Pete McMahan

Find traditional instrumental music
Jump to: navigation, search

Pete McMahan


 Given name:     Pete
 Middle name:     
 Family name:     McMahan
 Place of birth:     Bluffton, Missouri
 Place of death:     Williamsburg, Missouri
 Year of birth:     1919
 Year of death:     2000
 Profile:     Musician
 Source of information:     

Biographical notes[edit]

Pete was one of eight children. His mother and several sisters played the violin, and his mother specialized in the reed organ, playing backup for fiddlers at local dances. He started playing fiddle at age six. As a teenager he played guitar for fiddlers and fiddled at Saturday night barn dances, sometimes on tenor banjo tuned like a violin. He also learned to call square dances. He said “It was something to watch, they jig-danced to every step of it. ... It’s hard work to play for a square dance ... one set might last fifteen minutes. You made a dollar or dollar and a half a night, playing from dark till daylight.” At fifteen, while working as a laborer in a stone quarry, Pete won his first contest in St. Charles. The prize was a sack of groceries. In 1937 Pete moved to nearby Columbia (a regional hub and college town), and a new world of fiddling opened up to him. He began playing complex hornpipes and reels in F and B-flat under the influence of central Missouri greats like George and Dave Morris, Nolan Boone, Cleo Persinger, Jim Gilmore, Ed Tharp, Doc Hill, Jim Gilpin, Bill Katon, Aaron Oliver, Jones Cuno, and other “B-flat fiddlers.” He was drafted into the Army in 1943 and served throughout the Second World War. Pete entered and won his first big fiddle contest in Columbia in 1945 while home on leave. In the early post-War years, Pete played in a local dance band. Pete married Sarah Ronimous in 1952, and they had four children. In 1965 he began a long career as a heavy equipment and truck tire repairman. At this time Pete chose to focus on the contest scene instead of returning to the role of dance fiddler. He succeeded on the contest platform and went on to compete at the Weiser, Idaho, national contests in the late 1960s and then judged there for several years. In the 1970s and 1980s, Pete won major competitions in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, South Dakota, and virtually everywhere a contest was held across Missouri. As McMahan became a devotee of contest fiddling, he “dressed up” various tunes for the competition arena. This is an important skill for the contest fiddler and Pete was a master at making familiar tunes stand out under his personal touch. By the time he retired from contest fiddling, Pete had amassed over four hundred trophies, pairs of fancy cowboy boots, and countless plaques, ribbons, certificates, and other prizes. He was Missouri State Champion four times. [information from Howard Marshall and Vivian Williams]