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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: ToTW, 3/25/11. Cider Mill (aka [Down to the] Stillhouse)

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ramjo - Posted - 03/25/2011:  05:53:56

Cider, cider, little more cider
Down to the stillhouse get a little cider

All the history I know about this tune comes from the single-line entry in the Fiddler's Companion:
AKA - "Cider." AKA and see "Stillhouse." Old#8209;Time, Breakdown. D Major. ADae tuning. ABB'. A Blue Ridge dance tune, popular in Patrick County and the Galax, Va./Mt. Airy, N.C. areas.

Early recordings are from the places named in the FC entry. Tommy Jarrell (titled "Cider Mill") and Matokie Slaughter (titled "Stillhouse.") The travelling distance from Toast, NC to Pulaski, VA is about 60 miles, but to my ears these versions seem to span twice that distance in their sound and approach. You can hear a clip of Tommy (fiddle) and Oscar Jenkins from the County recording Down to the Cider Mill here. (Fred Cockerham is the third musician on that album, but not on this cut.) And someone has posted the entire cut of Matokie's from the County recording, Clawhammer Banjo, Vol 2 here.

Big grey horse and wide old saddle
And a pretty little girl ridin' a-straddle

Tommy's version is the one with the lyrics. It's danceable and major-key in tone. Matokie's strikes me as having a more complicated rhythm, almost suggesting the motion of a mechanical cider press. She gets a more modal sound by not emphasizing the 4 and 5 chords. (Although in this recording at the Digital Library of America, her adaptation to the guitar accompaniment reveals she had the chord changes in mind.)

You be the horse and I'll be the rider
Go down to the stillhouse and get a little cider

Reed Martin plays a wonderfully complex interpretation of Matokie's version, even more suggestive of a mechanical "mill." Recordings appear on on his Old Time Banjo CD (available at his website and on the compilation Old Time Banjo Gathering produced by Cathy Fink (clip here). Cathy herself recorded a rather smoothed-out interpretation of Reed's on Banjo Haiku, which is where I first heard the tune. Reed titles his "The Old Stillhouse," but Cathy calls hers "Cider Mill." I guess the tune can hold more than one title in the same way that a single building can house a still and a cider press.

The majority of recordings out there appear to be from Tommy's version. Even Miles Krassen, who tabs it on on p. 25 of his classic Clawhammer Banjo book says he learned tune from Reed Martin (so before 1974, the publication date of the book), but then says that probably the best recording is Cockerham (sic) and TJ. His tab is tuneful in that vein. (I couldn't find any other TJ recording beside the one above with Jenkins, not Cockerham on banjo, so I suspect Krassen made a mistake in his note. If you know of such a recording, please tell us.) Hear BHO member Blanham's recording of the Krassen tab here. Bob Carlin and Bruce Molskey do the tune TJ style on Banging and Sawing.

Cider, cider, little more cider
Down to the stillhouse get a little cider

You can find plenty of the TJ-style recordings on BHO and youtube if you search on either "cider mill" or "stillhouse." Do yourself a favor and click here to check out that spikey-hair young banjoist we all wish we could play like (whose initials are AH), playing with Beth Hartness and a fiddler and bass player I don't know (please fill in) from Clifftop 2010. (Note: this was filmed and posted by BHO member and dancer extraordinaire MoonshineV.)

The youtube poster banjoman1234 credits Reed Martin and Scruj MacDuhk's The Road to Canso album. His competent version is close to Reed's. But Scruj's is a cranked up celtic reel. (Play clip here.)

My connection to this tune is that it was one of the first clawhammer tunes (and the first in double-C tuning) I tried to learn as soon as I heard it on Banjo Haiku. I just loved that bluesy 7th note twang and the double thumb in the B part. What an over-reach that turned out to be! I was hung up by the fingering in that syncopated second phrase in the A part. After a few years of making little progress, it dawned on me to try all those notes on the second string instead of both the first and second. Voila! Being able to play that phrase somehow liberated me and opened up some experimentation, especially in the B part. It's one of my favorites. Hope you like it too.

Cider Mill


vrteach - Posted - 03/25/2011:  07:38:47

Good tune, and great version ramjo.

