Mr. Wood Brown

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Mr. Wood Brown - Champion Fiddler of Monroe County

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Champion Fiddler of Monroe County

 Source: The entertaining newspaper articles that follow are from the collection of Don Duvall (donduvall@direcway.com).  Some articles are dated but the original newspaper titles are unknown. 

Dec 1921: “One of the largest audiences ever seen in a Paris theatre sat Thursday evening through an hours fiddling by musicians of the old school – men who have spent many a painstaking year in laboriously picking out by ear, here a chord and there a little tune on their instruments in order that the pleasure loving portion of the neighborhood population might enjoy the relation and merriment incident to an old fashioned “hoe down” or a country square dance.  This was a real country contest – one in which men of elderly years and ancient fiddlers were entered from all sections of rural Monroe County and one to which partisans of the “sawdust artist musician” from all parts of the country came.    

Wood Brown, a farmer living southwest of Paris, fiddled through the contest to place as winner of the gold medal given by the theatre management as first prize.  Lute Rigey (sic), also a farmer, of south of Madison, came in for second and John Lewellen of Florida, took third.  Second prize was a gold meal and third a silver one. 

The setting arranged, as inside scene of a log cabin, with a fireplace, drying skins, a musket and other articles with which our pioneer ancestors were wont to adorn their dwellings, was an ideal one for all the picturesque fiddlers as they sat grouped in a semi-circle about an open fireplace or came forward one by one to raise their fiddles to their shoulders and saw out “The Lost Indian” or “The Arkansas Traveler,” furiously chewing their tobacco in unison with the sounds of their instruments and the tap, tap, tap of their feet beating out the time.

 Brown, winner of the contest, is 54 years old, a farmer and has been fiddling for 46 years, since he was eight, learning to play on an instrument made from a gourd.  All his playing, as was that of most of the other contestants, is by ear.  The instrument on which Brown played is a Sweitzer, made in Switzerland, of which fact he is very proud.  It is fifty years old.  The first tune he learned to play was “Negro on the Road to Kansas.”  The three selections which Brown played were “The Lost Indian,” “The Arkansas Traveler,” and “Leather Breeches.”  The selection which brought down the house was “The Lost Indian” played as only Brown can play it and interspersed here and there with the call of a lost Indian brave.

Lute Riley, was the winner of the gold medal given for second place in the fiddlers contest held at the Paris Opera House last Thursday evening.  Lute is a farmer, 45 years old and has been fiddling for 16 years.  He learned to play under singular circumstances.  During a period of convalescence following an attach of sickness when he was 29, a neighbor brought over an old fiddle telling him to while away his time picking out tunes on it.  From this beginning, Riley’s musical education has advanced until now he is rated with the best fiddlers in the country.  Riley owns the oldest fiddle played in the contest, his instrument being over 100 years old, with a history dating back through his grandfathers time to an old darky from whom the latter bought it and who did not its real age nor its make. 

John Lewellen, better known as “Uncle John,” from the little village of Florida, was the oldest fiddler in the contest held at the Opera House several weeks ago.  Lewellen in three score and ten, with grayed hair and eye-sight and hearing slightly impaired.  Lewellen is yet among the first fiddlers of the county, and is still and healthy, despite a life of hard work.  Lewellen, born in Hannibal, has been fiddling for 60 years learning from an old violin maker in Hannibal.  The fiddle on which he played is over 40 years old and Lewellen, after the death of his wife when he was 32, took up his residence in a small house mounted on sled runners which he moved from place to place as he wished, following his trade of carpenter and “Jack of All Trades,” as a sign over his door post stated.  For the last 4 years he has lived in the little village of Florida, just across the street from the house in which Mark Twain was born, eking out a living by fashioning Mark Twain souvenirs from bits of wood salvaged from a lean-to which was torn from the house of Twain’s birth recently.”

 Dec 27, 1921: “Old Time Fiddlers ‘Hit ‘Er Up’ On Forefathers Tunes – Hundreds of Feet Thump Floor at Paris Open House – ‘Chaw’ of Tobacco Takes Place of Baton – Contestants’ Jaws Keep Time – Winner Learned to Play Gourd – Another Was Papal of Ole Ball.”

