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LEROY CANADAY: OLD DAN TUCKER WAS A FINE OLD MAN
Traditional music in central and north Missouri has its roots ultimately in
the British Isles of the 18th century and German-speaking Europe of the 19th.
Yet much of our fiddle music owes its personality to pioneer emigration Westward
from Kentucky or Virginia or Illinois, as well as to the intriguing influences
of traditions based in people from places like France, West Africa, and the
Caribbean. Still more, fiddling is entwined with influences from tune books,
the minstrel stage, Civil War brass bands, vaudeville, immigrant music teachers
in small towns, mail order catalogs, agricultural fairs, radio, phonograph records,
Tin Pan Alley, the telephone, television, cassette and CD technology, and computers
and the Internet. Whew! No wonder we have a hard time tracking down the precise
Fiddle music comes through time not on sheets of paper but through the ancient channels of apprenticeship and imitation of respected masters. It operates by the laws of oral and aural tradition. It is unusual to find sheet music containing what we call old time fiddle tunes, and when we do, that instance represents merely one particular writing-down of music that is fluid, dynamic, and ever-changing from one generation to the next.
The selections here are a sampling of the many tunes Leroy Canaday learned through oral tradition. They cover a broad spectrum including old favorites, contest tunes, local tunes, one of Leroys compositions, and famous exhibition pieces long identified with Leroys earlier fiddling career.
Leroy Canaday lives in Moberly, Missouri, with his wife Betty. Born March 24, 1928, Leroy grew up on the family farm in the Maud community in the gently sloping prairie and woods of southwestern Shelby and northern Monroe Counties in the northern borders of the region many Missourians call Little Dixie.
The village of Maud harkens back to the 1840s. Variously named Petersburg and Stivers Corners, originally it was called Black Hawk, after the popular brand of bitters served there in the 1860s. The main water is Otter Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Salt River which drains into the Mississippi River south of Hannibal.
Leroys father Pierre, a farmer, came to Missouri around 1900 from the vicinity of Oscaloosa, Iowa. My fathers side of the house were basically of Irish descent. Leroys mother was Patsy Gertrude Palliser Canaday, and her family, mostly English people, seem to have come into Iowa from the Springfield area of Illinois. They raised four children Jewell Marie, Leonard Cecil, Orville Edward (Rooster), and Leroy Francis (Red). All but Leonard had red hair.
Young Canaday heard his first fiddling in the 1930s at the country store two miles up the road in Maud. It was a time of change and economic hard times. But battery-powered radios were becoming numerous in rural areas not yet served by electricity. Electricity did not reach the Canaday farm until the late 1940s.
So while people gathered at Tiptons store in Maud or the Granville community center (east of the Canaday farm) for sessions of old-time fiddling and dancing, they also could tune in live radio programs through the big speakers of the battery-powered radios of the time. They could listen to live programming of an astonishing variety by todays standards, from Canada, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Mexico, and Tennessee as well as nearby stations such as WOS in Jefferson City and KFAL in Fulton. WOS broadcast live fiddle music from the dome of the state capitol in the 1920s. People could also listen to fiddle and string band music on commercial recordings available by mail order or at stores.
Most of the old fiddlers: now the fiddlers down in my neighborhood, most of them, they would get together at the old country store down there. Thats where I learned some of my tunes like Soldiers Joy and Mississippi Sawyer and Ragtime Annie and tunes like that, I learned from them. Used to be a Wright family of musicians who played for dances, they came up there. Had a saxophone, a horn, they played the fiddle, the banjo, about five or six of them. A couple of them would come up there on a Saturday night if they wasnt playing some place. The old storekeeper would give us a sody pop and a sandwich if we wanted and wed sit there and play from the time they started till they quit.
Leroy began playing at age eight. He played his first tunes on his elder brother Leonards violin that usually balanced unused atop his mothers upright piano. Leonard played fiddle a bit, but mostly guitar and chorded banjo. Id sit there and look at it, and it got the best of me. Leroy made a bow out of a straight choke rod from a Model T Ford truck. Lacking horsehair for the bow, he just rosined up the metal choke rod. For strings, he took used strings from a guitar. Finally, his father got tired of listening to it, so he got the [Sears-Roebuck] catalog out and ordered me a fiddle bow.
