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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 6/24/2011 "The Blackest Crow" 2 finger thumb lead

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RG - Posted - 06/24/2011:  11:18:44

Kind of went a different direction with this weeks pick, a 2 finger thumb lead version of the venerable ballad "The Blackest Crow", aka "As Time Draws Near" and " My Dearest Sweetheart".  It's a 3/4 time waltz piece that has been a longtime favorite of mine going back to the County Clawhammer Vol. 3 album (yes I am that old to be able to rightfully say "album"), where Mr. Tommy Jarrell tears it up.  The tunes current popularity with both the OT and BG crowd is no doubt due to Mr. Jarrell's playing of this tune as there seem to be no prior recordings of it to that point. 

The history of this tune is a little murky, it appears to have been very popular throughout Appalachia through the Ozarks, but for some reason not widely recorded...something of a mystery, although it has been found in printed form so more than likely it was not an orally transmitted tune.  The existence of the many printed versions has led most to the conclusion that "The Blackest Crow" and it's alias' were most likely broadside or newspaper disseminated ballads of considerable vintage...

The excellent UK site mustrad had a nice article regarding the broadside ballads, as well as this short note regarding the song as sung by Doug Wallin from Crane Branch, Madison County, North Carolina...

"Cecil Sharp collected a very similar set, titled My Dearest Dear, on August 5th, 1916, from Mary Sands, Doug Wallin's great-aunt.  Another North Carolina recording, sung by Dolly Greer, may be heard on the album The Doc Watson Family Tradition (Rounder CD 0129), while two other notable recordings of it are Tommy Jarrell's, as My Dearest Dear on (County LP 757 Clawhammer Banjo, Volume 3) and from Dan Tate, as As Time Draws Near on a Prentice-Hall LP anthology, Anglo-American Folksong Style.  Mark Wilson has found it to be popular in Kentucky and the Ozarks and is sure that it is far more popular than its scattered appearances in songbooks would suggest." 


Lyle Lofgren posted a nice short essay along with some guitar tab...


Kim and Jim Lansfrord recorded it on their CD "Old-Time Music from the Missouri Ozarks" and note that versions of the song were very popular in Stone County Missouri dating back to the 1890's... 


Tommy Jarrell's definitive (in my opinion) CH version...;sr=1-3

Here are Tommy's vocals and the verses I sing to this song (more about that later)...


Brad Leftwich tabbed out Tommy's version in his excellent "Round Peak Banjo" book...


More recently, KIrk Sutphin and Riley Baugus do a great version on their CD "Long-Time Piedmont Pals" (love Mr. Sutphin's fiddling on this one, definitive fiddle version IMHO)...;sr=1-1


Here is a fiddle version of the tune (and quite well known) of Bruce Molsky and Julie Fowlis (what a voice!!)..


There are tons of recorded versions of this song so I'll leave them to you to ferret out and discover.  This is a very simple tune to pick up, I play this CH slightly differently than my thumb lead version, will try to post that over the weekend so you can see the differences, you should be able to pick up what's going on with the 2 finger thumb lead if you check out our own Mojo Monk's "Thumb-Lead Banjer" page... 

which explains the basic elements behind thumb lead playing.  If you are interested in OT finger picking styles, I highly recommend Art Rosenbaum's book "Old Time Mountain Banjo".

Now on to my disclaimer, I had a a version with vocals all set to post, but when I went to upload to my home page all I could find was my instrumental warm-up vocals (probably better for everyone anyway)...somewhere in the flurry of my procrastination to record the song at midnight last night I had deleted the track with vocals from BOTH my Zoom and that's stupid!!  So I leave you with my warm up sessions...SORRY...and please excuse the roughness of the sound and repetitiveness of the tune as I was trying to position the zoom and get my fingers in shape after a 14 hour day etc.  As I am well aware of, and a firm believer in the old adage that "Excuses are like..." (you know the rest), I'm going to shut up and just post, so here goes...played in standard "G" (gDGBD-where I sing it...not!), played entirely within the first five frets, hope you enjoy...

Here are Tommy Jarrell's vocals (these are the verses I sing to the tune, which you would have heard if only I had been smart enough to save the track!!!)... 

