The final installment in our three-part series on contest fiddling offers “Cotton Patch Rag” as a “tune of choice.” By way of review, a typical competition requires a breakdown (or hoedown), a waltz, and a tune of choice in each of the elimination and final rounds (there could be as few as one round to as many as six in a big contest such as Weiser, Idaho). A tune of choice normally means any type of tune other than a breakdown or waltz. Rags and polkas are most common, but other tune types include jigs (especially in Canadian- influenced regions), schottishes, two-steps, and, in some areas such as Texas, even swing standards a la “Sweet Georgia Brown” or “Oh! Lady Be Good.”
A short list of the bona fide, sure-fire contest winners in the tune of category would certainly include “Beaumont Rag,” “I Don’t Love Nobody,” “Twinkle Little Star,” Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Jesse Polka,” “Black and White Rag,” “Herman’s Rag,” “Wild Fiddler’s Rag,” “Clarinet Polka,” and “Dill Pickle Rag.” While tunes of choice, by their very nature, can be more stylistically diverse, this list contains proven winners that will always make you competitive. They cover a wide range of keys and techniques such as double shuffle (or “hokum”) bowing and often contain modulations and jazzy chord substitutions. Although this list contains the hit parade of tunes of choice, you are likely to hear a selection or two in any given round that comes as a surprise due to the fact that this category offers more latitude and room for personal taste.
“Cotton Patch Rag” probably began its life as a simple little two-part ditty (Benny Thomasson of Texas once alluded to its having been played on the radio in the very early days of the Opry), but in the hands of seminal fiddlers such as Thomasson, Lewis Franklin (renowned in Texas for his brilliant rag arrangements), and J. T. Perkins of Arab, Alabama, it mutated into the magnum opus that fiddlers play today with its numerous complex variations and pronounced ragtime flavor. As is usually the case, my version owes more than a passing nod to Thomasson and Perkins. Growing up in the Southeast, I have many fond but frightening memories of J. T. basically kicking everybody in the contest into the next county with his legendary performances of “Cotton Patch Rag.” His technique, creativity, and utter mastery of the contest-style idiom placed Perkins in a position akin to a Titan, and his colossal talent found perfect expression in this tune.
I hope that you find some interesting ideas from which to draw in my version of this essential contest standard, but you should listen to every version possible in order to develop your own approach and stimulate your own imagination. We are all part of this living tradition. I hope that this one helps to take you to the bank.
A Winning Contest Fiddle Round Part Three: Cotton Patch Rag – Published originally in Fiddler Magazine
Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2