Canaday essentially taught himself to play by trial and error. When you say self-taught, naturally you learn by watching. You know, Id go up to the old store and watch these guys. From observation, how they held the bow, try to figure out which one of them was holding it right and which one was holding it wrong. I had to learn that I had a little finger; it took a long time to learn that I had a little finger. You learn from doing.
Later on, in Moberly, band leader Virgil Goodman taught him fiddle tunes and techniques as they played dances and performed live over the radio. Later still, Canaday learned much from central Missouri contest champions Pete McMahan and Taylor McBaine, from Tommy Jackson records, and from Howdy Forresters fiddling on the Grand Ole Opry with Roy Acuffs Smoky Mountain Boys.
Leroys chief influences were the red-hot charismatic radio fiddlers. His idol as a teenager, the great Nashville radio fiddler Curly Fox, was known for exhibition pieces like Johnsons Old Grey Mule and Listen to the Mocking Bird.
Canaday also learned to play guitar, piano, and plectrum banjo. He tuned the four-string banjo like the lower four strings of a five-string and played chords to provide solid backup while other fiddlers played.
What inspired him most? Nashville. Grand Ole Opry. Listened to it every Saturday night, every Saturday night. At first, we didnt have a radio. One of the neighbors had one of those great big old boxes with the speaker sitting on top of it.
Thered be four or five of the neighbors would gang up over there, and instead of having a TV party (like we do now) wed have a Grand Ole Opry party, and have popcorn and like that. And Ill tell you, when the fiddle players come on, everybody better be quiet! The batteries would get weak, and youd get your ears right down against the speaker and try to hear it. I think one of the first fiddlers I heard down there was Curly Fox. The Fruit Jar Drinkers, The Gully Jumpers, they were all fiddle bands. Thats where I got my inspiration. I had to learn to play the fiddle.
Canaday won his first big contest in front of the court house in the county seat town of Paris at the age of 13. As usual, his older brother Orville was his guitar backup. Competing with established master fiddlers in an area famous for its fiddle music and contest champions, Leroy Canaday was a celebrity.
Leroy was not cut out to be a farmer and didnt see much future in it, particularly after spending his childhood trying to help his family make their way through the Great Depression. His first paying job off their 80-acre farm was in 1937, an after-school job nailing cheese boxes together in a cheese plant in nearby Shelbina for a penny each. He also worked at a local service station while in high school. He graduated from Shelbina High School in 1946. In the fall of 1947, Canaday left the farm and moved a few miles west to Moberly. He was following the fiddle.
Moberly was a prosperous railroad, manufacturing, and farm town, with ample opportunities for a good young fiddle player. Here he met his future wife, Betty Ransdell. They were married in April 1949, and had two children, Norman and Kathy, both musical people who appreciate their dads fiddling heritage.
In Moberly, Leroy began playing fiddle and rhythm guitar in local honky-tonk and dance bands, made some connections and began earning money. A key acquaintance he made was band leader Virgil Hap Goodman. At Osterlohs Music Store, he traded the violin he got from Leonard and $50.00 cash for a good-quality factory instrument. I had to play about a month and a half of dances to pay for it. Today, Canadays number one violin is a fine Guarnerius copy presented to him by an old friend, Kathryn Williams. Mrs. Williamss late husband Bruce played fiddle in a Moberly dance band many years ago.
Leroys principal band experience was with Virgil Goodman and the Happy Valley Gang, who played live radio shows on KMMO (Marshall MO) and dances across the region. Before their radio program, they would play in Glasgow at the Highway Inn on Friday night, then drive on to Marshall and do their half-hour Saturday morning live radio show, which they played from around 1948 to 1951. The gang would then drive back to Moberly and play dances at the Dream Boat (formerly the Show Boat night club). Never missed a Saturday night for five years in the early 1950s. Their theme tune was Bile Them Cabbage Down (a venerable hoedown but one allowing Canaday to strut his stuff). The band featured Goodman and the Stuck brothers, with others sometimes taking part. Goodman did the talking and played guitar, banjo, and a bit of fiddle, steel guitar, and bass. He designed and built his own electric pedal steel guitars. Burl Stuck played five-string banjo, flat top (rhythm) guitar and his brother Orville played steel and flat top. Leroy played fiddle.
