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Delicious Old-Time Stringband Music


Squirrelheads in Gravy

The Squirrelheads have played old-time tunes for contradances and square dances of the North Texas Traditional Dance Society and regional dances in Texas and Oklahoma for over 25 years. They've been playing together since December 31, 1991 when Joe and Ray found each other while jamming at a New Year's Eve party. During Spring 2019, they will be playing for an NTTDS contradance on February 16, 2019 starting 7:30 PM at the First United Lutheran Church in Dallas. First-time contradancer walkthrough around 7:15 PM.

Suffering from Squirrelhead-deprivation, waiting for our next gig? Squirrelheads in Gravy appears on two tracks of the ATLAS Resonance double-CD featuring the music of physicists working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN. You can download us in iTunes and help out orphans at the Happy Children's Home in Pokhara, Nepal. Head's up: the names of the tunes on our two tracks are interchanged.

ATLAS Resonance CD cover


Joe Izen got caught up in the old time music scene during the early 80’s after moving to Ithaca, New York. The WVBR Bound for Glory radio show and the Ithaca contradances provided a showcase for local talent such as The Backwoods Band, The Razor Lickers (with Horseflies, before they dropped the county from their name. Particularly influential was the clawhammer banjo playing of Mac Benford. By 1980, Joe had switched from guitar to banjo as his main instrument. In 1982, equipped with a Ph.D. and a Mike Allison copy of a Whyte Ladie banjo purchased with graduation present money, Joe headed off for post-doctoral work in Hamburg, Germany. While in Hamburg, Joe worked on techniques such as drop-thumbing, but most if all, he tried to capture the joyful sound of the music from Ithaca dances and jams. In Germany, he mainly played with friends, but made his first public appearance on banjo at the Blockhütte, a country bar in St. Pauli, Hamburg just off the Reeperbahn, about 20 years after the Beatles frequented the place. In 1986, Joe moved to Urbana, Illinois and settled into the old time music and dance scene in the Midwest. Two years later at a Swing into Spring dance weekend in Indiana, Joe plus a bunch Urbana-Champaign dancers took a band workshop together and the Saline Ditch Stringband was born. Within a year, they had a tighter sound, a much better name (“The Cradlerockers” after the tune, “Rock the Cradle Joe” – everyone in the band was a parent except for Joe), and they were playing regularly for the Urbana contra dance. Two midwestern banjo players whose playing influenced Joe were Steve Rosen of the Volo Bogtrotters and Dave Landreth of the Allen Street Stringband.

IthacaCommonsContra.gifIthaca Commons, 1982

Blockhutte72dpi.jpgBlockhütte, 1984

Banjo_CERN.jpgCERN, 2011

Joe hooked up with Ray Quigley to form Squirrelheads in Gravy shortly after moving to Texas in 1991. (Originally the Raynormalization Stringband, the band was renamed with help from former Squirrelhead, Gary Washmon, a fiddler in Denton, TX). The Squirrelheads repertoire are mainly old-time tunes from the the southern mountains.

When Joe isn’t playing banjo he is a physics professor at UT Dallas doing elementary particle physics with the ATLAS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and with the BaBar experiment at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

JoeInCavern.jpg CERN 2014 -- From Joe's ATLAS Cavern video


Ray Quigley is married to Martha Quigley who calls for dances in Dallas. When Ray isn’t fiddling, juggling, or chasing round the country to hear Bruce – Molsky that is, not the Springsteen guy from New Jersey, Ray can be found in his lab pursuing water transport. We suspect Ray’s working on recipes for kidney pie, but he says it’s all to help very sick kids with kidney problems. Since he’s a pediatric nephrologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Ray's bandmates give him the benefit of the doubt.

Our Name, Squirrelheads in Gravy

...is a corruption of the name of a fiddle tune called Squirrelheads and Gravy. It's a tune in the key of G denied by Chris Germain.

Ghosts of Squirrelheads Past, Present and Future

During the late 90’s another Denton fiddler, Gary Washmon was a member of Squirrelheads in Gravy until a medical problem temporarily interfered with his fiddling. Gary tells us he's been cured, but you will have to judge for yourself as he's mostly playing bluegrass music. Cornelia Izen was a Squirrelhead from 1992-2013, and Jess Izen was a Squirrelhead from 2003-2009. Greg Breiland and Leon Peek were Squirrelheads too.

When the number of fiddles in the Squirrelheads grew, Joe thought the banjo section was getting short shrift, and he made a pitch for another banjo. Joe's bandmates had a different kind of banjo pitch in mind. They told Joe he played so well that there was no need for another banjo. Joe is mollified for the moment.