The Old-Time Herald Volume 10, Number 4

Feature
Gordon McCann:
The Improbable Ascent
of the Ozarks Fiddle Man
By Drew Beisswenger

In 1974, Gordon McCann was an unlikely candidate to become the Ozarks’ top old-time fiddle music authority, collector, and accompanist. A successful Springfield businessman in his early 40s, he had a nice summer house by the lake, strong ties to the region’s political and economic community, and virtually no knowledge of any of the area’s fiddle music—or any other kind of rural folk music tradition. A staunch conservative and member of the city of Springfield’s Chamber of Commerce, he would have seemed to many the antithesis of a sympathetic agent for, and performer of, the often rough-edged fiddle music of the rural Ozarks. In fact, with little experience or interest in playing any kind of music in public, he himself would probably have been confounded by such a notion.

Yet within a few years, a collection of curious events unfolded that launched him into the old-time-music spotlight, and he found himself rushing off to perform at national folklife festivals at the Smithsonian and Wolf Trap, co-writing a major Ozarks folklore book with legendary folklorist Vance Randolph, and producing and performing on numerous commercial recordings with some of the top fiddlers in the Ozarks. Today, he has an indexed field recording collection of over 61,000 Ozark fiddle tunes if you include variations, and he has served on panels for organizations such as the National Geographic Society, and the National Endowment for the Arts. With no training in folklore, no training in music, and little awareness of the folk music revival that was ending in the early 1970s, McCann established himself as the top expert on Ozarks fiddle music, both in academia and in the Ozarks fiddling community.

 

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