Rattlesnake

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RATTLESNAKE. Old-Time, Breakdown. USA; Missouri, Arizona. A Major. AEae tuning (fiddle). ABB (Karchner): AA’BB’CC. Kartchner identified the tune as "very old, from the South," and Mark Wilson says it “pops up occasionally in the repertory of older fiddlers elsewhere (i.e. other than Missouri) in the South.” It perhaps may have some association with the ‘Rattlesnake Jig,’ a blackface minstrel step that was mentioned by Hans Nathan (Dan Emmett and Negro Minstrelsy, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1962, p. 93).

While perhaps not directly related to the tune, it should perhaps be mentioned here that it has been a custom among some old-time fiddlers to keep the rattle from a rattlesnake inside their fiddle. No one seems to know exactly why this tradition began, although there have been numerous speculations. One fiddler from Texas said that it stemmed from the denunciation of a preacher, who complained that fiddlers were collecting the spare money from the community for playing dances on Saturday night, leaving the Sunday collection plates dry. This to him was a sign that "the devil's in the fiddle." Fiddlers responded by placing the rattle inside the instrument to scare the devil off. Another fiddler maintains that the custom derived from a time when fiddles were kept in old feed or grain sacks that were prone to attracting mice and rats; the rattlesnake rattles would repel the rodents and protect the instrument from gnawing. Others speculate that the rattles bring good luck, or that they serve the purpose of collecting dust as they roll around inside the fiddle, or that they are kept because of a desirable buzzing sound that emanates from the soundbox when the instrument is played.

See also the related tunes "Frankie" and (distantly) "Hangman's Reel (1)."

Source for notated version: Arizona fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner [Phillips, Shumway]; Bob Holt (1930–2004, Ava, Missouri), learned from the banjo playing of his Uncle Noah, who had it from Charlie Deckard (McClurg, Mo.) [Beisswenger & McCann].

Printed sources: Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 66. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 194. Shumway (Frontier Fiddler), 1990; p. 269.

Recorded sources: Okehdodee OK75003, Kenner Karchner – “The New Beehive Songster vol. 1: Early Recordings of Pioneer Folk Music.” Rounder CD 0432, Bob Holt – “Got a Little Home to Go to” (1998). Rounder Heritage Series 1166-11592-2, Bob Holt (et al) – “The Art of Traditional Fiddle” (2001). Yodel-Ay-Hee 020, Rafe Stefanini & Bob Herring – "Old Paint."

See also listing at:
See/hear Dan Levenson play the tune [1]




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