4 March 2013


The Grinnell Giggers were a small string band - usually just three players - who performed near the Missouri-Arkansas border in the 1920s and 1930s. They were based about 700 miles south-east of the centre of the USA. Or, to put it another way, 500 miles due north of New Orleans.
These men were farmers and fishermen, whose hobby was providing music for country dances. Their leader was Ben Tinnon, born in 1890. He played the violin and also composed most of their tunes. His pieces were bright and simple, with two or three good melodic themes based on familiar easy chord sequences - just right for dancing and straightforward playing. Try, for example, Ruth's Rag, which he wrote in honour of his wife, Ruth. Click here to listen to it.

Let's get this clear right now: the fact that they called themselves 'Giggers' had nothing to do with playing gigs, in the music sense. Grinnells were fish and 'gigging' was a way of catching them (using a pronged fork). These men really were grinnell giggers.
The only times the band recorded were in May and November 1930. Together with Tinnon on fiddle were Melvin Paul (1905-1970) on banjo or mandolin, and Grover Grant (1897-1971) on guitar.  In fact they recorded only eight tunes. But these sessions, which took place in Memphis, have proved to be important and influential.

The tunes recorded were:

Cotton Pickers Drag (composed by Tinnon himself and probably the best of them all - with a distinctive and memorable second theme, descending from high notes)
Duck Shoes Rag
Gigger's Waltz 1
Gigger's Waltz 2 (clearly the same piece of music as above but there are quite a few differences of detail in the playing)
Plow Boy Hop (a fine piece by Tinnon)
Ruth's Rag
Sunset Waltz (Composed by Tinnon. Yes, a waltz; but it's a different from tune from the 'Sunset Waltz' created and recorded by The Mississippi Mud Steppers the previous year)
Uncle Ned's Waltz (a gentle waltz by Tinnon. It has a 'Victorian' feel to it, and there is some pleasant tremolo playing by the banjo)

A generous uploader codenamed Banjerholler has put all these on YouTube for our enjoyment.

As there are a number of fiddle-players among the present young generation of traditional jazz musicians in New Orleans, it is not surprising that that they have been attracted by this music. For example, there is the charming video in which Shaye Cohn is seen playing Plow Boy Hop on the fiddle (apparently for her own amusement), and other members of Tuba Skinny gradually join in. Click here to watch it. And you may care to watch a video I made in April 2016 of The Rhythm Wizards playing Tinnon's Cotton Pickers DragClick here to view it. For Shaye playing this tune with Tuba Skinny, click here.

And for Tuba Skinny giving a sweet performance of the 'other' Sunset Waltz - the one created the previous year by the similar string band, The Mississippi Mud Steppers - click here.

Of the three Grinnell Giggers, Ben Tinnon was the first born and the last to die. He passed away in 1974.