Tune of the Month: John Tate's Two-Step
John Tate's Two-Step
In the words, more or less, of our old friend Glenn Berry at a jam session in 2000 at Lotte Mott’s, a fine (but now defunct) neighborhood coffee house in Seattle - This came from an old Missouri fiddler named John Tate. He started out back in Missouri when he was just a ten year old kid playing in the saloons. Course they wouldn’t let him drink but they would let him play fiddle. So he’d put a cigar box up on the bar and he was playing a cigar box fiddle. And he’d play and those guys would toss coins in the box. I knew John through the thirties and forties and the first part of the fifties. He was a painter who worked for Standard Oil Company and he’d be gone for months at a time. He played an old thick, dark, almost black Stainer. And boy he’d come home after months of being off somewhere painting, dig out that old Stainer fiddle and I never heard him have a bad day. He was just a natural. He was strictly an old time fiddler, really amazing, and this is one he used to play.
Glenn often reminisced about times spent listening to John Tate play and plays many of his tunes, including ‘John Tate’s Other Two-Step’ and ‘Land of Lincoln’ which I have been calling ‘Old John Tate’ because I didn’t know any better when I learned it from Glenn.
Last January I had the pleasure of joining in on a surprise 90th birthday Olivia Stalter and friends threw for Glenn. Once the jamming started, it was one tune after another that Glenn had taught us - seemed there was no end to the supply.
Jacob Stainer (c. 1617-1683) was an Austrian violin maker whose instruments were very popular among the growing number of orchestral players of his era. To this day violins based on his model are known for their volume and are much appreciated by fiddlers.
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Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated August 11, 2014