For this weeks TOTW I'm submitting another relatively obscure Midwestern tune in D. I learned Step Up Susie in 2008 (or '07) from my fiddler friend Steve Staley and mandolin friend Mark Mathewson. It's just a really good tune, and we've used it for dances and the occasional performance since then. I know that Steve taught it to Mark, and I think that Steve got it directly from the Christeson collection.
The ultimate source for the tune is the Nebraska fiddler Bob Walters, and a transcription of his playing is included as tune 104 in The Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory, a collection of tunes compiled and edited by R. P. Christeson, published by the U of Missouri press in 1973, and reissued fairly recently. In that book it is only given the title "Breakdown" with the further note: "Another tune played by Bob Walters without giving the title."
The increasingly valuable web site at Slippery-Hill has sound files for most of the tunes in the Fiddlers Repertory at slippery-hill.com/RP/, and mp3 of Walters playing the tune can be downloaded.
Bob Walters was a fantastic fiddler from Tekamah, Nebraska. He performed around the Midwest from the 1930s at contests (which he generally won) and on various radio stations. His playing was notey and complicated, and is considered to be a regional variant called Missouri Valley fiddling. It is described as following by Charlie Walden:
Also called "North Missouri Hornpipe Style," the Missouri Valley fiddle style is characterized by exceptionally clean, notey playing of complex hornpipes and reels, many of which can be traced to Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes (a.k.a Ryan's Mammoth Collection). In fact, fiddlers from all over Missouri play a lot of this typically American 19th Century repertoire but it's most pervasive in northwest Missouri.
The greatest exponent of this way of playing was an unassuming farmer from Holt County named Cyril Stinnett. Cyril was not a complicated individual but his music was incredibly subtle, complex, and awe-inspiring. By objective accounts, he could play well over three hundred tunes. Many were set in Bb and F. He made little use of double stops. Where one fiddler might hold a note, Cyril would inject more melody, giving a tune an unrelenting kind of push and drive that was irresistible. This is interesting in itself, as we generally think of generating rhythm with the bow, not the noting hand. In spite of this he played remarkably fast and with great finesse. All of this was accomplished while playing left-handed "over the bass."
Much of his repertoire originated with "Uncle Bob" Walters from Tekameh, Nebraska, a renowned fiddler from the region who performed widely on the radio in the upper Midwest during the '30s and '40s. Many Missouri Valley tunes can be traced to Canada. Some no doubt were learned from CBC broadcasts of fiddlers like Don Messer. Cyril and Bob Walters both took advantage of a stack of Ned Landry 78s owned by Dwight Lamb's father (Dwight, who lives in western Iowa, is without question the best player of this style today). Unlike the rest of Missouri, fiddlers in this region can play a remarkable number of tunes in 6/8 time which they call quadrilles and which were once used as music for square dancing.
The Iowa Arts Council web site has a short radio clip of an interview with Dwight Lamb in which he talks about his father and he listening to Walters on the radio. They eventually became friends and fiddling colleagues. and there has been a 2-cd set published of Lamb's home recordings of Walters. Dwight Lamb also plays many of the tunes that he had learned from Walters.
Step Up Susie is not well represented in recordings or on line, but there are some.
And then I've got a couple attached below. The "D-Medley" (Step Up Susie, Snake River Reel, and Old Molly Hare) was recorded by Steve Staley (fiddle), Mark Mathewson (mandolin) and me on banjo in 2008, soon after I had begun learning the tune. We did several tunes and songs for a demo cd that never materialized. Last night I did a quick video in which I run through it 3 times slowish, and 2 times up to speed.
An ideal dance tune, Eric, and your emsemble played it just right. I listened to Bob Walters and to yours. The first is so notey that it's nearly impossible to play up to his speed. Yours uses more brushes and "summarizes" the melody, complimenting the fiddle instead of competing.
I wonder if someone will come up with an addendum to The Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory to give us the actual titles to tunes as they become known. I'd much rather have a title than a number. The other one I learned was #107 in Vol. 1, which is actually Rocky Road to Jordan, another Bob Walters tune that was a TOTW on 2/12/11. This is the third Bob Walters tune I've learned lately and am grateful you've brought our attention to him and this fun tune for which he's the source recording.
I knew you would join in and so I patiently waited. Lovely rendition. Just playing all your tunes would keep a group entertained for days on end. Really enjoy your tabs and following up on your research notes. Wish I played as well and learned so fast.
Thanks Ken, I'm honored to have my "arraignment" included in your fine list of tablatures.
And I really like what you have done, Janet. You make it up to 7th fret in the B part, where I can't manage to make it at the right moment. Actually, I think there is another place where Walters goes up there, and I can only manage that on the mandolin (and not every time, and very slowly).
Anyway, it's a tune that deserves to be better known.
Oh, and I was the TOTW submitter of "Rocky Road to Jordan," but Larry at Slippery-hill had not yet put up the Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory, so I didn't know the connection at that time. And now, alas, the topic is archived so I can't update it.
Walters was also the source of another of my favorite obscure Midwestern tunes, Oyster Girl. It's number 80 in the Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory, and Walters' version in included on Slippery-hill. His version is pretty daunting, but I had first heard it in Billy Mathews' version, which is far more approachable. Who knows, maybe Oyster Girl will be my next obscure (but worthwhile) Midwestern TOTW!