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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW, 11/11/16 -- Stars and Stripes Waltz

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JanetB - Posted - 11/11/2016:  07:37:17

Finding a patriotic tune on a Veteran’s Day TOTW was a must for me.  Stars and Stripes Waltz is tune #237 in R. P. Christeson’s Old-Time Fiddler’s Repertory, Vol. 1.  This is only the sixth tune out of hundreds from this 2-volume book set which I’ve worked on, and though an obscure one, it’s a beauty.  You can hear R.P. Christeson plays Stars and Stripes Waltz on the Slippery Hill site.


This waltz was remembered by R.P. as having been played on WOS radio, a major Missouri radio broadcasting station out of Jefferson City which catered to farmers’ interests in the 1920’s and 30’s.  (See this article on station WOS for more history.)  Stars and Stripes Waltz is one of the few tunes he notated solely from memory.  It became a common tune in central Missouri. 


R. P.’s monumental accomplishment revolved about his labor of love to collect and publish fiddle tunes.  Fiddlers he recorded who you may be familiar with include Bob Walters, Cyril Stinett, Bob Walters, Lonnie Robertson, Bob Holt, Bill Katon, and Bill Driver.  Most of the tunes in both volumes of his books were from recordings he made in Missouri, but Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are also represented in his collections.   


Born in 1911, R.P. grew up in a family of fiddlers, though his grandfather didn’t approve at first of their fiddling.   When his father and uncle were young they would hide in the barn the Montgomery Ward instrument they'd bought by selling rabbits.  One day their father finally relented and bought a good new fiddle in the town of Dixon, which eventually became R.P.’s. 


This article about R.P. Christeson has evidence that he was a precocious youngster.  Though R.P. played at dances through his teenage years, he left Missouri and didn’t play fiddle much for about 20 years.  When working in New Mexico and then Nebraska he renewed his interest in old-time fiddling and began traveling and recording the old-timers.  The tunes in this extensive repertoire are currently being re-discovered and arranged for banjo.  I hear some on Banjo Hangout, such as Lantern in the Ditch, Rocky Road to Jordan, Step Up Susie, Bill Katon’s Tune, Steamboat Around the Bend, The Drunken Wagoneer, Fourth of July Breakdown, and Oyster Girl.


Howard Marshall’s liner notes from his CD Fiddling Missouri reveal more detailed history of the tune:  “Track 3. Stars and Stripes Waltz, key of C, attributed to Vee Latty of Fulton, who made several fine waltzes and played in fiddle contests from the 1920s to the 1950s. Mr. Latty's wife, Marie, accompanied Vee on resophonic slide guitar and Guy Craighead played tenor guitar -- an unusual combo by late 20th century standards. Boone County fiddler Daniel Boone Jones is said to have learned it from Latty in the 1930s; Pete McMahan learned it c. 1950 from George Morris, who got it from Tony Gilmore of Jefferson City (who got it from Latty). I got it from Pete and the legendary Charlie Walden.”  On this Missouri State Old-Time Fiddler’s Assoc. site you can check out a Vee Latty CD and biographical information.   A heroic fact about him is that he lost three fingers of his left hand from a power saw accident, but played again after just a few months.


Pete McMahan (1918 – 2000) recorded Stars and Stripes Waltz on the compilation Ozark Mountain Waltz.  He was a prolific, well-known Missouri dance fiddler and winner of many fiddle contests.  In the book/CD set Now That’s a Good Tune:  Masters of Traditional Missouri Fiddling Howard Marshall described how McMahan played fiddle beginning at six years old, so entranced that he fell over in a kitchen chair while playing and broke it “into a hundred pieces.”  At age 15 he entered and won his first fiddle contest. 



Here’s one of the prettiest versions of Stars and Stripes Waltz, recorded by Charlie Walden at R.P.’s home.  Charlie is a well-known Missouri fiddler (and active Fiddle Hangout member) who has done much to promote the tunes of R.P. Christeson and who actually contributed to Christeson’s second volume.


Born in 1957, Charlie came to know and work with R.P. (whom he calls Bob, short for Robert) Christeson and is a great promotor of Missouri and Ozark fiddling.  He took up violin at age 14 and was mentored by old-time fiddlers.  R.P. prompted Charlie to stay focused on the old-time style and Charlie has devoted his life to it.  He learned Stars and Stripes Waltz directly from R.P.


Charlie demonstrated his enthusiasm for Missouri traditional music in 1984 when he organized a successful reunion of several of the musicians who played on the WOS station in 1925 by identifying them in a photo.  He includes Stars and Stripes Waltz as #88 in his 100 Essential Missouri Fiddle Tunes.


I wish there were more examples, but the only ones I can find on-line to share are by R.P. Christeson, Pete McMahan, Charlie Walden, and Howard Marshall.  A thank you goes out to Charlie and Howard, who I contacted and received help from through Fiddle Hangout.


On this Veteran’s Day I can’t help but think that veterans would feel honored by this waltz.  It’s not associated with a battle or event, but by its very title connects us to our flag and country, representing our high ideals of freedom and opportunity.


Wishing you all a happy Veteran’s Day.  Hope you enjoy the tune and maybe even give it a try, too.  We old-time banjo pickers can’t learn enough waltzes, IMO!


