Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers were an old-time string band from Lee County. The band consisted of Ming on fiddle; his wife, Rozelle, on guitar; his brother, Troy, on mandolin; and caller A. D. Coggins. Ming (at times mistakenly listed as Floyd Ming) was born on 6 October 1902 in Choctaw County into a family that included eight brothers, at least four of whom played instruments. Ming began fiddling at fifteen after his father invited a string band to perform at a house party. Hoyt and Rozelle Ming, who was born on 25 April 1907, farmed and played small dances until they were discovered at a Tupelo fiddle contest and the Troy Drug Company sponsored them to go to Memphis to record for Victor. They recorded four songs at the Peabody Hotel on 13 February 1928, including the “Indian War Whoop,” a tune that included Ming’s imitation of a Native American war cry. Ming impressed audiences by whooping along with the drawn-out final note of the phrase so closely that he could stop playing the fiddle without changing the sound at all. The illusion so impressed at least one man that he insisted that Ming put the fiddle into its case to prove it was not somehow still making the sound.
Ralph Peer, the talent scout who recruited and named the Pep Steppers, was particularly enamored with the sound of Rozelle Ming’s feet tapping as she kept time on the guitar. While most recording engineers of the day insisted that musicians mute the sound of their feet, Peer encouraged Rozelle to stomp as loudly as she could while the band recorded. Although Rozelle felt that this spoiled the recordings, most listeners find it unique and compelling aspects of the Pep Steppers’ sound.
After their brief recording career, Hoyt and Rozelle Ming settled down and farmed potatoes and continued to play locally until the late 1950s. Ming was rediscovered in the early 1970s by County Records producer David Freeman, who had heard “Tupelo Blues.” Freeman tracked down the Mings, who were delighted to return to their musical career. The Mings played at the National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., in 1973 and recorded an excellent album of fiddle tunes, Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers: New Hot Times (Homestead Records, 1973). The Mings also played at the 1974 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. Forty years later, Hoyt and Rozelle had lost none of the unique charm and fluidity that marked their early recordings, and Rozelle’s feet are clearly audible. Hoyt and Rozelle Ming made a brief cameo in the 1976 film Ode to Billy Joe, and John Hartford’s recording of “Indian War Whoop” was featured in the Coen Brothers’ 2001 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Rozelle Ming died on 29 September 1983, while Hoyt Ming died on 28 April 1985. Their recording of “Ain’t Gonna Rain No More” appears on a 2007 Smithsonian Folkways collection, Classic Old-Time Fiddle.
- Eugene Chadbourne, AllMusic.com website, www.allmusic.com
- Classic Old-Time Fiddle (2007), liner notes
- David Freeman, Mississippi String Bands, vols. 1 and 2 (1998), liner notes; Tony Russell, Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost (2007)