Play Me Something Quick and Devilish

University of Missouri Press

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Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri by Howard Wight Marshall

Play Me Something Quick and Devilish explores the heritage of traditional fiddle music in Missouri. Howard Wight Marshall considers the place of homemade music in people’s lives across social and ethnic communities from the late 1700s to the World War I years and into the early 1920s. This exceptionally important and complex period provided the foundations in history and settlement for the evolution of today’s old-time fiddling.

Beginning with the French villages on the Mississippi River, Marshall leads us chronologically through the settlement of the state and how these communities established our cultural heritage. Other core populations include the “Old Stock Americans” (primarily Scotch-Irish from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia), African Americans, German-speaking immigrants, people with American Indian ancestry (focusing on Cherokee families dating from the Trail of Tears in the 1830s), and Irish railroad workers in the post–Civil War period. These are the primary communities whose fiddle and dance traditions came together on the Missouri frontier to cultivate the bounty of old-time fiddling enjoyed today.

Marshall also investigates themes in the continuing evolution of fiddle traditions. These themes include the use of the violin in Westward migration, in the Civil War years, and in the railroad boom that changed history. Of course, musical tastes shift over time, and the rise of music literacy in the late Victorian period, as evidenced by the brass band movement and immigrant music teachers in small towns, affected fiddling. The contributions of music publishing as well as the surprising importance of ragtime and early jazz also had profound effects. Much of the old-time fiddlers’ repertory arises not from the inherited reels, jigs, and hornpipes from the British Isles, nor from the waltzes, schottisches, and polkas from the Continent, but from the prolific pens of Tin Pan Alley.

Marshall also examines regional styles in Missouri fiddling and comments on the future of this time-honored, and changing, tradition. Documentary in nature, this social history draws on various academic disciplines and oral histories recorded in Marshall’s forty-some years of research and field experience. Historians, music aficionados, and lay people interested in Missouri folk heritage—as well as fiddlers, of course—will find Play Me Something Quick and Devilish an entertaining and enlightening read.

With 39 tunes, the enclosed Voyager Records companion CD includes a historic sampler of Missouri fiddlers and styles from 1955 to 2012.

About the Author

Howard Wight Marshall is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center. He lives near Fulton, MO.

Full bio: Howard Wight Marshall is Professor Emeritus and former chairman of Art History and Archaeology, and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

After dropping out of college to join the Marine Corps in the early 1960s, Marshall took his BA in English at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and then took his MA and PhD in Folklore and Anthropology at Indiana University. He wrote his dissertation based on extensive field recording of traditional farm buildings in Missouri’s Little Dixie folk region.

Then after graduate school, Dr. Marshall worked briefly as director of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and then for several years as a curator and planner at a living history museum in Indiana, and consulted for the Smithsonian Institution. He then was called to a position at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. While in Washington, he taught a night course in architectural history at George Washington University.

Marshall left the Library of Congress after five years in 1981 to teach at Kansas State University. In 1982, he returned to Columbia to establish the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center in the Graduate School at the University of Missouri, and to teach material culture, vernacular architecture, and historic preservation in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. After the closing of the Cultural Heritage Center in 1993 (due to a campus budget crisis), Marshall served as professor and department chair in Art History and Archaeology, and took early retirement in 2000.

Dr. Marshall’s books include Buckaroos in Paradise: Cowboy Life in Paradise Valley, Nevada, Folk Architecture in Little Dixie: A Regional Culture in MissouriMissouri Artist Jesse HowardThe German-American Experience in MissouriBarns of Missouri: Storehouses of History, and Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri. Dr. Marshall’s latest book is Fiddler’s Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth-Century Missouri, which continues the ethnography and discussion in Play Me Something Quick and Devilish.

Marshall plays the music he studies and writes about. He credits the memory of his grandfather, Wiley Marshall, a country schoolmaster and fiddler in Randolph County, with inspiring him to want to play the old dance tunes on the violin. Later, Marshall learned tunes and techniques from central Missouri fiddle legends such as Taylor McBaine, Jake Hockemeyer, Johnny Bruce, Nile Wilson, and Pete McMahan.

Dr. Marshall confesses that the best thing about his career was the good luck to meet his spouse, the charming and irrepressible Margot McMillen. Howard and Margot live in northern Callaway County, where they operate a small livestock farm.

Product Specifications

Published by University of Missouri,  January 2013, Hardcover, 424 pages.