An Old Time playing of an Irish tune by fiddler Bill Malley of County Clare, Ireland – first in a set with a stonking rendering of the upbeat E-B-E Reel, composed by Irish-American fiddler Liz Carroll.
As well as additional notes on these musicians and tunes, video-poster secondcousincurly writes a fascinating piece here on the importance of fiddle camps to American traditional music.
Originally a bawdy ballad, there are two basic versions of this Appalachian Kentucky tune, some more crooked than others. I love Premo & Gustavsson’s rendering for the hauntingly off-world sounds from their uncommon pairing of indigenous Swedish and American folk instruments.
This version of the melody is usually played in Dm, but here it’s in Am. Fiddlers generally play it cross-tuned*. Laurel Premo says of her gourd banjo: ‘I use a version of the “double c” tuning. The gourd banjo is a few steps lower from the standard banjo tuning, but the relationships on the strings are the same as you’d find in double C.’
Originating in the Irish reel known as John Stenson’s No.2*, this lovely tune has made the transition to a new identity in America’s Old Time tradition, where it’s mostly played as a mountain dulcimer tune.
Here are two takes by fiddler Rachel Eddy and friends: video from a yard concert (played first, followed around 5:10 by a stonking rendition of Dance All Night with a Bottle in your Hand); and a rousing audio recording from Rachel’s Stockholm Old Time session.
Rachel Eddy (fiddle), Kristian Herner (banjo), Bill Fahy (guitar)
*The original tune was composed by accordion player John Stenson, of Co. Sligo, Ireland. There’s basic tune audio on The Session here, along with information (scroll down) on its popularity from acclaimed Irish fiddler Kevin Burke’s album If The Cap Fits.
A great tune that deserves to be more widely known, this quirkily crooked melody was played in Franklin County, Kentucky, in the 19th century, and predates the better-known bluegrass tune that most people know as Billy In The Lowground*. The tag ‘Old Time’ was added to this version to avoid confusion with the later 20th century tune which had ‘borrowed’ the title. The origins of the title are widely debated online, with some relating it to William of Orange, others to Bonaparte or the Devil.
I’m posting two videos by the irrepressible Canote brothers Jere and Greg: a full-on concert performance at speed, followed by a slightly slower version where Greg’s amazing fingering is more visible. Then there’s an old recording of Franklin County, Kentucky fiddler Kelly Gilbert (1895-1991), who learnt the tune from his local mentor Lewis Goins. And to finish off, a slower teaching session audio from the Canotes’ Seattle string band class to help tunecatchers nail the tune.
Played in G, in standard fiddle tuning GDAE. Dots to this version are available on the great website Old Time Fiddle Tunes, and there’s a banjo tab here.
(*For the more common version of the tune, played Old Time style, see my very first Fiddletails post in May 2015 – Anna & Elizabeth’s great video here)
Slower teaching audio file of the Canotes and Candy Goldman playing, made for their Seattle stringband class.
For more tunes taught at the Canotes’ Seattle class, see Maya Whitmont’s astonishing archive of audio files and banjo tabs here
Greg and Jere Canote: find out more about the Canote Brothers, including albums, gigs, and the Seattle stringband class, on their website
For even more great tunes, see Peter Langston’s American Banjo Camp and other music videos on his YouTube channel
American Banjo Camp: 9-11 September 2016, near Seattle, Washington State. ‘87 classes, 23 scheduled jams, 2 concerts, 6 meals, 2 late-night snacks, and 2 optional sleep periods, all compressed into 50 hours!’ And it’s not just for banjos!
Red Tail Ring fiddler Laurel Premo wrote this beautiful tune about a stretch of the Paint River at Crystal Falls, Michigan. The Michigander duo play it here in a set with 19th century traditional American tune Rueben (Rueben’s Train).
Red Tail Ring
Laurel Premo (fiddle), Michael Beauchamp (guitar)
Video from a performance at the Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, June 2014
Another favourite tune title! This great crooked West Virginia tune dances satisfyingly across the fiddle’s range. It’s fairly straightforward to catch by ear, but the double stopping’s a whole other ball game, so I’m posting several versions to help people find their best way in.
In order of appearance:
A string band playing the tune at speed
Two wonderful solo fiddle videos that show that pesky double-stopping fingering more clearly.
