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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 5/7/2010 "Jordan Am a Hard Road"

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WGE - Posted - 05/06/2010:  18:19:57

The tune of the week I have chosen is “Jordan Am a Hard Road.” I first learned this tune from Miles Krassen’s “Clawhammer Banjo” tab book as “Old Jawbone,” page 53 as a standard AABB tune in G tuning with the standard 8 bars per part. Here Krassen says Henry Reed recorded the tune several times for Alan Jabbour.
History: The Remembering the Old Songs website has the following:
Here they cite Dan Emmett as staking claim to this song as “Jordan Is a Hard Road” for an 1853 minstrel show, although as with other songs Emmett claimed, there may be earlier versions. It was deemed very popular with many different political and topical verses. Here are some lyrics (but obviously not from 1853):
Complete Lyrics:

1. I'm gonna sing you a brand new song,
It's all the truth for certain;
We cain't live high, but we can get by,
And get on the other side of Jordan.
Oh, pull off your overcoat and roll up your sleeves,
Jordan's a hard road to travel;
Oh, pull off your overcoat and roll up your sleeves,
Oh, Jordan is a hard road to travel, I believe.
2. The public schools and the highways
Are raisin' quite an alarm;
Get a country man educated just a little,
And he ain't a-gonna work on the farm. CHO.
3. I don't know, but I b'lieve I'm right,
The auto's ruined the country;
Let's go back to the horse and buggy,
And try to save some money. CHO.
4. I know a man that's an evangelist,
His tabernacle's always full;
People come from miles around
Just to hear him shoot the bull. CHO.
5. You may talk about your evangelist,
You may talk about Mister Ford too;
Well, Henry's shakin' more hell out of folks Than all the evangelists do. CHO.
6. Rain forty nights, gonna rain forty days,
Gonna rain on the Allegheny mountains;
Gonna rain forty horses and dominicker mules,
Gonna take us on the other side of Jordan. CHO.
There appears to be uncertainty about what a “dominicker mule” might be. Any guesses?

An interesting alternate verse sung by Todd Wright goes:

I’ve lived in the east, and I’ve lived in the west,
I’ve lived in old Virginie,
I’ve lived twenty years in a hornet’s nest,
But didn’t get stung by any.

The Fiddler’s Companion gives the following information:
JORDAN IS (AM) A HARD ROAD TO TRAVEL. AKA and see "T'Other Side of Jordan," "Other Side of Jordan." Old Timey, Breakdown; American, Polka. USA, Va. G Major (Christeson, Ford, Silberberg): C Major (Miller & Perron). Standard tuning. AB (Silberberg): AABB (Christeson, Ford, Miller & Perron). The title is from the words of minstrel Dan Emmett's (Ohio) song. Bayard (1981) prints two tunes ("It Thundered In the East" and an untitled hornpipe; Nos. 88 & 89, pg. 54) that strongly resemble this song. He thinks they all may have been descended from some older traditional tune. See also "Jawbone" in Krassen, 1973. Sources for notated versions: Cy Kines (Fauquier County, Va.) [Christeson]; Greg Canote (Seattle) [Silberberg]. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddlers Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; pg. 90. Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; pg. 82 (appears as "T'Other Side of Jordan"). Miller & Perron (101 Polkas), 1978; No. 61. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 77.

Recordings and Notation:
There are a number of versions of this tune available. Sheet music in the key of C is here

I recently found a wonderful guitar duet by Norman and Nancy Blake that has greatly influenced my banjo version. The YouTube for this is at: and Norman sings the lyrics given above.

There is also a very cool version from Uncle Dave Macon and the Fruit Jar Drinkers available as an Amazon download from the “Go Long Mule” CD:

Muddyroads has a BHO MP3 of “Jordan Is a Hard Road”:
I have a version here on the hangout as “Old Jawbone” done before I heard the Blake version and I recently recorded it as “Jordan Am a Hard Road” as a banjo-guitar duet.
I am on my Brooks banjo and my good friend and banjo/guitar teacher Todd Wright is on guitar and we play it in G.

So, I hope you enjoy this song. It is fun to play and you can probably make all sorts of new and nonsensical verses to suit your fancy, such as:

I play my banjo in the early morn,
And often late at night,
I play on the patio in my underwear,
And boy is that a sight!

