Tune of the Month: Snowshoes
It's not unusual for a tune to carry on with two or more names, or for two or more tunes to share the same name. It is rare though to be able to track that divergence to a moment in time. Missouri fiddler Pete McMahan (pronounced Mac-muh-han) was a frequent competitor at Weiser in the '60s and '70s. Phil Williams recorded him and included this tune on the Voyager LP 'Weiser Jam Session,' an album I have long treasured. Somehow in the production process the old name, Snowshoes, jumped ship and Spotted Pony settled down in its place. These things happen - all too often in my case. Not long after that (mid '70s) I became aware of a tune that was in rapid ascendance around Seattle called Spotted Pony, the name many fiddlers know it by today. Though it shares the errant name from the LP, this version has some distinct differences to Pete's while versions under the name Snowshoes are closer in form to Pete's - Benny Thomasson, Katrina Nicolayeff and Kenny Brank for example.
Apparently some person or persons unknown either learned it from the LP, made significant changes and spread it far and wide or else applied the new name to another version of Snowshoes already floating around. I'll keep digging and see what turns up. Howard Marshall (Missouri fiddler and sage scholar of all things fiddle in Missouri) swears that Pete always called it Snowshoes. Just to complicate things further, there is actually an entirely different tune, also Missouri-ish and also in D, called Spotted Pony (see Charlie Walden's "Traditional Fiddle Music of Missouri"). And now back to Pete McMahan. He was one heck of a square dance fiddler. You can hear him play Snowshoes and 49 more tunes on his Voyager CD #366 and you can read much more of his quite interesting story. In short though, he was born (1918) in central Missouri, started learning to fiddle from a prominent local fiddler, Clark Atterberry, at the age of six. His mother played back up on the pump organ for dances and his sisters also played fiddle. As a teenager he played for many a Saturday night dance, either on fiddle or backing up other fiddlers on guitar. After the war he married and moved to Arizona for a spell but came back to Columbia and to fiddling in 1965, this time focused more on contesting than playing for dances - and he won plenty. Thanks to everyone who recorded his music. Now I'm heading off to a jam session and if I'm lucky I'll get Vivian Williams to play Snowshoes. It''s a great one for a jam as well as a dance.
Please contact me if you have questions or requests.
Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated April 8, 2012