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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 11/18/2010 TOTW-Oscar Wright's "Shaving a Dead Man"

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:

RG - Posted - 11/18/2010:  22:42:16

One of my all time favorite banjo tunes since first hearing the County Clawhammer Banjo series in the mid 1970’s. The playing of Oscar Wright was a major inspiration in turning from the dark side of BG and fully embracing OT CH banjo. Oscar Wright was from the country around Princeton West Virginia and was the gentleman who introduced Alan Jabbour to Henry Reed. Oscar was a fantastic player in his own right and this song, along with “Sandy River” and “Let Old Drunkard’s Be” were some of the first tunes I learned to play CH style.

Here is a link to the original County album…

“Shaving a Dead Man” is not the original title of this tune (it’s also known in OT circles as “Protect the Innocent” (see below), “S.A.D.” and “Low D Blues” by Dwight Diller), you can research the original title of the tune on your own if you like. It’s a banjo, not a fiddle tune, it’s been around a long time and been played by a lot of folks, but I still tune my banjo to g#BEBE and bang this tune out all the time, it is one of those tunes that just gets into you head and illustrates what I like to call the “complex simplicity” of OT music; hope you like it.

Some history:

Dwight Diller had this to say about “Shaving…”

“This ‘banjo tune’, I feel sure, came from the “black tradition”. This is in no way a fiddle tune. A fiddle just will not work in order to get proper sound or get the notes to mesh properly”.

R.D. Lunceford had this to say about the tune in his “Drop Thumb” book…

“Strangely enough, many of the tunes with titles like this seem to have originated with Black musicians. Also, all of the tunes I know that are in the “open-D” family of tunings (f#DF#AD, f#ADAD, etc.) seem to be of Black origin. My version of the tune is a composite of what I heard years ago from California fiddler and banjo-player Dan Engle, and a recording of Oscar Wright”’

You can find R.D.’s great version on his “Drop Thumb” CD…

I like to play this is g#BEBE, but you can also play it in f#ADAD for a real low “growling” sound. Zepp’s tuning website offers the following information about the tuning:

Oscar Wright's "Dead Man's" E-tuning…Fuzzy Mt. String Band, Protect the Innocent, from Oscar Wright ("Fuzzy Mt. String Band". The "Shaving" tune was renamed by Fuzzy Mountain, via Claude Keaton, a guitarist & flat-foot dancer. "Mr Keaton was listening to the tune on a cassette recorder one day at work when a co-worker, who was black, asked him its name. Thinking of the TV program Dragnet, he said...") Ron Mullenex and Gerry Milnes have also recorded this tune as Shaving a Dead Man.

Here are a couple of youtube videos of this tune… nice 2 finger version CH CH CH

Frank Lee teaches this tune in his Homespun banjo instruction DVD and you can find a tab for the tune at Dwight Diller’s website. Additionally, this is a link to the Library of Congress recordings of Oscar…

And finally, here is my version of the tune on my "my music" page…

This is a great tune to learn by “ear” for beginners, just start with a pull off at the first string 4th fret, followed by an open string brush, pull off at the first string 2nd fret followed by an open brush, pull off at the second string 2nd fret followed by an open brush…that will get you started, the rest is pretty easy to figure out…substitute some drop thumbs for the pull-offs and make up your own phrases…enjoy & have fun!

Lastly, I’d like to wish all of my fellow BHO members a very Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels over the holiday!!

Edited by - RG on 11/18/2010 22:50:45

Randy Adams - Posted - 11/19/2010:  04:25:26

Good totw tune RG....and I like the way you play it.
I made a quick vid of it along about a year ago.....played on a cigar box....uh...banjo.... : )....

jamesd - Posted - 11/19/2010:  05:04:51

RG, what a great way to start the day. I enjoyed all the versions of this tune you have posted. Your playing is wonderful.........

Thanks for posting this totw. James

championofnorthhuron - Posted - 11/19/2010:  06:32:32

Hey Randy, Pretty sweet. I particularly like the 'B' Part of your version. I think I'll give that a try. Thanks for sharing that!

ramjo - Posted - 11/19/2010:  06:40:31

Great post, great write-up, great lesson, and great playing. Thanks, RG!

Not that it pertains to this tune, but I really like Oscar Wright's singing too.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 11/19/2010:  10:14:30

Wonderful, clean picking by R.G. and Randy. I got excited when I heard their truly fine performances early this morning, and pulled out my banjo. All the times I have heard this before, it hadn't hit me what a cool tune it is. It's nice to be retired, and not have to go to work; I messed with it all morning, listening to a whole bunch of versions. In the end, I based my setting on the clawhammer playing of Tim Rowell (clawhammertim), who plays in the Boston area band Jubalee Mule. I really like Tim's playing, too, and I want to be able to pick this with him at his old-time jam session at the Real School of Music in Burlington. Here is a link to his rendition, on his BHO homepage:

Tim Rowell playing Shaving a Dead Man

I have set my arrangement in standard open D (aDF#AD), actually open E on my shortscale, for convenience. I have had to make adjustments to the melody of the B part in the low break, since I don't have that nice low fifth degree below the tonic, but I think the overall feeling of the tune is still there. I hope so, anyway. The video link is attached below:

I did write up a tab, which if anyone is interested, can be found here in TEF and PDF format:

Tab of my arrangement of Shaving a Dead Man

Randy, that "uh... banjo" is really cool.

