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VRCD 358 THE NEW COLUMBIA FIDDLERS: FIDDLE TUNES OF THE LEWIS & CLARK ERA
Seattle musicians Phil and Vivian Williams are becoming experts at linking American history to its musical soundtrack. In 2001 they celebrated the roots of Northwest fiddling with a well researched and well performed CD on their Voyager label entitled DANCE MUSIC OF THE OREGON TRAIL. This year, as the nation marks the 200th anniversary of President Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, Voyager is commemorating the great western expedition that resulted from it with a new album of fiddle tunes from the period.
The territory that the U.S. acquired from France in 1803 extended from the Mississippi River all the way to the Rocky Mountains. In the spring of 1804 captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis with their Corps of Discovery to explore and map the new territory, collect information on unfamiliar plant and animal species, establish trade with the native tribes they encountered, and find an overland route to the Pacific Northwest. The party included two fiddlers, Peter Cruzatte and George Gibson, who played an important role in maintaining morale and establishing friendly relations with the Indians.
Consequently, fiddling and dancing are mentioned frequently in journals kept by members of the Corps, but there are no references to specific tunes, throwing the repertoire of the two fiddlers open to historical conjecture. "One can only speculate as to what those fiddlers really did play," Phil Williams explains, "'cause nobody knows, but my feeling is that this production is a pretty good speculation of what they well could have played: tunes that were so common in America during that period that any fiddler worth his salt had to have known them."
The impetus for the Williams' Lewis and Clark project came from a chance meeting with longtime Northwest Folklife Festival organizer Scott Nagle. "We ran into Scott Nagle at the fruit stand outside of Ellensburg," Phil Williams explains. "This was after we had the Oregon Trail stuff out. He said, "You guys know a lot of old music. Do you know anything from the Lewis and Clark period?" He thought that as long as we're doing the Oregon Trail, we should get some Lewis and Clark stuff, too."
Missouri fiddler and historian Howard Marshall turned out to be the decisive factor in bringing the Williams' Lewis and Clark project to fruition. "We've been talking with Howard quite a while, ever since we met him in '98," Phil explains. "We got to playing with Howard in a jam session back then. We immediately hit it off with Howard. He knew about our record operation because he'd gotten some of the records. We said, Howard, did you ever think about doing a record? We'd be glad to put it out."
The result was a 1999 Voyager release called FIDDLING MISSOURI featuring Howard Marshall, a precocious teenage fiddler named John Williams, and Arkansas guitarist Michael Breid. Consequently, it was Marshall who came to mind when Phil and Vivian Williams decided to make a fiddle album celebrating the Lewis and Clark expedition. "When we got to playing with Howard," Phil elaborates, "we found that he and Vivian play fundamentally the same style. Vivian and I had figured out by then that the style of fiddling that we'd heard all our lives in the Northwest was closely related to Missouri fiddling. It's significant that that's where the Oregon Trail started. It's significant also that that's where Lewis and Clark started their expedition."
When Marshall was invited to be a judge at last year's Oregon State Fiddle Contest in Salem, the perfect opportunity was created for a recording session in Seattle. Consequently, Howard Marshall and John Williams arrived at the Williams' home studio on May 20th, a week before the annual Northwest Regional Folklife Festival. "Howard had to leave for Missouri on Thursday," Phil remembers, "and of course, we had to go to Folklife on Friday. We really didn't have any particular concept in mind about how we were gonna do the production. We didn't even think we could record very many tunes 'cause we just didn't have that time luxury."
Once the process got started, however, it moved along with a degree of speed and efficiency that amazed everyone. "We thought we'd be making arrangements constantly and taking a lot of time," Phil Williams recalls. "We started fooling around with some of the tunes. Because they came from a common background, the style that Vivian plays and the style that Howard plays mesh so well that they could play together instantly without having to work anything out. Nothing on that production was worked out in advance. There are 24 tunes on that production, and most of those are one take."
