As the northern hemisphere days draw in, there’s the promise of the winter solstice and that first imperceptible swing back towards the light. To celebrate the season, here’s a blithe spirit of a tune from the Civil War era, recorded on a summery backyard deck, and posted in chill December in time to get it down and playable for Christmas.
(I was unable to contact the musicians; I hope they’ll forgive being fiddletailed without permission – it was just too delightful to resist.)
Get your contra dancing shoes on for this deceptively simple ear-worm of a tune from the playing of Kentucky fiddler Everett Kays.
Here are three versions.
Take 1: Everett Kays lays the tune out at dance speed with a stringband for the original 1973 field recording (now in the Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives*).
Takes 2 and 3: Seattle-based fiddler Greg Canote plays two slow teaching versions – first a music camp video; second, a slightly more uptempo audio track from the Canote Brothers’ Seattle stringband class.
Key of G, standard tuning on all three recordings. Choose whichever speed suits you best for tunecatching, and for playing along with once you’ve got it down.
Everett Kays (fiddle), accompanied by unnamed musicians
Bid farewell to sweet October with this beautiful composition by Anna Gustavsson – one half of American/Swedish duo Premo & Gustavsson, whose US tour I featured earlier this week.
It’s also a great chance to hear a nyckelharpa, the iconic Swedish instrument famously played by 18th-19th century master nyckelharpist Carl Ersson Bössa (Byss-Kalle), composer of last week’s Fiddletails post.
Premo & Gustavsson
Laurel Premo (fiddle), Anna Gustavsson (nyckelharpa)
Monday already? So what better way to start the week than with this breezy Old Timey/Ragtimey tune – originally from renowned Virginia fiddler ‘Uncle’ Charlie Osborne (1890-1992), who played left-handed on a conventional right-handed fiddle, and was famous for his fiddling from the age of 15 until his death at the age of 101.
First up, Adam Hurt and Beth Williams Hartness lay out a jaunty, fluid version at dance speed, along with some great banjo ornamentations over subtle fingerstyle guitar. The second video – a slightly slower rendering showcasing the fiddle’s double-stopping and dulcitar/strumstick fingering – is by Danish Old Time afficionados TheDeleuran Enevoldsen Duo, who learned the tune from a recording of Uncle Charlie Osborne.
West Virginia fiddler Rachel Eddy retitled her ‘favourite C tune’ – commonly known as Fourteen (or Sixteen, or Eighteen) Days in Georgia. There are many variations on the tune, so here’s just this one wonderful rendering from a 2016 concert in Peninsula, Ohio.
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.’
Andy Fitzgibbon teaches a lively 3-part, crooked Kentucky tune as played by fiddler William Hamilton Stepp in 1937. The fiddle is cross-tuned AEAE, giving that characteristic Old Time ring from the sympathetic drone strings. (More on Bill Stepp and cross-tuning below.)
Andy Fitzgibbon (fiddle)
Teaching video for the 2014 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School advanced fiddle class.
‘Fiddler Bill’ Stepp (1845–1947), of Magoffin County, Kentucky, was the last fiddler to be captured on disc machine by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax during their Kentucky song-collecting expedition. He was a close friend of fiddler John Salyer (see ‘Last of Harris’).
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!