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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: T.O.T.W,, 8/27/10: "G.A.T.S"

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ramjo - Posted - 08/27/2010:  06:19:12

Tune of the Week, 8/27/10 "Going Across the Sea"

Apology: I had pretty much finished writing my posting, when one more Google search turned up a TOTW on the Fiddler’s Hangout for this tune this past June. I was going to toss this, then I figured, what the heck. At the risk of boring you multi-hang-outers, I decided this tune is so common and has so many flavors, it just seems fitting that it gets a second TOTW, this time in its banjo home.

According to the Fiddler’s Companion, this old-time breakdown was apparently first recorded in 1924 by Uncle Dave Macon (listen here.) But as he says right at the beginning, it’s “from a-way back yonder.” Old Woodchuck has the tab (in double-D) for this among the 25 bundled with the free download of Rocket Science Banjo, so you either have it already or you can download it now.

The Fiddler’s Companion has a lot to say about the tune and its early recordings by the likes of Henry L. Bandy, Bascom Lunceford, John Lusk, and the Crook Brothers. For the full entry, go here and scroll down . The skinny is that its origins are probably Kentucky/Tennessee, but it was long popular through “the upper/central south” and into the Ozarks. A fiddle tune in D, early on it had lyrics and was played with banjo accompaniment. The Companion mentions “floating lyrics,” and even an alternate title of “If I had a Needle and Thread,” both pointing to the tune’s popularity in “play-party” settings. Uncle Dave doesn't include the verse

If I had a needle and thread / Fine as I could sew
I’d stitch my true love to my side / and down the road we’d go

found in so many such songs (including many versions of this one), but many of his other verses show up in any number of other tunes. We also have clever word play like "change a nickle, change a dime, change your name to mine" and runny logic like "won't you come and go." All for fun singing games (and probably some surreptitious do-si-doing) where dancing was considered sacrilegious.

Uncle Dave puts the emphasis on "play," whooping and hollering between various lines. (H. L. Bandy laughs and hollers in his rendition too.) Uncle Dave’s version has a loose narrative if one can call it that at all: in the verse, the singer leaves his little darlin’ standing in the door, and in the chorus, he beckons an apparently different pretty love to come and go with him across the sea. The other verses continue to shed affection on that pretty little girl and state the desire for marriage. But in the end the narrator realizes that his best prospect is an old girl who's too big to wear his britches. Other versions provide different reasons for going across the sea. Walt Koken’s hapless narrator (on "Hei-Wa Hoedown") is stuck with an old banjo that only plays “Trouble on My Mind.” Only by going across the sea, preferably with a pretty little girl, will he be happy forevermore. Some versions explicitly state that the narrator is going across the sea to leave this “world of trouble far behind” or, in a more spiritual vein, “far below.” These versions often have the narrator repenting for his life of drinkin' and a-gamblin'. Some long for leaving a bad relationship: Old Woodchuck's tab includes the chorus “I don’t give a durn for no durn girl who don’t give a durn for me.” (Woodchuck credits H. L. Bandy as a source, but I can’t decipher this chorus in the Bandy recording. I've heard it in other versions, including vrteach's on his Hangout page. See below.) Typically the tune bounces along at a lively clip, and this can produce interesting oppositional effects when sad or baleful lyrics are sung against a spirited rhythm.

You can find dozens of examples of “Going Across the Sea” on record and online. It’s enjoyed by OT-ers and bluegrassers alike. A majority of renditions use Uncle Dave’s lyrics, but not all. Most are in double-D (or C), but plenty use G tuning (usually capoed). Some of my favorites (besides Walt’s) are:

Dan Gellert’s on “Waitin’ on the Break of Day” (sorry, I couldn’t find any clips, but it's as brilliant and exciting as you’d expect of Mr. G’s playing and singing)

Dick Burnet's early recording.. The Fiddler’s Companion states that Burnett’s version was “noticeably different” and that he copyrighted it. I'd call it a "variant," since it seems clearly in the tradition of the tune to me

Members of the Bluestein Family on youtube from a 1985 performance. Lot’s of fiddle-and-banjo fun, with joyful give-and-take playing together!

A nice, emotive version by Gregory Paul (who I think might be BHO member gregorypaul)

Valley Road’s smoking! bluegrass version (using the same lyrics as Walt Koken).

mojo_monk has a link on his great thumb-lead blog to Tracy Schwartz fiddling this tune.

On the Hangout, you can find tubaphone1927’s excellent, proto-bluegrass clawhammer version,

my folky version in G (it grew out of a drop-thumbing exercise that's in there toward the end),

and my favorite of all, vrteach's spot-on rendering that expertly matches the playing and singing to the emotion of a guy who wants no damn girl who don’t give a damn for him.

Edited by - ramjo on 08/28/2010 05:47:51

ScottK - Posted - 08/27/2010:  08:56:18

Great choice, ramjo! Great write-up and picking/singing, too! I never get tired of this tune.

Chris Coole and Ivan Rosenberg have another good version of this tune on their recent Farewell Trion CD.