Released a few months ago under the name of The Columbia Fiddlers, the resulting album is called FIDDLE TUNES OF THE LEWIS AND CLARK ERA. A few of the tunes on this album will be familiar even to those with virtually no exposure to oldtime fiddling. Yet as the well researched liner notes reveal, they have surprising histories. The ubiquitous "Irish Washerwoman" is presented here under its 17th-century English title, "The Country Courtship". "College Hornpipe" got its familiar name when an early American dancer named John Durang, for whom "Durang's Hornpipe" is named, used the tune for a nautical step called the Sailor's Hornpipe. "Yankee Doodle", the album's opening track, started out as a Dutch folk song used as a dance tune in colonial times. The words we now know were written by an English surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, around 1755 to make fun of the American colonials recruited to help the British win the French and Indian War. Its 21st-century revival on this album is played with spirited and deliberate simplicity. Vivian Williams' down-to-earth fiddling is accompanied with guitar and banjo, and the result is delightfully similar to the way a Southern string band might have recorded it in the 1920's.
Though not nearly as familiar as those already mentioned, most of the tunes presented here are still played by fiddlers in the Southern hoedown traditions, the contradance scene, or all of the above. "Mrs. McLeod's Reel", better known as "Uncle Joe" or "Hop High, Ladies", was played by both Irish and American fiddlers at the end of the 18th century. "Devil's Dream" originated in Scotland around 1790 as "The Devil Among The Tailors". "Old Molly Hare", written by Scottish composer Neil Gow as "Fairy Dance", was well known in colonial days. Others, like "The White Cockade", are far less common today.
Howard Marshall's crisp Missouri fiddling is featured to good effect on this album, usually with Vivian Williams playing second fiddle in a rhythmically chordal accompaniment style that has a lot more to do with Cajun "seconding" than the close harmony of the more common twin fiddle style. On the more strictly Northern tunes, Vivian leads and the process is reversed. "Vivian's exposure has been to twinning," Phil Williams explains, "so here comes Howard down the pike. He says, "We have a way of backing things up that's an old style here in Missouri, and we do a lot of it." He showed Vivian the rudiments of that. It's exceedingly rhythmic: you could dance to it!"
Marshall's fellow Missourian John Williams sometimes adds his fiddle to the party, but more often he plays an accompanying role with simple, period-sensitive percussion. Recalling the planning stage of the recording process, Phil Williams confides, "We didn't quite know what John would do. We knew John was a good fiddler. We knew we'd get John in there on some triple fiddle things. Then John says, "You know, in high school I was a drummer." We know that they had a tambourine to play during that expedition. The tambourine of that period was like a frame drum, not the thing with the jingles in it. We started looking around the house for what to use. We found a wood block and then we got out the Chinese barrel drum from the wall of Vivian's study. We have some Indian frame drums, so we just brought those down to the studio and John sat over there and played percussion."
The rest of the back-up is generally provided by Phil Williams on mandolin and guitar and John Marshall on old-time finger style banjo. "That's a real old Missouri style, too," Phil explains. "He was playing our fretless banjo for some of them - the one I use in the Oregon Trail program."
The Columbia Fiddlers' FIDDLE TUNES OF THE LEWIS AND CLARK ERA is primarily being marketed on Voyager's web site, www.voyagerrecords.com, and though it's only been out a few months, it has already caught the ear of groups planning bicentennial activities for next year. "The Internet right now accounts for over seventy percent of our sales," Phil Williams observes, "and those sales are worldwide. People have found out about the Lewis and Clark stuff, and already they've been asking about it. It's been a very interesting bunch of research for us. It's just exciting to get into the stuff from the past and understand that the past isn't that far away." (Heritage Music Review)
In celebration of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, fiddler/folklorist Vivian Williams and the New Columbia Fiddlers have recreated the music that was likely heard and played by members of the exploration party. The Columbia Fiddlers are Vivian Williams, fiddle, Howard Marshall, fiddle and banjo, John Williams, fiddle and percussion and Phil Williams, mandolin and guitar.
The journals of the expedition recount the fiddling of two members, Peter Cruzatte and George Gibson. These players became the first fiddlers documented to have played in the Pacific Northwest.
This is of particular interest to Vivian Williams as she and the Fiddlers are based in Seattle. Howard Marshall is the lone player not from the Northwest. He is a noted fiddler/historian from Missouri. [John Williams also is from Missouri.] He uncovered many of the popular tunes, which were probably played on the expedition as it left from St. Louis in the spring of 1804.
