Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Myrtle Otis

Myrtle Otis is a mandolin player from southeastern Minnesota still going strong at 89 years old. I will be contacting her later, but for now I wanted to share this great story.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sulo Hackman adds Finnish flavor to the repertoire

Sulo Hackman was born in 1912 on a farm near Duluth.  His father and his mother were both from Finland.  At age 8, Sulo started playing a fiddle made by his father.  His father, Charles, was also a fiddler and corrected Sulo whenever he would not play a tune in the old style.  Sulo and his brothers had a band called the Hackman Orchestra in the 1920's that played all over Northeastern Minnesota.

In the 1930's, Sulo and his wife owned a club in Northeastern Minnesota and brought in many Finnish and Scandinavian bands.  He would often sit in with the visiting bands. After that, his career led him on many paths, from working in a sawmill to being a dairy farmer.   All through this he was a part-time musician.

In his later years his band was called Sulo and The Musiikkats, which is where we get these tunes from.  Thanks to James Leary from the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, for loaning me the tape.

Jalasjarven Polka
A tune made popular in in early 1900's by Viola Turpenin.  Sulo often played fiddle with Viola's accordion.  Viola had a husband from Minnesota and would frequently visit.

Karjalan Polka





Sunday, December 25, 2011

Gilmore Lee


Gilmore Lee grew up in northern Minnesota listening to a Canadian radio station.  He got his first Sears fiddle when he was 9 and learned whatever he could off of the radio.  His brother learned guitar and then they had a little duo. Gilmore became a part of the Red River Valley Fiddle Association and won trophies at many of the fiddle contests in northern Minnesota.  When that association started to fade, Gilmore and others started the Minnesota State Fiddle Association in 1986.  He has played in and judged hundreds of contests since then.





Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Swedish-Minnesotan songs from the Dahlin family

I covered Paul Dahlin and his family in an earlier post.  It is time to pick the tunes that I want to choose.  I chose three tunes from Edwin Johnson's childhood.  4 generations of this Minnesota family have played these tunes.  To purchase the original CD's that these samples of tunes came from, go here.








Waltz From Edwin in G


Rattvik Marching Tune


Edwin's First Polska

Monday, December 19, 2011

Harold Sorenson

Harold Sorenson was born in Oklee, Minnesota on July 3, 1917.  Harold passed away just a couple of years ago in 2008.  He was one fine northern Minnesota fiddler who never did read notes off of paper.  His father was from near Grand Forks and his mother was from Norway.  His dad could play a few tunes on the fiddle. There were four fiddle players in his extended family.  He learned alot of his tunes from his uncle Sam who played the Hardanger fiddle. He lived most of his life farming near Climax, MN.  He served our country in World War 2.  Most of the music that the family played was around the living room according to Phil Nusbaum, who made these recordings in the 1980'sMidwest fiddler, Julane Lund, visited with him and carries on a few of his tunes.  She wrote about one of those visits in The Old-Time Herald.

Uncle Sam Sorenson's Waltz


Knute's Waltz


Dick Halverson's  Waltz



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Iva Dingwall

Iva Dingwall was born in Elk River, MN in 1877. She played the barn dance fiddle music that her father played when she was growing up.  This recording of her represents the only recordings we have of a Minnesota fiddler born in the 1800's.  Thankfully she also jotted down her accounts of her fathers playing and the tunes and dances that were used.  Here is one great story-

" How often do I recall my father and mother coming to the schoolhouse at three in the afternoon to take me home because he had to play for a dance perhaps ten miles away.  We were hurriedly dressed, and if it were winter, on our way by 4 o'clock because travel was so slow with a couple of old "nags" hitched to farm sled and we must be there no later than seven.  They liked to start the fun early, and dancing usually continued on until daybreak.  Then we started back home, arriving there sometimes as late as 8 in the morning- about time for father to begin his morning chores.  It must have been very tiresome for them, sitting in the cold and driving that distance after being up all night, but for my sister and I it was fun.  Straw was placed on the bottom of the sled and blankets spread over it to make a bed.  With the old flat-irons heated and placed at our feet, we were as "snug as a bug in a rug" and slept as one of their sayings went- "just like a log" ".

