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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ken Amundson is a fourth generation Minnesota fiddler.

Nick Hoffman and Ken Amundson.
Ken Amundson is a Saint Paul 3rd generation Minnesota violin luthier and 4th generation Minnesota fiddler. His great grandfather came to Minnesota from Norway. They were mostly barn dance and party fiddlers.  Sometimes there would be just a few musicians and sometimes they would need a bunch of folks to keep the crowds pleased.   They would dance on Friday night until the daylight Saturday and then get back at it after chores on Saturday.   He tells a cute story of kids falling asleep on the pile of jackets that accumulated in the corner of the room during the dances.  His grandpa and dad were house builders, barn builders and farmers. Because his grandfather, Karl, was good with wood, people would ask him to fix their fiddle.  He passed this skill on to Ken’s father Harris and Ken has turned it into the business he has today.  Ken has done work for several important artists including Ricky Scaggs and Kenny Chesney’s fiddler, Nick Hoffman.  Nick learned to play fiddle from Kenny Admundson’s father, Harris. Harris liked to teach tunes to the younger generation.

Harris was a significant Minnesota fiddler. He was involved in starting the Minnesota State Fiddle Association with Elmo Wick.  They starting organizing fiddle festivals around the state.  Ken told a touching story about his father’s favorite tune.  For many years his father couldn’t remember what the name of the tune was.  One day while he was out driving he saw a Westphalia camper and that triggered his memory that the tune was Westphalia waltz.  Many years later Kenny’s brother was with their father by his death bed.  He had not been doing well, but began tapping a tune out in ¾ time on his bed.  Kenny’s brother asked him what tune it was and he said it was the Westphalia Waltz. He died a short while later.   For that reason the song will be in my Minnesota repertoire.  I am in the process of getting copies of Harris's home recordings and then I will share a few tunes with you all.

In the videos Ken also shows us the great Hardanger fiddles that are around his shop.  If you are in need of fiddle repair work, you should contact him.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Henry Ford’s fiddle contests hits Minnesota in 1926.

In 1926 Henry ford decided to have a bunch of fiddle contests at auto shows simultaneously all across the country. They became a major cultural phenomenon. Henry’s putting the fiddle in the national spotlight led to many newspaper articles about the contests. Luckily for us, some of these newspaper clips were collected in one of Bob Andresen's files at the University of Wisconsin. It gives us a peak into who the great Minnesota fiddlers were 85 years ago and glimpses of their repertoire. It shows that Minnesotan fiddlers were playing many of the common tunes that were shared by fiddlers around the country- the kinds of tunes that are still played in jams today. I would be remiss if I didn't add some of these popular tunes into this blog's collection. The three that come up the most are Turkey in the Straw, Irish Washerwoman, and The Girl I Left Behind Me. All three of these tunes have been in Minnesota since the early days of Fort Snelling.

Some notable excerpts from the statewide contests:

- A.A. Lund, chewing away for dear life, without a tooth in his head, gave them The Girl I Left Behind Me, his moustache jerking up and down in perfect time with the tune.

- Between 20,000 and 30,000 fans have packed three theatres over the last 4 nights.

- Rules of contest: Entrant must be over 60 years of age. 90 names were entered.

- Diffney’s right arm amputated just below the elbow where his violin bow was strapped. His second number was Irish Washerwoman which received shouts and applause.

- 600 people attended. Largest crowd ever assembled in the hall.

I have no Minnesota sources of these tunes from the 1920's.  So here are the popular stringbands of the day playing them-

Turkey In The Straw. Gid Tanner And His Skillet Lickers (1926)

The Girl I Left Behind Me. Gid Tanner And His Skillet Lickers (1926)

 Irish Washerwoman. Doc Roberts (1928)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Selmer Ramsey

Talk to the old generation of Minnesota fiddlers and most of them have heard the tune Selmer Ramsey's Waltz. A few might say that he was a guy from up north. I was excited to find an actual out-of-print recording of the man. Selmer passed away 33 years ago.