The recording opens with the appropriate "Yankee Doodle." As expected, most of the selections are Scots/Irish in origin and include "Miss McLeod's Reel," "Haste to the Wedding" and "My Love is but a Lassie." A curious addition is the duet of "MacDonald's Reel" and "Leather Breeches." The American version is based on the tune composed by Sir Alexander MacDonald and its colonial cousin is much less formal in execution.
The interpretations of this material are perfectly suited for these historical recreation. The arrangements are spare, as they must have been in 1804. Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis and Clark Era is a fascinating journey to the roots of American fiddle playing. (Sing Out!)
The journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition contain many entries regarding fiddling and dancing along the journey. The names of the two fiddlers are known, but not the actual tunes played. The 24 selections on this recording, all of them popular tunes 200 years ago, were researched and chosen by the musicians, who are fiddlers and fiddle historians Vivian Williams and Howard Marshall, fiddler John Williams, and guitarist/mandolin player Phil Williams. The project is meant to commemorate the bicentennial of the expedition and to acquaint the public with the dance music of the country's colonial and early Republic era. The 16-page booklet contains interesting notes about each of the tunes, some of them still well known to this day, some of them not, with many of their alternative titles also provide. "My Love Is but a Lassie," for example, has shown up under 25 different names. (Dirty Linen)
The explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were "the astronauts of 1804" in both boldness and celerity, says Missouri regional historian Howard Marshall. Yet, Hollywood would have faced a real challenge in casting Peter Cruzatte in this 19th-century version of "The Right Stuff."
A sturdy, expert river man, the half-French, half-Omaha Indian Cruzatte was perhaps the oldest member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. He was blind in one eye and so near-sighted in the other he may have accidentally shot Lewis in the buttocks.
Fortunately the musket ball missed his captain's vital organs. Cruzatte had, besides luck, one other great asset; he was an accomplished fiddler, and Marshall believes he was selected for the Corps of Discovery in part because of this talent. Sometimes explorers just want to have fun, and journals of the historic expedition are filled with accounts of the fiddle music of Cruzatte and companion George Gibson.
Virginians like president Thomas Jefferson, who dispatched them on their mission, Lewis and Clark grew up in the same Upper South musical tradition that shaped Missouri's early Anglo-American settlers and culture. The co-captains recognized the importance of music to expedition morale, Marshall says. Lewis was a neighbor and became a virtual stepson to Jefferson, who enjoyed playing fiddle music at Monticello.
This largely unexplored aspect of the Corps of Discovery is showcased in Voyager Recordings' compact disc, "Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era." The album's acoustic musicians are descendants of pioneer families from both ends of the expedition - Missouri fiddlers Marshal of Millersburg and John Williams of Madison, and Seattle residents Phil and Vivian Williams. Vivian Williams wrote the extensive historical liner notes with Marshall, University of Missouri-Columbia professor emeritus of art history and archeology.
The spirited album includes two dozen lively reels, hornpipes, novelty songs and waltzes believed to have been in Cruzatte or Gibson's repertoire. Marshall says that although he's found no mention of specific songs in the journals, there are numerous accounts of expedition entertainment.
For example, Cruzatte broke out his fiddle and the men danced "very merrily" as they celebrated the nation's 29th Fourth of July in the wilds of present day Montana in 1805. What Marshall calls "fiddle diplomacy" was also a frequent element in the numerous friendly contacts with American Indians.
Some album tunes like, "Soldiers Joy," have a long history and are instantly recognizable. A few like "Road to Boston" or "New Rigged Ship" are rarely heard today in Missouri. There are also some surprises. For example, in the old French tune "Malbrough" modern listeners will hear the familiar melody of "The Bear Went Over the Mountain."
Marshall hopes the album will help history come alive for listeners of all ages, as well as resurrect some almost-lost tunes popular in 1804-06.
However, rather than trying to duplicate the styles then, Marshall says the performers play as they have been shaped by their own roots, which in his case go back to 1830's Missouri.
"We're not re-enactors," Marshall explains. "We're not saying that this is exactly how it sounded. We're more like historical novelists, where this is how it might have been, and it probably was a lot like this.
We don't play a real hot or complicated style of fiddle. We could, but we tried to play fairly bare styles and renditions of the tunes, without dressing them up too much or making them too fancy.
"I learned by listening to older people here on the Missouri River in Missouri. I'm playing pretty much the way people played these tunes for more than a hundred years."
