Liner Notes


Joe Pancerzewski was born in 1905. His family homesteaded near White Earth, North Dakota in 1909. As a boy he learned to play from his neighbors, especially the four brothers in the Nelson family. As Joe put it, "that area was plastered with good fiddlers". When he was a teenager he rode horseback for miles to play for local old time dances. The repertoire consisted of square dances, waltzes, polkas, and schottisches. In 1921 he went to Regina, Saskatchewan, where he met violinist and band leader Frances Kelly who told him "Kid, you're a pretty good fiddler but you'll never amount to nothing until you know how to read music." Joe said "I never amounted to nothing anyhow, but he taught me how to read music, and it was a godsend to help. I found out that there were a lot of places on the fiddle I never knew about." He joined the dance band and began playing "hot" foxtrots, traveling all over Western Canada. At this time he also started to learn the Canadian fiddle style for which he is known. When he moved to Bellingham, Washington in 1924, he continued to play the popular music of the day with large dance bands. He also played with the theater orchestra at the Pantages, and occasionally performed a "Yankee Fiddler" novelty solo act.

In 1927 he went to work for the railroad, which drastically cut into his fiddling, and when he was promoted to engineer in 1939 he put the fiddle away in a trunk. When he retired from the railroad in 1970, he dug out his fiddle and went to the State Fiddle Contest sponsored by the Washington Old Time Fiddle Association. Within a year he became virtually unbeatable in local fiddle contests and in the Senior division of national contests. As Joe put it, "I kept up practicing for a year, and I fooled a lot of people." He became an important stylistic influence and an inspiration for many fiddlers in the Northwest and in other parts of the country. In 1976 he represented Northwest fiddling at the Smithsonian's National Folk Festival in Washington D.C.

During his long musical career, Joe absorbed tunes and techniques from every fiddler and violinist he heard, drawing from such varied styles as traditional North Dakota dance tunes, Western Canada, early jazz, classical, bluegrass, and Texas contest fiddling. But he managed to make everything he played his own. His is basically a dance-oriented Canadian style.

Joe emphasized the importance of good timing and of giving every note its full value. He was also a master of expression, and said that a waltz should be played as if it were a love song, or to tell a story. What Joe called the "critical notes" of a tune are the notes that define that tune and distinguish it from other tunes. He said that these notes should be emphasized, and never totally obscured by variations. He had strong opinions on the subject of improvisation. "You've got to know where to do it. Joe Venuti was a master at it. He was a great violinist. A few hot licks and a little run, and it got right back into the melody."

Joe Pancerzewski passed away in December, 1991, leaving an unfillable void in the old time fiddling scene. We all miss his ebullient personality, his beautiful playing, and his fascinating stories about railroading, fiddling, and playing pool.

The tunes on this CD were selected from three of Joe's records: VRLP 306 "The Fiddling Engineer", recorded in 1972; VRLP 315 "Hi-Ball Fiddling", recorded in 1975; and VRLP 327 "The Fiddling Moods of Joe Pancerzewski", recorded in 1980. These recordings are currently available in their entirety on cassettes, along with Joe's fourth recording, "Brand New Old Time Fiddle Tunes No. 1", recorded in 1988. Written music to many of these tunes is available in Volumes 1, 2 and 3 of "Brand New Old Time Fiddle Tunes" and "Pleasures of Home", published by Voyager.

1. Barbara's Waltz (2:15) - Joe Pancerzewski. "Written as a gesture of friendship to Barbara Lamb, a brilliant young fiddler in her own right." (IV)

2. St. Adele's Reel (1:22) - Joe learned this tune in Canada in the '20's. (II)

3. Celina le Blanc (2:25) - In 1961 Joe was running a switch engine in Vancouver, and learned this tune, also known as "Flannigan's Polka", from Ned Landry at White Rock, B.C. (I)

4. Butterfly Waltz (3:04) - Joe Pancerzewski & Nora Kelly. From a light opera score, rearranged for dancing. (IV)

5. Rippling Water Jig (1:11) - Ed Gyurki's version. (II)

6. Cabri Waltz (1:57) - This waltz was named after a small town in Saskatchewan, and was brought down from Canada by Bill Smith. Joe heard it when he was eight years old. (III)