From an out-of-print LP -

"Selmer Ramsey was born in 1914 in Highlanding Township, MN. His mother, Sophie Resla, was from Oslo, Norway. His father, James Ramsey, was from Albert Lea, MN. Selmer began playing the violin at the age of nine.
In 1937 Selmer married Ruby McEnelly of Goodridge, MN. They have one daughter, Jean, and two grandchildren, Jeffrey and Kristen. Selmer was a dance band leader for many years in the Goodridge and Thief River Falls area. At one time his band played regularly over KTRF, a local radio station.

Many of the tunes on this record are so old, they are only known as a waltz or schottische. Many were learned from his father James and his uncles Elling and Julius Ramsey, who were all from the Albert Lea area. There are also tunes which he learned from two local fiddlers, Ivan Sjuiestad and Ole Tharaldson. Selmer was also influenced by the old-time music played on radio stations from Winnipeg, Manitoba and Fargo, North Dakota (WDAY). He has several waltzes and schottisches of his own composition.

Tom Dahill and his Irish fiddle passed down from Paddy Hill.

Tom Dahill was born in the Highland Park area of Saint Paul in 1950. Although there were no fiddlers in his family, they did play a lot of music. When he was a child all of the Irish musicians would gather at his neighbor’s house every Sunday. They would also play neighborhood functions and dances. The players in those days were Mike McGivney, Mike Hughes, Mike Nash, Mike Sullivan, Paddy Hill and Tom Donahue. His mom grew up next to Tom Donahue. She remembered going to dances where he played. Tom Dahill's parents met the Hibernian hall that used to be in downtown Saint Paul where they had weekly Irish dances.

I contacted Tom because I wanted to get more Irish influence into this project. I specifically was interested in his connection to Paddy Hill. Paddy was a legendary fiddler from Saint Paul who many seem to reference, but few seemed to be able to tell me about. Tom not only plays music that he learned from Paddy, but still plays Paddy’s old fiddle. He estimates that his fiddle has been played in Saint Paul since the 1800s. It was given to Paddy in 1923 by fiddler Tom Martin.

The Irish American Club started in the 1920s, and they had dances every Saturday night. Their early home base was in a rec hall at Selby and Dale. After a while it moved to a rec hall on Selby and Snelling where the Associated Bank is now.

Tom talked about how there were large Irish farming communities to the Southwest of the Twin Cities. He knew many players in the old days from down in this area. He mentions a group photo he saw of about 30 fiddlers down in the Belle Plain area. They used to look forward to the harvest time and the celebrations that would attract the Irish fiddlers.

Tom continues to make a living from playing Irish music on many instruments. Contact him if you need a great Irish musician to play your function. Here some of the tunes he plays from The Paddy Hill repertoire. All three tune had lyrics that went with them, but we have just the tune featured here.

Maggie In The Woods

Bill Doody Don't Know That His Father Is Dead

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Elmo Wick's tunes

Elmo was born on August 27, 1924, in Sunburg, Minnesota, the son of Andrew and Esther (Erickson) Wick. He grew up in Sunburg where he attended school. He was united in marriage to Melba Gunderson September 12, 1945, in Sunburg. The couple moved to Willmar in 1947, where Elmo worked for the Kandiyohi County Highway Department as a heavy equipment operator for 37 years. He retired in 1983 and moved to Brooten, Minnesota, in 1985. Melba died on December 5, 2002. Elmo was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran faith and was a member of Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar and Trinity Lutheran Church in Brooten. Elmo loved music and played the violin his whole life. He stared playing with Morris Chargo at KWLM Radio on a weekly show. He later played with Harry Forsman Band and the Norskies Band. He also taught violin and played in fiddlers contests throughout the state. He belonged to the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America and the Minnesota State Fiddlers Association. Elmo's vast collection of transcriptions are now being reproduced by the MSFA. - Walter Sigtermans (MSFA)


Friday, November 4, 2011

Elmo Wick

Just before the state fair I called Dee Scott at the Minnesota State Fiddlers Association. Even though it sounded like she was doing about 10 things at the time, she took time out to talk with me. During the course of our conversation, she told me that she had an Elmo Wick tape that she would copy for me. She said I would have to wait for a couple weeks because she was off to the fiddle championships at the Minnesota State Fair. No more than two days later did the mail come with that tape. Bless her heart.