You can find more of her frontier writing here.


Sally Over The Water


Steamboat Quickstep


Captain Jinks

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Erskine Old-Timers

When the Erskine Old-Timers were recorded by Phil Nusbaum in the 1980's, they had already been going as a band for more than 40 years.  The three original members were Bernt Odegard, fiddle; Bloyd Talge, banjo; and Vernes Trandem, bass.  In this recording they were joined by Dove Machart on piano. Erskine is a town in Northwestern Minnesota with a population of 509.

I have listened to hundreds of hours of Minnesota recordings for this project.  The Old-Timers are my favorite of them all. Something about the way they play really hits home with me.

Gary's Polka


Farmer's Waltz


Ranger's Waltz


Tim Sullivan's Hornpipe

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bill Sherburne

Bill Sherburne is arguably one of the best known of the Minnesota old-time fiddlers of the last 100 years. He was born in 1903 and died in 1991.  Bill's father was from a family of 12 children, and they all played fiddle.  His grandmother was also a very good fiddler.  Bill started fiddling when he was 8 years old.  He led dances in the Spring Grove area since the 1920s.  There was a time when he put down his fiddle to concentrates on farming.  In the 1960s he picked it up again and played dances until his last days.  Beth Hoven Rotto studied with him and carries on some of his repertoire in the dances she hosts in Decorah, Iowa.










Polka in G

Shinplaster Polka

Henry Storoff's Schottische

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Leonard Finseth- A fiddler 30 miles from the border with many Minnesota connections

Leonard Finseth was born at the same Mondovi, Wisconsin farm where he lived all his life. Leonard's father came from Norway, and he married his mother in the early 1900's and they lived at that same farm. Leonard was born in 1911 and passed away in 1991.  He learned to fiddle from his uncle Ed Quall.  Ed Quall played fiddle for local dances with an accordion player.  When Leonard was old enough, Leonard started playing with them on guitar.

He had several fiddling friends who he visited frequently and shared tunes with, among them being legendary Minnesota fiddlers Harold Sorenson and Edwin Johnson.  In his archives there are reel recordings of him playing with various fiddlers in the Spring Grove, MN area.

His penchant for recording himself, his uncle, and his friends has led to a treasure trove of recordings that are packed away in his archives. He also recorded two commercial LP's.  We can enjoy a few of his songs off one of his out-of-print records- The Hills of Old Wisconsin.  Thirty miles away those same hills are known as Bluff Country, Minnesota.

Charles Johnson's Polka
Johnson was a neighbor.  Leonard's uncle Ed played this tune.

Fred Nelson's Jig
Fred lived by Leonard and learned tunes from Irish fiddlers.

Albert's schottiche-
This one comes from Leonard's home recordings.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Craig Ruble- A Minnesota fiddler who passed too soon.

Craig Ruble was born in Austin, MN on May 19th, 1948.  He grew up in Oakland, MN. His five brothers all played instruments.  He and three of his brothers had a bluegrass band called the Ruble Brothers. Craig's father, Jim, taught him to play fiddle at a young age.  Jim knew the old Norwegian tunes of his heritage.  After graduating from the Univertsity of Minnesota, Craig served in the army and played in a country band.

By the mid-seventies he was considered one of the best, youngest fiddlers in the state.  He played on many studio recordings at that time.  He was in several bands and won the first annual Swayed Pines Fiddle Contest at St John's University.  He played for the Minnesota Scandanavian Ensemble where he got to play the tunes he learned from fellow Minnesotan fiddlers Selmer Ramsey, Casey Aslakson, and his father.

He produced 3 cassettes of Scandanavian music, where he plays all of the instruments himself. Leroy Larson put them out on his Banjar label.  Minnesota fiddler, John Beland, was kind enough to send me electronic copies of those old cassettes.

Craig had a 2 year battle with cancer and died in 1992 at the age of 44.  We will do our little part to keep his memory alive by selecting a few of his tunes for the repertoire.


Millstone Vals
From his father who heard it played in the Kasson, MN area

Casey's Waltz
From Elling Ramsey who learned it from Casey Aslakson.