Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


Joey McKenzie, Burleson, Texas (

Joey was born October 15, 1963, in McMinnville, Yamhill County, Oregon. He graduated high school and works as a musician, fiddle teacher, repairman, dealer, and music store owner. He is a director of the Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association.


Joey is 1/4 Osage Indian, 1/4 Scottish, and "what else I don't know". Midwestern? His father was born in Oklahoma, mother in Kansas. Another family member who plays the fiddle is his wife, Sherry (also featured in this anthology). Joey began playing fiddle at 17 years of age in his home in McMinnville. He is self-taught. "I got some recordings of good fiddle players, especially Benny Thomasson, and tried to play like they did. Unfortunately, there were no good fiddle players in my area that played the style I wanted to learn." He has had learning experiences with skilled fiddlers, though: "Benny Thomasson taught me a few things as well as Terry Morris. Joe Sites from Idaho taught me a few licks early on. Bill Yohey, from McMinnville, Oregon taught me a few things on other stringed instruments that ended up helping my fiddle playing, as did a guy named David Altman. Very informal stuff." The first tune Joey learned was Tom & Jerry, from hearing tapes of Benny Thomasson, trying to mimic him. "I had no idea how to hold the fiddle or bow, let alone how to play." Today, Joey has many favorite fiddle tunes; favorite fiddlers include Benny Thomasson, Major Franklin, Red Steeley, Terry Morris, Orville Burns, Jimmie Don Bates, Tommy Jackson, and The Solomon Brothers "to name a few".


Joey enjoys playing hornpipes, western swing tunes, swing, western cowboy tunes, old country/western tunes, rags, and polkas, etc. He does utilize cross tuning, and also plays guitar, mandolin, tenor guitar, tenor banjo, and a few other stringed instruments. His favorite backup instrument "depends on the style of music and what kind of song is being played. For breakdowns, I like a guitar, tenor guitar, piano, bass fiddle, or a combination of those instruments. I also like to play with one good guitar player." Joey has played for lots of dances, wedding parties, and also has many opportunities to play with other people in various situations.


Joey participates in fiddle contests and likes to attend, depending on the contest. His first entry was in 1981 at Forest Grove, Oregon, where he played Tom & Jerry, Festival Waltz, Cotton Patch Rag, Dusty Miller, Martin's Waltz, and I Don't Love Nobody, with backup by John Melnichuk on guitar and David Boyd on bass. His performance earned him 3rd place; Jay Dean Warner (Ludiker now) won first place and Brenda Wallace was second. Joey has been the World Champion Fiddler three times (twice at Crockett, Texas, and once in San Antonio, Texas). "The one in San Antonio paid more than any other contest I've heard of- I won $5,000. I've also won the World Series of Fiddling championship, 5 time Oregon State fiddle champion, U.S. Open fiddle champion, Western Open fiddle champion, and a few others. I've also lost tons of contests!" Joey has also judged many contests, including the Nationals at Weiser, Idaho; the pay ranged from nothing to $1,500. He enjoys judging some contests and feels a good contest judge should be a fiddler, "absolutely! ...familiar with many different styles of fiddling, can play pretty well, is not easily influenced, pays attention, has good ears, and open minded to name a few things."


Joey says he plays a mixture of many styles but predominantly Breakdown style, which is the dominating style in his region. He notes there have been many earlier influential musicians in that style, "but Benny Thomasson probably helped the style as much as anybody." He thinks there are probably hundreds of fiddling styles. He plays in a band and they have released a number of tapes, but "I'm sold out of most of my tapes but I have a few copies of a tape I made in 1990 to sell at a ranch I was playing at in Colorado. It's called "Breakdown and Country Fiddle Favorites".


Joey plays an 1880's Lowendall violin, a Maggini copy. Its sound is very well balanced and warm, and Joey opts not to use a shoulder rest. He likes Prim medium tone strings and plays with a "middle of the road German bow with no name that just happens to play pretty well." He collects violins, "sort of", and does his own set-up and repairs, except for bow rehairing.


"Strictly for the free drinks."


Joey recorded Boil the Cabbage Down; his version, learned about 10 years ago, was influenced by Major Franklin, and "Benny Thomasson also had a great version." Joey used overdubbing to play his own backup on guitar and tenor guitar.