The other main band was led by Edna Lewis on piano, with her brother Francis Strayhall on drums. Canaday chorded electric guitar (and played occasional lead) on the round dance tunes and fiddled the hoedowns on the square dances. The square dance sets were called by callers located by the dancers themselves. In those days, it was common for a dance band to offer both the current big band hits such as 12th Street Rag and South, as well as familiar waltzes, schottisches, and old reels for square dancing.
Canadays star status was secured in November 1961, when he won the State Champion Old Fiddlers Contest at the luxurious Missouri Theater in Columbia. The contest was the final leg in a series of contests sponsored by MFA Oil. He won the elimination round playing Black Mountain Rag, Listen to the Mocking Bird, and Wednesday Night Waltz. In the final round call-backs, he played Devils Dream.
He received letters of congratulation from far and wide, from his pastor to neighbors to state politicians to Ralph Houchins in Nashville, Tennessee. Houchins was Manager of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, sponsor of the Grand Old Opry. In March 1962, Houchins wrote Canaday and invited him to come play on the Opry. Unfortunately, Canaday could not afford the cost of the trip to Tennessee. At about this time, he was invited to audition for Roy Acuffs Smoky Mountain Boys. This was a moment when Canaday had a chance to follow the fiddle to the country music Mecca to try his luck in the exciting business of live radio and making records. His heroes were Opry fiddlers. He idolized Roy Acuff and could sing all of Acuffs hit songs. Leroy assessed his goals and personal life. Thankfully for us (and Betty) he declined the tempting offers.
In 1962, Leroy went back to the second MFA Oil state contest and played the same tunes. He won second place, with Leroy Haslag taking first. The very next contest he entered was in Higbee early in 1963. Leroy drove to Higbee prepared to play the same three winners, and was informed that he would not be allowed to play Black Mountain Rag and Listen to the Mocking Bird. His best contest tunes had just been outlawed. The first Missouri old fiddlers association had just been founded by Cleo Persinger and others, and they had some new rules.
The mid-1960s saw the advent of numerous organized fiddle associations throughout the Midwest and Western United States. Following the lead of the National Old-Time Fiddlers Association in Weiser, Idaho, many of these new associations blackballed the popular trick and fancy tunes from the contest stage. His best tunes ostracized, Leroy became much less keen on contests.
In the 1970s, while playing and doing well in nearby fiddle contests, Leroy formed a bluegrass band called The Shady Valley Grass with his son Norman on banjo, daughter Kathy on bass, and guitarist Billy Brewer. They performed across Missouri and specialized in three-part family harmony singing. In the late 1980s, Leroy began playing in more fiddle contests, but still approached contests with decidedly less ardor than before the tunes blacklist.
The Canaday house is knee-deep in trophies. His latest prize was first place in the senior division at the Great Plains Fiddle Championships at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in September 2000. That was his first venture to a contest outside Missouri. Leroy also won the Vermillion twin fiddle division by playing the harmony parts with young John Williams of Madison, Missouri.
For much of his working life, Leroy was as an employee of Magic City Cleaners in downtown Moberly, retiring in 1982. He then worked for seven years in maintenance at the Moberly Regional Medical Center, while developing his own business, Leroys Carpet Cleaning. He stopped working at the hospital in 1990, and in 2001 phased out his carpet cleaning business. He presently works part-time in maintenance at the Randolph County Courthouse. Today, Canaday devotes his fiddling energies to jam sessions, contests, and church services.
This recording was made in Leroy and Bettys front room. The feeling is that of a jam session with friends and neighbors (which indeed it was). Out of hundreds of tunes Canaday knows, we sorted out a list that could represent the scope and depth of his style and repertoire.
