Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fiddlin' Around: The Ozarks

The fiddle played a large role in the music of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. There are a lot of similarities between the fiddle music of the Appalachians and the Ozarks, but there are significant differences as well. The style is somewhat similar to that of western Kentucky and Tennessee, which makes some sense since the regions are fairly close. Now, I’m no expert on fiddle finesse, but even my untrained ears can hear a bit of African-American influence, perhaps a touch of early jazz and a bit of popular music thrown in. I also detect a taste of Texas/Oklahoma in the mix.

The music of the Ozarks has always played second fiddle (pun intended) to that of the Appalachians. During the great Folk Scare of the 1950s and ‘60s, most of the emphasis was on the Appalachians and the Delta. The Ozarks received not much more than a sidebar mention.

I am not as well versed in Ozark tradition as I am with the Appalachians. Of all the places in North America that I have lived, I have never spent any time in the Ozarks. Sure, I’ve driven through plenty of times, even spent a couple nights in North Arkansas, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am not as familiar with the music as I would like to be. Perhaps I should plan a trip to the Ozark Folk Center.

I have gathered a few examples of Ozark fiddling. Give them a listen and see if you hear the same influences I do.

Pope’s Arkansas Mountaineers – Hog Eye.mp3

Fiddlin’ Sam Long – Sandy Land.mp3

Ted Sharp, Hinman & Sharp – Pike’s Peak.mp3

Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers – Goin’ Down The River.mp3
Dr. Henry Harlin Smith was a surgeon for the Missouri Pacific Railroad who lived in Calico Rock, Arkansas. On his travels with the railroad he encountered plenty of people who had a backward view of his home region. To counter the negative image and promote tourism, Dr. Smith held a fiddle contest in Calico Rock. From the winners of that 1926 contest, he organized a band and took them to the popular resorts at Hot Springs. Dr. Smith deserves to be remembered for his promotion of the Ozarks, and for coming up with the most whimsical, yet appropriate, name for his band of champion fiddlers.

Update - Audio links fixed. Thanks Lynne.


Blogger pineyflatwoodsgirl said...

I've always been fond of Roy Wooliver's fiddling. He's from Southern Missouri so would you say he is an Ozarker?

September 19, 2007 9:37 PM  
Blogger lynne said...

hi Ed, cannot access these tracks today, anyonelse having trouble??

September 20, 2007 6:27 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Sure enough, I'd say he qualifies as a true Ozarker.

September 20, 2007 7:41 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Foiled by my sloppy typing once again. Thanks for letting me know. I have fixed the links.

September 20, 2007 7:43 AM  
Anonymous G-Dub said...


This will help cath you up on the Ozarks.

When I was young, we used to vacation on the Gasconade river in Missouri. We would go with two (sometimes three) other families and spend one glorious week canoing, swimming, fishing and catching crawdads. Every once in awhile, we'd find a cave in the bluffs and play in it.

We slept on gravel bars and drank out of springs. As a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. As an adult, I think I was right.

If you haven't come across the above site yet, It's definately worth a visit. It's where I found Betty Lou Copeland singing "East Virginia"

September 20, 2007 11:16 AM  
Blogger kjk said...

Another Ozark-related URL for the old link library:

September 20, 2007 1:46 PM  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Didn't mean to abandon the music chain but my new glasses are tugging at the ocular nerve, they're too strong. While applying camomile tea bags to my lids and listening to the geographic differences between the Ozarks and is possible to hear regional differences and
there are certainly differences. Appalachian phrasing seems to turn the phrase so it slurs the last note and comes around as the first note. Keeps things up melodically. While the Ozark bowing takes the phrase right to the finish line. Makes for a low sliding sound like one is gathering up things. The bowing has a strong down stroke and they booth have fancy fingering.
I can here the African influence. Makes me think of early vaudeville, AL Jolson, those dance combinations like drag the foot... shuffle shuffle shuffle. If you say it - dra-a-g the foot... shuffle shuffle shuffle., you hear it.
It's fantastic. Like the cut Goin' down the river. Exactly where I'm going to throw these new glasses.

all thoughts fly... k.

September 20, 2007 4:24 PM  
Blogger lynne said...

Lynne - Ed got the Ozark tracks today !?! Wow, I am learning so much, Piedmont, Appalacian and Ozark info terrific. I bought Etta's Finger Picking' DVD and am painstakinly learning 'Mint Julep'. I learnt to play 'copying' Dave Van Ronk so it's good to see how 'the matriach' plays ..
Lynne - Black Dog re glasses. I have had the same trouble with glasses and read for 2-3 minutes and rip them off ?? Mum has gone back to her old cracked pair with same problem..maybe it's the bifoculs, I am going back to two pairs as I 'miss' reading.

September 20, 2007 8:19 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Good to hear from you, my friend. It’s been awhile.

Your youthful vacations do sound like “the coolest thing on earth”. I hope you are taking time once in awhile to enjoy those simple pleasures again.

Thanks for the link, Bittersweet looks very interesting. I’ve added it to my bookmarks and try to enjoy a few more samples as time allows.

I do remember the Max Hunter Collection from when you so kindly shared young Betty Lou Copeland with me.

Thanks again.

September 20, 2007 8:42 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

I guess I’m a little behind in my Ozark knowledge. Thanks for the link to the Wolf Collection; I’ll have to explore that on further also.

I hope you checked out the two links from G-dub, especially the Max Hunter Collection. Between the Hunter and Wolf Collections I’ve got lots of gems from the Ozarks to enjoy.

September 20, 2007 8:47 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Black Dog,
Thanks for the knowledgeable breakdown of the Appalachian/Ozark fiddle tunes. What a wonderful explanation! You’re explanation is so simple, even I can understand.

The comparison with Al Jolson is appropriate, as I assume that the African influence possibly came from vaudeville.

September 20, 2007 9:00 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

I’m glad you got the tunes and thanks for alerting me to the link trouble.

Etta Baker, eh? Mighty ambitious, but you’ll get it down.

September 20, 2007 9:07 PM  
Blogger kjk said...

wow. i could lose myself in the hunter collection for a decade! got it bookmarked just in time for the weekend ... (would that the weekend lasted a decade).

re: black dog's comment, i recall reading from a contemporary missouri fiddler, recently, that the style there is one note, one bow stroke. slurring is apparently not very common in fiddling there ...

of course, the appalachian motherload of not-so-contemporary field/festival recordings is here, as far as i know:

September 20, 2007 10:27 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Motherload indeed, Ken!

So much good music!
Thanks to all.

September 23, 2007 8:23 PM  

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