This week’s TOTW is West Fork Gals. I was surprised to find that West Fork Gals hasn’t been a TOTW yet. Looks like it’s been a topic in the BHO Sound Off! forum five times and has been posted to the BHO music archive eleven times. And for good reason. It’s a great tune!
I learned West Fork Gals from Miles Krassen’s Clawhammer Banjo book. I don’t learn tunes from tab much anymore, but I did for the first two or three years of my banjo journey and Krassen’s book is one of my favorites.
I’ve been really busy lately, so haven’t had time to do much research for this TOTW post. So I’ll just reproduce the Fiddler’s Companion entry for West Fork Gals and let others chime in with additional info for this tune:
WEST FORK GALS/GIRLS. AKA ‑ "Westfort Gals." Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; West Virginia, Virginia. D Major. Standard tuning. AABB. Known as a (central) West Virginia tune. Perlman (1979) thinks it may be related to the Irish reel "The Wexford Lasses" (both title and music?). Clay County, West Virginia, fiddler Wilson Douglas identifies the location of the title as the West Fork of the Little Kanawha river, in West Virginia, and thinks that influential regional (eastern Ky., West Va.) fiddler Ed Haley learned the tune in Clay County, W. Va. The West Fork is where "they used to have their big dances when (his mentor, French Carpenter) was a young man, back when they were logging," states Douglas, who also said that French played the tune in the 1920's along with one Anderson Dawson, who knew Ed Haley. Gerry Milnes says the river flows through Calhoun County, W.Va., and that there is a large, traditional old-time music community in that area. Krassen (1973) notes the tune is popular with fiddlers in the Gilmer County, West Virginia, region. Sources for notated versions: Fuzzy Mountain String Band (North Carolina) [Brody]; Danny Gardella [Phillips]; French Carpenter via Wilson Douglas (W.Va.) [Phillips]. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; pg. 288. Carlin (English Concertina), 1977; pg. 24. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; pg. 30. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 1, 1994; pg. 254 (two versions). Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 166. Fretless 119, Rodney and Randy Miller‑ "Castles in the Air." Marimac AHS#1, Wilson Douglas. Rounder 0024, "Hollow Rock String Band" (1974. Learned from Lee Triplett, Clay County, W.Va.). Rounder 0035, Fuzzy Mountain String Band‑ "Summer Oaks and Porch" (1973. Learned from Ira Mullins & Wilson Douglas, Clay County, W.Va.). Rounder 0047, Wilson Douglas - "The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek" (1975). Rounder CD 0392, John Hartford - “Wild Hog in the Red Brush and a Bunch of Others You Might Not Have Heard” (1996. Learned from Wilson Douglas). Shanachie Records 6040, Gerry Milnes & Lorriane Lee Hammond – “Hell Up Coal Holler” (1999). Tennvale 002, Roaring Ramblers‑ "Galax 73."
Last night I grabbed my trusty old iPod Classic with its Belkin mic attachment and made a recording of West Fork Gals on my Brooks 10L fretless to accompany this TOTW post. That’s on my BHO music page. But I’m guessing you’ll find better versions among those 11 posted in the BHO music archive.
Also surprised it hasn't been covered yet. One of my favorites, also learnt from Krassen's book and the Fuzzy Mt. album. The second half of the 2nd part has always given me a lot of trouble getting it clean and clear. Sometimes it pops out, sometimes...like mud!
Great versions by Scott and Travis! My recording is from a jam I had with fiddler Matt McConeghy, from Providence, Rhode Island, at the Fiddlin' Bear Old-Time Musicians' Gathering at Lake Genero Park, in Hamlin, Pennsylvania over Labor Day weekend in 2011.
Good choice, Scott. This was fun to play along with the leisurely pace of Don and his delicate fiddling friend. Using the cello banjo gave it a bass sound that's a bit different. I hope Miles Krassen knows how many pickers he's influenced. I hear he's doing well, fiddling regularly with his Albuquerque friends.
This certainly is a fun tune, although we tend to not play it often. I first heard it in the summer of 1977 when I and some friends took a road trip from Minnesota to California, up to Seattle, and back. At one point there were 5 of us (plus backpacking stuff) in my Corolla, but I still had room to stuff in the mountain banjo that I had made from a kit the previous year. In Seattle at a friends house I attended the first real music party that I had been at. They played "West Fork Girls," and I remember watching everybody's fingers go down the neck in the B part. I probably learned it when I got back home from the Krassen book.
I can offer two versions. One in the BHO music archives of the one-and-only performance of the "Goat Ranch Band" in the summer of 1980, with LyleK on fiddle, Valerie H on guitar, and me on banjo.
The other version from 2008 is on my personal site, and I double-tracked myself on the Gold Tone cello banjo and the GT WL250, just playing the same thing on both.
These days, Miles Krassen is playing just fiddle, and his version of West Fork Gals is slightly different from what I hear here. I know I recorded him playing it a few months ago, but I cannot locate the recording. I will try and remember to record him playing it next time we get together. Keep an eye out here for the upload. It should happen in a few days.
