest a few years earlier when I lived in North Carolina–another story), Herman Fox was one of the first old-time musicians I interviewed formally with a tape recorder running. I’ll upload some more concertina playing from that thoroughly delightful visit in coming weeks. But to hear the sound of fiddle and concertina, what I like to think of as the old-time Hoagland sound, you can follow this link for some 1980 recordings of Herman Fox at the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering in Battle Ground. I’m the fiddler. At the time I had been playing for four years. Herman had been playing for seventy. Plus, here’s a link to Herman’s story (click the Hoosier Folklore Society Newsletter).

N.B. If any of my Franke cousins read this, especially from Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Edward’s family, perhaps you can help clarify for me the identity of Mr. Peppler and some of the others. My mother was good at knowing who was related to who in the community, but Aunt Dorothy was a true master of the art. She passed away in September of 2009. As in the case of my mom and dad, I have a lot more questions I wish I had asked.

The importance of being Hoosier

I always have and always will be one.  A Hoosier, that is.  But I’ve now lived in Chicago nearly half of my life. Twenty-four years, to be exact. The tendencies toward acculturation are subtle and strong, so I’ve forgotten a few things that are close to the essence of Hoosierness. Fortunately, my friend Eric Zorn directed me a useful internet source that promises to help revitalize that native core.

How to Speak Hoosier

The link leads to Episode 3, which is particularly rich. In fact, I went back into my previous post and changed one word in the second paragraph, so it’s all that truer. Bonus points if you can spot it.

A Folksong Autobiography, episode 1

I must have been about three.  My sister was at school.  Christmas time was coming and it was cold, so I was playing on the floor under the telephone right next to the hot air register.  Mom was in the kitchen doing mom things at the sink.  I was singing “Silent Night,” but I didn’t know all the words.  So I got up from my play and went out to the kitchen and learned a line or two from Mom.  I went back to the toys and sang some more till I could add those lines to what I knew.  I repeated the process, and leaned another line or two.  This went on until I knew all three verses to Silent Night. In my memory it took me all morning to learn the whole song, and I’ve never forgotten it. I wish I could know Mom’s memory of how I learned my first folk song.

For a few years in the 1970s, I borrowed an autoharp from someone and learned to play it.  As Christmas time approached in 1980–a few month’s after Mom died–I remember sitting on the davenport in my living room in Bloomington and playing “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger” (Mom’s favorite) on the autoharp while tears streamed down my face. I know I cried at other times, but that’s the time I remember.  Shortly after that, I returned the autoharp to whoever it was who loaned it to me.

Now as Christmas time again approaches, and we get ready for our 12th annual Songs of Good Cheer singalong at the Old Town School of Folk Music, I brought to the group a song that cries out for autoharp.  So I borrowed one again, and after thirty years I can still pick out melodies with some facility.  I’d like to use it on Silent Night, but the instrument I’ve borrowed has no button for an A major chord, and that’s our key. I might have to get my own autoharp and customize the chord bars.

BTW for any one who is nearby and interested, I’m playing the One Mic Stand at the Grafton (two doors south of the Old Town School)  on Tuesday, Dec. 14 some time after 9:30.  When I played there last Spring, it was the public debut of my Folksong Autobiography.  Folks seem to like it.  This time I intend to have some help from my buddy, Steve Rosen, as well as from my wife, Gail.  I’ve got a few more stories in mind.

Good German Lutherans

On the home page of this, my website, I wrote “it is right and fitting” at this time to tell my story.  What I really wanted to say was “it is meat, rice, and salad dressing,” but that would take some explanation.  Here it is.  If, like me, you grew up in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in the 1950s and ’60s, you might recognize the above menu as a parody of the Order of Service with communion from the Lutheran Hymnal published by Concordia Publishing House in 1941.  Every Sunday, the minister would announce that “it is truly meet, right and salutary that we should in all time and in all places give thanks to thee, O Lord.”  As a young Good German Lutheran, I understood what was right and could guess at what might be salutary.  But I hadn’t a clue how something might be meet.  The list of food objects made more sense.

