Annotation:Callahan (1)

Find traditional instrumental music

Back to Callahan (1)

X:2 T:Callahan [1] N:From the playing of fiddler William H. Stepp (1875-1957, N:Salyersville, Magoffin County, Ky.), recorded in Oct., N:1937, by Alan & Elizabeth Lomax. M:C| L:1/8 N:AEae tuning (fiddle) D: D:Library of Congress AFS 01568 B02, William Stepp (1937) D:Yazoo 2014, Willam Stepp - "Music of Kentucky, vol. 1" (1995. 1937 field recording). Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:A V:1 clef=treble name="2." [V:1] AcB-A c2cd|ecB-A FAEA|AcB-A c2[ce]a|ecA2 [E2A2][A,2E2]| AcB-A c2[ce]a|ec (c/B/A) FAEA|AcB-A c2[ce]a|ecA2 [E2A2]| E-F|A2 AB c-Aea|ec (c/B/A) FAEA|AcB-A c2[ce]a|ecA2 A2|| |:aece aecA|B-Ac-A B-AFE|aece aecA|B-AB-A b2 e2| aece aecA|c-AB-A c-AFA|EAAc BAcc| faec A2A2:| P:A' EAAc BAcc|f-aec BAFA|EAAc BAcc|(fa)ec A2A2| EF A2ABc2|f-aec BAFA|EAAc BAcc|(fa)ec A2A2| EFAc B-Ac2|E2 FF E2CD|EFAA {c}B-Acc|(fa)ec A2A2| EAAc BAcc|f-aec BAFA|EAAc BAcc|(fa)ec A2A2|| P:B' aece aecA|B-Ac-A B-AFE|a3b a2 f-e|f-eb2 b2e2| aece aecA|c-AB-A c-AFA|EAAc BAcc| faec A2A2| aece aecA|B-Ac-A B-AFE|aece aecA|B-AB-A b2 e2| aece aecA|c-AB-A c-AFA|EAAc BAcc| faec A2A2||

CALLAHAN [1]. AKA - "Callahan's Reel," "Callahan Rag," "Callahan's Reel (1)," "Fiddler's Farewell (1)," "Last of Callahan," "McClahan's March," "McClanahan's March." AKA and see "Old Sport (2)." USA; southwest Va., eastern Tenn., Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri. American, Reel (cut time). A Major. Standard, AEae or GDgd (Clyde Davenport) tunings (fiddle). AABB'CC'. The piece is known simply as "Callahan" in Patrick County, southwestern Va., where it is regarded as one of the older pieces in the fiddler's repertoire and predates the "string band" genre tunes which featured banjo/fiddle combinations (Tom Carter & Blanton Owen, 1976). Bobby Fulcher (1986) concurs regarding the age of the melody and says it belongs to a group of archaic tunes characterized by cross tunings, elaborate bowings and eccentric melody lines: "These droning exotic, richly flavored tunes were not to be danced to, or accompanied by other instruments, but just made interesting listening." Clyde Davenport (b. 1921), of Monticello, Ky., had the tune from his father, who picked it and other similar tunes up from a man named Will Phipps, an "old-timer" from Rock Creek, Tennessee (who is remembered for being buried with his fiddle in his coffin). Farther west, the title appears in a list of traditional Ozarks Mountains fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Mark Wilson (in the liner notes to vol 1 of Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky) points out that the tune "radically shifts" in fiddle versions from east to west across the state of Kentucky, until it seems that the only similarities between extremes are a similar ascending and descending lines over a drone 'A' chord. John Dykes version is played cross-tuned in the key of A, although it sounds in 'G' on the recording, either from tuning down or from a faulty recording process.

A legend attached to the tune gives that it was written by a condemned man, one Callahan, just before he was executed by hanging; this is, of course, a centuries old tale primarily attached to the Scottish outlaw Macpherson (see "MacPherson's Farewell"), hanged in Banff in the year 1700. D. K. Wilgus, in his article "The Hanged Fiddler Legend in Anglo-American Tradition," extensively explores the "Callahan" legend, first collected in 1909 by Katherine Jackson French near Louden, Kentucky, from two boys who "played and sang 'Callahan's Confession.'" A report by E.C. Perrow in the Journal of American Folklore (25) in 1912 gave that "Some years ago an outlaw named Callahan was executed in Kentucky. Just before his execution he sat on his coffin and played and sang a ballad of his own composing, and, when he had finished, broke his musical instrument over his knee." This story, in almost exactly the same words, was related by elderly Bell County, Kentucky, fiddler Estill Bingham (1899-1990) to Bob Butler and Bruce Greene, also appearing in Suzy Jones' Oregon Folklore (Bingham had moved to Oregon for a time before returning to Kentucky):

