Kansas City Rag: Fiddle lesson with Craig Judelman


In this lesson Craig Judelman teaches the classic Midwest tune “Kansas City Rag”. This tune was well known in the repertoires of Missouri fiddlers Pete McMahan, Jimmy Gilmore, Lyman Enloe, and Ray “Pick” Johnson. Judelman presents his own version here, inspired by the playing of Brad Leftwich and Dan Gellert.

Not really a rag at all, it is a fun tune for the fiddler that also happens to leave a lot of room for the guitar player. Judelman’s version uses a simple I, IV, V backup harmony, but that’s not the only option.

For instance, in the video below Kenny Applebee plays changes more typical of Texas contest style backup. (hat tip Jim Nelson)

The result is a quick II chord in the first half of the chorus and jazzy, chromatic bass line in the second half that adds a lot of variety. It’s worth noting that many guitar players “cheat” and substitute the C# diminished chord by just moving the C major shape up one fret and embracing the dissonance of the open G. But the real deal sounds better in most situations.

Support Oldtime Central

Support Oldtime Central

Support Oldtime Central

Here it is in action:

Here’s one more version from Charlie Walden with that solid Missouri groove.

And finally, here is Iowa fiddler Alan Murphy playing the tune as he learned it from Lyman Enloe.


  1. The “Missouri Rules” posted above may reflect the way Kenny is playing in the video, but those are neither the Missouri Rules, nor do most guitar players in Missouri back this tune with that progression. Kenny’s solid playing more reflects Texas contest style back-up than the “rules” I’ve witnessed in Missouri (and Iowa, Nebraska, etc.) over the past 35 years. Check out the guitar playing on the recordings of Kansas City Rag by Taylor McBaine (https://missourifiddling.bandcamp.com/track/kansas-city-rag), Ray “Pick” Johnson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86CiZzBrHPE), Pete McMahan (https://www.slippery-hill.com/recording/kansas-city-rag), or even Frank Reed, who called the tune Massa Bill (https://www.slippery-hill.com/recording/massa-bill).

    • Jim, thanks so much for your contribution and the links here. How would you describe the ways it’s played in Missouri for those who can’t hear the recordings as well as you? Just the added II chord in the second half of each phrase?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here