Food was important to Good German Lutherans, whether it was church potlucks or big family dinners on Sundays and holidays.  Eating together creates community, especially when it extends the bonds of family out into the neighborhood and beyond.  Community is another strong point of being a Good German Lutheran.  Lutherans know how to create community and how to maintain it, even in the face of disputation and disagreement.  Say what you will about parochial religiosity, but do not underestimate the bedrock value of belonging when it is connected to shared beliefs and the commitment to break bread.

DrDosido claims goodgermanlutheran (my sister and I were convinced it was single word) as his ethnicity.  Those are my people.  It is from them that I learned what is important in life.  It is hard to help an outsider fathom the amazing power of a visit back to Hoagland (see earlier post on “They didn’t know it yet”) when some member of any generation will recognize me as “Wade and Mildred’s boy” and then converse about people and places as if I haven’t been away for forty years.  It was there in Hoagland that I learned the strength of face-to-face community, the integral values of compassion and humility, and the vital importance of collective celebrations.

As I entered my teenage years I expressed several life goals that grew out of those values. As I got ready to go off to college, I announced that I intended to become a teacher.  I fulfilled that objective, but in a way I never could have imagined in 1968.  A few years before that, I told my mom that when I got to college I wanted to be a Freedom Rider or go south to register Black voters if the Mississippi Summer of Freedom could last a few more years.  Mom approved. Whether I have made a substantive contribution to the cause of justice and social change is subject to debate.

Finally, in a summary statement of the values I learned growing up in Hoagland, I also announced that a life goal was to play in a wedding band (see earlier post).  I have met this goal many times over.  But not in my hometown.  Though every time I play for someone’s wedding or celebration, most often involving the simple joys of old-time square dancing, I know I am extending the Good German Lutheran values of Hoagland into neighborhoods beyond my home community. This is most certainly true.

The scope of this project

I compiled some numbers.  To be honest, I am stunned.  Thus far I have built 40 web pages for DrDosido.net.  At the beginning of October I didn’t have a clue how to build even one. I keep a running tune count on the What’s New page.  A few days ago it read 212.  That number is a little off.  It should read 214, as in two hundred and fourteen sound files linked to 13 of the 40 pages. (Linking sound files is something I already knew how to do.)

Today I decided to color code the pages to help users know what’s what.  The 13 pages with sound files — I think of them as matrix pages — now have a yellowish hue.  The blue shines through on another 11 pages which are devoted to tables — artist and project rosters and lists of recording sessions.  The main pathway pages have the grayish tinge of the home page.  The color scheme is echoed faintly in the Reflections section. But no pages there are yellow, for none hold links to sound files.

Yesterday I made a  count and discovered that sound files are linked for 60 different artists. Another 70 artist names have been posted and are waiting for recordings to be uploaded.  A quick look at the table pages shows that the artist count can expand way beyond the sum of these numbers. This project is still in its first stages. I have a lot of digitizing and editing to do. I plan to keep at it until I run out of space or run out of time.

Where are the tunes?

It has been a month since drdosido.net went online.  After I announced it on several fiddle-oriented websites, the first comment I got was “Where are the tunes.  I must have missed a link.”  I understand that it can be frustrating to have to puzzle out how to get around a new site.  So I put some effort into inserting navigation links and aids that are both systematic and rational.  They are rather clunky looking, due to the my html limitations.  But they work.

That initial criticism also inspired me to think about how my website’s design fits my purpose. I am quite happy with the direction I have taken. I never intended drdosido.net to be an easy mark for tune-suckers. My goal all along was to provide music, stories, and historical background for discerning tune-suckers. The tunes are there, like a pot of gold, at the end of each path.  There are twelve paths, three for each of the four boxes at the top of my home page. Each path leads to a page on which are links to the sound files I have uploaded. Each online path, in a way, mirrors the real-life paths I followed to locate traditional musicians, learn about their lives, and share in their music.  This arrangement allows me to share more of what I learned.

