Archive for the ‘ragtime’ Category

The Ragtime Skedaddlers

June 2, 2015

from and

The Latest Popular Mandolin and Guitar Music, by The Ragtime Skedaddlers (

A hundred years ago, ragtime was America’s original popular music, a blend of African-American folk roots with marches and old-world dances. While usually played today as a solo piano music, in their time rags, cakewalks, and marches were often played by string bands consisting of mandolins, banjos, and guitars. Using arrangements published during the ragtime era, the Ragtime Skedaddlers continue the tradition of ragtime string bands.

Unlike other “traditional” groups who take their inspiration from various notions of New Orleans jazz or Chicago jazz, the Skedaddlers go back to a time when string ragtime, light-hearted yet propulsive, was America’s true popular music.  This trio doesn’t speed up or approach the music with either clownish levity or undue scholarly seriousness.

Rather, they are old-fashioned melodists, creating sweet lines that arch and tumble over one another in mid-air. It is as if Dvorak had been transplanted to a Southern or Middle Western backyard picnic or country dance in 1895 and had immersed himself in sweet harmonies and dance-like motions. The Skedaddlers are entrancing on their own, and a delightful change from the often heavy ensembles so prevalent in occasions of this sort.

This CD has a lot going for it. The musicians are talented and well rehearsed. The playlist has a theme (arrangements for mandolin and guitar taken from early publications) and the recorded sound is very good. The liner notes are filled with interesting historical data and minutiae about the composers, the arrangers and the early publications themselves. Quality artwork is featured, including many old photographs. And to top it off, the music is lively and likeable.

The Ragtime Skedaddlers are mandolinists Dennis Pash and Nick Robinson and guitarist Dave Krinkel. With this disc and their previous release (Mandophone CD0901), they have produced perhaps the only high fidelity recordings devoted almost exclusively to these early arrangements of rags and cakewalks for mandolins and guitar.

We are treated to perennial favorites (Peacherine Rag, Eli Green’s Cake Walk, Apple Jack, Chicken Chowder), rare discoveries (A Florida Cracker, Mississippi Bubble, Shiftless Johnson) and other enjoyable selections. To break up the cakewalk theme and add a bit of variety, the Skedaddlers have also included a Brazilian choro (Dengozo), an Indian intermezzo (Silver Heels) and an habañera (Cuban Belles).


“Ragtime 2: The Country”

April 10, 2013


from notes to “Ragtime 2: The Country” (Folkways RBF 18) by Samuel Charters:

Country ragtime in the 1920’s and 1930’s has some of the feel of an old farm house that was on the land for years, then was added-to and redone, until finally it wasn’t quite the old house any more – but it wasn’t quite a new house, either. It has some of the look of the old house and some of the look of the new house, and in some places it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.

Ragtime seems to have been once a kind of style of playing that went on in the black slave cabins and the isolated country towns of the South. It had the melodic structure and the kind of harmonic patterns that characterized European dancing and march music, but it was different from it both in rhythm and scale.

Instead of the simple four beat or dotted accent of the European jigs and reels the ragtime melody was more subtly syncopated, perhaps as a reflection of some earlier time when African drums were still played surreptitiously along with the banjos and the violins.

The more complex, multi-layered, texture of African drumming could lead to a free-flowing sense of melody, which was more strictured in the European context. And some of the same scale patterns that characterize the blues also turn up in early ragtime – the ambiguous major-minor resolutions of James Scott’s rags, and the gapped scales in some of the strains of the early St. Louis rags.

“Lindy”  played by the Proximity String Quartet (from “Ragtime 2: The Country”):

Rubber Dolly Rag

December 27, 2012


“Rubber Dolly Rag” is an American tune that has touched nearly every corner of the American music scene since the melody first appeared in 1900. Danish-born American violinist/composer Jens Bodewalt Lampe, after becoming the first-chair violinist for the Minneapolis Symphony at age 16, moved to Buffalo NY in the 1890s and began to lead dance band of his own. Almost immediately after becoming aware of Scott Joplin’s new “Maple Leaf Rag,” Lampe composed his own syncopated piece entitled “Creole Belles.”

This brand new type of music, which later came to be called “ragtime,” was variously described as “cakewalk,” “march” and “two-step” music during its early history. “Creole Belles” was performed widely by pianists, ragtime bands, brass bands and military bands. John Phillip Sousa championed this piece and by 1902, the Danish American had become one of the most well known ragtime composers – perhaps second only to Joplin.

Early in the 1900s, the second strain of “Creole Belles” began to be picked up by fiddlers all across America and the catchy melody began to adopt alternative names including “Back Up and Push” and “Rubber Dolly.” The tune was so popular that most Appalachian string bands who were recording in the 1920s & 1930s released some version of it.

Ragtime for Fiddle and Mandolin

December 19, 2012

Cake Walk

November 9, 2012

reprinted with permission from The Ragtime Ephemeralist (

It has been suggested many times that the cake walk was an imitation of white plantation masters’ refined dances by their black slaves, either originating as, or developing into, a parody of the affectations of european high culture. Such a hypothesis certainly has some corroborating evidence; Robert Anderson, a slave who was born in Green County Kentucky in 1848, recalled an incident when the master’s family had left the plantation and so they “had a regular jubilee which lasted the greater part of the night. We danced the dances like the white folks danced them, and then danced our own kind of dances.”

Slave dances were generally held around the end of the harvest season, and there seem to have been two events about which slaves were permitted “celebration”: Christmas, and the so-called “corn-shucking.” The first celebration was of a fixed date, the second, changeable, and sometimes held more than once a year, depending on the individual “culture” of the plantation; the harvested corn would be gathered and piled extraordinarily high (“as high as a house” in many descriptions) and the plantation’s slaves as well as slaves from the surrounding area plantations would gather to shuck the corn. Sometimes the shucking would last long into the night, and on other plantations it would be over by dawn, the remainder of the evening spent dancing.

