Callaway County, Missouri
Jake Hockemeyer, another fine southpaw fiddler from Missouri, was known for his driving hoedowns.
Players: Jake Hockemeyer, fiddle
From a 1965 session.
Players: Jake Hockemeyer, fiddle
From a 1965 session.
Players: Jake Hockemeyer, fiddle
Recorded at a south Callaway County fish fry, 1965. From “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish” (Voyager Records companion CD, 2012).
Players: Jake Hockemeyer, fiddle
From a 1965 session.
Jake Hockemeyer, Little Dixie Hornpipe Fiddler
By Howard Marshall, February 2007
Among the legendary central Missouri “hornpipe fiddlers” was the State Champion from Mokane, Missouri, Albert “Jake” Hockemeyer. Jake Hockemeyer was born April 9, 1919 in the Readsville community of southeastern Callaway County, and died on March 13, 1997 at seventy-seven. Jake lived most of his life in Mokane, a farm and railroad town west of Readsville on the northern brim of the Missouri River, and he retired in 1986 as school custodian and bus driver for the local high school district. Jake’s German grandfather came from Pennsylvania after the Civil War, first to Franklin County and then moving across the Missouri River into Callaway County.
Mokane is in the southern edge of central Missouri’s “Little Dixie,” a region rich in fiddle history and lore, and the stomping grounds of many fine old-time fiddlers through the years. This area has a long saga of fiddling brought by the early British-based pioneers from Virginia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, and Tennessee, tempered by African American and Native American fiddlers (especially those of Cherokee blood) and by the influx of German-speaking immigrants just before the Civil War — and all of it added to with tunes from the minstrel stage, printed tune books like “Cole’s,” tin pan alley, fiddlers’ contests, ragtime piano, the radio, and commercial and home recordings in the twentieth century.
Hockemeyer took the Little Dixie style, referred to some as “hornpipe style” (though definitions of style are almost impossible to sort out) to numerous big fiddle contests in the 1960s and 1970s, including Wilbur and Elizabeth Foss’s annual Great Plains Old Time Fiddle Championships in Yankton, South Dakota. Himself part of a German-American family, Jake was often called “the fiddling Dutchman.” Dutchman was, and remains for some people, a catch-all term for any of the German-speaking settlers in Missouri.
Hockemeyer was the product of rural and small town Missouri dances and music parties. Those south Callaway County fish fries are still famous in local lore. He learned and played by ear and at the age of ten was given his first violin by a fiddling uncle, Harry O’Neal, who was a part-time radio fiddler in the St. Louis area, performing with Cousin Emmy and other stars of AM radio over Pappy Cheshire’s country music show on KMOX. Jake learned a number of tunes, and was introduced to the Little Dixie love of Bb and F hornpipes, through jam sessions with the superb Callaway and Boone County fiddler, Ed Tharp, as well as Cleo Persinger and Nolan Boone.
Jake remembered his first violin as “a hard-looking thing,” but good to learn on. Like some other Missouri fiddlers, Jake shifted easily into the growing fiddle contest scene in the 1960s when contests began to be revived by Cleo Persinger, Steve and Vesta Johnson, and others after nearly dying out during the 1950s. At a certain point, Hockemeyer began to devote himself almost entirely to fiddle contests and there he quickly made his mark. Jake was Missouri state champion in 1983 and 1986 and won countless local and regional contests, often “butting heads” with his friends and tough competitors Persinger, Nolan Boone, Henry and Gene Wells, Taylor McBaine, Cyril Stinnett, and Pete McMahan.
Jake brought several of his contest pieces to a high state of seamless beauty. Chief among them are several tunes that became identified with Hockemeyer in the 1970s, such as “Fisher’s Hornpipe” (in F), “Rachel,” and “Dance Around Molly.” Many fiddlers in Missouri of my acquaintance agreed that Hockemeyer had the best “Marmaduke’s Hornpipe” in the country. Pete McMahan, the reigning senior Missouri champion and arguably the best-known Missouri fiddler on a national basis, categorically stated that Jake’s was the best rendition of “Marmaduke’s” he ever heard. That matters because, for one thing, fiddle players in former generations judged a fiddler’s abilities and depth by how he or she handled “Marmaduke’s Hornpipe,” considered our unofficial state anthem.
