This week’s Tune of the Week is Big Hoedown, a nice slightly crooked three-part tune from the repertoire of the legendary old-time fiddler Edden Hammons. Born in 1874, he lived most of his life in the remote mountains of eastern West Virginia, carving out a mountain man’s living by farming, hunting and fishing. He died in 1955, at the age of 81. There are several nice biographies of Hammons on-line, including a reprint of an article from the Spring, 1992 issue of the journal Musical Traditions, entitled Edden Hammons, Portrait of a West Virginia Fiddler, and a fine biography from the Old Time Music site’s Old-Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame. Wikipedia also has a nice article on Hammons.
Edden Hammons with his son James on banjo.
Big Hoedown is in A Mixolydian, and was fiddled by Hammons in cross-tuning, AEae. The tune has three distinct parts. The Fiddler’s Companion lists Hammons playing order as ABBCC, but I have always heard it played ABCC, or perhaps AABCC, depending on how you count out the A part. The tune uses all seven notes of the Mixolydian scale, which has a major third and natural seventh; in the key of A, the scale is A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G (A). I have attached below the musical score, which comes from J.C.'s ABC Tune Finder website.
The University of West Virginia issued two CD’s of Hammons fiddling. Unfortunately, Disk 2, which includes Big Hoedown, is out of print. I learned the tune from Matt Brown’s “must have” old time fiddle CD entitled Loan Prairie, released by Five String Productions in 2006. Matt is backed up by the impeccable Paul Brown on banjo. I have provided a link to a sample of Matt’s performance of Big Hoedown.
Another fine recording of Big Hoedown was made by Tom Sauber, Brad Leftwich, and Alice Gerrard, on their first CD entitled Tom, Brad and Alice, released by Copper Creek Records in 1998. I have provided a link to a sample from that performance also.
I have attached below a video of my own three-finger version of Big Hoedown. The banjo is tuned in a G-Variant tuning, gDGAD, with the capo on the 2nd fret. I’ve occasionally heard this referred to as Willie Moore Tuning. This setting sticks more closely to the fiddle melody than a lot of my fiddle tune arrangements, and doesn’t cause the nervous seizures from other old-time players the way some of my more pattern based settings do. I play them the way I hear them. You can find the tablature posted on my website, in Tabledit and PDF format:
There are two fine renditions of Big Hoedown in the BHO MP3 archives. Steve Arkin, from Valley Cottage, New York, has posted a great recording, made in 2009, with Steve on banjo, and Adam Hurt playing fiddle, a real treat.
In addition to Bill’s there are a number of other renditions of Big Hoedown on YouTube. There is a really fine duet by two young ladies playing twin fiddle down in Tucson, uploaded last October. This features our own BHO member J-Walk playing clawhammer banjo shyly in the background:
I was surprised to find only one version of Big Hoedown in the MP3 archives of our cousins at the Fiddle Hangout, well done by David Bragger of Los Angeles, California. For that matter, there aren't a lot of BHO uploads, either. Let’s get on it, folks!
I learned this tune on fiddle this year after Chris Miller started playing it in local jams last year. Been playing it with Bill Boyer at our music get-togethers recently.
There's another good recording on Beverly Smith & Carl Jones' Moving Lightly Through This World CD, but unfortunately that one seems to be unavailable right now, too. Been running into that more often lately. Seems surprising in the digital download age, but it's got me into the habit of picking up recordings I'm interested in sooner rather than later. Coincidentally, Carl Jones & James Bryan were in Portland this past weekend performing a house concert and leading fiddle and guitar workshops. I got to play Big Hoedown with Carl in a little kitchen jam session on Sunday morning. That was a treat!
Great tune, Don, thanks. I really like your version.
I'm going to have a hard time playing this one I think. Every time I begin humming it to myself, I end up humming "Devil in the Haystack," which gets played pretty often here in Illinois. Here's a video of the source of that tune, Harvey "Pappy" Taylor, playing it in 1984 at age 90: YouTube. The A parts are pretty similar, but "D in the H" is just a two-parter, and I think is generally played square. This clip used to have more information on dearoldillinois.com.
I'll see if I can manage something, it would be good to have a few more "Big Hoedowns" on the BHO.
Don-great choice and some real nice picking on your part! This is one of my favorite Edden tunes & I'm lucky to be able to play it every now and then with David Bragger (youtube.com/user/davidbragger) on fiddle...David is an amazing player of anything with strings, but his take on this tune truly amazes me every time we play it...
nice Don...thanks...I too really love the version by Michelle and Mary Jane...I am inclined to give this a go and try to get my local gang to do this one...but my main man fiddler is not fond of cross tuning...he thinks only us banjar players should have to retune...oh well
Thanks for the great TOTW, Don. I'm glad you found and like my video of Mary Jane and Michele from Tucson Meet Yourself. Aren't those two amazing? I still can't get enough of that video. Believe it or not, Michele says she "was just learning that tune" when I made the video. J-Walk does a pretty nice job "faking it" on his banjo, doesn't he. That was probably about the first time he'd ever heard that tune, let alone played it.