Elmo Wick was a Minnesota fiddler from the town of Brooten. Brooten is located in the middle of the state, west of Saint Cloud. He was one of the three founding fiddlers of the Minnesota State Fiddle Association. In the newsletter accompanying the letter below are pictures of Elmo transcribing a fiddle tune to paper. This is fitting, as this was one of his favorite things to do. The MSFA currently has possession of his sheet music.

Below is a history of the MSFA he wrote for the organization's newsletter:

Letter to the MSFA, from Elmo Wick (edited)

June, 2001

A big thanks to Dee Scott for a fine job of writing the newsletter and also to Dan Radford, president, and Gilmore Lee, vice-president, and all of the other officers and directors for keeping the MSFA alive and well.

I am sending Dee all the information on how the MFSA started. For those of you wondering how the fiddlers’ association came into being, I asked Lloyd Eisert and Gilmore Lee at the concert in Annandale, in August of 1986, if they would help me start a fiddlers' association for the state of Minnesota, and they agreed to do so.

I used my own time and money to buy stamps. I looked for a place to meet in the center of Minnesota and asked some of the fiddlers that I knew if Saint Cloud would be OK. So I drove to the Holiday Inn in Saint Cloud in September of 1986 and rented a meeting room for the afternoon of October 26th.

My wife Melba and I wrote letter to sixty fiddlers in Minnesota to invite them to the meeting. At the meeting we elected our board of directors and our officers. The Holiday Inn made an offer to me- If I could sell 25 noon dinners that day, then we could use the room for free. Twenty six dinners were sold, so that saved me some money.

The meeting was a great success. Lloyd Eisert was elected president. Sid Kjeldahl was elected treasurer, and Gilmore Lee and I were elected directors. Michele Kolbrek suggested the name. I wish the word “old-time” would have been included in the name because I really want old-time fiddling to live forever.

I donated $100 to the MSFA for expenses. I also played at the county fairs with the South Dakota Fiddlers and gave the profits I earned to the MSFA. In 1989 Lloyd Eisert turned in a bill for mileage expenses and a phone bill for $485. That left the MFSA in the red. We were lucky to have Sid Kjeldahl take over and save the MFSA by putting on programs in Long Prairie once a month for three years. By charging $2 a person and donating it all to the MSFA, we got out of debt.

Another fiddler who has done a lot for the MSFA is Gilmore Lee. He has donated lots of driving, playing time, and phone calls. He has done this all for free. I also fondly recall all of the donations made by Archie Teigan and Howard Borgerding. I also am sending Dee two tapes of Alan Erickson and I playing old-time fiddle tunes, along with two tunes transcribed for the newsletter.

Sincerely, Elmo Wick.


From his obituary-

He was born Aug. 27, 1924, in Sunburg, MN to Andrew and Esther (Erickson) Wick. He grew up in Sunburg where he attended school.

He married Melba Gunderson on Sept. 12, 1945, in Sunburg. They moved to Willmar, MN in 1947 where he worked for the Kandiyohi County Highway Department as a heavy equipment operator for 37 years. He retired in 1983 and moved to Brooten in 1985. He was a member of Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar and Trinity Lutheran Church in Brooten. He played the violin with Morris Chargo on a weekly show on KWLM Radio. He later played with the Harry Forsman Band and the Norskies Band and entertained in later years at various senior citizens' clubs and numerous functions. He taught violin and played in fiddlers' contests throughout the state.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Minnesota Fiddle Music In Wisconsin?

This weekend my search for Minnesota fiddle music took me to Wisconsin. As odd as this may seem, the Center For The Study Of Upper Midwestern Cultures collection is housed at the Mills Music Library (I know, it is a mouthful). I went there specifically to look at the collection of Robert Andresen and Leonard Finseth.

Andresen came from Outing, MN. He devoted a large part of his life to studying, preserving, and performing music from Minnesota. He had a great radio show out of Duluth called The Northern Hoedown which featured music, interviews, and stories of the artists he was collecting.

