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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW March 11, 2011: Sam & Elzie

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:

J-Walk - Posted - 03/11/2011:  06:59:55

This week's tune is Sam and Elzie (also known as Sam and Elsie). Sam and Elzie were real people -- a father and son who ran square dances in Southern Illinios in the early 1900s.

It's a rather obscure fiddle tune that should be played a lot more than it is. Vivian Williams deserves credit for keeping the tune alive. I've heard that it's played as a jam tune in the Seattle and Portland areas, but I get the impression that it hasn't spread to other parts of the country.

It's a very simple D tune, with two parts, played AABB. It's also very fun to play. In a jam, most players will pick it up on the second or third time through. And then they'll say, "What was that!?!?"

From The Fiddler's Companion:

SAM AND ELZIE. Old-Time, Breakdown. D Major. Standard tuning. AB. Source for notated version: Vivian Williams, via Greg Canote (Seattle) [Silberberg]. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 139.

From the liner notes of "Sugar Baby," by the Canote Brothers:
Banjoist Harley Bray's fateher, Monte Monroe Bray, used to hear this tune at dances around Oscaloosa, Illinois in the late 1920's. Harley taught it to Vivian Williams, who showed it to David, who does it on the button box here. Whew!

I'm not aware of any banjo tab, but it's easy enough to figure out by ear (use Double D tuning). Here are the notes, from Music from Gene Silverberg's "The Complete Fiddle Tunes I Either Did or Did Not Learn at the Tractor Tavern.

It's not listed in the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes.


  1. On the Canote Brothers' "Sugar Baby" CD (with concertina). Listen to it, or get the free download here

  2. The performance by Phil and Vivian Williams from last January's Portland Oldtime Music Gathering is available
    here. And here's a YouTube video of the performance.

  3. There's a one-minute clip here (with bluegrass banjo) played by Williams & Bray on their "Bluegrass Hoedown" CD. Scroll down.

  4. In 1999, members of the Fiddle-L LISTSERVE compiled recordings of themselves and produced a 3 CD set titled "Fiddle-L Anthology 1999: A Tour 'Round the World of Fiddling". One of the tracks features Vivian Williams on fiddle, playing "Sam and Elsie." It's available here -- listed as CD3-10-Williams.mp3.

  5. BHO member SottK recorded a great solo banjo version: Sam and Elsie. He's from Portland, OR, so that reinforces the popularity in the Pacific Northwest.

  6. This tune also works pretty well on a banjo in the key of G (or A), using standard G (or A) tuning. As a feeble demonstration, I took ScottK's recording, and pitch-shifted it down to G using Amazing Slow Downer. I also slowed it down a tad so I could keep up. Then I played along, mostly up the neck because that's something I've been trying to do more of. Here's the version I recorded with the fewest mistakes: Sam & Elsie Mash-Up.

So that's it -- everything I managed to learn about a great tune. If I've missed something, please add it. But better yet, learn it and spread it around. You'll be surprised by how easy it is to pick up.

Thanks to AZJohnB for valuable assistance in preparing this tune of the week.

ramjo - Posted - 03/11/2011:  08:25:04

Wow, mashing up with Scott's version was soooo cool! I love this tune, I suppose in large part because Elsie is my mother's name. I found it a long time ago on Scott's page and downloaded it to learn and play for my mother. Then I promptly forgot to. Occasionally it occurs to me that I had planned to do that, but never with the banjo at hand, so gone goes the intention. This totw inspires me to do it for sure this weekend. Great playing J-Walk (and Scott) and thanks for proving out Robert Frost (well, a paraphrase of Mr. Frost): "banjo players play together whether they play together or apart."

vrteach - Posted - 03/11/2011:  08:40:20

That is a fun tune. Thanks!

As I listen more, it seems to me that I've played along with it somewhere here in Illinois.

Edited by - vrteach on 03/11/2011 08:55:45

Colinski - Posted - 03/11/2011:  11:56:19

Nice tune, thanks J.

I just want to point out that it took me about 15 minutes this morning with the Tabledit demo to get tab from the sheet music. If you set everything correctly, it's really easy to get tab from sheet music by plugging notes into Tabledit. Tabledit spat out something completely playable in clawhammer, except a couple inappropriate 5th string notes that needed to be changed to a 1st string, 5th fret strike. From there I just added bum-ditties where appropriate and noted the hammer-ons, pull-offs, and ASPOs. Again, I was using the demo software, so not much point in uploading the tab because it's not printable, but it's really easy to do yourself if everything's set up right with the software. If anyone wants me to elaborate I'm happy to.

This is what happens when I read BHO at work. My productivity goes way down.

mojo_monk - Posted - 03/11/2011:  12:18:28

This is in the Dear Old Illinois collection as "Crooked Road," [tune #51] played by Stelle Elam of Brownstown, IL (about 45 minutes NW of Oskaloosa). One of my favorite tunes to play on the fiddle. Erich, I'm sure you've played it with Laura Sleade - it's one of her favorites, too. Mrs. Elam is also the source for the tune "Crow Creek" which is played in some circles these days...although her version was in the key of D - not A as it is often played today.