7. Pembrooke Reel (1:29) - A Johnny Mooring tune. (IV)

8. Danny Flannigan's Clog (1:32) - Written by Joe Pancerzewski in 1922, in Brandon, Manitoba. (IV)

9. Silver Wedding Waltz (2:02) - Joe learned this in 1970 at the Western Canada Championship Contest at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. (II)

10. Grandfather's Reel (1:21) - Joe did not know who wrote this tune, which he learned at a contest in Abbotsford, B. C. (IV)

11. Burgundy Waltz (2:20) - One of Andy DeJarlis' lesser known tunes. (IV)

12. Walking Plow (1:06) - From the four Nelson brothers, who were raised in Dry Fork Creek, ND and used to travel all over as a band. (II)

13. Dreamer's Waltz (1:33) - By Jim Widner, a great Montana fiddler. (IV)

14. Turkey in the Cottonwoods (2:14) - Joe learned this tune in Minot, ND around 1935 from Chet Hawley from Tulsa, Oklahoma. (I)

15. Carrick Jig (1:24) - Andy DeJarlis. (IV)

16. Fairy Waltz (1:45) - Joe Pancerzewski. (IV)

17. Tulsa (1:20) - Chet Hawley used to double fiddle this tune and "Turkey in the Cottonwoods" with Elvy Osborne, a great old time fiddler from Kentucky who homesteaded in North Dakota. (II)

18. Westerner's Waltz (1:55) - Originally named Gerald's Waltz, by the Canadian composer Gerald Bailey. (III)

19. Red River Cart Polka (1:05) - Andy DeJarlis. (IV)

20. Johnny Nelson's Favorite (1:46) - Made up by Johnny Nelson, of the Nelson brothers. (I)

21. Blue Vale Waltz (2:35) - Joe added the third part to this tune. (IV)

22. St. John's Hoedown (1:29) - A Canadian tune. (II)

23. Quilting Bee Jig (1:20) - Joe Pancerzewski. "Vivian Williams is not only a master on the violin, but has many blue ribbons for her beautiful quilts she has made. One has to do a jig to get around the quilting frames in her home. Result - a jig is born." (IV)

24. Contessa Waltz (2:05) - Joe Pancerzewski. (IV)

25. Original Canadian Hoedown (1:44) - Joe heard this at the Queensland Ballroom in Regina, Saskatchewan in the fall of 1922. (I)

26. Marion's Waltz (2:13) - A Johnny Mooring waltz. (IV)

27. Twinkletoe Polka (1:30) - Joe Pancerzewski. (IV)

28. Woodchopper's Reel (1:40) - A traditional Canadian tune. (II)

29. Desire Waltz (2:05) - Joe Pancerzewski. "I enjoy watching people dance and wrote this in hope that it would inspire many to do so." (IV)

30. Alfie's Hornpipe (1:21) - The original name of this tune is "Allen's Reel," composed by Webb Acheson from Ontario. Joe learned it from the great Calgary fiddler Alfie Myhre. (II)

31. Yours and Mine Waltz (2:10) - When Vivian Williams asked Joe what he was naming this piece, he said "Yours and Mine". (IV)

32. Globetrotter's Jig (1:47) - Joe learned this tune at Swift Current. (I)

33. Early in the Evening (1:37) - The Nelson brothers played this tune. (II)

34. Rye Valley Waltz (1:38) - Joe Pancerzewski. Named for the beautiful Rye Valley, west of Ontario, Oregon. (IV)

35. Hell Before Breakfast (1:33) - Joe Pancerzewski. "Jotted down in Denver in 1974, inspired by the remark of a waitress in the Robin Hood Restaurant to bring your fiddle and raise a little hell before breakfast. (Bless you, Susan)." (IV)

36. Vivian's Waltz (2:36) - A popular Canadian waltz. (III)


I: Mary Calvert, piano; Harold Buis, guitar

II: Dick Marvin, guitar; Barney Munger, banjo; Lou Harrington, bass; plus Gordon Tracie, woodblocks (Alfie's Hornpipe); Vivian Williams, 2nd fiddle (Rippling Water Jig), Phil Williams, mandolin (Silver Wedding Waltz, Woodchopper's Reel)

III: Gordon Tracie, guitar; Dick Marvin, guitar; Vivian Williams, bass

IV: Dick Marvin, guitar; Vivian Williams, piano; Phil Williams, bass

Recording engineers: Phil Williams, Dave Huber.

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