P.S.  Apologies for the photos being removed.  I didn't know that if I deleted them from my Photobucket account they'd be gone from here, too.  : (

Edited by - JanetB on 11/23/2016 19:46:58

LNP - Posted - 11/11/2016:  10:05:02

That was SWEET!!

bhniko - Posted - 11/11/2016:  13:52:52

Could have danced all night...a beautiful interpretation. New banjo? Looks like a longneck which I do not remember seeing before.

And I do love that hat. Most appreciative of the banjo history lessons. Enjoy the different variations of the fiddlers.

Edited by - bhniko on 11/11/2016 13:57:47

RG - Posted - 11/11/2016:  14:16:42

Love waltzes and that was a great one, nicely done Janet, very cool!!!!

JanetB - Posted - 11/13/2016:  13:11:47

Thanks for the kind words.  

The photo below has R.P. Christeson in front of a piano, which he played well, in addition to the fiddle.  (To this day Charlie Walden also enjoys piano accompaniment with his fiddle, as in the version of Stars and Stripes Waltz below with Patt Plunkett on piano.)  The other people are Henry Schroeder, Bob Walters, and William ("Banjo Bill") Lohridge.   

 photo R.P. Christeson photo_zpsv5qsjodm.jpeg


Edited by - JanetB on 11/13/2016 13:13:09

ManfredK - Posted - 11/14/2016:  11:24:24

Indeed very cool, Janet! Particularly the syncopation of the second quarters are great.

JanetB - Posted - 11/15/2016:  08:05:23


Originally posted by ManfredK


Indeed very cool, Janet! Particularly the syncopation of the second quarters are great.

Thanks, Manfred!  It took me a while to see what you meant by syncopation.  Yes, I use tied notes followed by a thumb or pull-off to get the same melody notes as a fiddle.  A fiddle would have kept bowing the dotted quarter note and then played the different eighth note.  When I studied with Adam Hurt we did a lot of such dotted quarter notes followed by the eighth note using the thumb.  He would call the dotted part a "ghost stroke" because the clawhammer downstroke (often the "dit" of a bum-ditty) would get the thumb in position but not touch the strings, especially when the thumb note was on the first or second string where it normally doesn't go.  I find myself doing it a lot, I guess because fiddle tunes have many such melody notes.

Another interesting aspect is the waltz time done with clawhammer.  For me now it feels natural after having played several (I really like waltzes using clawhammer -- ever try to play Turlough O'Carolan pieces?).

I was hoping some of my Missouri BHO friends were out there.  I'm curious as to whether R.P. Christeson repertoire is more common to them than to myself.

JanetB - Posted - 11/15/2016:  08:10:38


Originally posted by bhniko


New banjo? Looks like a longneck which I do not remember seeing before.

Not a new banjo, Dick -- still the Mac Traynham Whyte Laydie openback set up with a John Balch goatskin hide and nylgut strings.  The camera angle is from the bottom so as to get the flag on the porch.  Coincidentally it was the week of the election.  No matter where we cast our votes we're all really on the same team with many blessings to count in this country.  I've always felt patriotic.

ManfredK - Posted - 11/16/2016:  12:46:42


Originally posted by JanetB


Originally posted by ManfredK


Indeed very cool, Janet! Particularly the syncopation of the second quarters are great.


Another interesting aspect is the waltz time done with clawhammer.  For me now it feels natural after having played several (I really like waltzes using clawhammer -- ever try to play Turlough O'Carolan pieces?).


Yes I tried some of them an these beautiful melodies deserve it.

Paul Meredith - Posted - 11/18/2016:  19:26:19

I'm a bit late to the party, but its nice to have a waltz for TOTW.  Janet, your rendition is excellent, I like the tone you get from that banjo!

JanetB - Posted - 11/19/2016:  14:09:54

Thanks Manfred and Paul.  I'm glad the banjo tone is sounding good, because it has fairly new nylgut strings and I'm still wondering how long I'll keep them on.  And I'm glad you're enjoying waltzes, Manfred, and have looked at Turlough O'Carolan.  Going back to the 1600's for tunes to learn is really old-time!

In case anyone is interested in MIssouri music the book Play Me Something Quick and Devilish by Howard Marshall looks to be a good resource and includes a CD.  He's a professor emeritus from the University of Missouri and is quite reachable through Fiddle Hangout.  The book has references to and a photo of Vee Latty, composer of Stars and Stripes Waltz.  It also describes the three cultural and musical regions of Missouri, with Mr. Latty having come from central Missouri in the "Little Dixie" region (and whose house was only a mile from Howard's).  Waltzes are prominent there, played slowly and smoothly. 

Nick Hornbuckle - Posted - 11/19/2016:  14:17:01

Thanks Janet, that was great! I really appreciate the care you put into your arrangements and the depth of historical context you provide...if only we would all do thatwink!

JanetB - Posted - 11/19/2016:  14:45:44

Thanks so much, Nick.  I'm just a retired first grade nerdie teacher.  You're the one pushing the limits of what can be done by devoting a lifetime to this great music. I hope you put Cleo Belle on your solo CD. 

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 11/19/2016:  16:02:05

What a lovely watz!  Thank you Janet for introducing it to the Banjo Hangout.  I will be playing it this evening, for sure.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  Sure hope our paths will cross again.

JanetB - Posted - 11/20/2016:  09:10:17

Thanks, Judy.  Your Thanksgiving greetings are much appreciated. Same to you!

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