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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tune of the week for Nov. 20, 2009: Jeff Sturgeon

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

lori nitzel - Posted - 11/20/2009:  12:53:35

Hey everyone! Tune o’ the Week time is here! And woohoo, I’m not late. :)

So…my pick for this lovely mid-November week is…


I first heard this perfectly crooked tune in a jam at the Bluff Country Gathering in MN last year. A banjo player was rippin’ it up something awesome. I loved it so I went home and figured it out…with the help (I know, I’m such a cheater) of Dan Levenson’s Festival Tunes book.

**So yes, for the post skimmers: look for tab in Dan Levenson’s Old-Time Festival Tunes book!**

I was excited to research this tune because every time I play it I get this strange visual of a fish named Jeff.

Brad Leftwich, in his “Learn to Play Old-Time Fiddle” DVD, says that this tune is from John Salyer (Eastern Kentucky) and sure enough, a google produced this fine recording from the Digital Library of Appalachia (recorded in 1940-1941):

**Note how he plays the C part 3x in the middle and again at the end of the recording :) - I like!

I also found the following annotation in “Old-time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes” (Jeff Todd Titon) after a transcription of the tune:

“…Salyer, the sole source musician for this tune, played a number of rare, local tunes in AEae with mixolydian melodic flavor. He learned it from Bob Johnson of Johnson County, KY. Jeff Sturgeon taught Johnson how to play fiddle (Bruce Greene, personal communication). This setting has a well-developed A part and an unusual exploration of the subtonic at the start of the B part.”

Phew, so he’s not a fish! He is/was a real person! In order to fulfill the Tune o’ the Week research duties to my utmost, I did a whitepages search for Jeff and found 73 Jeff Sturgeons in the US. Seven of them live in Kentucky! Could he still be alive? Is one of them his son? Oh, the mystery is killing me! Does anyone in Kentucky know???

Back to the tune:
There are some nice recordings of this tune on youtube. Here are just a few:

Bruce Molsky:

Frosty Morn:


I tried to record my version, but every recording was cut short due to loud baby noises :)…I’ll keep trying and I’ll edit this post to include it if I’m successful.

Okay, bring it on, people – more info on Jeff Sturgeon!

All my best from sunny Colorado,
Lori :)

Edited by - lori nitzel on 11/20/2009 12:56:44

edavidt - Posted - 11/20/2009:  13:35:30

This is a great dance tune. Have played it for many a square dance.

Regarding the 3x of hte B part. Do you think this is intentional? Randomly put in? Or not intentional?

Also, I think it sounds in the key of G in the Salyer recording. Most of the folks around here play it in crossed-A. Does anyone know if the original recoding was truly in G?

Dave T.

LyleK - Posted - 11/20/2009:  13:55:56

Great pick! And speaking of picking (three finger, that is) "Jeff Sturgeon" is one of many tabs on Don Borchelt's page ( ).

ScottK - Posted - 11/20/2009:  16:31:21

Hi Lori!

Gotta agree with Dave and Lyle, great choice! This tune is a ton of fun to play with fiddlers in a high energy jam. I'm not sure, but I think I may have learned from the Lonesome Stragglers CD when I was preparing to play a gig with Neal Pressley and his son Patrick when Neal was visiting Portland a couple years ago. Both Neal and Patrick are a lot of fun to play with.


RG - Posted - 11/20/2009:  17:42:45

Great choice! As much as I like to play this one on the banjo, it's about 10 times as much fun to play on fiddle...

alanjabbour - Posted - 11/20/2009:  19:00:35

"Jeff Sturgeon" is indeed in A cross-tuned. I transcribed it last year while I was visiting the Berea library, and I just checked my transcription. (The recording is somewhere around here, but it'll take me too long to find it.) Of course, the "A" can be pitched higher or lower, and I'd have to hear the recording to find out how high or low John Salyer was tuned.


Edited by - alanjabbour on 11/20/2009 19:01:47

edavidt - Posted - 11/20/2009:  19:07:07

I just checked the recording from the Salyer tapes. Seems to be right at G#. Wonder if that is an anomaly of the recording/rerecording process over 50 years and changing technology, or whether he was up in g#.

Most of the tunes on the tapes are closer to standard tuning. Dave T.

chip arnold - Posted - 11/20/2009:  19:20:52

Hi Alan :-) Good to see you here.

alanjabbour - Posted - 11/20/2009:  20:47:46

Thanks for checking, Dave.

Fiddlers I visited in the 1960s and 70s varied widely in the pitch at which they tuned their fiddle. (I'm not talking about retuning, but about the overall pitch.) This seemed especially pronounced for fiddlers who retuned to different tunings, as if the retuning encouraged a sort of tectonic drift in the overall pitch. Of course -- this is a banjo hangout, Alan! -- the same is true of banjo. Some like it tuned low -- some like it high.

There is an interesting extra twist to this. The old home recordings (like the recordings of John Salyer) were not always recorded at the same speed. And if the disc was originally recorded too slow, when played back at standard speed it sounds too fast. And vice versa. And in addition to manual adjustments for speed, if the batteries or generator started giving out, the speed slowed down -- which played back sounds like it is speeding up. It's enough to make your head spin -- life's bewildering variables.

Hi, Chip!

tomberghan - Posted - 11/20/2009:  21:41:27

Nic Gareiss is GREAT dancer!
(Bruce Molsky video)

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 11/20/2009:  22:18:37

As my wife keeps pointing out to me, when you do an AEAE crosstuning you have all the strings in the same relationship as the GDGD cross tuning. So when something comes out at G# on a recording (for whatever reason) the fiddle could be as easily crosstuned in G as in A. Her trick for making sure is to look for a known D tune from the same session. Of course she could look for known A tunes or G tunes,
but there can be regional differences in the key (She and I seem to be the only people around here that play Give The Fiddler a Dram in G). But D tunes can be in a few tunings, none of which ever seem to be moved down a full tone to play C tunes. In fact, C tunes tend to use a lot of figures that work out best in Standard GDAE tuning.

I cover a lot of things about unique sounds this in the Rocket Science Banjo chapter "Tunings, Tuning and Tunings"
Needless to say they tend to be more from a banjo tuning point of view than fiddle.

GreasyCreek - Posted - 11/21/2009:  05:41:48

Awesome research job, Lori...and how nice seeing Alan Jabbour weighing in. Thanks, I guess I'd better learn this tune...

whyteman - Posted - 11/21/2009:  08:37:12

If Mr. Jabbour is ever within driving distance to where ever you live, please make the trip to hear him perform or attend his workshop. You will not only learn so much, but you will have things that you absorbed at some subconcious level hit you months after you've seen him. Thank you for coming to Boonville, Mo. last year.


alanjabbour - Posted - 11/22/2009:  13:50:05

Thanks, Don. We (Ken Perlman on banjo and my wife) had a great time in Booneville. The Big Muddy Festival is a terrific festival, so if any of you are within driving distance, try it out next spring. (I won't be there, sigh! But I'll be back someday, I hope.) Someone was videotaping there and put up a couple of tunes by Ken and me on YouTube ("Billy in the Low Land" and "High Yellow"). It's shot from the rear balcony, which you can compensate for by zooming -- but how did he zoom the sound, which is actually quite decent?


BAZ - Posted - 11/23/2009:  08:44:08

Nice pick, Lori!

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