I have also constructed a number of intermediate tables–rosters of artists or recording sessions–that reveal some of the activities and projects in which I was involved. The data contained therein fills in more of the stories.  And that is what I set out to do, to share the sounds and stories of the great musicians I have had the pleasure to meet.

They didn’t know it yet, . . .

. . . but 60 years ago this coming Friday, Mildred Franke Tyler gave birth to Dr. Dosido, the only son and second child of Wade Edward Tyler.  They named him Paul Leslie. They brought him home to a warm and comfortable house at the very eastern edge of Hoagland, Indiana.  Only the school, Madison-Marion Consolidated School, better known as Hoagland Elementary and Hoagland High School (all in one) stood between the Tyler house and the flat, fertile farmland that stretched east about a dozen miles to the Indiana-Ohio state line and beyond.

Fields of crops, mostly corn and soybeans, were visible across the road and right behind the long back yard of the Tyler house.  Hoagland was not very big in 1950.  And even when Paul left for college, beginning the trek through higher education that would transform him into Dr. Dosido, the town’s population numbered only 500.  However, Hoagland itself was always bigger than the houses set within the limits of the unincorporated entity known as Hoagland.

If you measured Hoagland by the public school, two whole rural townships were Wildcat territory.  If you measured it by the rural postal routes covered by the Hoagland post office, it was a  bit smaller, as some “Hoaglanders” addresses were Rural Route 10 from Fort Wayne (the big city), or Rural Route 2 from Monroeville (home of the rival Cubs).

Hoagland was and still is, in fact, a community of feeling. It encompassed a large open country network of farm families, former farm families turned to factory work and other occupations, and new arrivals, mostly escapees from Fort Wayne. Many people identified their networks as Hoagland, because of the draw of the school or Three Kings, the local tavern with a family room that enjoyed a near monopoly. The world of officialdom did little to define the boundaries or even recognize the importance of Hoagland.  But people did.  Hoagland was a community enacted through regular assemblies that met the peoples’s needs for local organization.  It could be the Volunteer Fire Department or the Hoagland Area Advancement Association or the baseball diamonds filled every summer evening with youth games or church league softball. An important nexus in all these networks was the Hoagland Hayloft, a bank barn refurbished as a reception hall.

The Hoagland Hayloft is where many wedding receptions, anniversary parties, and club socials were held.  The first floor of the Hayloft had a large kitchen and plenty of long tables for the feeding of guests.  The whole upstairs was a sprung wooden dance floor with a raised platform for the band set in the middle of the long east wall. The bands who were booked to play the Hayloft had to be good for three kinds of dances: slow dances (for the older folks), fast dances (for the young folks), and square dances (for everyone).

This is where Dr. Dosido’s journey began.  To be continued.

The website mostly works.

There are now 88 tunes posted in 6 out of 11 boxes.  A few people have even listened to the tunes, and the inevitable corrections and clarifications have started to trickle in.  I have to take a pause from posting tunes and tinkering with the site.  I’m pretty sure all the links work.  I installed a bunch of navigation buttons.  Nothing about DrDosido.net is very elegant.  But omg there are some great tunes up there, and more to come.

In coming weeks, I’ll attend more to content than to form.  Enjoy

Wow. I did it.

Last summer I started to conceptually design my website, but I had zero idea about how to actually get it up and running.  I did manage to claim my domain name, and a friend and supporter helped me obtain adequate hosting.  There things sat for several months, while I puzzled over how to get my domain to lead to my host site.  In the meantime, I made a few half-hearted efforts to find beginner-friendly site building software.

A little over a week ago I went out and bought a book on building a website, the one in the Missing Manual series.  I started with a simple text editor and built the home page and five second-level pages.  Then I downloaded a free html editor (Kompozer) and spent an intense couple of weekends putting my concepts into code.  This past weekend, I linked about 15 images and a couple dozen sound recordings, and it all seemed to work.

Last night it went live. Today, I am stunned.

There’s so much more to come.  At home, we refer to it as my legacy project.

Next week, I turn sixty.