Tune of the Month
"Sycamore Reel" from Rusty Modrell
Here's another of Rusty Modrell's charming old time hoedowns. Rusty, as you will of course recall from The Evergreen Fiddler Tunebooks: Vols II & III ('The A & E Waltz' & 'Lost Indian'), was raised in Idaho where he played for many a dance as a young man. He lived in Oregon for a good spell too, where he was a favorite at many an Oregon Old Time Fiddlers Association event. In his hands the 'Sycamore Reel' swings along pleasantly, compellingly and danceably. His clear tone, slightly Canadian phrasing with but a hint of Midwestern shuffle, was typical of many Northwestern old time dance fiddlers. Human memory and creativity being what they are, fiddle tunes often share ideas, phrases or even whole sections, and then go merrily along their way as if they were entirely different tunes. This one knits together fragments of both 'Fat Back Meat and Dumplings' (see Glenn Berry in The Evergreen Fiddler Tunebook: Vol I) and the popular hoedown 'Rattlesnake Bit the Baby' into one seamless whole.
While Rusty was an avid outdoors man who loved to hunt, fish and ride horseback in the high country of Idaho, he would have had to head back east as far as Illinois to ride among the sycamore trees, for that is the Northwestern limit of their range, perhaps to the town of Sycamore, Illinois. The only other recording of this tune I know of (presumably it's the same one) is by Roy Rogers, the famous singing cowboy - star of stage and screen, calling square dances to the fiddling of Spade Cooley. The recording was made by Linda Danielson of Eugene, OR as part of the Oregon Old-Time Fiddling Project.
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Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated May 1, 2010