Finseth is not officially a Minnesotan, but you can barely reference another Minnesota fiddler's name from his generation without including him. He apparently was all over this state playing with the other great fiddlers of his generation. The fact that he lived 30 miles away from the Minnesota border will be overlooked due to his significant influence and collaboration he had with other Minnesota fiddlers.

The Finseth collection is filled with old cassettes of his playing with various people. The reel-to-reels in this collection are what I really wanted to hear. They contain several fiddlers from the fertile Spring Grove area that I have no other links to. Unfortunately, the collage's reel-to-reel player was broken. The Finseth collection is mostly unprocessed due to low interest. I worry that the tapes are degrading, but I had a good chat with the library folks who said that since I have shown interest it might be pushed up on their priority list of items to digitize. I am going to have a good time going through and learning those Finseth tunes from those cassettes.

The Andresen Collection is a real treasure trove which I will be sharing in pieces. It includes correspondences, pictures, newspaper clippings, and personal accounts of Minnesota fiddlers mostly forgotten about. Bob played guitar with a lot of these folks and seemed like he was every one's friend.

Madison, Wisconsin is just a lovely city in general. I love that State street is always bustling with life and imagination and the farmers' market was very impressive, from street theatre, to banjos, accordions, brass bands, and food carts. I could have stayed at the library all night. It was good it closed at 5 each day so I could get out and see a few things. I have to make sure I don't become a research hermit- After all, the point of this project is to keep this music alive.

Here is Andresen talking about his father and Minnesotan fiddle music on his Northern Hoedown radio show.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Phil Nusbaum and his research of Minnesota old-time music made by Norwegians

In the late 1980s Phil Nusbaum took his tape recorder all over Minnesota to do field recordings of traditional music played by Norwegian immigrants to Minnesota. The album that came from it is: Norwegian-American Music from Minnesota Old-Time and Traditional Favorites. The record came with an informative 15 page booklet that provides a lot of history and context for the album.

I did not have a copy of his record so I went to Ebay and picked up a unopened LP for $9.99 that came with the booklet. What a great document of Minnesota history that package is. In the end of the booklet he asks a question about the future of Norwegian music in Minnesota. Will it continue to fade away as he saw it or would it grow into new form that could again blossom? That question in a broader sense is what started my project. Can we reshape all of this lost cross-cultural repertoire into something uniquely Minnesotan that more people could be excited about again?

The first time I talked with Phil about this project I asked him about living folks. He told me that most have passed on, which I knew. Then I decided to ask him about tapes of certain fiddlers who have passed, and I was surprised to hear that he still had tapes of all those folks he recorded in the '80s.

The ironic thing is that I have travelled through the state looking for this music and the real treasure trove of recordings was no more than a half of mile from my house.

When I showed up at Phil's house he took me into his music room and there on the top shelf of his closet was a dusty bowl full of these recordings. Many fiddlers who I was looking for were there. As he went through the tapes he explained various aspects of his project and told me about the artists. Someday soon I will go back and interview him properly with the recorder. I am going through those old tapes now and will be sharing with you some of the tunes as this project moves along.

Bill is the host of 2 weekly shows. The Bluegrass Review is his nationally syndicated weekly radio show, and you can listen to him locally every Saturday hosting Bluegrass Saturday Morning on KBEM.

Here is one of the tunes Phil put on his Norwegian album. The band is the Erksine Old-Timers. Most of the members were up in age at the time of this recording. Erksine is a little town up in Northwestern Minnesota. More on the Old-Timers in a future blog. This tune will probably make it in the repertoire as many Minnesota fiddlers were playing it.

Gary's polka-

Monday, October 31, 2011

Archie Teigan

Archie Teigan was born on March 10, 1911 in North Dakota and he died on May 19, 1993 in Brainard, MN. His family moved to the Brainard area when he was 10 years old. He started off on the regular fiddle and played his first dance when he was 12. Later in life he learned the Hardanger fiddle of his Norwegian roots. He had a man from Telemark, Norway build him one, and it took 2 years to complete. The wood had been aging for 100 years before it was made into his instrument, and it had a Viking scroll design. He liked it best when he played with just an acoustic guitar accompanying him.