One I never have heard played nowhere only around amongst a few old fiddlers there (i.e. Kentucky). It was called 'Callahan.' My dad played it, and they's a story goes with it. Well, they had this man Callahan up to be hung. And he had his casket made and brought there to the scaffold where they was aimin' to hang him, and they asked him if he wanted any request, any last request- and he was a fiddler so he said he'd like to play one more tune. So they give him his fiddle and he set on the end of his casket and played that tune. And he said, 'If they's anybody can play that tune any better 'n I can, I'll give 'em my fiddle.' The story goes that nobody tried, and he busted his fiddle over the end of his casket.

Elderly sources swear the Callahan story "really happened" in Clay County, Kentucky, though other locales also claim the honor. One such elderly source, one Oscar Parks of Deuchars, Indiana, recounted the story to Alan Lomax in 1938. Parks was originally from Livingston County, Kentucky, and had the tale from an old man in nearby Jackson County. According to this version John Callahan was being hanged for killing a man in the course of a feud. This Callahan offered his fiddle to anyone who would join him on the gallows and "sit down with him and play that tune" and when no one dared for fear of being involved in the feud Callahan "busted that fiddle all to pieces overt that coffin" (Prior to his death Callahan supposedly married his sweetheart, Betty Larkin, and lived with her "for several months" in the jail in Manchester, Clay County, Kentucky--an interesting union of "Callahan" with the Southern play-party song "Betsy Larkin," "Betsy Diner" or "Rosa Betsy Lina"). Wilgus found there were Callahans (and indeed one John Abe Callahan) involved in feuds in Kentucky, albeit in Breathitt County, and none were recorded as having been hanged.

Another version of the tale was supplied by a Mrs. Herman R. Staten of Paris, Kentucky, who wrote to the Archive of American Folksong soon after World War II to say that she was a Callahan descendent and that her fiddler-father and an elderly relative told her that the Callahan of the tale was an Isaac Callahan who died in the middle of the 19th century, and "knowing he was to hang, he built his coffin, and taking his fiddle he played while his sister danced upon his coffin." Similar to this is a note by A. Porter Hamblen which gives that Callahan was convicted of murdering a Jewish peddler and was hanged at Barbourville, Kentucky, on May 15, 1835--"At the hour of his execution he requested to be allowed to play a farewell on his violin. While seated on his coffin he played this tune which since has borne his name. He then handed the violin to the sherrif, was lead onto the gallows and the trap sprung, sending Callahan to his maker." Kentucky banjo player Pete Steele (living in Hamilton Ohio) told musicologist Alan Lomax in 1938 the Callahan tale with emphasis on the disposition of the fiddle. In this variant the condemned man sits on his coffin at the place of execution and declares as his last wish that he wants to play "Callahan," and further, that if anyone in the crowd can also play the tune then that individual will be given the fiddle. Someone does play "Callahan," the fiddle is transferred to a new owner and the event proceeds. Jim Talyor (1996) records the variant from Alva Greene (Sandy Hook, Kentucky) that the miscreant (named McClanahan) was an eastern Kentucky man who stole horses from one side in the Civil War, to sell them to the other. Caught and condemned, McClanahan sat astride a horse with a noose around his neck and asked as his last request the time to play a farewell tune. He offered his fiddle to anyone who would come up and play the tune with him, and even thought there were some in the crowd who might have taken him up on it, to do so would associate themselves with him (presumably only compatriots would know his tune by heart) and so there were no takers. McClanahan played is march and, since his offer went wanting, he smashed the fiddle on his horses back bursting it asunder and causing the horse to rear and bolt, thus causing his own demise at the end of the rope. Alva Greene has also told the story that Callahan was 'a big spy in the Civil War' who composes this tune while waiting at the gallows and then 'breaks the fiddle across the sheriff's neck' [Wilson/Meade/Harrod, liner notes to "Cruel Willie", Musical Traditions MTCD341-2, 2007]. Kentucky banjo player Manon Campbell gave the story that a miner named Callahan was trapped underground and played his fiddle until he expired. Campbell lilts a little ditty with the refrain:

Rock away, roll away, go away Callahan,
Rock away, roll away, go away Callahan.

