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.)
A panoramic view from the top of Lookout Mountain, overlooking Chattanooga, February 1864, by George N Barnard.
The haunting Farewell Trion began life as a two-part tune composed by fiddler Joe Blalock (b.1854) on his return home to Mentone, Alabama, after he’d been laid off from the mill in Trion, Georgia. Joe’s great-nephew Mack Blalock (1914-1987) got the tune from him, and passed it on to acclaimed present-day fiddler James Bryan, his neighbour in the Lookout Mountain region of Alabama. In the 1980s, James added the third part that we hear in these two gorgeous renderings.
You can find more background on the tune’s origins and the Trion mill at banjohangout. I’ve been unable to find any way to contact James Bryan; I do hope he won’t mind too much that I’ve Fiddletailed him without permission.
James Bryan (fiddle)
Recorded at MerleFest, 1993, accompanied by Carl Jones and Tom Jackson
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
A great follow-up to yesterday’s Swedish tune: Anna Gustavsson on nyckelharpa, Laurel Premo on gourd banjo and fiddle, as they launch their new CD I Walked Abroad. This duo is really special – catch their fabulous concerts and workshops wherever you can.
I’ll be featuring a track later this week. In the meantime, here’s a reminder from an earlier Fiddletails post: Sally in the Garden
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.
Just a few places left on this first event in Laurel Swift’s 2016-2017 varied teaching programme – a multi-instrumental weekend retreat with the emphasis on developing ensemble skills alongside individual playing and musicianship. Expect dynamic, inspirational teaching in great company, fuelled by wonderful food and drink in glorious country settings.
Oh, and you’ll need to pack walking boots with your instruments!
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’).
Just a few places left on this amazingly good workshop with fiddler/composer/dancer Laurel Swift. Fabulous teaching, playing and walking (and food!) in an unspoilt Lincolnshire village – the kind of weekend where you play your socks off and go home feeling as though you’ve had a week’s holiday.
Don’t forget your walking shoes as well as your instrument/s!
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!