I look forward to hearing many versions. Mine is fairly bland, and I hear it being similar to what I play for "Black-eyed Suzie". I re-acquainted myself with "Cider MIll" a while back when I was preparing for a brownbag lecture for the museum where I work. I was looking for tunes that reflected items in our collection with the main focus being Needlecase. But, we do have some small cider presses, so I could do this tune.

Here is a painting of a French cider mill by Paul Seignac (1826 – 1904, French)

A diagram of a late 19th-century improved cider mill apparatus.

and a gentleman enjoying some cider

Edited by - vrteach on 03/25/2011 07:47:37

Cider Mill


John D - Posted - 03/25/2011:  08:56:45

Another great TOTW selection. Great versions so far.

There are MP3's by R.D. Lunceford and Reed Martin at the BNL site. "Old Stillhouse".

slipry1 - Posted - 03/25/2011:  12:28:41

When I lived in Oregon in the 80's, my wife and I put up 30 gallons of cider/juice each fall by picking from our own trees and those of cooperative neighbors. I'd take a 5 gallon carboy, fill it with juice, put a frementation cork on it, and, by Christmas, we'd have good ol' hard cider! The rest would be frozen and used as juice for the kids. It'd be gone by the next fall. It was delicious (but not many Delicious apples)!

banjoholic - Posted - 03/25/2011:  13:16:44

Great choice, Robert. One of my all-time favorite melodies.

I recently picked up Tommy Jarrell volume 1 and 2 from the Field Recorders Collective ( It's a CD of Tommy playing with Mike Seeger and Paul Brown at the Pinewoods Camp in the early 80s. Tommy is 85, 6 months from his death, and he sounds better than ever - his version of Cider on volume 1 notwithstanding.


bluemule_77 - Posted - 03/25/2011:  15:05:46

I've always thought that Tommy was singing, "Hickory horse and white-oak saddle." At least, it sounds that way to me on the recording on the album "Down to the Cider Mill."

ramjo - Posted - 03/26/2011:  06:11:40

Originally posted by bluemule_77

I've always thought that Tommy was singing, "Hickory horse and white-oak saddle." At least, it sounds that way to me on the recording on the album "Down to the Cider Mill."

Bluemule, maybe that's your hickory horse he's singing about...

Thank you all for your comments, compliments and contributions. Erich, I'm so happy you posted those images. I looked briefly for some to add, but ran out of time before I could find anything suitable. Yours really enhance the mood. (Slipry1 might have been the guy filling the hopper in that first one.) I like your version too--nice articulate playing.

John_D thanks for the links to BNL. I'm glad people can listen to the full take of Reed. It's such astonishing playing. And how great is it to hear R.D.'s chugging version?

Banjoholic, I never noticed that FRC set before, but I'm going to buy now for sure. That must've been one heckuva camp!

ubiquilady - Posted - 03/28/2011:  11:10:39

Hi... the other folks playing along with Adam and me in the clip from Clifftop are Emily Schaad on fiddle and Joseph "JoeBass" DeJarnette. Joe also recorded a really nice version of "Cider" on the Light and Hitch cd: Riley Baugus recorded the tune as well on his "Life of Riley" cd ( and I'm pretty sure that Riley learned the tune directly from Tommy Jarrell and Dix Freeman.

mike hansen - Posted - 03/28/2011:  15:20:05

Adam taught this Tune at The Surry County Old-Time Fiddlers Convention this past weekend...I was just trying to remember it and I couldn't find the recorded version I thought I this is an especially serendipitous TOTW for me...thanks for reading my mind!

dbrooks - Posted - 03/28/2011:  17:06:21

A portion of Riley Baugus' version can be heard at the Banjo Newsletter web site. The tab was in the September 2002 issue. here's a link to the page of MP3s starting with 'C'. Look for "Cider."

You can order a copy of the September 2002 BNL for the tab, I would think.


Miguel - Posted - 03/29/2011:  21:29:39

The BNL tab says its in G tuning but its actually double C

mike hansen - Posted - 03/30/2011:  10:51:28

fesso - Posted - 05/27/2011:  21:32:02

What an awesome tune, thanks for posting all the great versions.... I'd love to learn this tune, anyone have tab for it, preferably a TEF....

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