Ozark Fiddler Cliff Bryan Dies at Age 89

West Plains Missouri Fiddler Cliff Bryan

West Plains, Missouri, Fiddler Cliff Bryan, as pictured on the cover of his recent Voyager Records CD. Photo by Rachel Reynolds

Submitted by Dr. E. D. McKinney, Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University, West Plains Campus

“His fingers look like spiders dancing on the strings!” So said Allison (Scheets) Williams, an aspiring young fiddler, when she first closely observed Cliff Bryan’s fiddling about 1999 or 2000.

Cliff Bryan of West Plains, Missouri passed away Sunday, March 12, 2017. He was a renowned fiddler and teacher of fiddle playing, having participated as a teacher of fiddling in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program first introduced under the direction of Dr. Howard Marshall, who in 1987 was the Director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Missouri at Columbia. In addition to his role as a master teacher, Cliff received the honor of being recognized for his fiddling by the National Endowment of the Arts Council of the University of Missouri. He was a life-long musician, having played guitar for dances with Seth Crabtree, a fiddler of the West Plains area in the 1940s and 50s, and during those years Cliff began honing his skills as a master fiddler in his own right.

He taught many younger aspiring fiddlers during the past 25 years. Many of them, such as Rachel (Reynolds) Luster, Jessica Collins, Joel Hinds, and others, became exceptional fiddlers under his tutelage. Cliff was a master of the “short bow” style of playing and had a large repertoire of fiddle tunes, both those common to the area, and compositions he picked up from radio and recordings. As long as his health permitted, he was a regular attendee and performer at various folk music and bluegrass festivals and jam sessions in the West Plains area. He particularly enjoyed playing with other fiddlers in a segment called “The Fiddlers’ Frolic,” held each year in June at the Old Time Music Festival in West Plains.

Recordings of Cliff Bryan’s music are relatively rare. One favorite tune of his was “Black-Eyed Susie,” included in the CD accompanying Dr. Howard Marshall’s first volume concerning Missouri fiddlers, Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old Time Fiddlers in Missouri (University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2012). Also, Cliff recorded one CD of 32 fiddle tunes in 2014, entitled “Got A Little Home To Go To.” This CD was produced under the direction of Jim Nelson, and is available from Voyager Records. Also, Cliff can be heard on YouTube, under “Cliff Bryan Fiddle at the Fiddlers’ Frolic.” We can now only wish there had been other CDs of Cliff’s fiddling produced—this would have more completely filled a gap in the Ozark’s musical culture. As Illinois Folklorist Matt Meacham said, he was “a walking encyclopedia of traditional fiddle music around Howell County and the Ozarks.” We shall miss him.

Phil Williams, Friend of Missouri Fiddling, Passes Away

Musician and music organizer Phil Williams of Seattle passed away last week in Seattle. With his wife and musical partner, Vivian, he ran Voyager Recordings which published CDs of many Missouri and Missouri-inspired musicians, including discs from John White, Howard Marshall, and Travis Inman. Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times has written a wonderful remembrance of Phil, “Don’t fence me in: Phil Williams, who co-founded Folklife and fought to keep it free, dies at 80.” He will be missed.

Happy Birthday, John White!

Happy 80th Birthday to fiddler John White!

At 80, soft-spoken John isn’t resting on his laurels:  he keeps learning tunes and challenging the rest of us to keep up with him. He plays dances, organizes the long-running Hallsville Dance on the second Saturday of each month, teaches several fiddle students a week, and still finds time for his favorite students, his grandchildren. He is also a dance fiddlin’ machine: he played nine dances and performances in the month of October!

If you see John around town or at the Hallsville dance, be sure and wish him a happy birthday.

Charlie Walden has provided a little John White flashback:


And here’s John today, teaching at the 2016 Bethel fiddle camp!


The Art of the Second

Seconds are typically players who do not play melody, but back up the melody instruments with chords and/or rhythm parts. For Missouri styles, basic backup usually entails a guitar, a piano, or an organ (pump or electric). In southern Missouri, a five-string banjo is also often considered an essential, while north of the Missouri River, it’s a less common addition. Other instruments are used as additions as well, including bass, mandolin, tenor banjo, and more unusual choices like steel guitar, piano accordion, or cello. Continue reading

Podcast Documents Missouri Fiddler Bill Driver’s Story

American Public Media podcast “Historically Black” has just released an episode exploring the life and times of Missouri fiddler Bill Driver.  Bill was a very popular fiddler in central Missouri, and there are still folks here who play his tunes.

Listen to the podcast here!

And if you’d like to learn a little more about Black fiddlers in Missouri, you might enjoy reading this.

If you know more about someone who is or was an African-American fiddler in Missouri–even if it’s just their name–we’d love to hear from you!



Remembrance: Fiddler Hal Martin Sappington

Submitted by R. M. Kinder

Hal SappingtonHal Martin Sappington, a consummate gentleman, educator, engineer, and beloved fiddler died in his home in Warrensburg on September 6th 2016. He was 85. Hal leaves a legacy of kindness, courtesy, respect, and talent that reaches far beyond his loving family and innumerable friends to music itself. He played for the love of it, yet built a reputation as a Little Dixie style fiddler who, through reviews and biographies, is now recorded in Missouri history. Continue reading

Missouri Fiddle Champion Leroy (Red) Canaday Passes at 88

By Howard (Rusty) Marshall

Leroy Canaday on his front porch in Moberly, 2000. (Photo by Howard Marshall)

Leroy Canaday on his front porch in Moberly, 2000. (Photo by Howard Marshall)

I am sorry to convey the news of the death of Leroy Canaday. Leroy and Betty had moved to the Houston, Texas, area in 2005 to live with their daughter, Kathy Kadletz, and family. Leroy had been in failing health for several years; Betty died in 2006. Local services will be held in LaPorte, Texas. Continue reading

Ozark Jig Dancing Demonstration

In this video from the 1995 Bethel, Missouri summer fiddle camp posted by Charlie Walden, Larry Schuyler, Gary (sorry, I don’t know Gary’s last name!), and Cathy Marriott (née Davis) demonstrate some terrific Douglas County-style jig dancing with fiddling by Bob Holt, accompanied by Kenny Applebee on guitar.

Ozarks Fiddler Ray Curbow of Blue Eye, Missouri, Dies at 79

By Howard Marshall

Raymond F. Curbow (1936-2016) grew up in the farming community of Ridgedale in Taney County, Missouri, near the Arkansas line. He later settled in Blue Eye, Missouri, in next-door Stone County, a village straddling the border with Arkansas. He was employed in his working life as a mechanic and school bus driver. Curbow was from a long line of fiddlers and musicians.
Continue reading

Happy Eighth of January!

Celebrate fiddle music’s annual holiday, Missouri style, with these recordings from Dwight Lamb, Cyril Stinnett, Bob Holt and Charlie Walden.

Dwight Lamb with Lena Hughes and Dave Copeland

Continue reading

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