Archive for the ‘Leake County Revelers’ Category

The American Country Waltz

August 11, 2013

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excerpt from JEMF Quarterly VOL. V, PART 1, SPRING,1969, NO.13:

We all know the waltzes of art music, and many of us are familiar with the popular and folk waltzes of Germany, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Few folklorists know, however, that country dancers and musicians in our own Southern states are as fond of the waltz as they are of any of the livelier steps one usually associates with old-time fiddle music.

Few dances or old-time fiddlers’ contests pass without such favorites as “Over the Waves” and “Wednesday Night Waltz.” And yet even those few collectors who have carefully noted down the country reels and breakdowns have been content to let the waltz go with a passing mention, if indeed they mention it at all.

The typical “Wednesday Night Waltz” melody is a strain of 32 bars. Considered in the key of C, its range is from middle C up an octave and a fifth to G.  Its first three bars have three long notes; the first and third are double-stops on the high C chord, and the second is usually a half-tone below or a full-tone above the other two.

These are followed by a rapid descent to the low C.  At the fifth bar the melody jumps up to A, then drops stepwise to the E of the low C chord. The second 8 bars are the same except that the concluding bars form a G7 or dominant-seventh chord. The third 8 bars repeat the first 8 exactly. The final 8 can vary considerably, but nearly always end with a stepwise passage from the high E down to the high C.

Rather than going through that again, This is a recording made by the Leake County Revelers in 1926, which was in the catalog for over twenty years and is one of the all-time best-selling country records. 

The usual methods of classifying folk tunes—incipits, contours, emphasized and neglected pitches, and so on—are dependent on melody alone. And when we are studying music which is purely melodic, and not traditionally performed with harmony (such as Child ballads) we should certainly stick to these methods. But in the country waltz we are dealing with an essentially harmonic form.

We see this both historically and empirically: first by the historical connection of the country waltz with the obviously harmonic waltzes of Europe, and secondly by the inevitable presence in country waltz performances of a harmonic support
(usually a guitar or banjo) behind the melodic fiddle lead.

And if we can judge by the Leake County Revelers, the harmonic method represents not only a fast way of classifying tunes, but a way that agrees (at least subconsciously) with the folk attitude toward them.


The Leake County Revelers

November 14, 2011

by Eugene Chadbourne (

The Leake County Revelers was one of the most popular old-time string bands in Mississippi in the late ’20s. The group was also among one of the earliest groups to make records in that state, hitting the jackpot with one of the first sides cut, the lovely “Wednesday Night Waltz.” Like much of the blues and early country talent from Mississippi, the group was scouted out for recording by H.C. Speir, a man who is considered the Sam Phillips of Mississippi music in the ’20s and ’30s. Spier was involved quite early in the game of “talent broker,” the job which would later become known in the record industry as artist and repertory development, or A&R man for short. He arranged a series of sessions for the Leake County Revelers that were released on Okeh and Columbia, and the string band’s reputation spread quickly.

They became known for tunes played in relaxed, slow tempos, which was exactly the opposite of all other string bands which highlighted rapid-fire breakdown numbers. The Leake County Revelers recorded some 44 different sides between 1927 and 1930. Besides the initial success, these recordings have also enjoyed several new additional lifetimes through reissue ventures on labels such as Document and County. Not only has the group’s entire output been made available via several volumes on these labels, various tracks by the group have emerged on a smorgasbord of compilation sets, including anthologies focusing on yodelling, early American string bands, and early country music.

The group was quite famous for its original waltzes and complex vocal harmony arrangements, again in direct contrast to what has seemed like a distinct lack of vocalizing by other Mississippi string bands. In this case, the difference may have had more to do with the commercial desires of the record labels than the repertoires of the groups, since instrumental repertoire was always one of the selling points of most string bands, especially the shenanigans of hellbent-for-leather fiddlers. The blend of Jim Wolverton’s five-string banjo and R.C. Moseley small banjo-mandolin is one of the most recognizable aspects of the group’s sound, highlighted on tracks such as the ragtime instrumental “Dry Town Blues.”

The group humorously reveals their love of slow tempos by titling a piece of stately, almost Baroque parlor music “Mississippi Breakdown,” even though the piece is as far from a breakdown as Seattle is from Mississippi. The previously mentioned “Wednesday Night Waltz” was the band’s biggest hit, as well as one of the first two records issued by the group, first pressed in 1927. The song has been covered by many other artists, particularly fiddlers, and has become a dance warhorse, sometimes appearing under the title of “Kitty Waltz.” It was performed frequently by Curly Fox on the radio in the ’30s and ’40s, and was later recorded by Leroy Canaday. In the ’30s, politician Huey Long hired the Leake County Revelers to play for his campaign, using the down-home music to reinforce his image as a grassroots populist. In the ’90s, the group was nominated for the Mississippi Hall of Fame and has inspired such modern-day string band revival groups as the Old Hat String Band and the Hinds County Revelers.

The Southern Waltz (#12)

November 13, 2011

“The Merry Widow Waltz,” by The Leake County Revelers

April 27, 1928, New Orleans, LA