1. Leather Britches. Along with Grey Eagle, Marmadukes Hornpipe, and perhaps Tennessee Wagner, this is one of the marble columns that supports the roof over Missouri fiddling. Leroy learned the tune as a boy, listening to older fiddlers in Monroe County as well as to Grand Ole Opry radio fiddlers like Howdy Forrester. Some say the title refers to a type of pioneer woodsmans home-made trousers, while others say it refers to green beans dried for preservation. The tune is one of the earliest on record, recorded in 1926 by Uncle Jimmy Thompson, the first fiddler to play on WSM radio. One of our many tunes with direct links to Scotland, it is known as Lord McDonalds Reel there.
2. Old Dan Tucker. Leroy sings a verse to this old song he learned as a child in the 1930s. This was his first tune, and it is one that virtually all fiddlers played until recently. At Leroys request, I play old-time banjo on this and a few other tunes in a local frailing style that Leroy recalls hearing a lot when he was a boy. Leroy says, I still remember the first contest I played in. And I played Old Dan Tucker. I sat down and played, and my feet didnt touch the floor. They had a rung on the chair and I propped my feet up on that rung. And I won the contest because it was by applause, judged by applause. Some of the older fiddlers didnt like that very much either, like I wouldnt like it now very much! But thats the way it was, at the time. Naturally I liked the applause system, at that time. The song goes back to pre-Civil War performers like Dan Emmett, who performed it in 1843 with his famous Virginia Minstrels.
3. Black Mountain Rag. One of Leroys signature tunes. Canaday learned it from Tommy Jacksons 1950s 45 rpm record. It is based on Black Mountain Blues Curly Fox supposedly heard fiddler Leslie Keith play at a fiddle contest in West Virginia in 1935 and played on the Opry. Tommy Jackson and Curly Fox fired Leroys imagination with their arsenal of fiddle techniques smooth, long bowing with perfect double stops, syncopation, and shuffle bowing. All those tools are on display here and enhanced by the violin being tuned in a straight A chord (low-to-high, A-E-A-C#), called cross-tuning by Canaday.
4. Bettys Waltz. Leroy composed this fine waltz in chorded A in the fall of the year 2000 and named it for his wife (and most faithful supporter) of some 51 years. It just came out of thin air. ... I wanted a tune in cross-tuning. I was just sitting here one day and it just came into my mind. I thought that might make a neat little waltz. The plucking part came along after the tune came.
5. Grey Eagle. Founded on an old hornpipe from Scotland, played in a variety of styles in the U.S. Most top contest fiddlers have a version. Leroy puts some elaborate bowing and noting in to give it some fire. He renders it at fast pace, borrowing from bluegrass versions, Texas contest versions, Pete McMahan, and Howdy Forrester, but it still has the Little Dixie style, flavor and punch.
6. Ozark Mountain Waltz. Attributed to Missouri champion Pete McMahan (1918-2000), patches of it sound like several other waltzes (as is often the case). Canaday competed with McMahan in contests for several decades, and admires Petes playing. North Missouri-style fiddler Lonnie Robertson played a very different Ozark Mountain Waltz. Leroys version is true to McMahans, thick with double-stops and careful, powerful bowing.
7. Whistling Rufus. A 19th century song by Kerry Mills, popular among fiddlers in the early to mid 20th century. Canaday thinks he may have learned it from a radio program called Fiddle Dusters, broadcast over a St. Joseph station in the 1940s or 1950s (probably KFEQ). It has become, as Bob Christeson would say, quite obscure today.
8. Amazing Grace / Old Rugged Cross / What A Friend We Have in Jesus. Leroy plays harmony the first time through on Amazing Grace, then switches to lead for the remainder. I had the privilege of playing this with Leroy as a special at the Canadays church in Moberly in February 2001. Amazing Grace was composed by John Newton, a reformed English trader of African slaves in the late 18th century. Newton used an old Scottish bagpipe tune for the melody; published in Protestant hymn books of the 19th century and onward, this is one of the most familiar melodies in the world today.
9. Arkansas Traveler. This old barn-burner seems never goes out of style. Recorded in New York City in the historic June 1922 session by Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland a duet of two fiddles with no other accompaniment this great tune became part of every fiddlers tune kit. The tune dates back to the minstrel stage comedy routine of the 1840s. Canaday learned it as a teenager.