I first heard Archie on a tape that Paul Wilson sent me. When I called Paul, he didn't think he had anything to offer me, but right after he hung up, he called back and told me about his Teigan tape. That tape ended up having some high quality stuff. Paul is also from Brainard and builds drone fiddles (his are pictured above). He is a founder of the great Scandanavian music festival Nisswa-Stammen. He is also a member of Ole Olsson's Old-time Orkestra.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Art Bjorngjeld

It was hard for me to imagine a bastion of Minnesota old-time music living in the suburbs, but after a long bus ride I arrived at Art's suburban home. As soon I walked in and sat on his porch that overlooks his woodsy backyard, it all made sense. The first thing I thought of was all of the wonderful music his neighbors must hear. Art started off our meeting explaining the differences between various 3 beat dances including the mazurka, the Hambo, a Polska and a Waltz. With each one he would actually get up and dance. He explained how the village dances eventually got lost here for more common dancing like the waltz.

Art's grandmother and grandfather both immigrated to America from Norway and met here in America. Art’s grandfather settled in a little town near the Canadian border in North Dakota. Art’s grandfather played fiddle a little bit, but it was his dad and his uncle Oliver who really picked up the music bug, and they both played accordion. About 10 other relatives played instruments and sang old tunes as well. Members of the family played for barn dances and house parties. They could play a wide variety of things from the old Norwegian tunes to the more modern country radio styles that were popular when radio first started.

Pa's Tune- One of his Grandpa's favorite tunes.

Art’s dad and two of his uncles eventually moved to Minneapolis and continued to play together. He points out that he heard just as much accordion as fiddle, and he learned a lot of his tunes from people who played accordion. Because of this, he learned his own way to bow a lot of the tunes. The tunes themselves are very old.

Art’s first musical adventures of his own included playing guitar in high school. Those were the days of the folk boom, so he was playing a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary and stuff like that. In college he saw Doc Watson a few times at the U of M and that led him back into more traditional music. He started playing bluegrass banjo and that became his love for a long time. It ends up that he played in Snake-Eyed Pete and the Sidewinders which eventually became the band my stepfather played in- the Sidewinders.

All through the years he heard his family play the old tunes at gatherings, and he was slowly absorbing it in. When he met Dick Rees he began to learn a variety of Scandinavian music, and they had a group named the Scandinavian Hot Shots. He has played with the Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble for many years with Leroy Larson and can play the songs of his youth on fiddle and accordion.

Elmer Running's Tune- Elmer was a fiddling friend of Art's grandfather.

I will surely be adding a few of his granfather's tunes to the Minnesota repertoire.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Paul Dahlin and His Grandfathers Swedish Music.

Paul Dahlin is probably the most famous fiddler in town, but you may not have heard of him, unless you are Swedish or pay close attention to the arts. He was a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow in 1996, performed at some of the country's biggest folk festivals and put out recordings on prominent folk labels, such as Rounder. His story is well-documented on his website, where you can also buy his CD's. I felt really lucky to get to interview Paul for this project.

( Sorry about the darkness and quietness in this video. It was a rather intimate setting).
On my way to interview Paul, the first thing I noticed was how tranquil and peaceful his neighborhood in south Minneapolis felt. Upon entering, I noticed his makeshift woodshop in his living room. The first thing I thought of was how my Swedish stepfather would have felt very welcomed by this sight. That thought was reinforced later when I heard the story his family told him about going to America" You are going to America to work, not to play fiddle".

Luckily for us, he did come to play fiddle and taught his children, who taught the next generation, who taught the younger generation who are alive right now. Four generations of their family have fiddled here in Minnesota. I love the story about how Paul's son Daniel still goes to play with Paul's uncle Bruce and that Daniel is the one who really embraces the old tunes (along with writing some new ones).