Edited by - WGE on 05/06/2010 18:25:37

cbcarlisle - Posted - 05/06/2010:  19:38:25

Dominecker always meant black-and-white as I recall, mostly applied to chickens.


J-Walk - Posted - 05/06/2010:  20:49:21

I've always liked this tune, and learned it from a recording by Hollow Rock String Band.

Here's a link to one of the Henry Reed recordings:

Chris Berry - Posted - 05/07/2010:  01:14:26

And just for the record, the "updated" words above (in other words all but the first and last verses) were written by Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave's version is in D, with his banjo tuned in open C tuning pitched at D, gCGCE capoed up (or in his case tuned up) two frets to aDADF#.

vrteach - Posted - 05/07/2010:  06:40:04

Yes, Dominecker = black & white, derived from Dominican as in the habit:

But you know, I cannot remember where I heard this definition.

One of the nicest versions I this song I heard was by Fred Campeau at one of the Fox River Valley folk festivals. He played it in open D tuning (open C capoed up).

Califiddler - Posted - 05/07/2010:  06:46:06

I love this song. Been listening to the Norman and Nancy version for years, since getting the album "Lighthouse on the Shore" on vinyl. The version on there has CH banjo by Tom Jackson and fiddle by James Bryan. Found that youtube version with just Norman and Nancy a while back, too - beautiful version. Tough to beat Norman and Nancy.

vrteach - Posted - 05/07/2010:  06:51:30

Oh, and here are some lyrics from the Library of Congress collection:

Oldcremona has a version on YouTube



The times are so tight, for the cash is hard to get,
Though all hope they'll have some to-morrow,
And every one looks blue, and are in such a fret,
For money am a hard thing to borrow.

Chorus--So take down your shingle and shut up your shop,
Money am a hard thing to borrow,
So take down your shingle and shut up your shop,
For money am a hard thing to borrow, yes indeed

The banker looks quite brave as you ask him for the chink,
But he pays out the ready with sorrow,
For he cannot stand a run, and he now begins to think
That money am a hard thing to borrow.

The politician stares--office costs a mighty lump,
And the mouth of his purse am so narrow,
It was just to raise some cash he got upon the stump,
Finding money am a hard thing to borrow.

The merchant is cast down with his loaded shelves in view,
And no customer buys to his sorrow;
For soon from Europe he will get a billet due,
And money am a hard thing to borrow.

The whiskey maker sighs, for the drought has killed the corn
And he looks on the prospects with sorrow;
For he knows his friends wont stick when he hasn't a horn,
And money am a hard thing to borrow.

But honest men never fear though there comes a mighty crash
And a note should fall due to-morrow,
Just call on your friends, they'll spare a little cash,
Though money am a hard think to borrow.

Then you can keep up your shingle and open wide your shop
Although money am a hard thing to borrow,
Then you can keep your shingle and open wide your shop,
Although money am a hard thing to borrow.

Printed and Sold wholesale at Harris' Card & Job Printing Office, S. E
corner of Fourth & Vine Sts., Phila.

jamesd - Posted - 05/07/2010:  08:16:56

WGE, thanks for posting this TOTW. I have really enjoyed listening to all the different versions posted here.

I learned this tune from one of David Holts training videos. It is really a fun and lively tune to play and listen to. Thanks for the posting.


dculgan - Posted - 05/07/2010:  09:46:37

As is often the case the lyrics from some of these early minstrel era songs give an insight into what people talked about at the time. One of the verses that Dan Emmett might have sung went someting like:
"I've been to the east, I've been to the west, I seen ol' Kossuth a comin'
With four bay horses tied up in front to tote his money to the other side of Jordan..."

See Wikipedia's entry on Lajos Kossuth of Hungary and the bank notes with his name on them. World politics and celebreties enter into a lot of these songs, and its fun to decipher the somewhat cryptic (for today) meanings.
Dave Culgan

bordertownbrown - Posted - 05/07/2010:  12:40:43

That song was published in Dan Rice's song book in the 1850s, he owned a circus and was the most famous and highly paid performer of his time. I have a copy of that song book and the lyrics are quite archaic. The song was Recorded by Harry C. Brown (a banjo player) in the 19 teens but the first lyrics listed above are from Uncle Dave Macon.

Tamarack - Posted - 05/08/2010:  07:55:26

A fine tune -- all the versions. The Uncle Dave version channeled through Norman and Nancy is the version stuck in my head.

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