10. Cooks Waltz. This intricate and stately waltz is attributed to Columbia fiddler Charlie Cook, famous in these parts for his waltzes.The double stops are what Leroy enjoys most about waltzes. Id put double notes all the way through everything if I could, he says.
11. Sally Gooden. Canaday gives this Missouri warhorse, perhaps one of the most important and most common of American fiddle tunes, its full due. He says his version is based in part on the outstanding rendition by Columbia champion fiddler Cleo Persinger.
12. Ragtime Annie A great favorite across the nation, this tune was among early fiddle recordings, released on 78 rpm records by Eck Robertson in 1922 and Clark Kessinger a few years later. Most Missouri fiddlers include a third part in G. This is Betty Canadays favorite piece, which her uncle, legendary Moberly fiddler Clate Ransdell, played well. Ransdell was champion in a Tri-State Contest (Iowa, Illinois, Missouri) held in Quincy IL in the 1920s or early 1930s. He died in 1947, just before Canaday came to Moberly. Leroy learned Ragtime Annie from Virgil Goodman, thanks to Bettys urging after hearing it one night on the radio.
13. Fishers Hornpipe. Fishers has long been a favorite in Missouri. While it is often rendered in D, most Little Dixie and north Missouri fiddlers set it in F. It was composed in 1780 by Englishman J. Fishar (sic).
14. Old Hen Cackle. From the Saturday night broadcasts of The Grand Ole Opry, and it is likely Leroy learned it either from The Fruit Jar Drinkers or The Gully Jumpers, both favorite old time bands.
15. Devils Dream. Another tune Leroy played to win the state championship in 1961, and has used to good effect in contests before and since. The alternate title is Satans Nightmare for those who choose to refrain from speaking the name. But its much earlier title in Scotland, from whence it came in the 1790s, is The Devil Among the Tailors.
16. Listen to the Mocking Bird. Leroy played this spell-binding and difficult exhibition piece to win the state title in 1961. Originally a sentimental song composed by Septimus Winner (Alice Hawthorne, 1826-1902) and published in the 1850s, by and by it became mainly a fiddle tune to be put on parade by gifted show fiddlers, such as Curly Fox and Tommy Magness. Leroy says, Every fiddler has his own way of playing Mocking Bird. Depends on what birds hes got in his locale. I put in a bob white and whippoorwill; hear them a lot around here.
17. Dragging the Bow. From Leroys Happy Valley Gang days in the 1950s.
18. Red Fox Waltz. A fine waltz that became firmly lodged in the Missouri repertoire in the 1960s, quite possibly through the influence of fiddlers playing it at the National Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho. Leroy learned this from Taylor McBaine of Columbia.
19. Rachel. From Taylor McBaine. A difficult tune to get right, Rachel is sometimes called Missouri Quickstep.
20. Wednesday Night Waltz. One of Leroys tunes used to win the State Championship in 1961, it was first recorded by The Leake County Revelers, a Mississippi string band, in 1928. The tune was a smash hit and subsequently recorded by many other fiddlers. Canaday learned it from Curly Foxs radio performances in the 1930s and 1940s. It is known as Kitty Waltz by local fiddlers in earlier times such as Ed Tharp of Columbia.
21. Old Time 8th of January. Leroy play it like the Fruit Jar Drinkers and the Gully Jumpers used to play over WSM Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s. This is the early 20th century way of playing this early 19th century dance tune.
22. Buffalo Gals. The words have been left behind for this 19th century folk song, but the melody still bears fruit for the fiddler.
23. Black Foot Waltz. Boone County fiddler and 1964 National Champion (at Weiser, Idaho) Cleo Persinger popularized this waltz, and Canaday learned it from him in the 1960s. Persinger grew up in the Black Foot community near Midway and was a fierce contestant and influential figure on the Missouri fiddle scene. This is the sort of tune, with continual double-stops, that Leroy savors.
24. Cowboy Waltz. Played by virtually all experienced Missouri fiddlers.
25. San Antonio Rose. The hugely-popular two-step and song recorded in the late 1930s by the incredibly influential western swing band, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. The exceptional popularity of Bob Wills music in Missouri adds yet another interesting layer to the rich heritage of fiddle music here.
