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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 7/1/16 - Waldo Helton's July 4th Breakdown

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EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 07/02/2016:  19:46:45


It seems this week's volunteer is unable to post at all, so I will go ahead and post a back-up tune.  I apologize in advance for this write-up's incomplete nature - it is a tune that I was playing around with awhile back, but it isn't really ready to be TOTW'ed.  However, given the timely nature of its origins, I thought I would go ahead and post what I have and try to fill in some information over the next few days.



Today's Tune of the Week is Waldo Helton's July 4th Breakdown.  At least that is what I call it, since Unnamed Breakdown #67 from Volume 2 of R.P. Christeson's 'The Old-Time Fiddlers Repertory' is a bit of a mouthful.  While browsing through my copy of Christeson's book a few months ago I came across this untitled tune with its accompanying explanatory note, written by Christeson, that stated "Waldo Helton played this tune at every Fourth of July picnic in Dixon, Missouri, from the early twenties to the early thirties".  Since there aren't many July 4th-themed tunes out there, I decided I should learn it and have it in my repertoire for future July 4th picnics and cookouts of my own.  And, as this is Independence Day weekend, I thought I would go ahead and share it as a Tune of the Week.

Of course, I realize that the Hangout has many members not in the U.S., for whom the Fourth of July holds little meaning. So in that case perhaps this tune can just be considered a "random date" tune, like The 28th of January, giving a reason to add a new tune to one's mid-summer repertoire.



 photo Henry-Schroeder-Bob-Walters-R.P.-Chriesteson-Banjo-Bill-Lohridge-1956.jpg

R.P. Christeson, third from left

R. P. Christeson is a name probably familiar to many here, through his classic two-volume work "The Old-Time Fiddlers Repertory".  Published in 1973 and 1984, it contains over 460 tunes that Christeson collected from around sixty traditional fiddlers, primarily in Missouri.

Christeson himself was born in 1911 in Pulaski County, Missouri, an area full of old-time fiddling, and he learned to play both the fiddle and the piano as a boy growing up in Dixon.  After graduating from the University of Missouri, he began a career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was soon devoting a portion of his salary to amassing a large collection of fiddle music on 78 rpm records.  In 1947, unsatisfied with most of the commercially recorded fiddle music, he bought a surplus U.S. Army wire recorder, and began seeking out elderly fiddlers who still played in the styles he had heard as a boy in Dixon.

For the next twenty-five years or so, he visited and recorded dozens of musicians, many of them multiple times, until he had collected hundreds of traditional fiddle tunes, many of them quite obscure.  Sadly, the majority of those original wire recording were stolen in 1966 by thieves or vandals who broke into the empty farmhouse where they were being temporarily stored. Nevertheless, Christeson was able to transcribe most of them from memory (even if he could rarely remember their titles).  In the early 1970s, while still tracking down traditional fiddlers, he began creating and compiling standard notation transcriptions of the wire recordings he still had and of selected commercial recordings.  Those, along with the ones he had done from memory, made up the two volumes of "The Old Time Fiddlers Repertory".


You can read a lot more about R.P. in this article by Mike Christeson:




WALDO HELTON (1881-1947)


Most of the fiddlers represented in the collection were born between 1880s and 1910s, and as noted most were from Missouri.  Some were quite well known in the region and had even recorded commercially, while others were rather obscure and would not be remembered today if not for Christeson's efforts.


Waldo Helton probably belongs in that second category.  He came from a large musical family who had been in the area for generations (as Christeson writes in Volume One "Anyone by that name [Helton] living around Dixon was a fiddler") and he learned to play the fiddle at a young age.  Waldo most commonly played with his younger brother Allen, taking the lead while Allen played second fiddle.  They were a fixture in the Dixon town square and at picnics in the city park throughout the 1920s and 30s.


In his book "Play Me Something Quick and Devlish" Howard Marshall writes "In the mid-1900s in Dixon, Allen and Waldo Helton were playing fiddle tunes on the town square for passersby. As recalled by Warren Helton in 2011, a preacher came along, a friend of the Heltons who enjoyed old-time fiddling, and stood listening to the brothers play fiddles together and finally said 'I'll tell you what - if I stay here any longer I've got to dance!'  And he said 'Them Helton boys, they's just a-fiddling people into hell!' "


Waldo Helton died in 1947, just months before Christeson bought his wire recorder.  Thus, as far as I can tell, Christeson never recorded Helton, and all of the Waldo Helton tunes included in "The Old-Time Fiddlers Repertory" were transcribed from memory, as they were tunes that Christeson would have heard countless times while growing up in Dixon.





