Category Archives: American old-time/traditional


A lovely variation on an old-time/bluegrass sessions favourite. I’ll be posting up the standard version later in the year – but in the meantime, caveat musicus: DANGER – this is the OTHER version!


Annie Staninec (fiddle), Luke Abbott (viola)

Annie is a major west-coast bluegrass and old-time fiddler, solo and with a number of bands. Luke sings and plays old-time and bluegrass on ‘a bunch of stringed instruments’ and is part of the brilliant Toneway Project that teaches music by ear online.

(‘Roscoe [fiddle and viola]’ YouTube video, 2:45. Posted by The Abbott Family on YouTube, 12 Aug 2010.

Both Annie and Luke have great websites with detailed information on gigs, projects and teaching:




Filed under American old-time/traditional

Last of Harris

Three versions of an apparently rarely-heard Kentucky tune, including a house concert performance, a teaching video, and the earliest known recording.

Plus, to finish, a cautionary tale: Last of Harris held a sting in its fiddletail for this unwary researcher.


Stephanie Coleman (fiddle), Adam Hurt (banjo), Beth Williams Hartness (guitar)

A lilting, closely-woven arrangement filmed at a 2011 house concert in Suffern, NY.

(‘Last of Harris’ YouTube video, 1:22. Posted by ‘banjolady’, 5.4.2011.


Andy Fitzgibbon

A great teaching video made for the 2014 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School advanced fiddle class. Andy notes: ‘Fiddle tuned GDAE. As played by John Salyer.’

(‘John Salyer’s The Last of Harris- Andy FitzGibbon’ YouTube video, 1:30. Posted by Andrew Fitzgibbon, 4 Oct 2014.


John Salyer

The 1940-1941 field recording of Kentucky fiddler John Morgan Salyer.

(From the Appalachian Center Collection, Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives. Hear the full Salyer recordings at:


And finally…

Last of Harassed: a researcher’s cautionary tale

A few  passes through Google turned up nothing about Last of Harris’s intriguing title. The tune’s origins seemed pretty obvious though. In my mind’s eye I could see it all: the ship’s stern, the gulls above the silver wake, the mountains of  the Isle of Harris misting away over the horizon as a Hebridean fiddler sets sail for the New World.

A poignant theme that deserved to be illustrated, I thought, and contacted Harris-based photographer Stefan Davies, explaining that the tune ‘presumably relates to the experience of emigrating to the US from the Isle of Harris’. He kindly sent me a wonderful photograph to upload.

Sorted – a great post for this week!

And then, last night, quite out of the blue, Google sweetly offered me a search result I really didn’t want to see: ‘Last of Sizemore’. ‘Don’t click!’ whispered my sinking heart. ‘Don’t go there!’ But I did. And read. And oh, – how could you be so cruel…

‘There are a number of musically unrelated ‘Last of’ tunes: Last of Callahan, Harris, etc. Usually they go along with a story of the last tune played by a fiddler on his deathbed or at the gallows.’

I fall on my sword. Blushing. But truth has come too late to press memory’s delete. For me, Last of Harris will always evoke, not poor Mr Harris about to meet his Maker, but Stefan’s image of the Isle of Harris – quite simply too beautiful to be left out.

isle of harris stefan davies Early morning just after sunrise (5.20 am) in May. Crescent beaches carry the eye further along the coastline to Taobh Tuath and in the distance Leverburgh. (© 2008-10 Stefan M Davies.)

(You can see more of Stefan’s fantastic photographs at



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Filed under American old-time/traditional

The Devil’s Nine Questions/Billy in the Lowground

For this very first post in my new fiddle tunes blog, I thought I’d treat you to something unusual that I came across while hunting out old-time versions of this week’s featured tune, Billy in the Lowground. And so we begin with a story, a riddle, a rhyme – and dance away into a tune played fit to charm Old Nick himself…

Anna and Elizabeth (Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle), accompanied by Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary (The Murphy Beds)

The Devil’s Nine Questions was learnt from the 1920s-40s singing of Texas Gladden and Mrs. Rill Martin, Virginia. Comment on Irish music forum The Session has Billy in the Lowground originating in centuries-old Scottish and Irish reels.

Anna and Elizabeth illustrate some of their songs with story-scrolls turned on frames known in the States as ‘crankies’. The duo is touring the UK and Ireland in May, in London on 8th (Musical Traditions/sold out) and 19th (Green Note, Camden). Check out their full itinerary on their website: The Murphy Beds are at:


Filed under American old-time/traditional