Fiddles

The Fiddle in Missouri

by Greg Bailey

I didn't start playing fiddle until I was about 20. Part of it was because of my heritage and I had my great grandfather's fiddle. Playing the fiddle and living in this area I got to know a guy named Bob Walsh, who was recognized by the University of Missouri as a one of the masters of old-time fiddle and it had been handed down in his family. The Walshes — well, there are parts of Ireland where that name is real prevalent and we ran into it when we were over there and found people who were running for office who were named Walsh.

Bob had moved down to this area from Eminence, Missouri, and Bob's dad was named Otha Walsh and he ran the store in Eminence for years and years and years. And of course, Otha was a fiddle player and his dad was a fiddle player. I don't know how far back the family came from over there but Bob was like my second dad. And he taught me lots of tunes and we played ever week and did some recording together.

But the thing about Bob, Bob was also the head of conservation around here — the conservation district. He was the boss of all the game wardens so he had political connections in Jeff City. And Bob was instrumental in getting the fiddle made — and he considered it — this area — the State of the Ozarks. Not Arkansas and Missouri, but this was an independent State of the Ozarks.

And Bob got the fiddle put in as the state instrument of Arkansas and the state instrument of Missouri. And Bob's father's fiddle, Otha's fiddle, is on display at the capital building in a wooden case. So if you ever get to Jeff City, you ought to go check it out. It's there in the rotunda and it's on display and it's the state instrument of Missouri and that's how that came about to be.

For the ceremony at Jeff City, we all took turns playing on a stage there in the capital rotunda and I got up and was trying to think what to play and I decided to play an old song named Redwing, but I introduced it as Rightwing since it was a political event.

Bob died in, I think it was '91, if I remember right. He was quite a guy.

October 20, 2007

Greg Bailey

plate 2. Greg Bailey, of the Homestead Pickers, plays guitar, fiddle/violin, mandolin, bass, and pretty much any other stringed instrument. He also owns Stone County Recording Studio near Branson.

plate 1. Fiddles and mandolin face boards detail in John Wynn’s Ozark, Missouri workshop, September 12, 2007. Photo credit, J. Heston. Location: Ozark, Missouri.

Gordon McCann

plate 2. Gordon McCann.

The Fiddle’s History

by Gordon McCann

No one knows exactly when the fiddle (or violin) was invented or when it first became known in Europe though some of the earliest examples were being made in Italy by the mid-1500s.

The violin’s popularity spread rapidly throughout Europe (including the British Isles) and by the mid-1600s, references prove the instrument had been introduced to the New World.

The fiddle was the musical instrument of the frontier and by the late 1700s had been brought to the Ozarks.

Since that time, the fiddle has been the most important instrument — with the exception of the human voice — in traditional Ozark music.

There are a number of reasons for this popularity. In the early days, the fiddle could easily adopt the music of the bagpipe, the harp and the flute. The instrument is light (and thus easily carried).

The fiddle has considerable volume and is able to express a variety of musical emotions which, along with different tunings and methods of bowing, carry over into stylistic matters.

Even in the relatively small area of the Ozarks, ther eare several diffrerent styles to be found.

The fiddle’s ease of playing allowed the music to be passed aurally from generation to generation (few traditional fiddlers read music).

A rich folk tradition and heritage unequaled by any other musical instrument in Western civilization was allowed to develop.

The main purpose of the fiddle was to create dance music, a fact reflected in the repertory of most old-time fiddlers.

For many generations of Ozarkians, the local fiddler was the sole source of musical entertainment in often-isolated communities.

He, along with the preacher, the doctor, and the granny-woman occupied a position of great importance.

Because of this closeness to the lives of the people, the fiddle (and its associated music) flourished as well as suffered.

To some, the music was a welcome escape from the rigors of pioneer life. To others — usually from religious convictions — it was the personification of the Prince of Darkness.

Is it? As one old fiddler once told us, “This is happy music!” Perhaps that says it all.

Dr. Gordon McCann is one of the Ozarks’ top old-time fiddle music authorities, collectors and accompanists. Photo at top courtesy of Gordon McCann.

Excerpt from Bittersweet country—

Group followed group, singing and picking music for people who enjoy living. They sang the songs their grandparents used to sing on Sunday afternoon or played at a square dance on Saturday night. They sang gospel music and more recent songs adapted to bluegrass styles. The songs were about real live happenings, based on religioun, love, joy, sadness, special events and occasions, with most of them telling a story or legend. “It’s simple down to earth music,” said 17 year old performer Randi Calton. — page 424

dogwood petal

Twin Fiddlers: Wayne Massengale & Melody Hart

(Branson, MO) Regarded as two of the most prominent fiddlers in the live music capital of the world, husband and wife team Wayne Massengale and Melody Hart are also mighty hard working. Hart plays fiddle and sings in Silver Dollar City’s Echo Hollow Show as well as Grand Country Music Hall’s Down Home Country and the Branson Country USA late night radio / tv show.

Massengale plays multiple shows at Grand Country, including the Grand Jubilee, Down Home Country, New South Gospel, and Branson Country USA.

“The gospel show is new this year,” relates Massengale. “We have Jon Drockelman and David Price as vocalists and they chose some good gospel tunes that really fit their style. Jamie Haage (Jim Dandy) sings and does comedy. Jackie Brown is in the show. We do the good, old-time Southern Gospel music that takes you back to the days of going to church and hearing that old convention style singing like the Hinsons or the Blackwoods.”

The couple perform together in the Down Home Country Show. “We’re not supposed to have favorites,” shares Massengale, “but Down Home Country is my favorite show. We have some really great tunes.”

New South Gospel is scheduled for 3PM on Thursdays April 3 through December 11. Down Home Country shows daily at 10AM in April and May (and September through December).

Both are also involved in the long running Arkansas Fiddlers Convention in Harrison. “I helped get that started in 1983,” explains Massengale. “I was 14 at the time and was on the board. We wanted it to be the biggest and best fiddle festival around. That very first convention we had Alison Krauss perform. It is a very important event and I support it every year.” Massengale is a Harrison, Arkansas native who started playing fiddle “by accident.”

“When I was six or seven years old,” Massengale remembers, “my parents both worked and there was a neighbor couple who were like adoptive grandparents to me. None of the kids I went to school with lived in the neighborhood so there really wasn’t anybody to play with. So my ‘grandparents’ got me started in music. I remember they chose a bluegrass album and said, ‘Pick out something you would like to learn to play,’ and I chose the fiddle more by random than anything else. And it just went from there.”

Melody Hart, a native of Des Arc, Arkansas, notes, “I started in bluegrass, taking fiddle lessons, and me and a couple of other kids started a band. I went to college for a year in Russellville and then got a job at Dogpatch. There were some young kids with a country band there and I started working with them. That was the first time I got involved in country music. My mom and dad would play at church but as a kid I was always too scared to get up and play.”

From Dogpatch, Hart would transition to the Plummer Family Show in Branson, taking over for Melody Plummer during the road show season. In time, she found herself at Grand Country and Silver Dollar City.

Massengale’s first job was also with The Plummers and from there he worked with Roy Clark for five years — a stint which included performances on Hee Haw and the Grand Ol Opry — and Country Tonite for 10 years before ending up at Grand Country Music Hall as well. The couple reside in Branson and are parents to Garrett and Dillon.

April 3, 2014

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