Archive for the ‘Hoyt Ming’ Category

Hoyt Ming (#2)

June 5, 2015



Choctaw County fiddler Hoyt Ming (1902-1985) led the lively string band recorded as “Floyd Ming & His Pep Steppers” at a Memphis Victor session in 1928. His “Indian War Whoop,” with its fiddling “holler,” became an old-time country music standby. Potato farmer Hoyt, with his wife Rozelle on guitar and brother Troy on mandolin, regularly played at fairs, fiddling contests, and rallies before World War II. Rediscovered in 1973, Hoyt and Rozelle Ming returned to recording and live appearances.

Born in Choctaw County on October 6, 1902, into a musical farming family of German-American extraction, Hoyt began teaching himself to play fiddle at fifteen, after admiring a string band that played for his father Clough at the Mings’ house. At least three of Hoyt’s seven brothers and one sister learned to play string instruments at about the same time; his brother Troy took up the mandolin and joined him in forming a family band that played for local dances and parties.

By 1928 Hoyt had married guitarist Rozelle Young; they relocated to rural Lee County and appeared as a trio, with Rozelle’s sister on mandolin. Hoyt heard that Victor Talking Machine record producer and scout Ralph Peer, who was already overseeing Jimmie Rodgers’ rise to stardom, was about to hold auditions in nearby Tupelo. Hoyt, Rozelle, Troy, and square dance caller A. D. Coggin auditioned as a quartet, and became one of the first acts from this area to get the go-ahead to record.

Their February 13, 1928, recording session at an auditorium in Memphis produced four instrumental recordings, typical of Mississippi string band music of the time in repeating musical phrases and showing subtle blues influences—but with particularly driving rhythms and Hoyt’s specialty “war whoop” fiddle inflection on the most celebrated record.

Rozelle Ming tended to stomp her foot on the beats. Atypically, Ralph Peer not only chose to leave that sound in, but named the band the “Pep Steppers” after it. The record label proceeded to transcribe Hoyt’s name as “Floyd Ming,” leading to inevitable confusion later.

The brief initial recording experience led to Pep Stepper appearances at fairs, political rallies and fiddler’s contests through the 1930s, but with their focus on raising a family, Hoyt and Rozelle kept music a sideline, and Hoyt tended to his main occupation, potato farming. Infrequent gigs made it hard to keep a band together, and by the 1950s, they’d essentially given up playing for audiences.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, Harry Smith included “Indian War Whoop” in Folkways Records 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, and the tune became a favorite in the 1950s-’60s folk revival. In 1973, David Freeman of the “old time” music label Country Records approached Hoyt about appearing again, having tracked down the mysterious “Floyd” Ming by searching around the Tupelo area one Victor record had pointed to.

By that summer, Hoyt, Rozelle and new young accompanists began playing at large-scale folk festivals and recorded a full album, “New Hot Tunes!” for Freeman’s Homestead imprint. “Monkey in the Dogcart” became a frequently played instrumental from that album. In 1975 they contributed to the soundtrack of the motion picture “Ode to Billy Joe,” based on Bobbie Gentry’s song. Hoyt Ming passed on in 1985, two years after his wife.

See also here.


Indian War Whoop

September 23, 2012

Hoyt “Floyd” Ming and His Pep-Steppers
“Indian War Whoop” (Victor 21294, 1928)

There are no lyrics in this song, just long, monotone cries that are actually far too subdued to be called “war whoops.” Those cries serve as drawn-out exclamation points punctuating the hypnotic playing of this Mississippi family string band. Led by Hoyt (mislabeled as “Floyd” on the record label) Ming on fiddle, they create a captivating loop. The record contains real energy as it is propelled forward by steady handclapping and some fine, low-tone strumming by Ming’s wife Roselle on guitar and his brother Troy on mandolin. Yet Ming’s vocals and high, thin fiddling is so captivating against the repetitive rhythm that one is lulled into a trance rather than moved to dance. Ming’s talent isn’t revealed through some flashy fiddling display, but rather by knowing just when to let a note linger and when to drop to a lower register. His vocals follow the same blueprint, with long, high wails followed by softer, lower moans. Ming may have titled this piece “Indian War Whoop,” but he created something otherworldly that defies labels.

“Indian War Whoop” is an energetic up-tempo number. It features the sound of Rozelle Ming’s stomping feet (a sound that gave the Pep-Steppers their name). Rozelle had initially declined to stomp her feet during the recording session, fearing that the sound would get in the way of the music. Producer Ralph Peer is credited with insisting on the sound of stomping feet. In his notes, Smith points out that the sound of drumming feet is rare outside of religious music. This number is the second on the “Social Music” volume to feature the sound of the human voice. The voice likely belongs to Hoyt Ming, although the higher voice may be Rozelle’s. In his notes, Smith remarks that the title “Indian War Whoop” was not indicative of any Native American influence, but rather “Romanticism akin to that of ‘western’ movies.” Hoyt Ming’s fiddling is wild and (possibly deliberately) primitive. A version of “Indian War Whoop” was recorded by the late John Hartford for inclusion in the Coen Brother’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? The song is used in scene in which a mob is carrying off gangster George “Babyface” Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

Pat Conte, Bill Dillof, and Tom Legenhausen channel the Pep-Steppers:

Hoyt Ming

December 18, 2011

by Eugene Chadbourne                                 

The roots of this classic American old-time music band are traced back to a fellow named James Menge who settled in James City County, VA, in 1650. This family spread to North and South Carolina by the next century, and somewhere along the line, somebody got the idea to change the family’s name to Ming. A Charles Ming settled in Mississippi in the 1840s. Charles Ming’s son, Clough, went to live in Choctaw County, where he gave birth to Hoyt Ming on October 6, 1902.

More than half the kids in this family learned instruments. Hoyt Ming was inspired to pick up a fiddle at 15 after his father invited a string band over for a house party. He picked up the instrument by ear with simple tunes such as “Shortnin’ Bread.” The Ming Family Band started playing at parties with their classic lineup of fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.

Early in 1928, a Victor talent scout, Ralph Peer, showed up in Tupelo to audition local musicians, which Hoyt found out about while ogling the Victrolas at a local drug store. At this time, Hoyt was playing mostly with his wife, Rozelle, and sister-in-law. When the latter gal was not available for the audition, brother Troy filled in on mandolin, charming Peer enough to warrant a trip up to Memphis where he had a recording studio.

One of the results of this was a record that may not have changed the history of music, but is memorable nonetheless: “Indian War Whoop.” This, in combination with the family’s name, has led listeners to believe they were an Indian group, expanding the Ming’s mythical international base. Fans of old-time music point to this recording as a great example of hollering as well as real old-time fiddling, as Hoyt shouts along with the high notes at the end of phrases. Apparently, this style of shouting or inserting Indian-style war whoops in the body of a fiddle performance was something a variety of old-time fiddlers would do, although each player had their own trademark whoops. (more…)