Whistling Rufus

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X:233 T:Whistling Rufus R:Cakewalk C:Kerry Mills (1899) Z:added by Alf warnock alf0@rogers.com - www.alfwarnock.info/alfs M:C| L:1/8 K:G P:A |:G2GB d2de|g2g2 ed3|G2GA BAG2|d8|\ G2GB d2de|g2g2 ed3|a2aa age2|a8| G2GB d2de|g2g2 ed3|G2GA BAG2|d6g2|\ eg2e d2ed|B2G2 AGED|GB2G AGA2|[1 G2z2 g2z2:|[2 G2B2 F2G2|| P:B |:d4d4-|d2e2d2G2|F4F4-|F2 c2^G2A2|\ e4e4-|e2f2e2c2|B4B4-|B2B2F2G2| d4d4-|d2e2d2G2|c4c4-|c2d2c2G2|\ B4c2B2|E4F4|[1G8-|G2B2F2G2:|[2 G8-|G4g2z2|| P:A G2GB d2de|g2g2 ed3|G2GA BAG2|d8|\ G2GB d2de|g2g2 ed3|a2aa age2|a8| G2GB d2de|g2g2 ed3|G2GA BAG2|d6g2|\ eg2e d2ed|B2G2 AGED|GB2G AGA2| G2z2 g2z2| K:C P:C |:c6d2|e6g2|a3ba3b|a2g2e2c2|\ d3ed3e|d2A2B2c2|d3ed2e|d2B2A2G2| c6d2|e6g2|a3ba3b|a2g2e2c2|\ d3ed3e|d2A2B2c2|[1 d8|c4G4:|[2 d8|c2e2B2c2|| P:D |:g4g4-|g2a2g2c2|B4B4-|B2f2 ^c2d2|\ a4a4-|a2b2a2f2|e4e4-|e2e2B2c2| g4g4-|g2a2g2c2|f4f4-|f2g2f2c2|\ e4f2e2|A4B4|[1 c8-c2e2B2c2:|[2 c8-|c4c'2z2|]



WHISTLING RUFUS. AKA and see "Way Down South in Dixie." Old Time. Bluegrass; Two-Step, March, Reel, Polka. USA; Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, Arizona. G Major {Beisswenger & McCann, Phillips}: G Major ('A' and 'B' parts) & C Major ('C' part). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Beisswenger & McCann, Phillips): AAB (Brody). The tune was composed in 1899 by Kerry Mills [1] (1869-1948, who also composed “Georgia Camp Meeting” and “Red Wing”), at the beginning of the ragtime era, with words later supplied by Murdoch Lind. It was described at the time of its publication as a “characteristic march” but with the addition that it “can be used effectively as a two-step, polka or cakewalk.” The first page of the original sheet music also records that:
Rufus.jpg

No cakewalk given in the Black Belt district of Alabama was considered worth while attending unless “Whistling Rufus” was engaged to furnish the music. Unlike other musicians, Rufus always performed alone, playing an accompaniment to his whistling on an old guitar, and it was with great pride that he called himself the “one-man band.”

Joyce Cauthen (1990) calls it a minstrel composition that passed into fiddling tradition, perhaps referring to Mill's "coon-song"[1] period cakewalk. Arizona fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner identified it as a "good two-step from around 1900" (Shumway). It was played by Rock Ridge, Alabama, fiddlers around 1920 and it appears in a list of traditional Ozarks Mountains fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. It is also played as a fast breakdown by bluegrass musicians, taking a cue from Tennessee fiddler Arthur Smith's breakdown version. Kirk McGee, who recorded the song in 1927 with his brother Sam, said that they learned the song from a a man named Will Graves (Franklin, Tenn.) whose family had a singing quartet that did gospel and other songs. "We used to play that with Arthur (Smith) too, and he'd make a whistling sound by playing with the bow real close to the bridge [2] Mills' song was recorded on a cylinder record in 1899 by Vess L. Ossman, the pre-eminent banjo player of the 1890’s, nicknamed “The Banjo King.” Early 78 RPM recordings include Gid Tanner & Riley Puckett (1924), Ernest Thompson (1924), McLaughlin’s Old Time Melody Makers (1928), the Kessinger Brothers (1929) and Arkie the Arkansas Woodchopper (1941) [see Guthrie Meade, Country Music Sources, 2002], and the tune was in the repertoire of West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons. See also related melodies “Old Parnell Reel” and “North Carolina Breakdown.”

“Whistling Rufus” was popularized in Scotland and Ireland by Scottish accordion player and dance-band leader Jimmy Shand, who recorded it in the 1950’s.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: - Buddy Pendleton [Brody]; Gary Johnston (b. 1937, Nevada, Missouri), learned from Lyman Enloe in the 1960’s [Beisswenger & McCann].

Printed sources : - Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 81. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; p. 291. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 2), 1995; p. 166. Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 40, p. 15.

Recorded sources: - American Heritage 510, Jay Belt "Fiddlin' Jay Belt." Bear Family 15517, "Sam and Kirk McGee from Sunny Tennessee." Bluebird Records 5434 (78 RPM), The Skillet Lickers (1934). County 705, Buddy Pendleton "Virginia Breakdown." County 412, "Fiddling Doc Roberts" (Ky.) {appears as "Way Down South"}. E. Berliner's Gramophone ‎– 092, Vess Ossman (1899). Folkways FA 2337, Clark Kessiger (Va.) - "Live at Union Grove." Folkways 31007, The McGee Brothers and Arthur Smith - "Milk 'Em in the Evening Blues" (1968). Marimac 9017, Vesta Johnson (Mo.) - "Down Home Rag." OKeh 45206 (78 RPM), The Short Brothers. OKeh Records 45406 (78 RPM), Earl Johnson. Rebel 1531, Curly Ray Cline "Fishin' For Another Hit." Edden Hammons Collection, Disc 2. “Doc Watson & Son” (1965).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer’s Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources []
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recordings Index [2]
See various versions on youtube.com: bluegrass [3]; ragtime [4]; march/polka [5]
Hear Fiddlin' Arthur Smith's version at Slippery Hill [6] and at youtube.com [7]
Hear Effie Pierson's (Owsley County, Ky.) 1979 field recording at Berea Sound Archives [8]



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  1. Some of items in the Traditional Tune Archive may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes. Such materials should be seen in the context of the time period and as a reflection of the attitudes of the time. The items are part of the historical record, and do not represent the views of the administrators of this site.
  2. liner notes to Folkways 31007, The McGee Brothers and Arthur Smith - "Milk 'Em in the Evening Blues", 1968.