TUNE Journeys

These are personal and historical notes about the tunes and songs that we have recorded on our Hog-eyed Man CDs. The vignettes include, and in some cases expand on, the words that we published in the printed liner notes for each CD. For some of the tunes we posted links or sound files for our original sources, as well as earlier or alternative versions, as we honed in on the particular recording we wanted to include on our albums.

Old world Music of the Southern Appalachians (2018)

Vol. 4 track list: Jack Wilson; Redican’s Trip to Appalachia (The Ironing Board); Cumberland Gap; Wounded Hoosier; Durang’s Hornpipe; Saline County; Kentucky Winder; Georgia Horseshoe; Marcus Martin’s Jig / Snowbird; Woodswoman; The Snowstorm; Juno Rye Straw; Grassy Creek; Indian Ate a Woodchuck; Rebel Raid; Spike Island Gals; Oldtime Grey Eagle; Downfall of Our House; Indian Nation

Tune Journey updates for Vol. 4 coming soon! Or at least soonish. :)


Allen Sisson

cumberland gap

Everybody’s got a version of this classic. Ours comes from Allen Sisson (b. 1873) of Fannin County, GA, whose repertoire overlapped quite a bit with the western North Carolina and east Tennessee fiddlers of that era.

Our recording of this tune features the seldom-heard combination of fiddle, lap dulcimer, and banjo (Tom Baker). Art Rosenbaum stopped by the studio on his 79th birthday to hang out, and jumped in to sing some impromptu verses on this one. Thanks Art!

Here’s a youtube link to hear Allen Sisson playing the tune at a New York recording session for Edison in 1925.


This Durang’s Hornpipe is quite divergent from the tune of that name that is played by many fiddlers today, though certain melodic and structural similarities suggest a common root.

The original tune was reportedly composed in 1785 by German immigrant W. Hoffmaster for “The First American Dancer,” John Durang (b. 1768). The folk process then took the tune all around the Appalachians, as well as over to Ireland (particularly the Sliabh Luachra region of Cork and Kerry, where a vibrant fiddle style shares many similarities with American oldtime music).

Bruce and Jason circa 1987

Jason picked up this unique version from his Celo neighbor and fiddle mentor Bruce Greene, who heard it from W.L. Jake Phelps (b. 1882) of Todd Co., KY, who got it from Will Segal (b. 1860s). It’s one of those deep, emotive tunes that tells a musical story. Here’s a link to Jake Phelps playing the tune as recorded by Bruce.

This is one of our stringband configurations, with Jason on fiddle, Rob on mando, Tom on banjo, Nancy on guitar, and Charlie on uke.


 HOG-EYED MAN 3 (2016)

Vol. 3 track list: Wiley Laws' Tune; Polly Put the Kettle On; Vance No More; Buck Hoard; Bile Them Cabbage Down; Hello John D; Five Miles from Town; Glory in the Meetinghouse; Powers' Patty on the Turnpike; Shady Grove; Rocky Road to Dublin; My Heart's in the Highlands; Old Hen She Cackled; Hog-eyed Man; Kiss Me Sweetly; Big-footed Man


WILEY LAWS’ TUNE

Manco Sneed & J. Laurel Johnson, 1970. Photo: Blanton Owen

Manco Sneed (1885-1974), a part-Cherokee fiddler living in western NC, got this distinctive tune from his mentor J.D. Harris (1868-193?), originally of eastern TN, who in turn got it from Wiley Laws, a blind fiddler who immigrated from England in the 19th century and was the source of several regionally popular tunes. (The tune may be a derivative of the Irish reel Maude Miller.) We picked up the killer third part for the setting that we recorded on volume 3 from John Harrod’s field recording of Manco’s son-in-law, J. Laurel Johnson, himself a fine fiddler from Atlanta, GA. Manco once played that part too, and it bears the emotive syncopation and intricate phrasing characteristic of his music. To our knowledge, no other modern recording of Wiley Laws' Tune includes the third part.

