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Tune History

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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes



A Midwest Favorite With
Lots Of Different Names

The reel "Dubuque," or "Old Dubuque," is a representative of a large tune family that began in the Midwest, although it is now routinely found in other regions. There are numerous (!) variants and titles, but most have the same general feel and the characteristic first few measures of the first strain. The earliest known sound recording of the melody is by William B. Houchens (1923), under the title "Bob Walker."

The Mississippi River city of Dubuque, Iowa, takes its name from Sieur Julien Dubuque (who some say was a fiddler), a French-Canadian who was one of the first white men to settle the area, which at that time was under the control of the Fox tribe of Native Americans and the Spanish monarchy. 

If you want a deeper dive into the history of the fiddle tune:

One of the criticisms we have all heard about Old Time music is that "All the tunes sound alike". This type of remark might come from a normally patient spouse who has endured a partner learning banjo and fiddle from scratch. Emphasis on the scratch. But as we all know, once familiar with the tunes, they are mostly identifiable and distinct. That being said, Dubuque and Duck River (from the playing of Kentucky fiddler John Salyer) actually do sound a lot alike - enough to where you probably wouldn't play them back to back in a jam setting. Are they two distinct tunes - or variants of each other? Remember that Dubuque, Iowa and Magoffin County, Kentucky are quite a distance apart. Listen and decide for yourself.

Dan Levinson plays Dubuque in a small jam setting

Dubuque A Fiddle Tune for String OrchestraPaul Hemmer
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