While Hockemeyer played a little of everything, from reels and hornpipes (played at reel speed) for square dancing, to waltzes, schottisches, polkas, two-steps, marches, and a jig or two, it was the elaborate, stately hornpipes&emdash;many of them in B-flat or F&emdashwhere he excelled. “Zig-Zag Hornpipe” is another tune that reflected the kind of complex but smooth flat-key hornpipe sound that Jake and many others in central and north Missouri favor. Jake learned “Zig Zag” from the Cuno brothers (Buck and Jones) and Seth Bradley (good Callaway County fiddlers who have been thinly documented), and in former times it was played by several of the top Missouri radio and contest fiddlers such as George Morris and Pete McMahan. (In one legendary fiddle contest in Columbia at the armory right after the end of World War Two in 1945, Pete McMahan won the contest playing “Zig Zag” (and “Money Musk”) — beating both Jake as well as Pete’s own mentor, George Morris, with this locally hot hornpipe that all three men considered favorite tunes.)
In his playing, Jake could be described as a “one-string fiddler,” in the Cyril Stinnett, Casey Jones, Lonnie Robertson, and Bob Walter(s) vein. Art Galbraith of Springfield (an Ozarks fiddler) used to tell me that these north Missouri fiddlers were “hornpipe fiddlers,” and Galbraith always named Jake Hockemeyer as exemplifying this. Jake’s bowing was spectacular, smooth as a ribbon, yet with the magic that we like to call “drive.”
Jake played well over a hundred tunes, all from memory by ear. He played many tunes he learned from obscure as well as celebrated Missouri fiddlers, among them his uncle Roy (Pool) Stambaugh, Vee Latty, Bill Katon, Clark Atterbury, Seth Bradley, Emmett Heath, George and Dave Morris, Cleo Persinger, and Bill Driver. He always said his principal source of inspiration was the legendary radio fiddler and fox hunter George Morris (“The Fiddling Sheriff”) from Boone County next door.
Among the Hockemeyer warhorses are “Ragtime Annie,” “Forked Deer,” “Arkansas Traveler,” “Durang’s Hornpipe” (from Tony Gilmore of Jeff City), “Liverpool Hornpipe” (from George Morris and Emmett Heath), “Mississippi Sawyer,” “Tom and Jerry,” “Coming Down from Denver,” “Marmaduke’s Hornpipe” (from George Morris and Jake’s uncle Roy Stambaugh), “Grey Eagle,” “Leather Britches,” Rickett’s Hornpipe,” “8th of January,” “Katy Hill,” “College Hornpipe,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “Fiddler’s Dream,” “Bully of the Town,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Stony Point,” “McCloud’s Reel” (“Uncle Joe”), “Garfield’s Hornpipe,” “Irish Washerwoman,” “South,” “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” “Flop-Eared Mule,” “Wagner,” “Pacific Slope,” “Jack Danielson’s Reel,” “Whistling Rufus,” “Too Young to Marry,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “Dry and Dusty,” “Bill Cheatem,” “Wake Up Susie” (from Seth Bradley), “Bitter Creek,” “Constitution Hornpipe,” “Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Paddy on the Turnpike,” “Jack of Diamonds,” “Peacock Rag,” “Chicken Reel,” “St. Ann’s Reel,” “Sally Goodin,” “Woodchopper’s Breakdown” (hornpipe, from Cleo Persinger), “Liberty,” and “Red Apple Rag.” Jake played few waltzes, but could render fine versions of “Fiddler’s,” “Ranger,” “Red Fox Waltz,” “Over the Waves,” “Cowboy Waltz” (from Bill Katon), and “Peekaboo Waltz.” That list is a hit parade of tunes familiar to many fiddlers in central and north Missouri in former times, plus some monster contest tunes popularized in the 1960s and popular up to the present time.
