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"Play Me Something Quick and Devilish"

Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri

Howard Wight Marshall

Publication Year: 2013

Media Kit


             “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish” explores the heritage of traditional fiddle music in Missouri. Howard Wight Marshall considers the place of homemade music in people’s lives across social and ethnic communities from the late 1700s to the World War I years and into the early 1920s. This exceptionally important and complex period provided the foundations in history and settlement for the evolution of today’s old-time fiddling.  


            Beginning with the French villages on the Mississippi River, Marshall leads us chronologically through the settlement of the state and how these communities established our cultural heritage. Other core populations include the “Old Stock Americans” (primarily Scotch-Irish from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia), African Americans, German-speaking immigrants, people with American Indian ancestry (focusing on Cherokee families dating from the Trail of Tears in the 1830s), and Irish railroad workers in the post–Civil War period. These are the primary communities whose fiddle and dance traditions came together on the Missouri frontier to cultivate the bounty of old-time fiddling enjoyed today.

            Marshall also investigates themes in the continuing evolution of fiddle traditions. These themes include the use of the violin in Westward migration, in the Civil War years, and in the railroad boom that changed history. Of course, musical tastes shift over time, and the rise of music literacy in the late Victorian period, as evidenced by the brass band movement and immigrant music teachers in small towns, affected fiddling. The contributions of music publishing as well as the surprising importance of ragtime and early jazz also had profound effects. Much of the old-time fiddlers’ repertory arises not from the inherited reels, jigs, and hornpipes from the British Isles, nor from the waltzes, schottisches, and polkas from the Continent, but from the prolific pens of Tin Pan Alley.     


            Marshall also examines regional styles in Missouri fiddling and comments on the future of this time-honored, and changing, tradition. Documentary in nature, this social history draws on various academic disciplines and oral histories recorded in Marshall’s forty-some years of research and field experience. Historians, music aficionados, and lay people interested in Missouri folk heritage—as well as fiddlers, of course—will find “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish” an entertaining and enlightening read.


            With 39 tunes, the enclosed Voyager Records companion CD includes a historic sampler of Missouri fiddlers and styles from 1955 to 2012.




Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Music is magic. When it is right, whether you are playing an instrument or listening intently or dancing to the fiddler’s time, you feel suspended above the clouds, riding the thermals. Not everyone will understand this. This book seeks to document that magical feeling as it passes from generation to generation, ...

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pp. xv-xvi

I grew up in a family that loved telling stories about local history. They came to central Missouri from Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia. In each generation since the early 1800s, there have been musicians, from church choir tenors, dancing masters, and fiddlers to marching band cornetists, ukulele-playing flappers, ...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. 1-24

Fiddle appears in Noah Webster’s 1806 Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, the first American dictionary. The word was defined two ways: as a noun, “a kind of musical instrument,” and as a verb, “to play on a fiddle, trifle, do little, idle.” A “fiddler” is “one who plays upon a fiddle, a trifler.” ...

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1. Fiddle Music in the Old French District

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pp. 25-52

We often think of the Boones, Austins, and Smiths as the first European Missourians. But families named Lalumondier, Chouteau, and Vallé were here earlier. Missouri’s part of the Midwest was a colony alternately of France and Spain long before 1803, when Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase added the immense territory to the United States. ...

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2. Going West

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pp. 53-78

After 1803, when Jefferson acquired Louisiana, American exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West began in earnest. If Missouri was to become the “gateway to the West” and the “mother of the West,” the Lewis and Clark Expedition to map the new territory and survey its peoples and environment was the first step. ...

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3. The Old-Stock Americans

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pp. 79-106

Old-stock Americans are British Isles–based people, usually descended from Scotch-Irish (Ulster Scots), Welsh, English, and Scottish families. The great majority of them in Missouri were Scotch-Irish.1 ...

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4. African American Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri

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pp. 107-134

African American people have made enormous contributions to Missouri’s old-time fiddling.1 Black fiddlers (both as enslaved people and as free people) performed alongside white fiddlers and musicians from the earliest settlement period until fairly recently, particularly at dances and community picnics. ...

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5. The Legacy of German-Speaking Missourians

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pp. 135-162

German-speaking people brought essential ingredients to traditional American fiddle music and dance: the waltz, schottische, polka, and related couple dances. Some dance forms have passed out of existence in Missouri, but many dances introduced and popularized by German-speaking people in the nineteenth century are alive and well. ...

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6. Music and Memory in the Civil War Era

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pp. 163-190

The Civil War was a long and harsh time that continues to shape the collective memory of Americans, and this is certainly true in the reluctant battleground state of Missouri.1 Missouri was a key border state between North and South as well as East and West; many say the war really began in the 1850s with the bloody border war ...

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7. The Irish and the Railroads in Post–Civil War Rural Missouri

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pp. 191-218

In Missouri it is often said that the Irish have an overarching presence in the repertoire and performance styles in old-time fiddling. Certainly, Irish fiddle music constitutes an important vein in the old-time fiddler’s repertory. But transplantation of fiddle music from the “green shamrock shore” to “the green fields of America” is complicated. ...

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8. Indian Old-Time Fiddlers

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pp. 219-250

I did not expect this to emerge as a major theme. We know little or nothing about what music may have been like among the people here before European contact, and there are few references in the historical record. But when we consider oral and anecdotal history and specific families in Missouri from the early 1800s forward, ...

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9. Musical Literacy in Victorian Times

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pp. 251-276

How do people learn to play music?1 In nineteenth-century Missouri, the itinerant dancing master and the church hymnal helped bring musical literacy to people. Once the Civil War was behind the country, a number of shifts took place in society to nourish and alter traditional fiddle music. ...

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10. Traditional Fiddling and the Dawn of Jazz

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pp. 277-304

One of the surprises of old-time fiddling is the immense relevance of ragtime and early jazz. In the heyday of freewheeling ragtime, early jazz, and swing, old-time fiddle music was infused with the creative syncopation that cascaded from pianos. In those uninhibited, experimental years, music changed. ...

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pp. 305-308

The old-time fiddling of Missouri has seen remarkable changes. Fortunately, it is a flourishing and versatile tradition in which new ideas are accepted, while the old foundation remains the solid base. ...


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pp. 309-312


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pp. 313-314


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pp. 315-348

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 349-362


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pp. 363-370

Index to Text

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pp. 371-392

Index to Voyager Records Companion CD

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pp. 393-400

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272935
E-ISBN-10: 0826272932
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219947
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219942

Page Count: 420
Illustrations: 129, transcriptions
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1