Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


Howard (Rusty) Marshall, of Fulton, Missouri, was born August 21, 1944, Locust Grove Farm, Moberly, Randolph County, Missouri. His parents were born in Randolph County, Missouri. Branches of his family have been in Randolph County since coming from Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky in the 1830s. Family heritage: English-Welsh-Scottish-Ulster Scots. All except the Scots came to American colonies before the revolution (Scots to Virginia 1794); plus a dab of German Swiss (to northern Virginia c. 1710).

Marshall has a BA English, University of Missouri, 1970; MA, Ph.D. Folklore, Indiana University 1972, 1976. Currently, he is professor and chairman, Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia; formerly worked for the Smithsonian Institution and American Folklife Center (Library of Congress). He is a member of Missouri State Old-Time Fiddlers Association, North American Fiddlers Association, National Old-Time Fiddlers Association (board member and NOTFA-certified contest judge). Marshall has presented workshops on traditional Missouri fiddle tunes and their history at festivals, school programs, and the Bethel Fiddle Camp.

Many of Marshall's family members played the violin, including his father (only as a child), several aunts, cousins, grandfather Wiley Marshall, grandfather J.B. Jennings (cello), and great-grandfather Richard Rice Marshall. Marshall began teaching himself to play by listening to tapes and recordings in about 1973 and got more serious after being backstage at the Grand Ole Opry watching Howdy Forrester and others. "I have not had formal training or lessons (I wish I had). I learned by visiting with and listening to fiddlers of all styles and varieties. I remember my grandfather and others playing fiddle when I was a child at the farm. I visited and recorded Art Galbraith in Springfield, Mo. in 1968 and that was probably the first time someone tried to help me play the fiddle; fiddler Billy Lee of Wright City, Mo. also gave it a try at that time. By the time I began to try to play, I had a lot of fiddle tunes in my head already, both from childhood and from playing in bluegrass bands in graduate school in Indiana, going to festivals, etc. I mostly learned on my own via recordings but later, in the early 1980s, I learned a lot of specific stylistic things in jam sessions and visits as well as gong to fiddle contests and being around Missourians like Johnny Bruce, Taylor McBaine, Pete McMahan, Kelly Jones, Charlie Walden, and Jake Hockemeyer."

Earlier influences for Marshall included Tommy Jackson and Kenny Baker, The Chieftans, Missouri fiddlers such as Pete McMahan and Cyril StinnettÉ in the 1970s, while working Smithsonian Institution festivals, he enjoyed Tracy Schwarz, John Ashby, Gus Meade, among others. "I visited and played with (either backup guitar or mandolin or fiddle) a number of fiddlers in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, including many Missouri fiddlers and, thanks partly to my work in Washington at the Smithsonian and later at the Library of Congress, Benny Thomasson, Joe Pancerewski, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Kenny Baker, and of course Alan Jabbour, my boss at the American Folklife Center." After returning to central Missouri in 1982, Marshall began to devote himself to the central/north Missouri old-time style.

The first fiddle tunes he learned were Soldier's Joy, and Boil the Cabbage Down; both were common in the area. "I fooled with the violin for years, figured out how to get in tune and figured out what key tunes were supposed to be played in. At some point, "Soldier's Joy" and other familiar tunes began to appear as if emerging into daylight from a dense grey dawn fog. I have known those and other old tunes since childhood. My grandfather Marshall played these and many other tunes, both the older dance tunes everybody played in our area like "Leather Britches," "Mississippi Sawyer," "Marmaduke's Hornpipe," "Wagner," "Sally Goodin," and late 19th century pop tunes like "Golden Slippers," "Red Wing," and "Over the Waves." Other tunes that I did not remember from childhood, I have sat down and figured out. I learned all my tunes from oral / aural tradition. Currently, my favorite tunes are probably "Leather Britches," "Grey Eagle," and "Rye Straw."" Marshall cites the following fiddlers for his favorite versions: "Leather Britches" by Howdy Forester or Tommy Jackson; "Grey Eagle" by Pete McMahan, Charlie Walden, or Tommy Jackson; "Rye Straw" by John D. Summers. Among his favorite fiddlers are Tommy Jackson & Howdy Forester (past commercial fiddlers); Taylor McBaine, Jake Hockemeyer, & Henry Wells (past local fiddlers); Kenny Baker & Frankie Gavin (current commercial fiddlers); Pete McMahan, Nile Wilson, & Charlie Walden (current local fiddlers).