Jake got several contest tunes from the Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor or Rockwall, Texas. In the late 1960s, when Shorty was a young man, he astonished fiddle contest audiences with his amazing renditions of contest killers like “Grey Eagle” and “Bill Cheatem” — tunes common across Missouri as well as across Texas. Shorty’s 45 rpm records were popular in Missouri and well used here. I think I hear echoes of Shorty’s renditions of contest tunes in the playing of Hockemeyer and in the playing of Missouri fiddlers like Pete McMahan and the late Taylor McBaine — none of whom would think of themselves as “Texas style” fiddlers.
The list also contains an interesting sprinkling of “Canadian” tunes Jake learned from Cleo Persinger and Cyril Stinnett, two champion Missouri fiddlers who ventured to big northern and Canadian contests (as well as Weiser, Idaho) in the 1960s and 1970s. Among the tunes that older fiddlers still remember as tunes popularized here by Persinger and Stinnett are “St. Ann’s Reel,” “Old Man and Old Woman,” and “Ranger Waltz.” There are also tunes that came to Jake, who did not read music, in a roundabout way from tune books, especially the omnipresent “Cole’s.” Many fiddlers in Missouri could read sheet music and captured tunes from the books, often via a piano player in the neighborhood.
Jake played tunes associated with fiddlers of national prominence&emdash;what Howdy Forrester called “commercial fiddlers”&emdash;like Arthur Smith, Forrester, Tommy Jackson, Tommy Magness, Curly Fox, Georgia Slim (Robert Rutland), and Bob Wills. These he learned from listening to the radio from its beginnings in the 1920s&emdash;not only WSM but the early Missouri AM stations such as KFRU-Columbia, WOS-Jeff City, and Pappy Cheshire’s show over KMOX-St. Louis, all of which aired live fiddling by local stalwarts. WOS broadcasted state fiddle contests live from the dome of the state capitol building in the 1920s. It helps to think about northerly Missouri style by remembering that people here used to get tunes off late-night Canadian radio stations on the AM band as well as from the more familiar big southern stations like WSM and WBAP in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Jake also knew lots of localized tunes from giants like Morris, Roy Stambaugh (his uncle), and the African-American fiddler who lived in Callaway County, Bill Katon (recorded by R.P. Christeson and included in Christeson’s tune books). Many players past and present of this broad Missouri style with distinct substyles (Daniel Boone Jones, Ep Taylor, Morris, Nolan Boone, Cleo Persinger, Casey Jones, Henry Wells, Bill Eddy, Christeson, Tony and Jimmy Gilmore, Keith Orchard, Gene Wells, Taylor McBaine, Cyril Stinnett, Dwight Grover, Nile Wilson, Johnny Bruce, Kelly Jones, Bill Shull, Pete McMahan, Charlie Walden, Spencer Galloway, Leroy Canaday, John Griffin, Travis Inman, and others), actually live (or lived) in and around the rims of Little Dixie.
When Jake cranked up his “Marmaduke’s” or “Fisher’s,” most of the other fiddlers (with the exception perhaps of his cronies and fellow contest sovereigns) gave out a sigh and started thinking about playing for second place. Many observers have thought about whether left-handed fiddlers, like Hockemeyer, have something special the rest of us don’t (of course they have), and Missouri has seen a number of nationally-prominent southpaws, including Hockemeyer and Cyril Stinnett as well as Johnny Bruce and Charlie Walden (who learned to play right-handed despite being naturally left-handed).
When I first heard Jake in a contest, at the annual Paris old threshers’ reunion in 1967, it was in a contest where Jake was typically competing with McMahan, Gene Wells, and Stinnett — sharp competitors. I was just out of the Marine Corps and hungry for home and fiddling. I was amazed at these guys, and immediately reawakened to the power of the kind of Missouri fiddling I had grown up around, but on that occasion I first heard Jake play “Fisher’s Hornpipe” down in F. I knew “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” having backed up fiddlers playing it and having worked it out the mandolin, but never with the purity and gleam that Jake brought to it. I remember Jake saying that it was George Morris who “put it over in F” from the standard key of D. I was hooked on that rendition and have struggled to get it ever since. Presently in Missouri, one can get very close to hearing Jake’s rendition of “Fisher’s” by listening to Kelly Jones and Charlie Walden play the tune.
