Last of Callahan

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X:1 T:Last of Callahan S:Luther Strong (1892-1962, Hazard, Perry County, Ky.) M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel N:AEae tuning (fiddle) D:Library of Congress AFS 01537 B01 (1937) F: Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:A "*"[A2E2] Ac BAce|faec BAFA|EAAc BAce|faec A2A2| EAAc BAce|faec BAFA|EAAB +slide+[c2e2]eg|"**"ecBc A2A2-|| [M:2/4]A [Ac]e a-|[M:C|]aece aecA |BAce b2e2 |aece aecA |BAcB AF2e| aece aecA|BAcA b2e2|agae fgaf|ecAc BAF2| E2A2 {B}c2eg|fecB A2||(3EFG|A2cB A2(3AGF|EGA(E FE)C2| EAAB {B}c2eg|fecB A2(3EFG|A2cB A2GF|EGA(E FE)C2| EAAB {B}c2eg|fecB A2A2|| P:Substitutions "*"EA A2 (3cBA cA|]"**"ecBc A2A2|[M:2/4]A2ea-|[M:C|]aecA e2cA|BAcA b2e2|

LAST OF CALLAHAN. AKA- "Callahan (1)," "Callahan Reel," "Last of the Callahans." AKA and see "Old Sport (2)." American, Reel (cut or 2/4 time). USA; Arkansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky. D Major. AEae or Standard tunings (fiddle). AABB (Thede): AA'BB'CC (Brody, Reiner & Anick). Thede says that fiddlers in Arkansas and Oklahoma attribute the tune (as in the "MacPherson's Lament" story) to an outlaw who, just before being hung, requested to play the fiddle one last time ..."In his standing position he played an unnamed fiddle tune and then handed the fiddle down to one of the bystanders. Justice was meted out...and the likeness of the tune became "Last of Callahan" (p. 49). Reiner & Anick (1989) say the first published report on the tune is from 1912, which relates the story of a Kentucky outlaw named Callahan who was executed around the year 1835; only in this account he played his tune while sitting on his awaiting coffin and when finished broke the fiddle over his knee before stepping up to the gallows. The tale is an example of a traditional tune-story that goes far back in musical tradition, in the case of the fiddle at least to the old Scottish tune "MacPherson's Lament," and in America is similar to the legend behind the musically related West Virginia/Virginia tunes "Camp Chase," "Joe Coleman's March" (Pa.) and "George Booker." A Cajun version of the legend is attached to the tunes "Guilbeau's Waltz" and "Valse a Napoleon."

The background of the tune is related in Steven Wade’s The Beautiful Music All Around Us (2012, pp. 275-276), obtained from Perry County, Kentucky, fiddler Luther Strong’s cousin, Lowell Morris (affirmed by Jim Strong and Jaye Sandlin). Strong’s middle name was Callahan, his mother’s maiden surname, and has to do with his maternal great-grandfather, named Isaac Callahan. In the 1820’s or 1830’s Isaac was hanged in Clay County, Ky., for the murder of a man named Newberry. Isaac had a fiddle brought to the scaffold and, Morris relates, “challenged anybody in the crowd to play the tune. Nobody had never heard it…That was the first time he had ever played it in public, I reckon…He just played the tune and they [later] called that tune the ‘Last of Callahan.’” According to Morris, one of the witnesses to Isaac’s execution was a fiddler named ‘Black’ Bob Baker of Upper Buffalo, but also suggested there were other fiddlers in the crowd who committed the tune to memory.

Alan Lomax interviewed another Kentucky man in 1938, Oscar Parks, who also had a story of a hanged Callahan. Parks learned “Last of Callahan” from fiddler and singer Bob Lehr, who claimed he had witnessed the hanging of a John Callahan in Jackson County, Ky., who had been tried for a murder stemming from the Callahan-Deaton feuds in Brethitt County, Ky.

The tune, and the legend, detached from its British "Macpherson" associations, was not uncommon in eastern Kentucky in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wade notes that “Last of Callahan” was listed in three of the twenty-two fiddle tune lists compiled by Berea College students in March, 1915, and it was played by several contestants in the Berea fiddle contests in the 1920’s, predating commercial recordings of the tune.

The title appears in a list of traditional Ozarks Mountains fiddle tunes (as "Last of the Callahans") compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. An untitled reel with a cognate first strain was played by African-American fiddler John Katon (central Missouri), recorded in 1950 by collector R.P. Christeson (see "Reel (117)"). See also the related family of tunes including "Village Hornpipe," "Sweet Ellen (2)/Sweet Ellum (2)," and "Old Dubuque." See also Callahan.

Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Frank West (Murray County, Oklahoma) [Thede], Highwoods String Band (N.Y.) [Brody, Reiner & Anick].

Printed sources : - Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; pp. 165-166. Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 372. Reiner & Anick (Old-Time Fiddling Across America), 1989; p. 113. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 49.

Recorded sources : - Ghe Records Gr 1001, Mike Cross - "Child Prodigy" (1979). Library of Congress AFS 01537 B01, Luther Strong (1937). Rounder 0023, Highwoods String Band- "Fire on the Mountain." Rounder 0010, "Fuzzy Mountain String Band" (1972. Learned from a West Virginia source via revival fiddler Dave Milefsky). In the repertoire of Kentucky fiddlers Luther Strong and Bill Stepp (who recorded for the Library of Congress).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear the 1937 AFS field recording of Kentucky fiddler Luther Strong at Berea Sound Archives [2] and Slippery Hill [3]

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