Dixon is a town of about 1,500 people in Pulaski County in south central Missouri.  It was founded in 1869 as a railroad town and enjoyed a few decades of booming growth in the late 19th Century.  Below are a couple of photos of the downtown area around 1900, when local resident Waldo Helton would have been about twenty.   The square gazebo structure shown in both images was known as an "entertainment pagoda", and is presumably where Waldo and his brother would have spent time fiddling for the passersby.


 photo MO-Dixon-Missouri-North-Broadway-Street-Scene-vintage-postcard-historic-photo.jpg

 photo pagoda.jpg




This is the truly incomplete section of this TOTW.  Despite my intention to learn the tune for the Fourth of July, I never really did so, I guess due to my easily distracted approach to the banjo ("Let's see, I'll try this phrasing and  - oooh look, a chicken tune!").


At the moment all I have is the standard notation transcription from Christeson's book.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I have found no recordings of this obscure tune (The Slippery Hill folks have covered Volume One of "The Old-Time Fiddlers Repertory", but not Volume Two).  That wasn't really an issue for me, since one of my goals in using Christeson's work was to increase my ability to read notation and learn tunes not just from ear or tab but from such fiddle tune book transcriptions.  Nevertheless, I did intend to ask one of the fiddle players at my local jam to play the tune for me at some point, and perhaps allow me to record her version, but I never got around to it.  I may still try to get that done in the coming week, if she is available.


So for now, all I can offer is an image of Christeson's transcription (which I hope for the purposes of this TOTW does not violate copyright restrictions - I will remove it once the discussion is over in a week or two) and very quickly sketched out banjo tab that is simply a note-for-note version of the fiddle transcription, not a version that anyone would actually play on the banjo.  It is probably of limited usefulness, but I wanted to include something besides the standard notation.




 photo bf7e742d-5ddf-40e2-a4f4-58174415977f.jpg

 photo DSCN8309.jpg



In a perfect world I would have been able to track down a photograph of Waldo Helton playing the fiddle at a prewar Fourth of July picnic in Dixon, or at least a more general image of the picnic itself.  That, of course, was not possible, so instead here is a more generic photograph of some 1920s children celebrating the Fourth of July in their own unknown small town, just to get us in the mood.

 photo fourth-of-july6.jpg

Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 07/03/2016 19:18:17

dstratto - Posted - 07/03/2016:  07:43:52

OK, I'll get this one started. Thanks for finding another July 4h tune! My solo banjo playing isn't up to the task, so I covered it up with some scratchy fiddle and guitar...

July 4th Breakdown


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 07/03/2016:  14:54:15

28 January is my birthday, and the tune is properly referred to as "Lew's Complete and Utter Breakdown."

dbrooks - Posted - 07/03/2016:  15:49:32

Lew, my birthday is January 28 also. Did that play some untold role in bringing us together on your Dwight Diller project?


JanetB - Posted - 07/03/2016:  22:20:05

I applaud EggerRidgeBoy and Don for sharing a tune learned solely by its notated version, especially coming from an authentic source such as R.P. Christeson's The Old-Time Fiddle Repertory, Vol. 2. The link to the patriotic holiday makes the tune quite special.  The tab I made is clawhammer friendly and relied on Brett's tab, the notation, and Don's lively band version.  I'll get a TablEdit tab done later in the week.  Happy Birthday, America!

Fourth of July Breakdown

Fourth of July Breakdown tab (CH)

bhniko - Posted - 07/04/2016:  11:59:44

Don and Janet,

One of the highlights of the day...TOTW. Perfect to celebrate our Fourth. Enjoyed both your versions. Always surprised how quickly Janet picks up any song and responds with a tab. Have a great day and enjoy the hot dogs.

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 07/04/2016:  12:23:25

A Missouri tune!!!
Right on!!!

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 07/07/2016:  13:08:49

Thanks to all for your replies, and special thanks to Don and Janet for posting their versions and saving this from being the first-ever audio-free Tune of the Week.

(My fiddle-playing jam buddy was too busy to record the tune, and I didn't find anybody else to ask. My sister was visiting last weekend and when I told her what I was working on she tried playing it on the piano; I thought her version was good enough to record, but she hadn't touched a piano for years and didn't think the attempt was internet-posting-worthy.)



vrteach - Posted - 07/17/2016:  11:26:06

I agree with Brett that another 4th of July tune is a good idea, plus it's a pretty good tune. So I did a rough draft to help me remember it.

Fourth of July Breakdown


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