Liner Notes

VRCD 372 John White: Nine Miles of Dry and Dusty

John White, master old-time square dance fiddler, lives with his wife Betty in the north-central Missouri town of Hallsville. John was born in 1936, in a farmhouse near Ethel in Macon County. He grew up on a farm and attended first grade at Brush Creek, a one-room school near Ethel, and fifth through eighth grade at Stalcup, in Linn and Shelby Counties in north Missouri, graduating from high school at Clarence (Shelby County) in 1955. After service in the Army and a spot of farming and heavy equipment operating, John took his bachelors and masters degrees in 1971 at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and retired in 2005 after thirty-three years as an agricultural engineer in the College of Agriculture.

John’s family are long-time Missourians. The first White in the U.S. came from England as an indentured servant before the Revolutionary War. One of John’s ancestors was Isaac White, a member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804-1806. Other members of the White family came into Missouri with Daniel Boone shortly after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

John grew up in a musical family and both of his parents, Von and Lucille, played the violin. His mother also played five-string banjo, piano, and guitar. His grandfather, Thurman Fields, was an accomplished fiddler and gave him a violin John calls “the old red fiddle” as a reward for learning to play at a very young age. John recalls “He didn’t play very many notes, but he made the ones that he played work. His style was ninety percent bowing.” Fields played numerous tunes such as “Rye Whisky” and “Sally Goodin” in a chorded tuning (AEAE). John’s mother taught him his first tune, “Little Brown Jug.”

John’s fiddling style developed while playing for square dances, especially the community dances at the old one-room Lily Dale schoolhouse in Shelby County, near the White family farm. John says “Lily Dale was a rural, one room school typical of many that served rural Missouri prior to the late forties and early fifties. The school was located in southwestern Shelby County in a farming area south of Clarence, Missouri. After the school was closed due to consolidation with the Clarence school in the spring of 1953, members of the local community arranged for the use of the schoolhouse as a meeting place (around 1954). Later, the community purchased the building and rented the lot where it sat for $10 per month. A wash pan was passed, as needed, to collect money for rent and electricity. Initially, the schoolhouse was used for community gatherings and musical jam sessions. The first dance was held on March 31, 1961. Dances were scheduled in general for the first and third Saturdays of each month. Dancers included the entire range of family members, grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, assorted relatives, and interested community members. Musicians consisted of whoever showed up and desired to play. The dances were well attended and the fun, fellowship, and memories created over the years are immeasurable.”

When he moved to the Columbia area in the 1960s, White met a number of well-known Little Dixie style fiddlers such as Cleo Persinger, Taylor McBaine, Pete McMahan, and Cecil Windsor. He also enjoyed listening to records of commercial fiddlers such as Tommy Jackson. His north Missouri playing style gradually shifted to accommodate to the prevailing Little Dixie (central Missouri) style, which featured more “notey” playing, double stops, waltzes, hornpipes, and tunes in Bb and F. Later, with the advent of young musicians playing Appalachian style music in the Columbia area, John again accommodated his playing to embrace this style. He also has had much exposure to the “Texas” and “contest” styles of fiddling through his frequent judging and competing in fiddle contests.

John characterizes his style of fiddling as “the old home-made shuffle style,” featuring the kind of accented bowing that is important in providing a good beat for square dancers. He also plays old-time five-string banjo accompaniment, in his mother’s north Missouri style which emphasizes brush strokes with the right hand (and no use of the thumb).
The violin John plays on this CD is a German Stradivari copy labeled “Meinel,” acquired from Boone County fiddler and luthier Jesse Sims in 1966. The bows he uses on the recording are ones he acquired from central Missouri fiddlers Cecil Windsor and Cleo Persinger.

Many of the tunes John White plays on this project, including the two referenced in the title, were learned from printed sources. He learned to read music while playing trumpet in high school band. Many “old-time fiddlers” read music and enjoy picking up new tunes from books, although when played by fiddlers like White the tunes only faintly resemble the printed versions once they have been absorbed into the fiddler’s style and repertoire. Some fiddle tunes that became rare have come back into circulation through John’s fiddling and the learning of these tunes by younger fiddlers who admire his playing.

This CD uses two different accompaniment ensembles. The first is the kind of accompaniment that John grew up with at the Lily Dale school dances, and familiar in north Missouri in his parents’ and grandparents’ generations – various combinations of piano, guitar, old-time Missouri style banjo, upright bass, and cello. The ensemble marked “A” on the tune list is comprised of Kenny Applebee on guitar, Musial Wolfe on piano, Kathy Gordon on bass, and Howard Marshall on old time banjo. The second ensemble (marked “B”) is The Nine Mile Band, a group John formed to play for square dances and contra dances held in the university town of Columbia, with Jim Ruth on clawhammer banjo, Amber Gaddy on piano accordion, piano, and button accordion, and David Cavins on guitar.