Manco and Laurel played the tune in the key of F. We like it in that key too, but for our recorded version we moved it up to the brighter and smoother key of G. Our pals Beverly Smith and John Grimm rounded out the sound on guitar and banjo. Below are our sources followed by our recorded version.


POLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON

Byard Ray of Madison Co., NC. Photo: Blll Boyarsky

Byard Ray (1910-1988) of Madison Co., NC, got the gist of this one from Manco Sneed; another that Manco had learned from J.D. Harris. Over the years, Byard’s version diverged into a few variants, which we arranged into a single setting for our recording on volume 3.  Jason's mother took lessons with Byard Ray when Jason was young, and Byard even put a rattlesnake rattle in Jason' fiddle to give it more mojo.

We consider this tune to be a challenging masterwork of old-time fiddling and have spent years trying to capture the tune's spirit, energy, and harmonic and rhythmic complexity. In our first attempt at recording it in 2014, it came out as a stately, dark, almost Irish-sounding march (listen below). We liked aspects of that recording, but ultimately decided that we hadn't fully grown into the character of the tune that we wanted. In the next two years, we each found ourselves going back to Byard's versions with fresh ears. In 2016 we had another go at it and this time we felt satisfied with the verve of what we captured live in the studio. Jason loves Rob's dulcimer arrangement on this one. For those keeping track, Jason's fiddle is tuned down one step (FCGD). Listen to the journey:


VANCE NO MORE

Bruce Greene and Loy McWhirter

A tragic air believed by some to have been penned by a father condemned for the murder of his daughter’s suitor. Our version for volume 3 was based on both the playing of eastern KY’s finest oldtime fiddler, John Salyer (1882-1952), and the starkly beautiful, unaccompanied singing of Bruce Greene and Loy McWhirter

Here's a link to a show in Athens, GA, in which we played Vance No More and Buck Hoard (see below) as a medley, giving Rob a chance to demonstrate his quick instrument-switching skills...


BUCK HOARD

A wild piece with an enigmatic title from Alva Greene (1894 -1976), of Elliott County, KY. For volume 3 we recorded it as a duo with Rob on banjo-uke, and that's how we do it live, but Jason played this one solo in the 2016 fiddle contest at Clifftop, WV. It was his first time at the festival. Here's a link to a video of the contest finals, in which Jason first plays Johnny Court the Widow (see below, volume 1) and then Buck Hoard. (The video link features all five finalists -- each one an outstanding fiddler who could've won the contest. Jason's two tunes start around 23:30).


Bile Them Cabbage Down

Byard Ray in Asheville, NC, 1978. Photo: Tim Barnwell

Our interest in Bile Them Cabbage Down was inspired by Byard Ray’s rejuvenating take on an otherwise tired chestnut. This was the first tune that Byard taught Jason’s mom in the early 1980s!

We actually recorded two very different versions of Bile Them Cabbage Down for Hog-Eyed Man 3 and had a tough time choosing which to use. One--the one we went with in the end--was a quartet singing version, with Jason on fiddle and lead vocals, Beverly Smith on guitar and harmony vocals, Rob on mandolin and harmony vocals, and John Grimm on clawhammer banjo. We pulled the lyrics from all over the place, including a new verse spontaneously composed by Jason during bedtime song hour with his boys. 

The other version that we recorded was a stripped-down instrumental take, with Jason's fiddle and Rob's mando tuned down several steps in pitch, and John soulfully plunking on fretless banjo. We loved that sound and it was hard to let it go, but ultimately we felt the album would benefit more from the oldtime party version. Here's our source--Byard Ray's cut from the 1960s with Peter Hoover--along with the quartet version we used on vol. 3, and then the unmixed trio cut that got away.  

And here's a live duo version.