In that Bluestein YouTube clip, Gene is Evo's dad and has since passed on. I used to see them perform with additional family members Jemmy and Frayda as the Bluestein Family when I lived in Sacramento thirty years ago. Shut Up and Sing! Bluestein Family Sampler is a really good CD of theirs. Evo still teaches and performs. I got to see him here in Portland last winter.


cbcarlisle - Posted - 08/27/2010:  09:22:57

Note that the (B: non-singing) part of Uncle Dave's tune is what I play as the (A: non-singing) part of Angelina Baker.

ELWOOD - Posted - 08/27/2010:  10:25:00

Robert the TOTW hits my sweet spot straight on as its banjo and vocals. The banjo player singer has always been my hero and mentor and more of the solo banjo/singer player is where i hope we will see new" old time music" headed . Too bad i cant punch 5 Stars any more .........I like it.........................ELWOOD. .Here is a link to finger picked uke( now dont grown) I have Heard Mark Simpson play this instrument this way and was amazed "Horn Island" . . ....Steve

Edited by - ELWOOD on 08/27/2010 10:39:02

vrteach - Posted - 08/27/2010:  14:30:40

I love to do this song. It's fascinating to hear all the different versions and interpretations. I like them all.

My version is closely derived from Art Rosenbaum (the 5-String Banjo album, issued on Kicking Mule records in 1974) and associated tablature book, but some lyrics have drifted in from the "Train on the Island" version of "June Apple" done by Joe Hickerson (banjo by Sara Grey) on the Joe Hickerson with a Gathering of Friends album. The mix of lyrics make the whole thing pretty ambiguous, particularly when combined with the prettiness of chords in Rosenbaum's arraignment.

Jeeze, I'm not sure that I've have played it since I posted that version a couple of years ago. I think I'll go home now to my banjo.

Edit: The tablature for Art Rosenbaum's version is included in the republished version of his Kicking Mule tab book, but is not on the included CD. This is published by Mel Bay, called Art of the Mountain Banjo

Edited by - vrteach on 08/27/2010 15:08:30

RG - Posted - 08/27/2010:  15:25:03

Curt's right, this is close to Angelina Baker & Sugarhill, easy to get them intertwined at a jam!

The definitive version of the tune to me is Isham Monday's...

Isham Monday was born in the late 1870's and was professionally fiddling before the turn of the last that's OT!

I fiddle (use high bass ADae) and CH (out of double C) based on his version (which Bruce Greene also recorded a version based on Monday's arrangement on "Five Miles of Ellum Wood")...

Great tune and great choice ramjo, nice version too! I was going to use this as a TOTW on my next tour, now I have to pick out a different tune when my turn comes back around in November!

Hunter Robertson - Posted - 08/28/2010:  03:49:47

The recording by Lusk, Gribble and York is great and is on Altamont - Black Stringband Music from the Library of Congress ("Across the Sea"):


ramjo - Posted - 08/28/2010:  05:47:08

Thank you all for your comments and compliments. Also for pointing out other info and versions that have meaning for you. Scott, thanks for straightening out the Bluestein familial relationship. I've edited my original post to get rid of the error. Elwood, I thought that uke player's version was really fine. His is another example of the "floating" nature of the tune, as you can really hear Angelina Baker in it (as the Companion and cbcarlisle point out). RG, I listened to Isham Monday's and just went, "wow!" Erich, I was hoping you'd name the source of that chorus, and after your post I looked in my copy of "The Art of Mountain Banjo," and sure enough, there were those lyrics. Duh! Hunter, thanks a lot for your link to the Lusk-Gribble-York version. I'm happy to see this show up in an African-American string band. I had a fantasy that the longing for "going across the sea" could have been to leave this life of sorrow and return to an African home. The Companion mentions Lusk, but until your post I hadn't heard a Black musician playing the tune.

Edited by - ramjo on 08/28/2010 05:51:58

ELWOOD - Posted - 08/28/2010:  07:17:14

Seems like we are all having fun with this here are the Bogghoppers having a good time wiyh "Going across the Sea".

Edited by - ELWOOD on 08/28/2010 07:54:31

cbcarlisle - Posted - 08/28/2010:  08:22:28

After tossing and turning on this all last night I realized it Is one of those "banjo-rappin' tunes" Uncle Dave mentioned. That is, not so much melodic as rhythmic - just enough to carry the jig words. But there also seem to be connections to similar choruses:
"Lay my money down,
Lay my money down,
Ever I meet a deck of cards
I lay my money down."

"Gonna get drunk no more,
Gonna get drunk no more,
Gonna get drunk no more,
Way down the old plank road."

and even Frank's slower:
"Goin' across the mountains
oh, fare-ye-well,
Goin' across the mountains,
oh, fare-ye-well."

Curt Bouterse

ramjo - Posted - 08/28/2010:  12:38:38

Originally posted by cbcarlisle

After tossing and turning on this all last night I realized it Is one of those "banjo-rappin' tunes" Uncle Dave mentioned. That is, not so much melodic as rhythmic - just enough to carry the jig words. But there also seem to be connections to similar choruses:

Floating lyrics, indeed! Great connections, Curt.

ramjo - Posted - 08/28/2010:  16:58:17

It occurred to me that for another source of tab for "Going Across the Sea", I should check bho member Julian44_4's website which contains an extensive array of them. Sure enough, a PDF for the tab is there. David, I hope it's ok if I link to it here.

Edited by - ramjo on 08/28/2010 16:58:57

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