Ragtime Annie – Fiddle Tune a Day – Day 168

Today, Steve Eulberg and I played our first Streetmosphere gig of the year. It’s a really cool program, that I hope other cities adopt. The city of Fort Collins pays musicians and other performers to entertain on the streets of Old Town Fort Collins every weekend all summer long.

Steve is a great Dulcimer player (both hammered, and mountain), and I really enjoy getting to make music with him.

The real question is: Is Ragtime Annie a breakdown, or a Rag? Discuss. :)



Ragtime Annie according to the Fiddler’s Companion

RAGTIME ANNIE [1]. AKA and see “Ragged Annie,” “Raggedy Ann (Rag),” “Raggin’ On,” “Bug(s) in the ‘Tater(s),” “What Made the Wildcat Wild.” Old‑Time, Canadian; Breakdown. USA, very widely known. D Major (‘A’ and ‘B’ parts) & G Major (‘C’ part). Standard tuning. AAB (Phillips/1989): AA’B (Sweet): AABB (Ford, Welling): AA’BB (Ruth): AA’BB’ (Krassen): ABCC (Christeson): AABCC (Jarman, Johnson): AA’BCC’ (Reiner & Anick): AA’BBC (Messer): AA’BCC (Silberberg): AA’BB’CC (Miskoe & Paul): AA’BB’CC’ (Phillips/1995). A popular tune and a staple of the North American fiddling repertoire, of uncertain origins. There is much speculation along the lines of the following: “Ragtime Annie is almost certainly a native American dance tune, possibly less than 100 years old” (Krassen, 1973). Guthrie Meade has a similar point of view regarding the tune’s antiquity, noting that this very popular piece appears in many relatively modern collections, but not in early ones. There are persistent rumors that it first was heard played by Texas fiddlers around 1900-1910, but no firm evidence. Reiner & Anick (1989) suggest the tune is derived from a piano piece called “Raggedy Ann Rag,” and catagorize it as a ‘Midwest’ and ‘Southwest’ tune, but they did not cite a source and so far no one has been able to access a piano melody similar to the fiddle tune (The title “Raggedy Ann Rag” does appear on printed music, written by Joe “Fingers” Carr and published in 1952, far too late to have been the original for “Ragtime Annie”.) The earliest appearance of “Ragtime Annie” that can be documented, in print or otherwise, is the recording by Texas fiddler Eck Robertson (along with Henry C. Gilliland) in 1923, and a few years later by the Texas duo Solomon and Hughes. Robertson’s release was backed with “Turkey in the Straw.” “Ragtime Annie” was later recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph from Ozark Mountain fiddlers in the early 1940’s.


There is often some confusion among fiddlers whether to play the tune in two or three parts, and both are correct depending on regional taste. Eck Robertson’s original version was in three parts (the third part changes key to G major) as are many older south-west versions, and some insist this form was once more common that the two-part version often heard in more recent times. Other Texas fiddlers only learned the two-part version. Glen Godsey writes: “Of the fiddlers I knew in Amarillo in the 1940’s-1950’s, Eck was the only one who played the third part. I learned only two parts as a kid, and we always played just two parts for the square dances. I only learned the third part many years later from Eck’s recording.” Little Dixie, Missouri, fiddler Howard Marshall says the third part has been a vital part of the tune in Missouri for many years, offering that the renowned regional fiddler Taylor McBaine remembered playing it that way as a child in the very early 1920s. Marshall reports that local speculation is that the third part was inserted to relieve a square dance fiddler from the stress of keeping the main part of the tune going through a long set. Gordon McCann (2008) remembered that Missouri fiddler Bob Walsh, a respected entrepreneur who often judged fiddle contests, would deduct points from a performance if the third part was omitted. Drew Beisswenger (2008), however, remarks that the three-part version of “Ragtime Annie” is seldom heard among Ozark fiddlers, and consigns the longer version to northern Missouri fiddlers, and fiddlers west of the Mississippi. Some feel the third part is reminiscent of “Little Brown Jug,” although there can be considerable variation from fiddler to fiddler in the way third parts are rendered.


“Ragtime Annie” was the first tune learned by itinerant West Virginia fiddler John Johnson (1916-1996), originally from Clay County, from fiddler Dorvel Hill who lived in a coal-mining town called Pigtown, not far from Clay, W.Va.  Left handed fiddler Walter Melton played all three parts at square dances around Dunbar, W.Va., in the 1930s.


I was bashful back then and wouldn’t go in anybody’s house hardly. I’d

sit on the railroad and listen to Dorvel play the fiddle at night. And I

learned most all of Dorvel’s tunes. I just set down there and listened

to all his tunes and then go home and play them. (Michael Kline, Mountains of Music, John Lilly ed. 1999).


RAGGEDY ANN. AKA and see “Ragtime Annie.” The title appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. A familiar term for “Ragtime Annie,” perhaps based on association with the popular American rag-doll of the mid- 20th century.

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  1. says

    What wonderful well known tune around these parts, Vi. You and Steve have certainly made this song a favorite. Many people speed this tune into a blur. I love your timing on this one….PERFECT!

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