Glory in the Meeting House

This tune has a deep and mysterious history, intriguingly chronicled by Stephen Wade in his brilliant book The Beautiful Music All Around Us. Like many, our introduction to this tune was Luther Strong's commanding eastern KY version. Strong played it for Alan Lomax in 1937, along with some three dozen tunes on a borrowed fiddle, after Lomax bailed him out from jail that same day (according to Wade). If oldtime music had a "Love Supreme" or "Kind of Blue" it might be this Lomax field recording of Luther Strong; in a single session he set a singularly high standard in artistry while also defining much of the still current canon for students of old-school Kentucky fiddling. Here's Strong's version of Glory:

Later, we were drawn to the slightly different take on Glory in the Meeting House offered by Strong's friend, mentor, and sometimes fiddle-contest rival Bev Baker (1872-19??), who was present at the Strong recording session. Baker played a couple tunes for Lomax, including a snippet of his own Glory setting: 

Did you hear that fortuitously timed and pitched car horn? Amazing. As with Bile them Cabbage Down (see above), during our 2016 recording session with John Grimm and Beverly Smith for Hog-Eyed Man 3 we put down two very different versions of Bev Baker's Glory. The one we didn't use features Rob and Jason doubling the melody on mando and fiddle, anchored by Beverly's rock-solid guitar work. It was so hard to let that one go, but for the album we ended up choosing an earlier duo take, with Jason on fiddle and Rob shredding the banjo-uke, which we felt better captured the wild spirit of this beautiful tune as rendered by those past masters. Check out both versions here:

More recently, we have continued our journey with this tune with the unearthing of a western NC version played by Osey Helton circa 1939. See Jason's blog post about the discovery here.


Powers’ Patty on the Turnpike

John Cowan Powers (1877-1953), of Russell Co., VA, was a brilliant fiddler who in 1924 beat out J.D. Harris, Charlie Bowman, and Uncle Am Stuart in a celebrated fiddle contest in Johnson City, TN. Later that year his family band recorded this unique version of what’s more commonly called “Wagoner” for Victor Records in New York City. So here is that original source recording, followed by our version for volume 3, with Jason on fiddle, Rob on mando, and Beverly Smith sitting in on guitar. On the web you can also find our live duo version.

Fiddlin’ John Powers at the White Top Folk Festival, circa 1939. White Top, Virginia.


HOG-EYED MAN 2 (2015)

Vol. 2 track list: Sal's Got Mud Between Her Toes; Calico/Lost Indian; William Reilly; Speed the Plow; Old Beech Leaves; Green River; Georgia Horseshoe; Happy Hollow; The Winding Sheep; Georgia Belles; Coal Harbor Bend; Byard's Billy in the Low Ground; Jonah in the Windstorm; Stuart's Longbow; The Downfall of Our House; Last of Harris; Indian Nation


William Reilly


Master oldtime fiddler John Salyer, of Magoffin County, Kentucky, was never commercially recorded. Fortunately, in 1940 and 1941 Salyer and his family made many home recordings of his unusual repertoire, which Bruce Greene brought into the light many decades later. This is our interpretation of Salyer's instrumental version of the Scottish ballad William Reilly, with Rob's dulcimer accompaniment drawing shades of inspiration from John Coltrane (1926-1967) of High Point, NC. (fiddle - AEAE; dulcimer - DAD, capo 4).

 


Coal Harbor Bend


An eerie piece from Manon Campbell (1890-1987) of Letcher Co., KY, recorded by Bruce Greene in 1977, which Manon’s uncle learned while going down the Kentucky River at night. Thinking he was mysteriously hearing the same tune while drifting past multiple dance parties along the banks, he in fact was caught in a slow whirlpool near Coal Harbor! Or so the story goes. We allowed the melody to drift a bit ourselves. Enjoy the ride. (fiddle - GDAD; dulcimer - CFC, capo 1)  

 


