John Baltzell

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b. John Leroy Baltzell, 23 September 1860, Harrison Township, Knox County, Ohio, USA, d. 1940. Baltzell learned to play fiddle as a child and became one of the most recorded of the old-time fiddlers.…
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b. John Leroy Baltzell, 23 September 1860, Harrison Township, Knox County, Ohio, USA, d. 1940. Baltzell learned to play fiddle as a child and became one of the most recorded of the old-time fiddlers. Little is known of his early years except that he played at dances as a child - a practice he continued whenever possible throughout his life. In 1888, he married and relocated to Mount Vernon, where he worked as a boilermaker in the workshops of the Pennsylvania Railroad until the early 20s. He became great friends with Dan Emmett, the minstrel entertainer and songwriter, who lived in Mount Vernon until he died on 28 June 1904. Emmett, whose songs included ‘Old Dan Tucker’, ‘Blue Tail Fly’ and the well-known ‘Dixie’ (sung by both sides in the Civil War), and Baltzell learned much from each other’s music. Apart from his local playing, Baltzell began a wider career in the 20s. He won the Ohio Fiddle Championship in 1922, later adding the Kentucky and Indiana titles. He played on various radio stations in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. He made his first recordings, in 1923, for Edison in New York and later (unreleased sides) for OKeh Records, Plaza and Victor Records. His final recordings, again for Edison, were made in 1928. Out of 42 tracks, 32 were released, which made him one of the most released of the early fiddlers. He wrote some of his tunes about Knox County, including ‘John Baltzell’s Reel’, and regularly played old favourites such as ‘Turkey In The Straw’ and ‘Arkansas Traveller’. By 1930, like that of other early artists, his career was affected by the Depression. Although he continued to play locally for many years, he made no further recordings and died at his home in 1940. At the time of writing, none of this pioneer fiddler’s recorded work is available.