SCClawman - you sound terrific! Are you one of the "youngsters" out there who just picks up an instrument and starts playing really well?
These days, Miles Krassen is playing just fiddle, and his version of West Fork Gals is slightly different from what I hear here.
There are two versions of West Fork Gals from West Virginia. The one in Krassen's first fiddle book is a bare transcription of the version that's played the most. Looking around my house for the other version, the first one I could lay my hands on was Lee Triplett's version. I also found this other version, with Alan Jabbour on fiddle, on the Hollow Rock String Band vinyl (Rounder Records 0024) and on a field recording that Alan made of Doc White. I think that both Lee and Alan learned this other version from Doc White. You might ask Miles about the two versions, the next time you see him.
Wow! Great versions being posted by everybody! That's one of the cool things about TOTW. Another cool thing about signing up to do a TOTW is that it inspires you to learn more about the tunes you like and the sources you learned them from. Listening to all these versions of West Fork Gals got me inspired to start learning it on fiddle this morning. I decided to start with the Wilson Douglas version. This morning I found a good recording of him playing it solo on fiddle at the Digital Library of Appalachia. But I'm also a big fan of Greg Canote's fiddling so I'm also working with the Canote Brothers' take on Douglas's version from their Dogs in the Dishes CD where BHO member Brendan Doyle backs them up on banjo.
All for now (I gotta get back to work on West Fork Gals... ),
Here is my version, I learned it from the Krassesn book and still play it in a very similar way. It is a fun tune to play on my psuedo-Minstrel banjo, lowered double-C tuning, I think that puts it in the key of G.
Thanks Judy! That was great! Please thank Miles and the rest of the Wednesday Noontime Jammers as well.
Love the flute in the old time mix. My son plays fiddle in an Irish trad band that include a few old time tunes in their repertoire. It's always a lot of fun to hear old time tunes with uillean pipes, flutes, and/or penny whistle thrown in the mix.
I purposely focused on Yigal Zan's hands while he played, assuming banjo players might be interested in watching how he does what he does.
This little project might give me the incentive to do another - perhaps next up will be the two versions of Rock the Cradle Joe. We'll see what tomorrow brings, perhaps.
I liked having Miles tell a little history before playing. Do you Banjo Hangout folks like that as well? I think it adds much to the history of the tune, and you know, 50 years from now, someone might watch this video and learn something from what Miles had to say, in addition to what he played.
Nice playing, Arnie. I heard a few subtle differences from Mile's fiddle playing, but I don't always hear things correctly. Pease take a look at Yigal's transcriptions and let us know how close the notes are to what you play when time allows.
OK, when I first saw the fine TOTW post for West Folk Girls I pulled out the banjo and before reading any further dusted off what I remember of the tune that Dwight Diller and Bates Littlehales taught me about 15 ore more years ago.
When I listened to the YouTube examples provided in this weeks Tune, it was clear that I had managed to get things wrong, to recall parts and pieces of earlier lessons, so that I was only able to pull out of the memory some odd resemblance of the tune as represented by the TOTW.
As a result, I sat down and relearned it, and took a crack at it for this week’s TOTW.
However, after watching Banjo Judy’s delightful video of Miles Krassen and friends, and looking at the tab generously posted by Yigal Zan, what occurs to me is that my initial attempt to uncover the tune dredged up the Lee Tripplet version that Dwight pounded into my skull – I distinctly remember Dwight telling me to adjourn to another room in my house, where he was teaching a workshop in northern VA years ago, and to play the thing until I managed to get the cadence right. The moral equivalent of being assigned to a remedial reading class…
Dwight’s version, or a version of Dwight’s version, is captured on page 28 of his book, Yew Piney Mountain: Obscure Underground Clawhammer Banjo from Mysterious Central West Virginia (volume 1), no date.
It is instructive to compare the Diller version and the version provided by Yigal Zan. My crack at it, linked below, is closer to the Diller version, but departs from Dwight’s and tends in the direction of sometime a bit more sparse if only to keep it well within the envelop of my clawhammer capabilities. Yigal’s tab matches “the first cycle” of Krassen’s fiddling, and captures those fiddle nuances – which is clear from his great playing on that Banjo Judy video. Dwight plays his tune in gCGCD, key of C. Yigal has his banjo capoed up to aDADE.
Here’s my crack at the Lee Tripplet version on as banjo tuned up to aDADE:
In recent days, another West Virginia friend asked me what the TOTW was all about. I sung its praise, recommended that he spread the word, and fielded a question from this friend, who like me is now a card carrying member of AARP, having broken the six decade age barrier…
My friend wanted to know whether learning a tune a week, or even re-learning a tune a week, isn’t a bridge too far, given that we are well into our dotage now. I thought some, and suggested that it wasn’t really that much of a stretch, but on reflection I had to acknowledge that from week to week, my reach back to prior tunes weakens, and I end up needing to refresh my memory to keep the tune in my arsenal.
So, in effect, the TOTW, for us old time old timers, is really just learning one tune every week, but in the end it’s the same tune.