Special to Monitor-Index.  

Paris, Mo., December 27.  – Who of you ever attended an old fiddlers’ contest and listened to some of the old time “hit ‘er up” on the tunes your forefathers delighted in?  What one of you is there who does not know the joy that comes in watching and listening to an aggregation of men of the old school of musicians as they struggle with “fiddle and bow” to prove to an audience their prowess and skill? 

The largest audience ever seen in a Paris, Mo., theatre sat spellbound Thursday evening through an hour’s fiddling by just such old time musicians – men who have spent many a painstaking year in laborious picking out by ear here a chord there a little tune on their instruments in order that the pleasure loving portion of their neighborhood population might enjoy relaxation and merriment incident to an old fashioned “hoe down” or a community county square dance. 

Was a Real Contest. 

No such contest as that held Thursday evening at the Opera House in Paris had ever been held in Monroe County.  To be sure, there have been old fiddlers contest during recent years but all have been township or community affairs and the decision of the judges (had) in most cases depended on the previous reputation the fiddlers have made for themselves.  This was a real county contest.  One is which men of elderly years and ancient fiddlers were entered from all sections of our music loving little county, and one to which partisans of the “sawdust artist musician” from every neighborhood in the county came.  Never was there such a representative crowd from various county neighborhoods assembled in one place in the county.   

Wood Brown Wins.

Wood Brown, a farmer living southwest of Paris, fiddled through the contest to a place as winner of the gold medal given by the theatre management as first prize.  Lute Riley, also a farmer, of south of Madison, came in for second and John Lewellen of Florida, sometimes called “Uncle John,” took third.  Second prize was a gold medal and third prize a silver one.  Never was there such an aggregation of fiddling artists at one place in Monroe county, all but one of the five entered being veterans of many years standing and with reputations for fiddling that would be heard to beat anywhere in Missouri.    The setting arranged, an inside scene of a log cabin with a fireplace drying skins, a musket and other articles with which our pioneer ancestors were wont to adorn their dwellings, was an ideal one for the picturesque fiddlers as they sat grouped in a semi-circle around a log fire or came forward one by one to raise their fiddles to their should, and saw out “The Lost Indian” or “The Arkansas Traveler,” furiously chewing their tobacco in unison with the sound of their instruments and the tap, tap, tap of their feet beating out the time.  

Feet Get Busy.

As each one went to the front and took his seat or remained standing to play, applause shook the building, and as the music progressed, a rhythmical tap, tap, tap form hundreds of pairs of feet in the audience, keeping time with that of the fiddler, vibrated through the building from roof to foundation.  The audience sat forward on seat edges, straining to catch and interpret ever least harmonious sound.  Old fiddlers strained toward the actor in an effort to get the technique and interpret the touch that could ring out such music as had never been heard from a local fiddle and bow before.  (rest of article missing)

 1967: “Surprise Birthday Supper”

“Neighbors and friends gathered at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wood Brown Sunday night in honor of Uncle Wood’s 67th birthday, each bringing lovely baskets of delicious food.  It was a complete surprise, but a very welcome one to Uncle Wood.  Those present were: Harold Rouse and wife, E.S. Deaver, Clarence Robinson, wife and son, Roy Maxey and wife, Mrs. Will Grimes, Ed Hill, Wilbur Conley, wife and daughter, Tom Curtright and wife, Frank Young and family, Raymond Young and wife, John Rouse and family, Mrs. Dennis Young and family, Mrs. Ben Houchins and family, Harwood Willis, Bart White, wife and son, Harry Brown, wife and daughter.  Everyone had a fine time and left wishing Uncle Wood many more happy birthdays.”

 “Wood Brown Injured”

 (Abt 1983): Wood Brown, 83 year old champion fiddler of southwest of Paris, was taken for treatment to McCormick hospital in Moberly Saturday, after his son, Bill, had a car from the garage and knocked him down.  Both Brown and his son thought Mr. Brown was standing out of the way of the backing vehicle.  Six ribs were fractured, but the car did not run over him, and he was not otherwise injured.  His condition was reported as satisfactory.”