Tag Archives: old-time

The Blackest Crow


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.

Jarrell 1Current 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.)


(The Blackest Crow – Red Tail Ring’ YouTube video, 6.074. Posted by Laura Premo, 2 Aug 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wRnDa7GdzQ)


Adam Hurt (banjo)

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!


(‘Adam Hurt plays “The Blackest Crow”’ YouTube video, 3.24. Posted by clawhammerist, 22 Nov 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lLnHq0fTBk)


Tommy Jarrell (banjo)

The late and very great Mr Jarrell performing the song under its other common title, As Time Draws Near.


(‘Tommy Jarrell-As Time draws near YouTube video, 2.38. Posted by derwoodblues, 3 Feb 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUa5ikrLPjI)


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.




Leave a comment

Filed under American old-time, Uncategorized


A lovely American old-time tune with a title suggesting Civil War origins,  often associated with  Ernie Carpenter (1907-1997), an acclaimed fifth-generation fiddler from Braxton County, West Virginia.

Make: NIKON CORPORATION Model: NIKON D1 Day/Time: 2001:01:08 00:26:26 Software: Ver.1.05 Desc: Copyright: Exposure: 1/200 sec - F/13 Lens: 28-105mm F/2.8-4 Focal Len: 105mm Format: 12 bit MeterMode: Multi-Segment ProgMode: Manual ExpBias: 0 Speed: 200 ISO Afmode: AF-S Color/BW: COLOR Compress: RAW2.7M FlashType: FlashMode: ToneComp: NORMAL WhiteBal FLASH Sharpen:


Andy Fitzgibbon

From the playing of Ernie Carpenter. The video was made for Andy’s students at the Wellington Bluegrass Society fiddle workshops. Fiddle tuned AEAE.


(‘Ernie Carpenter’s Gun Boat’ – Andy FitzGibbon’ YouTube video, 2.03. Posted by Andrew FitzGibbon, 8 Sep 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWfct6pXkAQ)


Ernie Carpenter

Fiddle/banjo duet, fiddle tuned AEAE. Ernie originally learnt this tune from family friend and neighbour Wallace Pritchard.


(From the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes on the great Slippery Hill  website )


Andy Fitzgibbon plays with the Iron Leg Boys, and is part of the New Young Fogies project co-run by Anna Roberts-Gevalt (of Anna & Elizabeth: see ‘Billy in the Lowground’ 7 May 2015)


Ernie Carpenter‘s fascinating family history is outlined on the Berea College website.




Filed under American old-time


Whiteface calfThis mercurial old-time tune was composed in the 1980s by North Carolina fiddler/luthier Joe Thrift, who named it after a favourite calf. It was first recorded by Joe’s band the Red Hots in 1989, and released on their album Ready to Roll.

A three-part tune, key Em (fiddles in standard tuning). Though it’s usually played fast, it’s not too complicated if you break it down – and it’s such a great tune to play!

Two fiddle videos: first Joe himself (audio plus stills), and then a very clear, slightly slower video of Rachel Eddy (who featured in the previous Fiddletails old-time post).


Joe Thrift (fiddle)


(‘Joe Thrift plays “Whiteface”’ YouTube video, 2.56. Posted by dbadagna, 16 Jun 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whqCepL6IlI)


Rachel Eddy (fiddle)

Note that Rachel has tweaked the C part slightly to break up the repeats.


(‘Rachel Eddy – Whiteface’ YouTube video, 2.17. Posted by Raymond Whiteway-Roberts, 19 Apr 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P8A22xGFv4)


Further help learning Whiteface:

The old-time database Old Time Frederick has a very clear fiddle audio file from Centralia Parlour Pickers, as well as useful multi-instrumental chord suggestions and audio/video links.


joe thrift luthier imageAs well as being a wonderful fiddler, Joe Thrift is an acclaimed luthier working in Dobson, North Carolina. You can see more about his violins here.







racheleddy guitar

Rachel Eddy is a great player and teacher of old-time fiddle, banjo and guitar. Watch out for her various workshops in the UK! Her latest CD is Nothin’ but Corn. (Also featured in Fiddletails post Road to Malvern, 16 Aug 2015.)





Leave a comment

Filed under American old-time, American old-time/modern

Road to Malvern

A lovely crooked ‘new’ old-time tune that’s becoming more widely known. The recording below is from the Stockholm session founded by West Virginia old-time fiddle, banjo and guitar player Rachel Eddy.

The tune was composed by another Virginia fiddler, Jim Childress, and named for his wife who was born in Malvern, Arkansas. Jim originally recorded it on the 2004 CD Turkey Sag with old-time stringband Uncle Henry’s Favorites. He plays it cross-tuned (AEAE), but it works very well in standard tuning too.


Happy Wednesday Oldtime Jam, Stockholm, Sweden



You can hear more great tunes from the Stockholm sessions at Bengt von Andreae’s Soundcloud page here.


