An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
16 February, 2010
"Indian War Whoop" - Floyd Ming and His Pep-Steppers
Set Two: Social Music; Disc One; Track Seven: "Indian War Whoop (Country Dance)" performed by Floyd Ming and His Pep-Steppers. "Violin with two guitars, autoharp. stamping and vocal sounds." Recorded in Memphis on February 13, 1928. Original issue Victor 21294A (41896).
Born in 1902, little biographical information is available on fiddler Hoyt Ming (who was mistakenly credited as "Floyd" on the original release of "Indian War Whoop"). He reportedly spent most of his life working as a potato farmer. Along with family members Rozelle (guitar) and Troy Ming (mandolin), Hoyt led the Tupelo, Mississippi-based Pep-Steppers. The Pep-Steppers performed at state fairs and local dances, before auditioning for producer Ralph Peer in a local drug store. Having passed the audition, the Pep-Steppers recorded four sides for Peer, including this version of "Indian War Whoop."
By 1957, Ming and his family had given up performing. The inclusion of "Indian War Whoop" on the Anthology rekindled interest in Ming's music and the band was reformed. The Pep-Steppers went on to perform at numerous folk festivals, including the 1973 National Folk Festival and the 1974 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. They also made an appearance in the 1976 film Ode To Bille Joe, based on the 1967 country hit by Bobbie Gentry.
In addition to getting Ming's first name wrong, the label also erroneously lists the instruments on this session as including a second guitar and autoharp, omitting Troy Ming's mandolin.
The mandolin is a musical instrument of the lute family. It is generally hollow-bodied with one or more soundholes of varying shape. The standard mandolin has eight strings in two sets of four (called courses). These can be plucked or strummed. There are several varieties of mandolin with as few as four strings and as many as twelve. The mandolin is descended from the mandore or mandola, a soprano member of the lute family that became popular during the fourteenth century. The modern mandolin evolved in Naples during the seventeenth century, and Neapolitan mandolins became standard throughout Europe during the nineteenth century. It was likely during this period that the mandolin came to the United States. In 1894, Orville Gibson - a self-taught luthier working in Kalamazoo, Michigan - designed the flat-backed, arch topped mandolins used in bluegrass, folk, country music, and jazz today.
"Indian War Whoop" is an energetic up-tempo number. It features the sound of Rozelle Ming's stomping feet (a sound that gave the Pep-Steppers their name). Rozelle had initially declined to stomp her feet during the recording session, fearing that the sound would get in the way of the music. Producer Ralph Peer is credited with insisting on the sound of stomping feet. In his notes, Smith points out that the sound of drumming feet is rare outside of religious music. This number is the second on the "Social Music" volume to feature the sound of the human voice. The voice likely belongs to Hoyt Ming, although the higher voice may be Rozelle's. In his notes, Smith remarks that the title "Indian War Whoop" was not indicative of any Native American influence, but rather "Romanticism akin to that of 'western' movies." Hoyt Ming's fiddling is wild and (possibly deliberately) primitive. A version of "Indian War Whoop" was recorded by the late John Hartford for inclusion in the Coen Brother's O Brother, Where Art Thou? The song is used in scene in which a mob is carrying off gangster George "Babyface" Nelson (Michael Badalucco).
"Indian War Whoop" is the last of seven tracks in a row to feature the fiddle. It is also the last of seven largely instrumental performances.
The Great-Minds-Think-Alike Department: Check out The Old, Weird America, another blog on Smith's Anthology. While my blog focuses on history and close lyrical reading (as well as my laughable attempts at musical analysis), The Old, Weird America helps give a broader view of the artists and the songs by providing downloads of other songs by the artists in question, as well as variant recordings of the selection. It's an excellent blog and is well worth visiting.
Behind The Shameless Plug Department: The fourth episode of the "Where Dead Voices Gather" podcast is still the most recent. It is my intention to do a fifth episode in the near future, although for the time being I am busy acting in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. As soon as I have more time, you can rest assured that I will do a new episode of the podcast. In the meantime, you can listen to this all-blues episode where you'll hear New Year's greetings from Lightin' Hopkins and Mary Harris, as well as Delta Blues by Son House, Willie Brown and Charlie Patton. You'll also hear recordings by more obscure figures like Geeshie Wiley, Blind Joe Reynolds, William Harris, and more. Also available on iTunes! Subscribe today so you don't miss a single episode. It's free and it doesn't hurt. Who can ask for more?
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Here's a spirited early '80s performance of "Indian War Whoop" by Doctor Scantlin's Red Hot Peppers...