The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 4

Feature
Cathy Barton and Dave Para: Lives on the River
By Malcolm Smith
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Cathy Barton and Dave Para
Cathy Barton- Spotted Pony

It’s a short walk from Cathy Barton’s Boonville Missouri home to her beloved Missouri River. Much like the rolling and churning waters of the Missouri, the currents of traditional music and the history and folklore of the Little Dixie region and the Ozark Mountains have been constant flows in Cathy’s and her husband Dave Para’s lives. “Rivers have become a metaphor for my life, ” says Cathy. “You journey down the river and you end up going to the sea when you pass on. It is the progression of life.”

For nearly 30 years, Cathy and Dave have been riding the torrents of the music surrounding the “Big Muddy,” assimilating the influences of powerful Missouri fiddlers like the late Taylor McBaine from Boone County and the raucous frailing banjo of Cathy’s mentor, the legendary Grandpa Jones, into their music as well as the gentle lyrical poetry of their dear friend and Missouri poet and historian, the late Bob Dyer. The outflow from these influences has been phenomenal, including 11 full-length recordings and numerous collaborations with other musicians. In addition, Cathy and Dave have become talented teachers, sharing both their talents as musicians and their skills as historians and folklorists with students in public schools as well as attendees at national music camps like Banjo Camp Midwest, the American Banjo Camp, and the Heritage Dulcimer Camp.

Cathy, who is as well known for her artistry on the hammered dulcimer as for her driving banjo style, has been playing music since the age of seven when she was introduced to traditional music on the ukulele at her elementary school in Hawaii. “I guess you could say I was an Army brat,” says Cathy who was born in 1955 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and followed her father’s military career from there to Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, and the Hawaiian island of Oahu during her childhood. In 1966, the Barton family settled in Missouri, and it has been Cathy’s home ever since.

It was during junior high in Columbia, Missouri, that Cathy first took up the banjo. It was the height of the folk revival and Missouri and Cathy purchased a cheap long-neck Silvertone and tried to teach herself bluegrass finger rolls. “I just never grasped those rolls,” she said, “but then I started to take lessons from a local teacher, Lee Ruth, who taught Pete Seeger styles, and I learned to frail.” And then, one day, while thumbing through the recordings in her high school library, Cathy found a National Geographic recording entitled “Music of the Ozarks.” The field recordings made in and around the Mountain View, Arkansas area, a pocket of traditions protected by the steepness of the rural mountain range, led Cathy to a deep love of traditional fiddle and banjo styles of the region. Learning traditionally, by ear, Cathy began to frequent Missouri fiddlers’ conventions and coffee houses and began to become accomplished at the Missouri style of clawhammer playing referred to by the locals as “sling handing.”

 

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