Turkey Sag is available from  Jim Childress’s website, from Uncle Henry’s Favorites, and online, including from Amazon where you can also hear a sample of Road to Malvern as originally played.


rachel eddyRachel Eddy plays fantastic old-time fiddle, banjo and guitar, and is a brilliant teacher – sometimes in the UK, if you’re lucky enough to catch her. Her latest CD is Nothin’ but Corn.






Leave a comment

Filed under American old-time

Newt Payne’s Tune

This Tennessee old-time tune is simple in structure, but its chiming arpeggios are great fun to play on fiddle and banjo – and hopefully on box/accordion too, which I understand often don’t gel with old-time tunes.

Three videos featured in this post: one solo fiddler, one fiddle/banjo concert performance, and a link to an excellent teaching video.


Newt Payne

Fiddler and banjoist Newt Payne (1904-1977) was born on South Pittsburg Mountain, Tennessee, and worked most of his life as a miner.

DANCEDOG-001-CD__96094_zoomThe only recordings of his music are on a 2003 CD* by another Tennessee fiddler, Bob Townsend, who heard Newt play as a child. One tune was untitled, so Bob called it Newt Payne’s Tune as it was known as a Payne family tune that Newt used to play at dances. (See banjohangout)

* Old Time Fiddlin’ Tunes From The South Cumberland, available here.



Newt Payne’s Tune makes a good introduction to playing fiddle cross-tuned – a traditional feature of American old-time fiddling,with that unmistakable sympathetic ring characteristic of open tunings. All three versions below are in either open G or open A, so you can take your pick of which you’d like to tune to and play along with! (It’s worth noting that fingering is identical in GDGD and AEAE – ie, the same fingering works for the different keys because the tunings are at different pitches.)

Of course, you can still play the tune in standard tuning GDAE, though it will be more difficult to catch the lower drones, and the glorious ring will be lost.

(Note for the financially-challenged: It’s cheaper to play cross-tuned in A (AEAE) as the lower strings are far more forgiving of being tuned back and forth. If you play in cross-tuned in G (GDGD), for example, there’s a tendency for the top string to break once you’ve retuned it back up to E a couple of times.)

(See below for more information on cross-tuning, and blog post ‘Falco’/25.6.2015 for a good English tune to try cross-tuned.)


Katie Henderson (fiddle)

A resounding version in G (fiddle tuned GDGD/Sawmill tuning), recorded for Katie’s long-running, encyclopaedic New Tune A Day project.


(‘Newt Payne’s Tune (Old-Time) NTAD’ YouTube video, 1:24. Posted by Katie Davis Henderson, 4 Feb 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azM8ZMbR2dk)

Katie’s newtuneaday.blogspot and Youtube channel are stuffed with brilliant tunes, and well worth rummaging around in. She has also compiled a NTAD tunes e-book, available through her blog.


Stephanie Coleman (fiddle), Adam Hurt (banjo)

Adam and Stephanie weave their magic around Newt’s tune at the Sore Fingers Summer School, Oxfordshire, UK, April 2010. (Love that quirky bass line!) Key: G (GDGD/Sawmill tuning)


(‘Stephanie Coleman and Adam Hurt play “Newt Payne’s Tune”’ YouTube video, 2.53. Posted by clawhammerist, 23 Nov 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOD8f3BiL_U)

Click for more information on Stephanie Coleman and Adam Hurt. (Adam will be teaching banjo at American Banjo Camp 2015, 11-13 September, at the stunning Fort Flagler State Park, Nordland, Washington State.)


Sophie Enloe (fiddle), Maggie Lind (banjo), Patrick Lind (guitar)

A really clear and well-paced teaching video here, produced by a trio of tutors from the Portland Old Time Stringband Class. (I’ll embed the video once I’ve received full permissions from all players). Key: A (AEAE/cross-tuned).

Fingering note: unlike standard tuning, the fingering here plays the same notes (an octave apart) on both pairs of strings. (It’s worth noting that fingering is identical in GDGD and AEAE – ie, the same fingering plays in different keys because the tunings are at different pitches.)

The Portland Old Time Stringband Class YouTube channel habibanola has many old-time videos, with more accessible via their website neighborlymusic.net.


