Bill Cheatum was one of those tunes that grew on me. I didn’t love it at first, but I thought it was OK. I remember hearing Tom Weisgerber play it at the Fiddler’s on the Gorge contest that used to be held at the Royal Gorge, in Canon City, CO, and was founded (at least in part) by Doug Kershaw, the Ragin’ Cajun. Tom’s version was probably the first version of Bill Cheatum that I thought was pretty cool. But, I still never really played it.
Until one night in a motel in Douglas, Wyoming, after the fiddle contest. I was jamming with Jesse Morrell, and we got playing Bill Cheatum, and we really found a groove. I think we must have played it for at least five minutes. From that point on, I have had a fondness for Bill Cheatum, and part of it is because Jesse is one of my favorite people to play music with on this planet.
Bill Cheatum according to Fiddler’s Companion
BILL CHEATUM . AKA ‑ “Bill Cheatem,” “Bill Cheatham,” “Cheatum,” “Cheat ‘Em.” Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA, widely known. A Major. Standard tuning. AABB (most versions): AA’BB’ (Kaufman). Krassen and others note this is a common fiddle tune throughout the Southern part of the United States, where it probably originated (Christeson says he did not hear the tune in Missouri until the mid‑1940’s). The tune was a fiddle contest “category” tune in 1899 in Gallatin, Tenn.–each fiddler would play a version, with the best rendition being awarded a prize (C. Wolfe, The Devil’s Box, Vol. 14, No. 4, 12/1/80). The earliest sound recording of the tune is by Texas fiddler Eck Robertson, in 1922, played as part of his “Brilliancy Medley.” The Allen Brothers recorded it as “Cheat ‘Em.” Tennessee’s “Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith” recorded it in 1940. Sources for notated versions: Floyd Smith (Cole County, Missouri) [Christeson]: Max Collins (Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma) [Thede]: Krassen credits the Texas based Red Headed Fiddlers and Henry Reed (Va.) for the version he gives in his book: A.L. Steeley & the Red Headed Fiddlers [Kaufman]; Glen Bilyeu (1919-1977, Taney County, Missouri) [Beisswenger & McCann]. Beisswenger & McCann (Ozark Fiddle Music), 2008; pg. 171. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983: pg. 41. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddlers Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; No. 34, pg. 24. Kaufman (Beginning Old Time Fiddle), 1977; pg. 61. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; pg. 68. Lowinger (Bluegrass Fiddle), 1974; pg. 16. Phillips (Fiddlecase Tunebook), 1989; pg. 5. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), 1994; pg. 24. Reiner (Anthology of Fiddle Styles), 1977; pg. 31. Silberberg (93 Fiddle Tunes I Didn’t Learn at Tractor Tavern), 2004; pg. 5. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; pg. 103 (appears as “Bill Cheatem”). Alcazar Dance Series ALC 202, Sandy Bradley ‑ “Potluck & Dance Tonite!” (1979). County 515, “Mountain Banjo Songs and Tunes.” County 542, Blind Joe Mangrum (b. 1853, Paducah, Ky.) ‑ “Nashville: the Early String Bands, vol. 2” (originally recorded in 1928 for Victor). County 719, Kenny Baker ‑ “Portrait of a Bluegrass Fiddler” (1968). Front Hall 010, Fennigs All Star String Band ‑ “The Hammered Dulcimer Strikes Again.” Kicking Mule 202, John Burke ‑ “Fancy Pickin’ and Plain Singing.” Library of Congress recording, 1939, W.A. Bledsoe, Meridian, Mississippi. Mountain 301, Kyle Creed ‑ “Blue Ridge Style Square Dance Time.” Rounder 0016, Vasser Clements ‑ “Crossing the Catskills.” Rounder 0093, Jerry Douglas ‑ “Fluxology.” Rounder 7002, Graham Townsend‑‑”Le Violin/The Fiddle.”