Old Beech leaves

Rob, Tom Baker, Carl Lindberg, Jason. Athens, Dec. 2014. Photo: John

“Old Beech Leaves” is a fun breakdown that Jason learned from Bruce Greene long ago in Celo, NC. Bruce got it from Sid Hudnell, of Lewisburg, KY, who got it from James Wallace James, an itinerant music teacher. Rehearsing for a dance with our late friend Carl Lindberg, we discovered the tune makes a fine waltz too, and so we recorded both time signatures as a medley for volume 2. This one's for you Carl! May the circle be unbroken. (fiddle - GDAE; dulcimer - DGD)


HOG-EYED MAN 1 (2014)

Vol. 1 track list: Apple Blossom; Bill Cheatum; Highlander's Farewell/Flanders' Dream; Far in the Mountain; Betty Baker; Pretty Betty Martin; Johnny Court the Widow; Last of Sizemore; Boatsman; Railroad Through the Rocky Mountains; Jenny Run Away in the Mud in the Night/Slow Buck; Flight of the Wild Geese; Jeff Sturgeon; Winder Slide; Hog-eyed Man


Apple Blossom

Elizabeth and Isham Monday

From Isham Monday (1879-1964) of Monroe Co., KY, via Bruce Greene, who long ago taught this tune to a young Jason in Celo (see Jason's blog entry here for more about playing Apple Blossom with Bruce over the years). This was the first tune we recorded for vol. 1.

Isham (pronounced ICE-um) is one of the old masters. He had an enduring, dignified power in his playing that comes through on every recording we've had the pleasure to hear. Though we'd truly rather listen to Isham than ourselves on any given day, our recording of Apple Blossom aimed to bolster and fortify the ancient, celebratory melody with some low-register dulcimer and harmonic variety on fiddle, while hopefully staying true to the dignity and essence of the source. Like Isham, we tuned our instruments low, playing in the key of B (fiddle - F#BF#C#; dulcimer - BF#B).

Listen all the way to the end of Isham's version to hear him chastised (or protected?) by Elizabeth Monday: "that's enough of that one ... you'll give out!"


Johnny Court the Widow

"For seven long years, Johnny court the Widder,
For seven long years, and then he didn't get her."

From Bruce Greene's 1976 field recording of Roy Bennett of Battletown (Meade County), KY, along the Ohio River. Bruce told us that Bennett was likely born in the 1890s. Like many fiddlers from communities along that waterway of commerce, Bennett played a number of tunes with a northern, Scots-Irish flavor. We love his tunes and have recorded one on each album (check out Stuart's Longbow, on vol. 2; and Kiss Me Sweetly, on vol. 3).

Other musicians, including Bruce Greene, have interpreted the melodic and harmonic structure of Bennett's Johnny Court the Widow differently. We love those other versions. Travis and Trevor Stuart's is particularly great. We did our best to be faithful to Bennett's rendering of the tune, though personalized with our own harmonic and rhythmic building blocks. Like Bennett, we recorded the tune in the key of F, but played out of standard tuning (fiddle - GDAE). But note that Bennett may have tuned GDAD.

More recently, we started playing the tune in the friendlier key of G as well. Jason played that version in the finals of the 2016 Clifftop fiddle contest, as mentioned above. (Jason played it with all strings tuned down in pitch about one whole step.) Our buddy Tom Baker has worked out a nice version of this on three-finger banjo, so maybe we'll revisit it one day.

Incidentally, it was during our exploration of this tune in late 2013 and early 2014 that we first hoped our collaboration could potentially turn into something interesting for people beyond the two of us in Jason's basement. 


Betty Baker

This one is surely an archaic beauty, learned from eastern Kentucky fiddler Hiram Stamper (1893-1991), with qualities of timeless knotted wood. Thanks once again to Bruce Greene for preserving this vital music in the late 70s. The few versions we've heard of this one all seem be in cross-A tuning on the fiddle, but we thought the earthy character of Hiram's setting was more suited to a cross-D approach, ratcheted down a couple steps in pitch to the key of B. (fiddle - F#BF#B; dulcimer - BF#B)

 

Hiram Stamper as a young man. Doris Ulmann Collection, Berea College.