1. Nine Miles. John learned this from E.F. Adam, Old Time Fiddler’s Favorite Barn Dance Tunes (St. Louis, 1927, reissued by Mel Bay, 1977). (B)
2. Dry and Dusty. From R.P. Christeson, The Old-time Fiddler’s Repertory (Columbia, 1973, 1984). (B)
3. Old Man and Old Woman. John learned this tune from Idaho fiddler Lloyd Wanzer’s LP Country Fiddlin’. It was popularized in Missouri in the 1960s by Cleo Persinger and Cyril Stinnett after they went to Canadian contests. (A)
4. Mississippi Sawyer. From John’s mother, Lucille White. (B)
5. Hogs in the Tater Patch. From The Old-time Fiddler’s Repertory. (B)
6. New Five Cent Piece. From Gene Silberberg, Tunes I Learned at the Tractor Tavern (Seattle, 2002). (A)
7. Silver & Gold Two Step. From The Old-time Fiddler’s Repertory. (A)
8. Devil Ate a Groundhog. From Tunes I Learned at the Tractor Tavern. (B)
9. Peek-a-boo Waltz. From Lucille White. (A)
10. Natchez Under the Hill. From The Old-time Fiddler’s Repertory. (B)
11. Soldier’s Joy. From Lucille White. (A)
12. Arkansas Traveler. From Thurman Fields. (B)
13. That’s My Rabbit, My Dog Caught It. From Stacy Phillips, Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, Vol. 1 (Pacific MO, Mel Bay, 1994). (B)
14. Black Eyed Susan. From Thurman Fields and John’s great-uncle, Elmer Hulet of Bevier, Missouri as well as his great-aunt Beulah (Fields) Finney of Portland, Oregon. On a visit in Missouri in the late 1940s, Beulah taught John the B part of the tune. “I got interested in the tune by hearing my grandpa Fields play it, but Elmer and Beulah showed me how to play it.” (B)
15. Hi-Lo Schottische. This tune was written by William Ruleson in 1852 as the “Rochester Schottische.” John learned it from Old Time Fiddler’s Favorite Barn Dance Tunes. (A)
16. White Man. From The Old-time Fiddler’s Repertory. This tune is attributed to an African-American fiddler in Callaway County. (A)
17. Old Mother Flanagan. From Tunes I Learned at the Tractor Tavern. (B)
18. Fisher’s Hornpipe. From The Old-time Fiddler’s Repertory. (B)
19. Sugar in the Gourd. John learned this from his grandfather, Thurman Fields. (A)
20. Mouse in the Cupboard. This tune is usually called the “Kesh Jig.” (B)
21. Evansville. From Charlie Dalton of Evansville, Missouri. (B)
22. Little Foot Waltz. From the Tommy Jackson LP Square Dance Festival Vol. 2. This is the well-known tune “Put Your Little Foot” used for the Varsovienne dance. (A)
23. My Love is But a Lassie-O. From Ted Taylor, Madison, Missouri. (B)
24. Splish Splash. From Marion Thede’s Fiddle Book, (New York, 1967) where it is titled “Rabbit in the Grass” or “Soapsuds Splash.” (B)
25. Little Rabbit. From Greg Baker, The Fiddle Series, Book 1 (Portland OR, 1985) (B)
26. Be Nobody’s Darling But Mine. From John’s father, Von White. (A)
27. Turkey in the Straw. From Lucille White. (B)
28. Possum Hunter’s Blues. From Charlie Dalton, Evansville, Missouri. (A)

Kenny Applebee of Mexico, Missouri is well known throughout the Midwest as a guitarist, and has appeared at numerous festivals. He teaches guitar and fiddle at the Bethel Fiddle Camp. He and his wife Norma operate the family grain farm, and Kenny recently retired from many years as a maintenance mechanic at a fire clay products company.
Kathy Gordon of Columbia is originally from Evanston, Illinois, where she grew up performing in the family band. Kathy is also a long-time member of the Columbia Irish music group, and is a fiddle player and dancer.

Howard Marshall of Columbia and Fulton, originally from Moberly, is a retired professor of art history at the University of Missouri. From a long line of musicians, he is an old-time fiddler and banjoist who has appeared on, and produced, several Voyager CDs.

Musial Wolfe of Boonville is a retired bookkeeper at a Columbia paint and glass company. His father Lloyd Wolfe played guitar and harmonica and performed over radio station KFRU in Columbia in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Musial has been a fixture on the fiddle music scene for several decades, and he also plays fiddle and guitar.

David Cavins, originally from Moline, Illinois, is a Columbia resident. David is inspired by the crisp, elegant guitar work of Elvin Campbell, who for many years backed up Iowa master fiddler Dwight Lamb.

Amber Gaddy is a native Missourian now living in Columbia. She studies the Danish-style accordion playing of Iowa buttonbox player Dwight Lamb, and is also an accomplished clawhammer banjoist. Amber and David are frequent performers in the region and avid pupils of the music of Nebraska fiddler Bob Walters.

Banjoist Jim Ruth of Columbia has been a central figure in the old-time music scene in Missouri since the 1970s. His ability to adapt clawhammer style to the wide variety of fiddling found in the Midwest puts him in demand as a dance player. In addition, Jim plays Irish fiddle. He is employed at Old Standard Musical Instrument Wood in Millersburg.

Cover: John White with his father at an uncle’s farm near Ethel in 1937, a very hot and dry year for north Missouri farmers, photo by Lucille White. Band photos by Betty White. Lily Dale School photo by John White. Recorded February 2007 by David Cavins. Graphics by Vivian Williams. Produced by Howard Marshall.

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