Walt Koken

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Walt Koken (born October 9, 1946, Columbia, Missouri) is an American claw-hammer banjo player and old-time fiddler, who received the Nashville Old-Time String Band Association's Heritage Award for 2016. Koken was prominent in the old-time music revival during the 1960s, and continues to be a leader and mentor in the old-time music community today.

Koken defines old-time music as, “fiddle-centric and related music (ballads, etc.) from the Piedmont, Appalachia, the Gulf coast, central Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, northern Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and westward with the pioneers all the way to the coast.” [1] "Old-time music is for dancing and its songs are for lifting us above our burdens. Our music gives relief from the everyday burdens of modern life, and an insight into a simpler time, with a glimmer of hope for us all.” [2]

BIOGRAPHY[change | change source]

Family[change | change source]

Koken's mother, Helen Hawkins Koken Pickel, was a classical pianist and a beloved kindergarten teacher. Her family was from England before immigrating to America. His father, John C. Koken, was a math professor whose family emigrated from Germany. The Koken family arrived in New Orleans in 1850, then traveled up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. [3] By 1892, the Koken Barber’s Supply Company of St. Louis held two barber chair patents; one for the first reclining Koken chair and one for the first hydraulic lift chair.[4] In 1915 Walter F. Koken received a patent for the first electric Barber’s Chair. [5]

Music[change | change source]

Koken started playing banjo at the age of thirteen. “In 1959, my brother had broken his arm, and heard that playing guitar might be a good way to get its strength back. He got his old guitar with a warped neck and high strings, and started strummin’ it. I really thought that was neat, and one day he came to me and said, “Why don’t you get a banjo, and we’ll make some money?”[2]

Since 1965, Koken has played in multiple bands: the Busted Toe Mudthumpers, the Muskrat Ramblers, the Fat City String Band, the legendary Highwoods Stringband, and The Cacklin’ Hens and Roosters Too!. [6]

Currently, he plays fiddle-banjo duets with his partner and soul-mate Clare Milliner, as well as with Milliner, Kellie Allen, and Pete Peterson as the old-time string band, Orpheus Supertones. In 2011, Koken completed his multi-year literary collaboration with Clare Milliner, The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes.[7]

Discography[change | change source]

  • The Original Fat City String Band (1999)
  • The Highwoods Stringband, Feed Your Babies Onions (1994)
  • Highwoods Stringband Live! (2004)
  • Clare Milliner & Walt Koken, Just Tunes (2003)
  • Orpheus Supertones, Bound to Have a Little Fun (2004)
  • Orpheus Supertones, When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland (2006)
  • Orpheus Supertones, Going to Town (2011)
  • Walt Koken, Finger Lakes Ramble (1998)
  • Walt Koken, Banjonique (1994)
  • Walt Koken, Hei-Wa Hoedown (1995)
  • Walt Koken, Sittin’ in the Catbird’s Seat (2012)
  • Walt Koken, Slo-Mo Banjo DVD (2016)

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Sittin' in the Catbird's Seat - Transcriptions of Banjo Tunes from the CD, Walt Koken, Mudthumper Music, 2012.
  • The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes, Clare Milliner and Walt Koken, Mudthumper Music, 2011.

References[change | change source]

  1. Henry, Linda. Interview. Walt Koken Interview. 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Smith, Malcolm (2011). "Livin' old-time with Walt Koken and Clare Milliner". Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine. 54 (3): 60–65.
  3. Henry, Linda (2017). "Clare Milliner Interview".
  4. "1908 Koken Barber Supply Co. Manufacturers St. Louis, USA". Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  5. Koken, Walter F. "Barber's chair". U.S. Patents 1917. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  6. "last.fm". Retrieved February 25, 2017.[permanent dead link]
  7. Milliner, Clare; Koken, Walt (2011). The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes. Mudthumper Music.

Other websites[change | change source]