- Don Borchelt

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 11/19/2010 18:33:15

VIDEO: Shaving a Dead Man
(click to view)


RG - Posted - 11/20/2010:  00:01:43

Randy, James, Robert and Don, thanks so much! Glad you liked the tune choice...

Randy-that is one cool version played on one cool banjo-thanks for posting that!

James-sure appreciate the comments, thank you very much!

Robert-I really like Mr. Wright's vocals as well, "Let Old Drunkards Be" is a CLASSIC OT vocal...doesn't get any better.

Don-thanks for sharing Tim's version and posting your own, really like your style...awesome stuff! You make that Paramount sing!!!

Brandon-judging from that exhaust, think you need some rings for that IH...BTW, have to agree that Randy's version is pretty cool!

Edited by - RG on 11/20/2010 00:05:47

olpete - Posted - 11/20/2010:  07:33:52

Great pick RG. I've always liked this tune and there's so many good versions out there. Here's my take on my page playing the tackhead tuned G#BEBE.

Edited by - olpete on 11/20/2010 07:45:34

RG - Posted - 11/20/2010:  08:10:11

Thad-that's some real nice playing, bet this tune would sound great on that banjo tuned down a step as well...thanks for posting your version!

John D - Posted - 11/20/2010:  08:24:53

Interesting information and great playing by all. Got to learn this one.

TOTW: By far the best thing about the BHO!

John D

vrteach - Posted - 11/20/2010:  12:06:04

Well, once again I got caught up in a TOTW. I don't recall playing it before, but I couldn't resist. I'm using my crummy 1980s aluminum banjo for this one, tuned g#BEBE (actually I tuned to RG's recording).

I played a little loose with the B part.

Shaving a Dead Man


RG - Posted - 11/20/2010:  12:43:43

John D-sure agree, I have been introduced to a bunch of tunes from the TOTW, appreciate the comments!

Erich-wow, really cool version of the tune, you get that great rythym going in the 'B" section and it blew me away, love your playing & thanks for sharing that!

Edited by - RG on 11/20/2010 12:44:43

ramjo - Posted - 11/20/2010:  13:01:24

As usual, TOTW sent me to the woodshed. Hearing how Olpete nails Oscar's playing in the B part got me thinking I should try to un-square my playing and see if I could do it that way. It's tough and gonna take some practice. Really idiosyncratic. Not that there's anything wrong with developing your own B part. And I like those that vary too (like Erich's and Don's for instance). But I also have fun trying to make neurons fire in the same patterns the old masters set. Usually I can't, but hey, it's the journey not the arrival, right?

And I'll add a "second" (third, I guess) to JohnD's statement singling out TOTW for the Best of the BHO award.

RG - Posted - 11/20/2010:  18:22:18

Another tune that will get those neurons firing is Mr. Wright's "Sandy River"...that one is all over the map in regards to techniques and timing, a real masterpiece, took me a while to figure out what was going on in that one...

Dock Jekel - Posted - 11/21/2010:  15:09:02

I've got next weeks TOTW. Ok RG, lets do another Oscar Wright tune. We'll do "Sandy River"! Stay tuned.

Chris Via - Posted - 11/21/2010:  16:07:48

One of my favorites.

LyleK - Posted - 11/22/2010:  08:36:26

Internet down all weekend for me. Grrrr... I missed a lot of good picking, but have now caught up (a bit). Great pick(ing)!

RG - Posted - 11/23/2010:  15:05:32

Hey Dock..."Sandy River" sounds great, was just playing "Let Old Drunkards Be" and trying to sing attempt completely living up to the title I might add...

Chris-sure you've heard this tune a few times, do you have a version of it? Would sure like to hear it if you do...Lyle as well, if you have a sound file of your version would be great if you could post it, always enjoy your playing...

Edited by - RG on 11/23/2010 15:06:38

RG - Posted - 11/23/2010:  18:02:46

Saw that Chris Via posted a video of himself playing a nice version of this tune...

Chris Via - Posted - 11/24/2010:  00:24:13

Thanks RG.
Anything to do with Oscar Wright, catches my attention.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 11/24/2010:  08:44:21

Terrific picking by olpete, Eric, and Chris. Now olpete and Chris got me thinking I maybe want to do that B part the crooked Oscar way. I'm going to have to ponder that over the holiday.

- Don Borchelt

RG - Posted - 11/24/2010:  10:18:09

No problem Chris, that's a real nice version & I know it's close to home for you to play Mr. Wright's tunes...totally agree with you about Oscar Wright, he is one of my all time favorite banjo players and often gets overlooked amongst the other "old timers"...

...and Don...after all the turkey and trimmings have settled in, PLEASE do a crooked version of the tune...would love to hear your take on that...

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Couchie - Posted - 11/24/2010:  12:22:45

Oscar Wright, one of my favourites as well....

chip arnold - Posted - 11/24/2010:  19:29:26

Don, I've got yours playable now for Chris's version...
A great tune.

RG - Posted - 11/24/2010:  22:19:14

Hey've GOT to share...need to hear your take on this one...

Don Borchelt - Posted - 11/26/2010:  07:59:14

RG wrote: "Hey've GOT to share...need to hear your take on this one..."

Ditto that!

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