Marshall enjoys playing hoedowns/breakdowns/squares, waltzes, two-steps, schottisches, jigs, and church hymns. Preferred backup instruments: guitar, banjo (frailing five-string or chorded tenor), piano. He plays a few tunes in cross tuning. "I also enjoy playing "second fiddle" (not "twin fiddle") for other fiddlers, where I bow heavy chords as backup to the lead fiddler (this is an old but now-rare tradition in my area)." In addition to fiddle, Marshall plays guitar, mandolin, five-string banjo, tenor banjo, French harp, and a wee bit of backup piano. He played cornet in school bands as a teenager and dreamed of playing like Louis Armstrong.

Marshall plays fiddle at jam sessions, fiddle contests, festival and program performances, and dances. "I play two or three [dances] in the fall and two or three in the spring and summer in the Columbia area. When my band (Farm House String Band) plays for local square dances and contra dances (in which I play fiddle), usually there is a piano, guitar, five-string banjo, and French harp." He has also performed at weddings, wakes, and funerals.

"I have been going to fiddle contests since the late 1960s. I enjoy competing, but more than that I enjoy the chance to see and hear the top fiddlers and I enjoy the jam sessions and goofing off. Last summer I played in about 20 contests (plus one in Illinois and one in Arkansas). I sometimes win something toward the tail end of the prizes. The biggest contest I've entered was the "National Fiddlers Convention and Championships" in Mountain View, Arkansas in 1997 (I got 10th place in the Open Division). I have judged numerous fiddle contests; my first judging experience was at the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife national fiddle contest in 1974 and the next one was at the National Park Service's Western Regional Folklife Festival in San Francisco in 1981 (where my fellow judges were Joe Pancerewski, Benny Thomasson). The latest big contest judged was Great Plains Championships in Yankton, SD in 1997. Judging is a tough job and doesn't win friends. In the past few years, I have decided it is important to judge when asked, especially since I play in contests myself and I feel that I have the respect of most other fiddlers who run up and down the Missouri contest circuit. A judge needs a strong sense of fairness, an attempt to be objective, and a hard shell. A judge needs a lot of experience in this music in live settings, whether as a fiddler or backup player or knowledgeable and devoted listener. A judge needs to know about different styles and tunes. In small local contests, it helps if a judge understands the traditions in that community and understands the values of the community in terms of what is traditional there; that is to say that expert contest fiddlers on the national scene who play the national contest style may not automatically win the top prize in a local contest in Missouri. Those who do not make good judges of old-time fiddle contests include (a) well-intentioned community members who know very little of the real tradition, such as the fair queen or high-school band teacher or local country music DJ, and (b) the brother or sister or uncle or wife, etc., of one of the fiddlers in the contest! A judge does not have play "fiddle" to be an acceptable judge, but they better know their stuff and be fair about it."

I would say my style could be thought of as old-time central and north Missouri style, or north Missouri hornpipe style, or Missouri long bow style (though I don't use a particularly long bow stroke), or Little Dixie style. Missouri fiddlers who play in my general style (which has lots of subsets) value drive and accent that provide a danceable beat for dancers, they play so you that can hear each note clearly, they like to double notes on open strings, they play lots of notey hornpipes but the pace is that of a reel, they play lots of waltzes, they like playing chorded (discord) tunes, they like to play in flat keys, and they often play in second position when they play contest tunes influenced by fiddlers like Texas Shorty and Herman Johnson. [Some of the] most influential musicians from earlier times in my style, for central and north Missouri, would [include] Ep Taylor (Monroe County), Daniel Boone Jones (Stephens/Columbia) and more recently Casey Jones (Livingston County), George Morris (Columbia), Cleo Persinger (Columbia), and Henry Wells (Fayette). When asked how many fiddle styles exist, Marshall answers, "Umpty-ump zillion (thank heavens). For Missouri, a huge fiddling state with more fiddle contests than any other state in the U.S., one might suggest there are three broad older styles here. They line up along cultural-geographic lines: Ozark style, Little Dixie style, and north Missouri style. Charlie Walden has written about MO styles in The Old-Time Herald and Charlie, Spencer Galloway, and I tried to sort it out in the "Now That's A Good Tune" album booklet."

