Monday, January 14, 2013

Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri Part II: Taylor McBaine

By Howard Wight Marshall

The 1980s was an active era in the documentation of traditional fiddle music and cultural heritage in Missouri. With Dolf and Becky Schroeder, the University of Missouri’s Extension Division produced a series of video programs called Missouri Origins. One of these
was “Country Missouri Fiddling: Taylor McBaine, Contest Fiddler” (1981).

In this video, Lois Gandt recorded the  legendary Columbia fiddler Taylor McBaine (1910-1994). At this time, Taylor McBaine was one of the leading exponents of the driving central Missouri style fiddling, a popular teacher, and a frequent contest champion. The video includes McBaine discussing fiddling, performing in contests and at festivals, and includes many of his ardent young students.

Taylor McBaine is seen playing his German-made “Amati” model violin in his bedroom in his Columbia home. His cramped but impeccable bedroom was his de facto teaching studio, where fiddle students and admirers (such as yours truly) would visit, listen to stories of the old times, listen to recordings together, and learn fiddle techniques and repertory. McBaine was an exceptionally generous and patient teacher.

McBaine fiddles one of the first tunes he learned as a child of six or seven, “Climbing the Stairs the Monkey,” an old favorite in Missouri and known by other titles, such a “Moss Billy” and “Shelby’s Mule.” Just as he had learned it as a young beginning fiddler, McBaine favored this tune as a teaching tune when he, in turn, passed the music on to others.

On this occasion, as on countless others, his young protégé Cathy Barton of Boonville accompanies McBaine on five-string banjo. Cathy plays in a “frailing” or “claw hammer” style she learned from banjoists such as the Grand Old Opry star Grandpa Jones. From the 1970s when she was a student at Stephens College in Columbia until McBaine’s passing in 1994, Cathy Barton, and her husband, guitarist Dave Para, were Taylor McBaine’s favorite accompanists and beloved companions.   

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