26. Morning Glory Waltz. Leroy added the double stops to this tune he learned from a cassette tape with Tennessee fiddler Frazier Mosss version, sent to him by Kentucky fiddler Charlie Butler in 1992.
27. Fire on the Mountain. A hot contest piece around Missouri from the 1950s well into the 1980s, this has been passed over by younger fiddlers. Commercial versions include Clayton McMichens in the 1930s and Tommy Jacksons 1950s version, but experts say the tune goes back as far as 1815. Like many Canaday tunes, this is not a selection to be attempted by the faint of heart.
28. Make Me a Pallet. Frank Reed, a fine old-time dance fiddler from Moberly, was the source of a great many unusual tunes. This is among the many very old folk songs performed by string bands over the radio in the 1920s and 1930s, and early versions have a blues feeling.
29. Orange Blossom Special. Fiddlers who only play for dances or who only play in competitions do not much care for this extravagant and intense exhibition piece and usually refuse to play it. It is a staple of Leroys opry repertoire. It was composed by fiddler Ervin Rouse in 1937 and became Arthur Smiths 1940s showpiece on the Grand Ole Opry. Tommy Magness, Curly Fox, Chubby Wise, and Tommy Jackson also helped popularize the tune. It is a popular set piece in country and bluegrass shows. Every fiddler worth his rosin was (and is still) expected to be able to tear into this monster tune when asked. Considered by many to be a trick tune, it was one of the several banned by fiddle contests in the mid-1960s.
30. No Place Like Home. Composed by John Howard Payne in 1823.
Howard Marshall, born in Moberly in 1944, remembers that Red Canaday was the fiddler in our town. There have been fiddlers in his family since they came from Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky in the 1830s. He plays for dances, writes about fiddling, does school programs, and competes in and judges fiddlers contests. His 1999 CD Fiddling Missouri (with John Williams, VRCD 344) was nominated for two Grammies. He recently retired as chairman of the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri. Howard plays a 1918 Reitz violin he bought from Pete McMahan and a 1920s Vega Tubaphone banjo. Howard and Margot McMillen live on a livestock farm in Callaway County.
Norman Canaday, called Bub, was born in Moberly in 1950. Steeped in family music, he became a guitarist as a teenager. He played his first tune (Little Brown Jug) for his dad at the age of 14. He grew up listening to Leroy play the fiddle and listening to fiddle records by players like Howdy Forrester and Paul Warren. Norman began playing guitar backup at fiddle contests with his dad in about 1970. Bub plays a bit of fiddle himself: family lore tells of Norman winning a contest in Hunnewell, beating everyone including his dad much to everyones surprise. He has appeared at many festivals and played in a variety of bands. In the 1970s Norman became a fine Earl Scruggs-style banjoist. He also played lead electric guitar and formed a country-rock band. In 1996, he returned to the role of guitarist for his dad. He and his wife Carol live in St. Joseph and he operates an insurance office in Chillicothe.
Forrest Rose is a Columbia legend. A Texan by birth and a Missourian by the grace of God, he has performed and recorded on acoustic bass with some of the worlds best fiddlers, including Pete McMahan, Kenny Baker, Tater Tate, Geoff Seitz, Vassar Clements and Taylor McBaine. He has toured with Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, Michael Henderson, David Olney and many others. He writes a critically-acclaimed weekly column for The Columbia Daily Tribune.
Leroy Canaday, violin. Norman Canaday, guitar. Howard Marshall, second violin and five-string banjo. Forrest Rose, bass. Betty Canaday, nutritional specialist. Produced by Howard Marshall, with Phil and Vivian Williams. Recorded by Howard Marshall at the Canaday home, January 2001, with Sony Walkman 6 cassette recorder, metal tape, Sony stereo microphone. Album notes and cover photo by Howard Marshall. Archival photos courtesy of the Canaday Family.
Tray card photo: Leroy Canaday and friends play at KOPN 89.5 FM radio station, Columbia, Missouri, February 2000. L-R: Howard Marshall, Norman Canaday, Leroy Canaday, Forrest Rose. (Photo by Margot McMillen)
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