"This lyric," notes Wilson et al ("Cruel Willie", 2007), "links the piece to the 'Calloway' banjo tune often encountered in West Virginia (eg, Lee Hammons on YPC-003; other references to 'Callahan' sometimes appear in the Little Betty Larkins play party tune). In its fiddle tune settings, versions of Callahan have been encountered everywhere in the South and Midwest, although Kentucky remains its prime homeland. Sometimes the melody shades into that belonging to the independent 'book tune' Old Sport (2) (eg, Cyril Stinnett)." Wilgus also sees "Calloway" as a variant of the "Callahan" title, however, melodically it would seem that most of the "Calloway" pieces are a family of (primarily) banjo tunes unrelated to "Callahan" (which itself has a wide variation in melodic contours). There is much variation in collected versions of both tunes, and perhaps a bit of overlap. Morgan Sexton (1911-1992) played a "Last of Callahan" in the banjo tuning associated with "Calloway" (eCGCD) that in fact resembles some of the "Calloway" tunes.

Folklorist D.K. Wilgus says that some eastern Kentucky and West Virginia sources give the title as "Calloway" (see note below), and place the event in Madison, Boone County, W.Va., dated around 1850.

Kentucky fiddler John M. Salyer (Maggofin County, early to mid-20th century) played a variant called "Irish Boy (2)." Marion Thede published a version of the piece played by Oklahoma and Arkansas fiddlers as "Last of Callahan" with the particularly western variant that Callahan was a horse thief caught by a posse and about to be summarily hanged. While standing in a wagon underneath a tree limb with a noose around his neck, Callahan was asked for his last words. The outlaw requested instead to play the fiddle one more time, and with the noose still around his neck he played a tune, the likeness of which is remembered as "Last of Callahan," and handed his fiddle down to one of the bystanders at the fateful event.

See also notes for "Annotation:MacPherson's Farewell," "Coleman's March (1)" and "Annotation:Pennington's Farewell." "Callahan" was in the repertoire of Kentucky fiddler William H. Stepp, who recorded for the Library of Congress in 1937. Eastern Kentucky fiddler Luther Strong's version was transcribed for John and Allan Lomax's book Our Singing Country (1941). Richard Blaustein compared the 78 RPM versions of Cowan Powers (Va.) and John Dykes (Tenn.) and finds their first parts different, although the second parts are similar, and, as with many old-time tunes, variants can differ to various degrees.

Dykes Magic City Trio - Callahan's Reel (1927) [1] [2]

Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Cyril Stinnet (Mo.) [Christeson]; W.H. Stepp (Milliner/Koken); Jesse Shelor (Milliner/Koken); Norman Edmonds (Milliner/Koken).

Printed sources : - R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddlers Repertory, vol. 2), 1984; p. 18. Fiddler Magazine, vol. 8, No. 3, Summer, 2001; p. 23 (transcribed by Andrew Kuntz). Clare Milliner & Walt Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; pp. 94-95.

Recorded sources : - Columbia (15570, 78 RPM), Roane County Ramblers (eastern Tenn., as "Callahan Rag" {1929}). County 403, Roane County Ramblers. Gennett 16087 (78 RPM), Fiddlin' Doc Roberts & Asa Martin (1930. An unreleased master). Marimac 9009, Dave Spilkia - "Old Time Friends" (1987). Old Homestead OHCS191, Dykes Magic City Trio (eastern Tenn.), originally recorded for Brunswick/Vocalion 5181 (1927). Rounder CD-0376, George Lee Hawkins - "Traditional Fiddle Music of Kentucky, vol. 1" (1997). Victor 19450 (78 RPM) {as "Callahan's Reel"} Fiddlin Cowan Powers (1877-1952?, Russell County, S.W. Va. {1924}). Jim Taylor - "The Civil War Collection" (1996. Appears as "McLanahan's March"). Fiddling Powers and Family - Callahan's Reel (1924).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [3]
Hear Fiddlin Powers and Family's 1924 recording at Slippery Hill [4]
Hear Luther Strong's recording at Slippery Hill [5]
Hear John Dykes' recording at Slippery Hill [6]

Back to Callahan (1)

(0 votes)