Jake’s music made it onto several anthology recordings, but he never got around to making his own record. When Barry Bergey and his group in St. Louis began putting together their double-LP anthology, ostensibly about the Ozarks, called “I’m Old But I’m Awfully Tough” in the 1970s, Hockemeyer was one of the fiddlers selected (even though he did not live in the Ozarks). On that project, Jake plays “Dance Around Molly,” “Marmaduke’s Hornpipe,” and “Coming Down from Denver” with Russell Orchard on backup guitar.
Jake’s fiddling career ended too soon. In the early 1980s, massive arthritis began taking its toll. Jake’s hands and fingers turned into knarled, painful things that made handling the violin difficult. In 1985, despite the continual pain, Jake agreed to work as a master teacher in Missouri’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Local fiddler and fiddle scholar Spencer Galloway of Fayette was Jake’s apprentice and this was a great experience for both men. The visits and teaching sessions helped keep Jake active, Galloway recorded everything from tunes to stories, and learned a number of tunes popular more locally, such as “White Man” (from Roy Stambaugh, Bill Katon and Seth Bradley), “Carrollton County Breakdown” (from Cleo Persinger), “Black Velvet Waltz” (Persinger), “Hooker’s Hornpipe,” “Zig Zag Hornpipe,” “Dundee Hornpipe” (“Persinger’s Hornpipe”), “Aunt Mary’s Hornpipe,” and “Clark’s Waltz” (from Clark Atterbury, McMahan’s first teacher, who lived near Hockemeyer). At about this time, I began doing some writing on Missouri fiddling and Jake helped me in an essay on “Marmaduke’s Hornpipe” published in the Missouri Folklore Society Journal (1994-1995).
Finally, in about 1988, Jake played his last contest, but he kept coming to contests as long as his wife, Frances, could bring him. He and Frances would sit in lawn chairs visiting with people and listening to the other fiddlers. Frances was Jake’s biggest fan and traveled everywhere with him (she passed away in 1993). In 1991, when Jake’s arthritis got worse and Alzheimer’s Disease started working on him, Frances became unable to care for him and he was situated in local elder care facilities in Jeff City and then Fulton. Following a fiddle contest in Fulton in the summer of 1992, I went with his old friend Taylor McBaine and several others to visit Jake; we played for Jake while he sat in a wheel chair, but Taylor was the only one of us he recognized. When I asked Jake what he wanted us to play, he immediately said, “Leather Britches” or “Sally Goodin!” The last time we saw Jake was when his family brought him to see the annual “Mokane World’s Fair” fiddle contest a couple of years later.This was the contest Jake helped organize, and the contest became known as the Jake Hockemeyer Memorial Fiddle Contest even before he passed away; Jake’s son Rick now administers the contest.
Jake Hockemeyer had an easy-going personality and loved to share his knowledge and fiddling with interested students and other people. Many thought he was a very tough fellow, and indeed he was nicknamed for a genuinely tough chap named Jake Reed, a semipro wrestler from nearby Hams Prairie. I had the good fortune to provide guitar backup for Jake in a few contests, and these occasions were always pleasurable (plus Jake always won something!). In my own fiddle playing, I play several tunes as much like Jake as possible, and I always get a good feeling from staggering over Jake’s “Fisher’s Hornpipe” or “Liverpool Hornpipe.” “Liverpool” is closely associated with Hockemeyer, and I learned it from him as best I could manage, and it is gratifying for me to know that I am now passing this tune along (however awkwardly) to younger fiddlers in Missouri today. Christeson and Walden included a transcription of Jake’s setting of “Liverpool” in the second volume of the Old-Time Fiddlers Repertory.
There are several old moldy tape recordings of Hockemeyer in his prime, among them an incredible session recorded at a local south Callaway County fish fry in about 1965. That particular piece of tape contains some the most amazing “Missouri hornpipe style” fiddling ever heard, and, here in 2007, I’m working on a project to reissue some of Jake’s music on CD.
Comments welcomed by the author.