This project of mine started with the questions as to where all the fiddlers went to. In my interview with Paul you hear about one great place they went to. Every Friday night they congregated at --- of Cedar and had a dinner and a lively dance. When Paul was describing it, I swear I was right there. I didn't remember until after I left Paul's house that my stepfather pointed out that old Swedish hall as we passed by there years ago.

Even though the traditions are firmly entrenched in his son, he uses the word "fragile" to describe the music's place in modern society. Thankfully, Paul and his family has been committed to teaching this music to hundreds of folks over the years through his partnership with the American Swedish Institute. This is one Minnesotan fiddle tradition that is properly preserved and nurtured.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Teacher Don Paden and the Cotton Tapes

My teacher was the one who helped get my family into old-time and bluegrass music. He and my stepfather ended up being in the same band and my mom did sound. Don was the one who let me hear his Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb records which influenced me greatly. He was always playing various instruments in class and singing old songs, but never too much with a fiddle.

Not so coincidentally, the great competition-winning clawhammer banjo player Adam Hurt had Don as an elementary teacher, too. Here is a quote from Adam, "I was first made aware of folk music by Don Paden, my homeroom teacher in a Saint Paul, Minnesota public school. Don played several folk instruments: mandolin was his favorite but he also played fiddle, guitar,and others. He regularly brought these instruments into his classroom, to show his students an art form that we had likely never known". Don's passion for the music was clearly contagious. The picture above is Don playing fiddle in String Fever Bluegrass band in 1990's."

I started going through and digitalizing all of the old Minnesota tapes that Dan Radford let me borrow on my last visit. I was not more than 15 minutes into the first tape when out comes, "our next contestant from Saint Paul is Don Paden, accompanied by Bill Hinkley", from the 1992 Cotton fiddle contest. What made it extra special is that Bill Hinkley is a local old-time legend who recently passed away.

Don Paden. Cotton, MN 1992.
Bill Hinkley. Cotton, MN 1992.

I am assuming that when it was Bill Hinkley's turn, Don was accompanying him. Don was a student of Bill's at the time. Here is a few of the selections that both men play.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fiddle Flash Mob

When I first heard that we were going to have a fiddle flash mob here in Minneapolis, I was worried that we were going to be raided by the police (OK, not really). I am lucky enough to live in a place that has three old-time mountain music jams I can go to each week, and we don't even live near any mountains. Most of the tunes played at these jams are Appalachian, except for the occasional polka or Canadian tune.

Today's flash mob was organized by Pam Longtine and her husband Doug Heine. The premise was simple: city park, fiddles, potluck. A very simple and brilliant concept. The event was attended by about 40 people and a good time was had by all. We are are well accustomed to this kind of atmosphere. Normally we would travel hundreds of miles and pay lots of money to go to festivals, only to skip the stage and play with each other in the back 40. It is like a small extended family- everyone is always offering me food or alcohol.

Usually if a jam gets too big, the elder statesmen and women break off and start their own jam. They don't mean any harm, I think it is just what's comfortable for them. They were nice enough to let me record a few songs. One of these elder statesmen is John Wallace. He just got done winning the gambler's fiddle contest at the Minnesota State Fair. The rules are that the judges give you a tune and you have to successfully play it. If you can't play it, you are eliminated and the last one remaining wins. John has won this contest several times.

I could say equally great things about all of the local fiddlers in these videos. They are from left to right in the first video: Robin Fox, Pam Longtine (seen later in video to the left), Don Jacques, John Wallace, Roger Cuthbertson, and Erik Platt on guitar.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dan Radford

Dan Radford has been playing fiddle for 75 years. He has been in symphonies, bluegrass bands, and Irish bands. He was lucky to have a symphony teacher who took him under his wing and taught him how to play. He then joined the army where he grew to appreciate hillbilly music but had no fiddle. He had his father carefully mail his fiddle, but when it arrived at the base it was in pieces. When he got it properly repaired he started playing with folks on the base, and he said they made some great music back then.