A slightly slower fiddle/banjo rendering that may help mastering the basic tune
And a bonus track – a haunting experimental recording that sent chills up my spine.
Key of A (mixolydian), with the fiddles cross-tuned ADAE (for more on cross-tuning, see blog post Newt Payne’s Tune)
As always, although this blog is fiddle-focused, the tune is intended for any instrument – I’d so love to hear it on border pipes or hurdy-gurdy!
Let’s begin with a great string-band performance setting out the tune for us.
Stephanie Coleman (fiddle), Adam Hurt (banjo), Beth Williams Hartness (guitar), Kellie Allen (double bass)
Laurel’s retreats always need a pair of walking shoes as well as your instrument/s, but this one needs a torch as well! Fabulous teaching and playing in wonderful locations – can’t recommend too highly.
This week, I’m beginning with a story: acclaimed West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter talking about his fiddling heritage handed down by his father and grandfather, a maker of dugout canoes on Elk River, West Virginia.
In this fascinating 1987 reel-to-reel audio recording, Ernie tells his tale, and goes on to play one of his grandfather’s tunes – the jauntily crooked Granddad’s Favorite.
Ernie’s father, Shelt Carpenter, photographed around 1932.
The audio recording is followed by the video of the musical part of the same performance at the October 1987 Celebration of Traditional Music, Berea College.
And, last but by no means least, this week’s post is topped off by a wonderfully clear teaching video: Andy Fitzgibbon’s rendition of Granddad’s Favorite, as played by Ernie Carpenter.
You’ll notice that Granddad’s Favorite is a crooked tune, with extra bars when you least expect them. It also comes with two warnings for fiddlers:
In the recordings below, the fiddles are cross-tuned: Ernie Carpenter in GDGD, Andy Fitzgibbon in AEAE. If you’d like to try cross-tuning, you’re less likely to break a string tuning your two lower strings up to AEAE, than tuning your top two down a tone for GDGD, and then having to crank them back up again to standard/GDAE. (I speak from sad experience.)
And if you prefer to keep your fiddle in standard tuning, don’t try to copy the fingering in the video!
And now for our story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then Ernie will begin.
Here’s an old-time treat for singers, fiddlers, fiddle-singers, banjo players – or indeed anyone who loves a great tune rendered as a slow air.
The Blackest Crow is known as an Appalachian tune. Lyle Lofgren comments on its origins: Versions of this song containing references to glass breasts and superlatively black crows have been collected in both Appalachia and the Ozarks. Some of these versions are diary entries dating from the time of the American civil war. Written copies of the words and the existence of multiple tunes indicate that the song was spread by broadside or newspaper publication rather than in the oral tradition.
Current versions of the tune mostly derive from the playing/singing of acclaimed North Carolina fiddler and banjo player Tommy Jarrell (1901-1985), whose working life was spent on road construction.
There are any number of versions of the lyrics, though the tune is generally unchanging. My three personal choices are each utterly individual. Enjoy!
Red Tail Ring
Laura Premo (fiddle), Michael Beauchamp (guitar)
Michigan multi-instrumentalists and master harmonizers, with ‘old-timey roots, new-timey sounds’. (Fiddle tuned down to EBF#C# – ie corresponding to standard tuning, but at lower pitch, with the tune fingered as though in standard key of G.)
Melodic virtuoso solo performance at the 2010 Sore Fingers Summer School, Oxfordshire, England. Adam’s rendition is so clear, it might just be the exception to the old rule that a fiddler should never learn a tune from a banjo player!
Red Tail Ring: currently on tour, with an unmissable Old-Time Ensemble Workshop in Downers Grove, IL, USA this Saturday, 3 October. Further details of that and remaining tour dates on their website, along with videos and downloads of their CDs.
Adam Hurt: for more information on gigs, recordings and online banjo teaching, see his website.
Tommy Jarrell: there is a wealth of information and recordings online, including an interesting biography here, and a lovely piece on his first fiddle now in the keeping of the Smithsonian.
Every couple of weeks or so I feature a tune that's caught my fancy – audio/video clips of brilliant musicians playing great, perhaps uncommon tunes to learn by ear. Most are from the English and American Old-time traditions; some hail from other musical worlds ‒ Scandi, perhaps, or French. But whatever you play ‒ fiddles or frets, free-reeds or fipples ‒ I hope you enjoy catching these wonderful tunes!