Taylor McBaine waits backstage at a contest. Howard Marshall photo.
Players: Taylor McBaine, fiddle; Walter Calvin, guitar
From a 1973 session in Columbia; recorded by Howard Marshall.
Taylor Franklin McBaine was born in a log cabin north of Columbia, Boone County February 11, 1910 and passed away May 18, 1994 at the age of 84. As a young man McBaine was a truck driver, farmer, coal miner, day laborer and shoe factory lasting machine operator until becoming an electrician at the University of Missouri where he worked from 1938 until his retirement in 1973. He was a Methodist and Freemason. A contest champion and fiddle teacher, he was a friend and mentor to countless younger musicians. Taylor was featured at festivals from Massachusetts to California, many of them in performances with his good friends Cathy Barton and Dave Para. McBaine was a familiar volunteer at music parties held at retirement homes and hospitals in central Missouri.
As a child, Taylor McBaine learned the traditional music and dancing of our region in the Browns Station community. He learned to play fiddle around 1918 from his father Henry Lee McBaine and his uncle Richard McBaine. As a teenager in the 1920s, McBaine began playing in public at church and school house pie suppers with guitarist Alfred Rice, and McBaine remembered that it was Rice (himself a fiddler) who taught him how to use the violin bow to best advantage. As a young man of 15, McBaine had a band that played for dances in local halls.
He also learned the central Missouri repertory from Columbia area fiddlers like “The Fiddling Sheriff” George Morris and the legendary champion Daniel Boone Jones. Later on he learned tunes from commercial recordings of fiddlers like Howdy Forrester and Tommy Jackson. Like many central and north Missouri fiddlers McBaine also played guitar and some backup piano. He was basically an “ear musician,” but when he wanted to he could figure out tunes from books like the familiar “Cole’s” One Thousand Fiddle Tunes&emdash;sometimes with the help of a piano player like his sister Jemima Perkins.
Tunes associated with McBaine include reels and hornpipes like “Dance Around Molly,” “Grey Eagle,” “Hooker’s Hornpipe,” “Ragtime Annie,” “Don’t Love Nobody,” “Jack of Diamonds,” “Forked Deer,” “On the Right Cheek,” “Wake Up Susie,” “Marmaduke’s Hornpipe,” “Leesil (Lead Out),” “Tom and Jerry,” “Pacific Slope,” “Raccoon Tail is Ring All Around (Shelby’s Mule),” “Peach Tree Limb (Flop-Eared Mule),” “Billy in the Low Ground,” and “Kansas City Rag” as well as his trademark waltzes such as “50-Year Ago Waltz,” “Kiss Me Again Waltz,” “Red Fox Waltz,” “A & E Waltz,” “Western Waltz” and “Over the Waves”. In addition Taylor played a wonderful range of pop tunes from the early 20th century and these tunes came to the fore in informal jam sessions and house parties.
McBaine enjoyed playing elaborate hornpipes, two-steps and playing in keys such as B-flat. His style was marked by marvelous timing—what he called “drive”—the powerful rhythm ingrained in him from years playing for vigorous and demanding square dancers at house parties and pie suppers. He had a smooth precise bowing technique that gave his style great “accent.” A number of his tunes are on a 1987 cassette “Boone County Fiddler” (Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association).
In nearly eighty years of playing the violin, Taylor McBaine entertained countless audiences played for countless dances and won dozens of trophies at fiddle contests. He was a teacher at the Bethel Fiddle Camp (Bethel, Missouri) and was several times a master old-time fiddle teacher in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program co-sponsored by the University of Missouri and Missouri Arts Council.
Taylor McBaine loved music and stimulating conversation. He was devoted to passing on his musical heritage to younger generations, and he was a gifted memorable teacher. He was proud of his influence in teaching young people the secrets and glories of fiddling and musicians across the nation play tunes they learned from “Taylor Mac.” In his words “There are no finer people than fiddlers.” I was privileged to be a friend, fiddle student, and traveling companion of Mr. McBaine’s. His physical presence is missed, but his spirit is very much with us.
–Howard Marshall, published 1994