So you thought you could play violin…? – cross-tunings for those hell-bent on going over to the dark side:

From Wikipedia’s excellent page on cross-tuning:

FCGD = Cajun Tuning (one whole step down from GDAE)

GDGB = Open G Tuning

GDGD = Sawmill Tuning or “Cross G”

GDAD = “Gee-Dad”

DDAD = Dead Man’s Tuning, or Open D Tuning, or Bonaparte’s Retreat Tuning, or “Dee-Dad”

ADAE = High Bass Tuning, Old-Timey D Tuning

AEAE = Cross Tuning, “Cross A”, “High Bass, High Counter” (or “High Bass, High Tenor”), Cross Chord; similar to Sawmill Tuning

AEAC♯ = Black Mountain Rag Tuning, Calico Tuning, Open A Tuning, or Drunken Hiccups Tuning

AEAD for Old Sledge, Silver Lake

EDAE for Glory in the Meeting House

EEAE for Get up in the Cool

(Reproduced under Creative Commons license)

See also:

http://www.stringband.mossyroof.com/ (tunes taught at Greg and Jere Canote’s Seattle string band classes









Filed under American old-time/modern

Silver Strands

A delightfully almost-danceable crooked Kentucky tune that repeats across the whole fiddle range.


fhofstepp2William Hamilton Stepp (1845-1947) recorded the tune in 1937 for the Library of Congress – the last of the Kentucky fiddlers to be captured on disc machine by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax during their Kentucky song-collecting expedition. ‘Fiddler Bill’ Stepp was a close friend of fiddler John Salyer (see ‘Last of Harris’, 22 May 2015).




Andy Fitzgibbon

Andy’s teaching video for the 2014 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. Standard tuning GDAE.

Andy notes: ‘As played by William Hamilton Stepp for the Library of Congress in 1937.’


(‘William Stepp’s Silver Strands – Andy FitzGibbon’ YouTube video, 2.55. Posted by Andrew Fitzgibbon, 4 Oct 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTwmXpKrBbk)


Andy Fitzgibbon plays with the Iron Leg Boys, and is part of the New Young Fogies project co-run by Anna Roberts-Gevalt (of Anna & Elizabeth: see ‘Billy in the Lowground’ 7 May 2015)


Filed under American old-time/traditional


Perhaps my favourite tune in the whole wide, sky-filled world.

Paul James’s wild rant*, named for falcons, whirls and tumbles and jinks like the Red Kites I watched playing on the Ridgeway thermals near Monks Risborough one summer evening.

Two videos: the first, dancetastic band Blowzabella recording the tune for their album Strange News; the second, Paul’s teaching video.



Several of the band’s musicians are multi-instrumentalists. The line-up here is:

Andy Cutting (triangle), Jo Freya (bass clarinet), Paul James (bagpipes), Gregory Jolivet (hurdy-gurdy), Dave Shepherd (violin), Barn Stradling (acoustic bass guitar), Jon Swayne (bagpipes)

(‘Blowzabella recording in France 2013’ Youtube video, 4:54. Posted by Paul James, 21 Aug 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhfrhJWR_AE)


Paul James

Paul teaching Falco on border pipes, fast and slow; first in F, then in G from 4:38.

(Note to fiddlers: I like to play this tuned GDGD – gets a little of that pipes/gurdy drone sound. However, E strings don’t last long with all that tuning back up again, so if you want to play cross-tuned, perhaps best to use AEAE, and stick to standard tuning if you want to play along with Paul’s pipes or other non A-friendly instrument.)

(‘Paul James of Blowzabella playing the tune “Falco” on border bagpipes’ YouTube video, 8:58. Posted by Paul James, 28 Nov 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aICsx8Ig820)

* Rant: a dance with a rhythmic, percussive step (not someone having a right go on social-media!)


For more information on Blowzabella’s gigs, recordings etc – and the fantastic all-dancing, all-playing Blowzabella Days:




More samples from their many CDs are available on YouTube, Soundcloud, Napster, Google Play, etc


Leave a comment

Filed under English folk/modern

Jackson’s Shaving Brush

This candidate for my Best Title Ever award dates from about 1800. It’s played here in a set with Wedding Shoes.



Becky Price (accordion), Miranda Rutter (fiddle, viola), Matthew Coatsworth (fiddle, viola)

Boldwood’s core repertoire stems from forgotten tunes played back into life from obscure manuscripts dating largely from 18th century England – a wondrous musical era when, their website says, “the worlds of folk and classical music happily co-existed and inspired each other to produce rich and fascinating instrumental music”.

This recording is from the group’s 2012 unreleased second album Mudlarking, available on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/boldwood)



They have a new EP out, full of wonderfully earwormy tunes; and their first CD, the dance-inducing Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now, is a real treat. For details of how to get your hands on a copy, see their website: http://www.boldwood.org


Boldwood-Dancing-Master-front-cover-300x210The dots for Jackson’s Shaving Brush can be found in The Boldwood Dancing Master – a musical treasure-trove of over 70 tunes available from the website. The cover photo alone taught me things I didn’t know about all those Austen balls: next time I’m in Oxford, in the Ashmolean, I’ll tear myself away from my old friends the Stradivarius guitar and Powhatan’s Mantle and the mediaeval bishops’ rings, and make the acquaintance of Dance Fan for the Year 1789!


Leave a comment

Filed under English folk/traditional