“Some of the masters would even go to town and buy music and, when the weather was okay, would let those slaves who wished come and stand outside the open windows of the house to listen. In that way they would catch on to the words and the tunes. Then, when company came to the big house, the master would send word down to the slave quarters for them to sing. The company would sit out on the verandah of the big house listening and, with the wind in the right direction, sweet and original harmony would be carried to their ears.

Sometimes, on pleasant evenings, boards would be laid down for an impromptu stage before the verandah so the guests could have a good view of the proceedings and a real shindig would take place with singing and dancing. The “cake walk” … at that time, was known as the “chalk line walk”. There was no prancing, just a straight walk on a path made by turns and so forth, along which the dancers made their way with a pail of water on their heads. The couple that was the most erect and spilled the least water or no water at all was the winner.”

The cake walk, perhaps due its origins as a burlesque dance done for the entertainment of white plantation owners, eventually became a part of the minstrel show, and a number of Afro-American performers were to capitalize on its popularity in the late nineteenth century, some couples like Charles Johnson and Dora Dean reinventing the dance as one of great grace and beauty. It was one of the few ways in which Black perfomers could find some measure of dignity in the theatrical world, and it was one of the means through which the public began to hear the new music being referred to as “rag time.”

String Ragtime

June 12, 2012

Thanks for this review:

String Ragtime – To Do This You Got to Know How qualifies as one of the more unusual albums in Yazoo Records’ original L-1000 series of LPs as the featured musicians come from various racial backgrounds, all of the tracks are instrumental, and it was never reissued on compact disc.  As one can surmise from the title, this collection focuses on ragtime, but not the piano variety (e.g. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”), which is what most people think of when discussing this variety of music.  The performances, recorded between the mid 1920s and mid 1950s, convincingly demonstrate that the genre lent itself well to all manner of stringed instruments, including guitar, banjo, violin, and many others.  The common thread that unites these performances is the breathtaking combination of speed and precision that nowadays is something of a lost art.

One of the things that makes this album so fascinating is the aforementioned diversity of the musicians who included ragtime pieces in their repertories, which demonstrates the wide-ranging appeal it had throughout the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Moreover, it is interesting to note the staying power this musical style possessed since these 14 tracks were all recorded anywhere from 15 to 45 years after its commercial peak.  Only on an anthology such as this would one find a recording by a couple of Hawaiian guitarists (Jim & Bob’s interpretation of “Sweet Georgia Brown”) compiled alongside material by a Jewish mandolinist from Kiev (Dave Apollon‘s “Mandolin Blues” and “Russian Rag”).

Less surprising but no less enjoyable selections are those by Western swing groups and hillbilly string bands:  the East Texas Serenaders‘ “Arizona Stomp,” John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel’s “Cotton Patch Rag,” Walker’s Corbin Ramblers‘ “E Rag,” and Harald Goodman and His Tennessee Valley Boys’ “Banjo Rag.”  That three of the tracks by black artists – “Somethin’ Doin” by Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater, “State Street Rag” by Robert “Louie Bluie” Armstrong & Ted Bogan, and “Dallas Rag” by the Dallas String Band – sound as though they could have been done by whites provides further evidence that early American music resulted from a common heritage between the races.

Robert Maxwell‘s “Spaghetti Rag” and Bob Roberts’ “Persian Lamb Rag” represent a pop music (or perhaps, more accurately, a novelty tune) take on ragtime.  The former was recorded circa 1956 (although the original sheet music dates from 1910) and features a harp-tenor banjo-tuba arrangement.  In similar fashion, the latter seems to have been first published in 1908 and, in this case, waxed in 1954 by a band that sounds like it included a tenor banjoist, pianist, drummer, and a small horn section.  “Banjo Rag” by Chauncey C. Lee (which is totally different from the like-titled track by Harald Goodman) and “To Do This You Got to Know How” by blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson are, quite simply, tours de force that will leave the listener awestruck.

At A Georgia Camp Meeting

May 21, 2012

At A Georgia Camp Meeting (1897 )

Composed by Kerry Mills, played by The Leake County Revelers (click below to play).


Written as a “two-step, polka or cakewalk” it is in reality a perfect characteristic cakewalk. Kerry Mills, born in Philadelphia in 1869, was perhaps the most popular composer of popular American music in his lifetime, stated: “This march was not intended to be a part of the religious exercise, but when the young folks got together they felt as if they needed some amusement. A cakewalk was suggested and held in a quiet place – hence this music.”

Mills’ career reflected the changing trends in American popular music in 1897 to 1915. He was a skillful and prolific composer, capable of writing in any popular idiom. His most lasting composition might be “Red Wing.” [He also composed “Whistling Rufus.”] Mills’ compositions were the antecedent of classic ragtime and they indicate a bridge between the old two-step danced to Sousa’s “Washington Post March and Two Step” and the emerging styles of black-derived dance called the cakewalk.

In Mills’ music, unlike the grotesque ‘coon’ songs of the era, the African-American is a medicum of dignity and individuality. Mills’ sheet music covers are carefully conceived, executed and designed to emphasize the title without resorting to a complex apparatus of symbolism. “Georgia Camp Meeting” in its time was the biggest of hits and is based on the Civil War tune “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight.” In “Georgia” one can see the influence of the cakewalk ancestor – the march, and it is band music, not written for the keyboard idiom.

“At A Georgia Camp Meeting,” played by The Leake County Revelers.

Recorded April 16, 1929, Atlanta, GA