He has been in the same Irish band for 42 years. They have played all over the country, and he has won 1st place in many contests. Now that he is in his 80's he takes particular pride in talking about the young fiddlers he has mentored. He still enters contests but his hearing issues have made it so he doesn't place much any more. He really likes to tell stories of old days at the Yankton, South Dakota and Cotton, Minnesota festivals.

Dan Radford and Paul Andrews playing Ashokan Farewell at the 1994 fiddle contest in Yankton, South Dakota.

The house he built for he and his wife Orpha is one of the most beautiful open homes I have ever been in. It took him 3 months just to build his rock chimney that must be 30 feet high. One of his last construction projects was to build that 5,000 square foot house in Inver Grove Heights. Within moments of Orpha letting us in the door, he is showing us all the details of his house with great pride. He says he built the house by himself with the help of three other people. Their beautiful basement has a wonderful old bar that they reclaimed out of another building he was doing work in. Their beautiful music room is big enough to seat 44 guests for Christmas dinner. His wife of more than 25 years talked about how it gets harder to hold Christmas gatherings now that their extended family has hit 100.

Orpha is obviously very proud of what Dan has accomplished in fiddling and in construction. There are the fiddle trophies on the wall to prove it. She has organized a lot of old Minnesota tapes of fiddlers and fiddle contests. She has graciously let me digitalize a large part of this collection and I will be sharing a portion of it with all of you as time progresses.

Even though they live in the suburbs of Saint Paul, their home in Inver Grove Heights is in the middle of some beautiful country- hills and trees everywhere. As we left a giant falcon flew down in front of us and ripped a rodent out of a tree. Just the kind of setting you would expect to find a good fiddler.

You can buy some of Dan's Irish CD's at this website.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trip to the Minnesota State Fiddle Championships.

I went to Cotton, Minnesota for the 30th annual Minnesota State Fiddling championships this August. The first thing you notice about northern Minnesota is the large pine trees and the super clean air. The air is a surprise every time I am up there. For those of you who have never been to Cotton, the festival is held an an old school house and a community center. I went up there hoping to find a half dozen older Minnesota fiddlers, but was not surpised to hear the same mantra I have been hearing, "You should have been here 15 years ago, they've all died." The two who I could've interviewed, Gilmore Lee and Lee Cowan live close enough to me that I didn't have to go up to Cotton to interview.

It was a beautiful day until the moment we pulled into Cotton. We finally caught up to the storm we had been seeing for hours and it proceeded to rain for most of the weekend. It was fun to meet the great Lloyd Laplant from northern Minnesota. He is a fine instrument maker whose instruments have a following throughout the country. He said he would try to set me up with some Minnesota old-timers to record, but he admitted that most have passed.

It seemed to be a well run contest, but I was surprised by the utter lack of jams. I hear this is different than in the days of yore. I sat my chair out in front of the school the first night and decided to jam by myself. The contingent of Thunder Bay, Canada folks seemed to outnumber Minnesotans. A couple of those folks were dismayed by the lack of jamming, but never made it back over to jam with me that night. As the night went on we enjoyed the presence of two young folks who worked at a music store in Fargo, North Dakota. They explained how they travel with their wares to all these small festivals and never sell very much, but hope their name gets out there. They seemed to just like the road trip and a chance to drink and share stories with strangers.

I finally convinced some Thunder Bay folks to jam with me under their awning in the rain. We played for several good hours and the only time I got a little lost was during some fast Canadian two-steps. Jack Hill was a great guy to meet, and he placed in the Senior division. We talked about everything under the sun, and it was a pleasure to see him the next week at the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association hundreds of miles away. He has the same issues with losing feeling in his fingers when playing as I do and had to start bowing with his other hand which is amazing to me.

The only thing that saved the weekend besides the great jam Saturday morning was meeting 84-year-old Chester Enger of Hixton, Wisconsin who has been a mainstay at the festival for many years. He played a great archaic version of Life In The Finnish Woods. Afterwords, I went up to talk to him, and he told me the same three stories at least four times in about 5 minutes. He could remember tunes quite well, though. I asked if I could record some tunes from him and he gave me the best answer- Why would he let me record his tunes when he could go home and record himself. I guess that settled that then and there!