Marshall's band is called The Farm House String Band (a.k.a. Doc Howard and Friends). "We are a sort of glorified pickup band that has played for local square dances and contra dances for many years. It began in the early 1980s when I played second fiddle in a band with the great Johnny Bruce. Johnny, who lived two hours away over in Carroll County, was unable to continue leading the band and left me holding the bag; the rest is history. We have a cast of regulars that includes myself (violin, banjo), Musial Wolfe (Boonville, piano), John T. White (Hallsville, banjo, violin), Knox McCrory (Columbia, French harp). Others take part from time to time, including Kenny Applebee, Carrie Watson, Aaron Watson, Walter Mountjoy, Tom Verdot, Kathy Gordon, and Jim Ruth. Previously, in the late 60s and 70s I played mandolin in bluegrass and old-time bands in Missouri and southern Indiana.  I don't have commercial recordings available but I put fiddle tunes on a few albums produced by others."

Marshall's violin was made by A.W. Reitz, Chicago, March 1918, and is #183. He considers it a "Strad" type instrument. He loves this violin's brown color and dark, deep, woody tone; it is "pretty loud", and Marshall uses Prim strings. His favorite bow is an octagonal pernambuco bow made in the 1960s by the late Walter Boswell, a retired carpenter in his hometown (Moberly), who gave him the bow and a violin and double case he built in memory of Marshall's grandfather, who played violin at dances in the rural schoolhouse in the rural neighborhood near Renick where Boswell lived as child. Marshall makes chin rests of the kind that fit over the tail piece, carving them out of scraps of black walnut that become available when he has to take a walnut down on his farm. He uses a Dremel motor tool, hand tools, and a whole lot of sandpaper; he gets the metal parts from a catalog, finishing the wood with MinWax.

Marshall's main reasons for playing fiddle: "It's my main steam valve in a stressful world. Just as important, I have a sense of trying to carry on a tradition of fiddling in my family that goes back through four or five generations. I like playing some of my grandfather's tunes, tunes specific to my part of Missouri, and I like playing old tunes that have become endangered species or have fallen into obscurity. I enjoy the company of "old-time fiddle people" and going to events unrelated to my job."

Marshall has chosen the following selections for this anthology:

1. Gypsy Hornpipe. [key: A] I learned this from a 1983 home recording of the late Cyril Stinnett made at Stinnett's home in Fillmore. Cyril may have gotten the tune from Bob Walters and it may be a "book tune" from Coles or another of the tune books common in Missouri many years ago. It's not a contest tune but is the kind of hornpipe I like and, that, to some extent, speaks for a variant of central and north Missouri hornpipe style.

2. Norma Lou's Waltz. [key: C] Sometimes called "Kemp's Waltz," this is an old-time waltz familiar in the Little Dixie region of central and northeast Missouri where I grew up and reside. I learned it from Charlie Walden about 1984. Pete McMahan plays a version of the tune but with a lot of double-stops. The newer title was, as I recall, first used in a jam session in the 1980s, and is for Norma Lou Applebee, Kenny's wife. Norma is the text-book version of the cheerful, supportive, and patient fiddler's spouse. She often serves as score keeper at fiddle contests and is very knowledgeable about fiddling.

My long-time friend and compatriot, Kenny Applebee (aged 47) of Rush Hill, Missouri (see profiles of Kenny in Old-Time Herald 1994/1995 and National Old Time Fiddlers Association Newsletter November 1996) helps on the tape. I have played fiddle with Kenny at jam sessions, dances, festivals, school programs, and fiddle contests for 15 years. Kenny is a "Gibson man" and on this tape plays his old Gibson Hummingbird flat top. He's very versatile and handles different styles of backup, is in very high demand at fiddle contests, and is held in high esteem by Missouri fiddlers across the state.