Dem Bones Dem Bones

History of Bones Contests

There is much to learn about the history of Rhythm Bones Contests. Today there are only two known contest events, one sponsored by the National Traditional Country Music Association and held during their annual Festival and Contests held each year around Labor Day, and the other held in Abbeyfeale, Limerick, Ireland as part of the 'Fleadh by the Feale' festival held each year around their May Bank Holiday.

There is a continuing discussion as to if the Rhythm Bones Society should sponsor a Rhythm Bones Competition at our Bones Fests. To date the answer has been no because there are two existing contests, and maybe more important, we want to maintain a non-competitive atmosphere where even beginning rhythm bones players feel comfortable performing on stage in front of peers.

In an article in RBP, Vol 8, No 1, E.J.'Bones' Jensen claimed he was the undefeated rattle-bone Champion of the World after he defeated Robert Wingate at Seattle, WA in 1927. Later, he was featured in a Ripley's Believe It or Not cartoon that appear in several newspapers in on January 26, 1936. Further research has not discovered any more information about this event (Could someone in the Seattle area research this?).

In RBP, Vol 5, No 4, John Hill is said to have won the World Bones Champoinship held in Austrailia. Then in Vol 6, No 1 there is a longer article by John 'Hillbilly Bones' Hill on the event. It was sponsored by the Variety Club of Queensland who sponsors events to raise money for underprivileged children.

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Abbeyfeale 2003 Winners

The All-Ireland Bones Competion is held on the last day of the Abbeyfeale annual traditional music festival. Dan Murphy, the event's organizer, in a Letter to the Editor in RBP, Vol 4, No 2, invited our members to attend hoping this would become an international competition. There is a good article on the event in that same issue.The inaugural contest was held in 1997 and won by Paddy 'Sport' Murphy. There are two backup musicians who play for all competitors. The ajudicator of the contest is a well known rhythm bones player and has included Mel Mercier, Tommy Hayes, Seamus O'Kane, Gino Lupari, and others. Executive Director, Steve Brown, won this event twice, and was the first American and first two-handed player to do so (shown above are the 2003 winners, Steve on the left with Paddy 'Sport' Murphy, Dave Murphy, and Paddy Donnovan.) Search the on-line Newsletters for many stories about this event and its winners. First prize is 300 Euros! See

There is a Junior Bones Competition and see RBP Vol 6, No 3 for a story on bones wonder John Forde. Executive Director, Steve Brown, has ajudicated this contest.

The winners (first place, second place, third place. RBS members shown with asterisk) are:

1997 - Paddy Murphy



2000 - Paddy Murphy


2002 - Paddy Murphy

2003 - Steve Brown*, Paddy Murphy, Dave Murphy


2005 - Dave Murphy, Paddy Donnovan, Steve Brown*

2006 - Gail Brayden*(first female winner), Steve Brown*, Paddy Donnovan



2009 -

2010 - Paddy Donnavan, Dave Murphy, Catherine Flavin

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Meschers at NTCMA

The National Traditional Country Music Association is the only non-profic organization in the upper midwest devoted to the preservation, performance, and promotion of America's 'real' rural country, rural bluegrass, and rural folk music. One of their annual contests is the World Champian Bones and Spoons Contest, and many RBS members have won this event as shown with an (*) asterisk below. The World title may not be appropriate now that the Irish hold the All-Ireland Bones Competition (see above), but it is a competition open to all rhythm bones players. Competitors must perform three songs and may have only two backup musicians. There are three judges whose identities are unknown to the performer, and who are good musicians though mostly not rhythm bones players. See Shown above are Jerry Mescher and sister Bernie Worrell, both winners, who are regulars at the event, promote the contest and teach rhythm bones workshops. Below is an updated list of winners as presented in RBP, Vol 7, No 4:

1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984. Unknown.
1985 Rick Davidson, Niya, MO Shawn Pittman, Springfield, MO, Bob Strayer, Lincoln, NE, Elmer F. Privia, Luray, MO, Max Cooley, Jr., Louisville, NE.
1986. Unknown
1987 Jerry Mescher thinks it was Don DeCamp*
1988 Don DeCamp*, Adel, IA, Jerry Mescher, Halbur, IA, Don Hill, Oklahoma City, OK, Bill Rexroad*, Hutchinson, KS, Jimay Krew, Grandville, MI
1989 Jerry Mescher*, Halbur, IA, Bud Mielke, IA, Don Hill Oklahoma, City, OK, Harriette Anderson*, Underwood, IA, Pat Le Clair, IA
1990 Don DeCamp*, Adel, IA, Larry Peterson, Omaha, NE, Paul Loy, Murray, IA, Margretry Herrington, Woodbine, IA, Forest Archer, Walnut, IA
1991 Jack Lear, Lincoln, NE, Larry Peterson, Omaha, NE, Norvin Thomas, Mondamin, IA, Gwen Meister, Lincoln, NE, Pam Bergnamm, Manely, NE
1992 Erik Smith, Hastings, NE, Norvin Thomas, Mondamin, IA, Harriette Anderson*, Underwood, IA, John Clayton, Brayyville, IA, Don E. Hill, Oklahoma City, OK
1993 Norvin Thomas, Mondamin, IA
1994 Matt Duncan, IA
1995 Don DeCamp*, Adel, IA
1996 Don Hill, Oklahoma City, OK, Jim Curley, Shawnee, KS, Jean Mehaffey, Holiday,. FL
1997 Jerry Barnett*, West Des Moines, IA, Jim Curley, Shawnee, KS, Bill Shewey, Cortland, NE, Janet Burgess, Hines, OR, Dorothy Frenning
1998 Jim Curley, Shawnee, KS, Don DeCamp*, Redfield, IA, Harriette Anderson*, ?????, Carl Bonahan, Omaha, NE, Mikki Schneider, Belton, TX
1999 Bernie Worrell*, Miami, FL, Don Decamp*, Redfield, IA, Randy Minor, ????, GA
2000 Don Decamp*, Redfield, IA
2001 Russ Myers*, Brightwood, VA, Walt Watkins*, Arlington, TX, Steve Wixson*, Signal Mtn, TN
2002 Yirdy Machar*, Denmark, John Perona*, Calumet, MI, Jim Curley, Shawnee, KS, Steve Wixson*, Signal Mtn, TN, Steve Brown*, Winchendon, MA
2003 Steve Wixson*, Signal Mtn, TN, Sadie Elliott, Lineville, IA, Carroll Gunter*, Wichita, KS, Jean Mahaffey, Holiday, FL and Bill Shewey, Cortland, NE
2004 Scott Miller*, St. Louis, MO,
2005 Bob Roscoe (spoons), Omaha, NE, Harriette Anderson*, Underwood, IA.
2006 - Contest cancelled due to not enough competitors
2007 - Contest cancelled due to not enough competitors
2008 - Unknown
2009 - Donny DeCamp*, Redfield, IA, Jeff Osthus, Harriett Anderson
2010 - Joseph Kooi, Inwood, IA (12 years old)

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