"J-Walk does a pretty nice job "faking it" on his banjo, doesn't he. That was probably about the first time he'd ever heard that tune, let alone played it." yeah!...learning tunes on the fly and actually nailing them (or nearly so) that first time out is just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on
about this tune...it has a 2 octave range from that low, low A and then jumping up 2 Os...I don't hear any of my banjo brothers or sisters catching that!...though maybe someone will...figure I'd need one of them 6 string banjos to make it work....se la vie
I really enjoyed reading the biographies of Edden Hammons that I linked to above, especially the Musical Traditions article by John A. Cuthbert. The author notes that Hammons, unlike most mountain musicians, refused to “lay his fiddle down” and go to work in lumbering or one of the other occupations available to a resident of the West Virginia mountains at the end of the 19th Century, once he married and settled down. His marriage to his first wife in 1892 ended after three weeks, with her walking out on him. According to Cuthbert, “Family members humorously repeat Edden's alleged response to her ultimatum to quit playing the fiddle and go to work: ' 'Pon my honour, I'll lay my fiddle down for no damn woman.' “ His second wife, Elizabeth, was fair warned, and understood full well what she was getting into. His own mother was reported to have told her: "Now don't marry Edden, he ain't no good.... He won't make you a good husband.' But they married in 1897, and did not part until her death in 1954. Hammons passed away the following year.
Great tune! I was mesmerized when I heard it the first time a few weeks ago on Youtube, Bill Boyer's version, and tried to find sheet music or tabs for it. No luck. Just the plain fiddle melody. So I was really glad to find it posted here a few days ago. Can't help but wonder, does anyone know whether Bill Boyer's clawhammer version is the same as the three-finger version Don Borchelt posted here? I mean, they seem to be essentially the same, both are great, but the arrangement must be quite different for the two. Well, I don't know, I know next to nothing about clawhammer banjo.
Anyway, I'm new to playing the banjo. I don't even have a banjo, planning to buy one, but the shops don't carry them here in Sweden, not many anyway, and right now I'm waiting. In the meantime, I've tuned my guitar like a banjo, with a thin e-string for the fifth string. Sounds great. It's just hard to get the flow that I hear in the banjo versions, so I have to cut out some notes to accentuate the rhythm sometimes, since a guitar has a more mellow, sustained ring.
Great bio about Edden Hammons also. I really liked his reply to the surveyors when they looked for his moonshine: " *Pon my honor, if it's here, why don't you find it?" Thanks.
Mr Thomas wrote: "Can't help but wonder, does anyone know whether Bill Boyer's clawhammer version is the same as the three-finger version Don Borchelt posted here? I mean, they seem to be essentially the same, both are great, but the arrangement must be quite different for the two. "
Well, Tom, I played along with both Bill's YouTube video and his MP3, and the two arrangements fit together, we were both "crooked" in the same place, in the pick-up notes going into the A part, and both of our interpretations of the melody blended nicely. Tom does move along at a faster tempo than I generally do. In the YouTube video, he starts (and ends) with the C part, which might be throwing your ear a little bit. On the MP3, he starts with the A part. My three finger version is a little more melodic that Bill's clawhammer version, which is not usual for me, but it is how I heard this particular tune in my own head. By melodic, I mean that I followed the fiddle notes more closely and was less "banjoistic." There are melodic style clawhammer players who will do that too, but Bill is following a more traditional approach that makes good use of the basic frailing stroke, which is how he maintains that nice pulsing rhythm through the whole thing. I actually worked a long time on this trying to insert more rolls (what the three finger style patterns are generally called) into the my setting, which is more the way I usually play a tune. But in the end, I just didn't like the result I was getting, and so I stuck with the more melodic approach on this one. If I had listened to Bill's version at the time I worked this up, I might have tried a little harder.
Don, thanks for explaining. Yes, the rhythm is the problem. It might be just me, but I find it hard to keep a steady rhythm with the rolls, especially when you don't have the accentuated base notes that you usually have on guitar arrangements. Maybe I should try to work out a guitar arrangement for this tune. I love playing this banjo arrangement though. Don't have quite the hang of it yet, but it's coming.
Do you know if Bill Boyer has a tab for his arrangement? Would be great to check out.
Don, just listened to your version and it is pretty sweet, I like your 3 finger approach to the traditional tunes.
Tom, I got, and replied to your e-mail about whether I have a tab or not, and I don't, I haven't had any success tabbing exactly how I play, maybe because I don't always play the tunes exactly the same way twice...could be because as I age my memory isn't always firing on all cylinders.
Bill wrote: "I don't always play the tunes exactly the same way twice". Interesting. That's the way Bob Dylan does it, or used to do it. Otherwise he gets bored. Well, that's an admirable approach, but it takes some talent and experience to be able to do that. I'm not sure it has to do with a failing memory.
One of the things I love about the BHO is how often someone posts a query about someone they saw on YouTube, as happened above, and the next thing you know, that very person materializes in the thread, being a member here!