Since DOI is now out-of-print, I figure I can share the field recording of Mrs. Elam that was included on one of the 3 companion CDs. Here goes:

Crooked Road - recorded by Lynn "Chirps" Smith and Dave Miller. October, 1975, Brownstown, IL.

Nice pick, J-Walk.

Thumb-Lead Banjer

strokestyle - Posted - 03/11/2011:  13:22:45

Nice choice J-Walk!
Erich we played Crooked Road at the Jam last Saturday at Techline.
Sean that's the tune, we stole it from Laura too.
Billy Mathews, Paul and I played Crooked Road in a medley for a contra dance a few days ago...with another tune we stole from Laura called Decatur. Decatur is a really great tune and if you lived around here you would know Decatur, IL as it's nickname "Stinkeytown". Lots of factories in Decatur.
Hence "The Crocked Road to Stinkeytown Medley."

vrteach - Posted - 03/11/2011:  13:36:52

Sean, you got it. I was sure I had heard it, but didn't remember the "Sam & Elizie" name. Plus, the melody made me think of Laura.

J-Walk - Posted - 03/11/2011:  15:27:00

"Crooked Road," eh? I like "Sam & Elzie" better. It's easier to Google.

ScottK - Posted - 03/11/2011:  15:34:02

Great post J-Walk! I love the mash-up! Wish I could come down to the Phoenix Old Time Gathering this week-end and mash up a few more tunes with you, but I can't. Thought about it, though.

Cheers, Scott

Kitt - Posted - 03/11/2011:  19:05:16

Nice tune and nice presentation, J Walk. Enjoyed the history and everyone's tunes.

Ramjo, you had better get on the stick for Mom's sake. Don't be a danged disappointment.

ramjo - Posted - 03/11/2011:  19:37:20

Kitt, Yes Sir! I have never gotten an assignment from the BHO before, so I will take this seriously. I shall report back.

raybob - Posted - 03/12/2011:  08:24:39

Good one J-Walk. I'm going to learn this one and take it to the contra dance band I play with. Sounds like a good dance tune to me.

Edited by - raybob on 03/12/2011 08:25:44

michael6 - Posted - 03/12/2011:  08:39:16

Nice tune!

vrteach - Posted - 03/12/2011:  10:49:52

Above I had responded to Sean (mojo_monk) before noticing that Christine (strokestyle) had also responded. Ha! it turned out that not only had I played the tune before under a different name, but it had only been 6 days previous. OY! So soon they forget!

Well, last night I was fooling around with this on the fiddle, so I might as well post my efforts. I had to clip out a small bit of what I had recorded to end up with something that had the minimum number of mistakes.

Crooked Road (Sam and Elzie)


mojo_monk - Posted - 03/12/2011:  10:57:07

Originally posted by vrteach

Above I had responded to Sean (mojo_monk) before noticing that Christine (strokestyle) had also responded. Ha! it turned out that not only had I played the tune before under a different name, but it had only been 6 days previous. OY! So soon they forget!

Well, last night I was fooling around with this on the fiddle, so I might as well post my efforts. I had to clip out a small bit of what I had recorded to end up with something that had the minimum number of mistakes.

Nice job, Erich Thanks for sharing your fine fiddling.


ramjo - Posted - 03/13/2011:  15:02:10

I figured out the tune listening to ScottK slowed down to 70% speed. While I was practicing it occurred to me that while my mother, Elsie, was a game dancer while my father was still alive, she wasn't going to do any kind of clog or Virginia reel now at age 88. A waltz tempo suggested itself, and I got a work-in-progress good enough to play it for her today during a visit. She said it was very nice, but wanted to know who the heck Sam was. I played her the mashup for reference and summarized J-Walk's research. I said "It's named for real people," but I didn't want to spoil the moment and say "Elsie" seems to be a misunderstanding of Elzie, who was actually Sam's son. So I created a "folk tale" and said that Sam and Elsie were a husband and wife who played music for dances. She said, well, you should call it with your father's name. I said: "Mom. 'Rocco'? That name wasn't too common around southern Illinois. But maybe Roscoe....." I just got home and quickly made a recording. Here's my "in-process" waltz setting, which I took the liberty of renaming "Elsie and Roscoe."

Elsie and Roscoe


kevinwholmes - Posted - 03/13/2011:  16:17:13

Kitt - Posted - 03/13/2011:  17:20:29

Very nice, Ramjo. Seriously, I'm glad for your mom and for you that you were able to take the time to follow through. I would imagine that she really enjoyed not just hearing you play the tune, but enjoyed your attention.

vrteach - Posted - 03/14/2011:  07:38:50

That's nice, it works well as a waltz.

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