This historic "Little Dixie" style of fiddling is also the lifelong enthusiasm of Marshall's youthful colleague, John Williams, only 20. Marshall and Williams teamed up for a previous Voyager album, "Fiddling Missouri" (1999). Williams has been performing since he was 7, inspired by musicians he heard at fiddle contests and by stories of his great-grandfather.
He says he leaped at the chance last spring to accompany Marshall on his mentor's double-duty trip to judge a fiddle contest in Salem, Ore., and record the album in Seattle.
"That was the trip of a lifetime," gushes Williams, a full-time working man and part-time student at Moberly Area Community College. "I met some great people up there. Everybody knew who we were. Why would everybody know some hillbilly from Missouri?"
One clue may exist in Marshall's observation that for people of the West, and especially the Northwest, Missouri folk music is their "roots music."
"Most people in that part of the country - older people particularly - if you talk about fiddle music and you're from Missouri, they'll just sit you down and give you biscuits and gravy because it's where their music came from, quite obviously, through the valleys of the rivers and the trails," say Marshall.
"Those trails start here. they don't start in Minnesota. They don't start in Arkansas. They start here in Missouri." (Martin Northway, Rural Missouri)
The bicentennial of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's 1804-06 Corps of Discovery expedition into the Louisiana Purchase is approaching to much fanfare. Mizzou will present an original musical drama about the journey May 2, 3 and 4. Also, a new musical compact disc launched with the help of MU Professor Emeritus Howard Marshall, AB '70, adds a joyous note to remind us that not all history is dusty nor heroes dour.
In fact, Lewis and Clark recognized the importance of music and entertainment for expedition morale. Although the Corps of Discovery was a "serious military expedition, and the same time it was human endeavor with all kinds of natural uncertainties," Marshall says. He believes it is telling that among the "hundreds of able-bodied, tough young men" Lewis and Clark interviewed, they selected two who, in addition to their pioneering skills, were also adroit fiddlers.
In Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era, Missouri fiddlers Marshall and John Williams join Washington State's Phil and Vivian Williams in presenting two dozen popular songs and tunes familiar at the time. Descendants of pioneers from their respective regions, the musicians symbolically united both east and west ends of the expedition in their recording session at Royager Recordings' Seattle studio.
Songs range from stately, plaintive waltzes to sprightly selections such as "Yankee Doodle" and "Pop Goes the Weasel" (with plenty of surprises) to an assortment of foot-stomping reels, jigs and hornpipes. Having taught courses in cultural heritage and Missouri history, Marshall brings his knowledge of regional culture to the co-written liner notes.
The stories of few tunes are as eccentric as that of "Durang's Hornpipe," on which Marshall plays lead violin. It was composed for John Durang (1768-1821), said to have been the premier American dancer. According to Marshall, "Durang claimed to have danced a hornpipe on 13 eggs blindfolded without breaking one." History does not record whether any expedition dancer was able to improvise a similar achievement, but Pvt. Francois Rivette was known to dance on his hands for the enjoyment of Native American leaders. (Mizzou Magazine)
This being 2003, and me being a history teacher, living in the Pacific Northwest, I was drawn toward Astoria for my few days of vacation at the end of summer. Astoria and surrounding burgs, hamlets, campsites and wide spots in the road are all preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of their most famous overnight guests, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. The state and national park services are already going all out, with Fort Clatsop looking fresh and the rangers and reenactors eager to share the story of America's most epic journey. Eager too and the folks running the gift shop, and it is heartening to see that there's a shelf full of CDs featuring various interpretations of the songs, it can be reasonably expected that they were played by corpsman Pierre Cruzatte. The one you'll want to leave with (or better yet, obtain locally to listen to on the drive) is Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis and Clark Era. Seattle treasures Vivian and Phil Williams, revered fiddlers and musicologists, teamed with fiddle playing history professor Howard Marshall, to produce a most listenable and thoughtful CD, with liner notes that were outstanding. The expected tunes are here, the 300 year old standards that form the bedrock of fiddle jams, but the Williamses and Marshall have done their homework: Bet you haven't heard "Sir Roger de Coverly" lately, have you? The music itself is exquisitely played and crisply recorded. Way down in the mix are a little guitar, fretless banjo, and foot tapping to provide some texture; let the purists grumble, this sounds better. (Victory Music)