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Singer learned to yodel young

Guitarist/singer Dorothy Wehus with the Old Time Fiddlers plays, and yodels, to a packed house for the Town Hall Monthly Musical over Labor Day
by: Bob Schoenberg, Dorothy Wehus leads the band in a country and western classic with the Old Time Fiddlers Sept. 3 at the King City Civic Association. Town Hall.

When the Old Time Fiddlers play in King City the musicians arrive, tune their instruments, warble a few lyrics and generally get warmed up with an introductory jam by as many players as can fit in front of the microphones.

Individuals then take turns leading with a piece while backup musicians play along; they play waltzes, bluegrass tunes or an old country and western ballad.

When Dorothy Wehus stepped up to the microphone to sing a country ballad she played her guitar, sang the lyrics, and then she does something that not many performers do that much any more - she yodeled.

Wehus grew up in Minnesota, in the Red River Valley, which attracted her to the song of the same name, although the original song refers to a cattle-country river in Texas.

The Clackamas County resident and her husband joined the Old Time fiddlers in 1986 after she learned to play with a group, not an easy task, and sing bluegrass music during college.

'My husband talked me into going to college in 1982. He said 'you've got to get some schooling because if something happens to me you have got to have some schooling to fall back on.''

As a full-time student at Clackamas Community College she needed to fill out her schedule for one semester and her counselor recommended taking a music class featuring country, blue-grass and folk music.

She was thinking that it wouldn't be a too difficult to take the class because she had been playing guitar and singing country and western songs since 1936 when, at the age of 11, she got her first guitar. The college instructor for the class taught them the different chord progressions for bluegrass and folk songs and how to keep time playing together as a group.

That was a bit different from playing by herself Wehus said. When she was growing up there was only a few ways to hear music, one of which was to make it yourself.

'My cousins played the guitar. One cousin was six years older than I was and who played guitar, she would get us all together and we would play amateur hour (a radio show in the 1930s), and we would all pretend we were somebody on the Grand Old Opry (another radio show that featured bluegrass and country songs).'

Wehus became accomplished enough to play her guitar and sing for her family and from time to time she was offered jobs at local restaurants and bars to come in and sing for patrons, but she didn't do it.

So while at Clackamas Community College learning what she could about playing in a group, Wehus met the leader of a band named 'Fiddlesticks,' that played bluegrass music, and who was also taking classes at the college.

One day she got a call from the leader of the band who had an emergency. The band was scheduled to play at the Apple Festival in Molalla and three of the band members could not make it for the event.

In a bind and needing replacements he had remembered Wehus and called to see if she could fill in playing and singing in the band.

'I said I don't know if I could do all of the chord changes for the songs, but there was another guitar player with the band so I just watched him to see where he went (with the chord changes),' she said. 'And since 1984 I'm still playing in that band.'

Wehus not only plays with the band Fiddlesticks, she also plays at events held by the Old Time Fiddlers like she did in King City. She says that music has become a very important part of her life.

'I don't know what I would do without it,' she said.

And it was at the beginning learning to play guitar back on the farm that she first started singing as well as yodeling.

She got interested in yodeling after singing in a 4-H Club talent show and heard an 8-year-old boy play the dobro and yodel.

'That impressed me,' she said and laughed. 'I then started to learn how to yodel. I learned it from the radio.' And then she did just that, yodeling, 'Hi dee ho dee lady ohhhh.'

She said there are different yodels: a cowboy yodel, a bluegrass yodel and of course, the famous Swiss yodel done using a technique involving trilling with the tongue, which she then demonstrated.

'Whenever I got my work done back home at the farm (in Minnesota) I would go out under the trees to play and sing my songs. My dog would sit right beside me and every time I would start yodeling he started howling.'