As time draws near my dearest dear, when you and I must part

But little you know of the grief and woe of my poor aching heart

It’s what I suffer for your sake, you’re the one I love so dear

I wish that I was going with you and you was staying here


I wish my breast was made of glass, wherein you might behold

For there your name lies wrote my dear, in letters made of gold

Oh there you name lies wrote my dear, believe me what I say

You are the one I love the best until my dying day


The crow that is so black my love may surely turn to white

If ever I prove false to you, bright day may turn to night

Bright day may turn to night my love, the elements will mourn

If ever I prove false to you, the seas may rage and burn


Edited by - RG on 06/24/2011 11:44:57

The Blackest Crow


MountainBanjo - Posted - 06/24/2011:  13:05:25

My favorite Tommy Jarrell Song, and a rare clawhammer waltz. I dont care for any other version I've heard since, Tommy owns this one.

I need to go back and look at Brad's book again, I never quite got the hang of this when I tried a couple years ago. I may try it as a 2 (or 3) finger index lead piece, which I think it would also sound good as

ramjo - Posted - 06/24/2011:  15:13:07

I really like what you bring to this, RG. The way you emphasize those ancient tones in the second half of the a-part lines. And the two-finger approach really gives it a nice lilt. Nice!

ScottK - Posted - 06/24/2011:  15:58:39

Great pick and great picking, RG!  This has been a long-time favorite of mine, too.  I think I was originally drawn to it by the version performed by Clare Milliner and Walt Koken on their Just Tunes CD.  I eventually learned it from Brad Leftwich's book.  Took me a really long time to learn.  Don't know why.  Anyway, I have a recording of it on my BHO Music Page, too.

Thanks for posting!


ScottK - Posted - 06/24/2011:  16:24:52

Forgot to mention that Adam Hurt also plays a beautiful banjo version of this (as he does with every tune he plays!):

Adam Hurt plays "The Blackest Crow" 


TOTW - Posted - 06/24/2011:  16:57:18

Tommy Jarrell -

Brad Leftwich -

Arnie Naiman & Chris Coole -

Bruce Molsky -

Bryan Bowers -

Dirk Powell, Tim O'Brien, John Herrmann -

Heidi Talbot -

Uncle Earl -

Castania - Posted - 06/24/2011:  20:39:12

On the videos above, does anyone else get "This video is unlisted. Only those with the link can see it."?


Edited by - Castania on 06/24/2011 20:39:45

banjered - Posted - 06/25/2011:  05:15:17

Yep, ditto me too Castania. Great tune! I've been playing and singing this tune a couple of years now. It's a good tune to learn to DT in3/4 time. One of these days I'lll learn how to post audios or even videos.

Is Enoch's Dobson banjo Adam's main traveling/gig banjo these days? Banjered

hendrid - Posted - 06/25/2011:  08:03:48

Nice waltz RG, good pick. Seems the sheet music is in Eminor. Quite a few hits on Google. Don

Sheet music with lyrics.  This site has a number of common songs sheet music also:

Discussion of lyrics and links to other discussions and chords and Time Draws Near and its lyrics:

| D | D | G | G |

| G | G | Em | Em |

| D | D | G | G |

| G | G | Em | Em |

| G | G | G | G |

| Em | D | Em | Em |

| D | D | G | G |

| G | G | Em | Em |


Edited by - hendrid on 06/25/2011 08:06:09

majikgator - Posted - 06/25/2011:  08:42:56

i have played it two finger but kept it more in line with the Leftwich tab, this is one of favorites any way you play it.

blanham - Posted - 06/25/2011:  14:50:12

I love that two finger version, RG; it's really old-timey good stuff. And Scott, your recording is really sweet, with some chording in there. I haven't learned two finger style yet, but I just recorded this CH one today. I used my travel banjo, a Tranjo Express, and it's amazing how it sounds for such a strange little banjo.

(By the way, another good one out there is on Cathy Fink's"Banjo Haiku.")

ZEPP - Posted - 06/25/2011:  17:02:57

A great tune--it's the one I usually use to introduce 3/4 time for clawhammer. Nonetheless, one of recordings of it that I like most is Arnie Naiman's (on the first 5 Strings Attached With No Backing). Funny thing is, though, Arnie played it in 4/4, which is a brilliant twist on this old favorite!

BTW, there are many, many reasons why anyone interested in clawhammer should have Arnie's and Chris Coole's recordings--this is just one. If you don't have them, go to their site  and buy them!



Edited by - ZEPP on 06/25/2011 17:04:09

derwood400 - Posted - 06/25/2011:  18:36:48


Originally posted by ZEPP

A great tune--it's the one I usually use to introduce 3/4 time for clawhammer. Nonetheless, one of recordings of it that I like most is Arnie Naiman's (on the first 5 Strings Attached With No Backing). Funny thing is, though, Arnie played it in 4/4, which is a brilliant twist on this old favorite!

BTW, there are many, many reasons why anyone interested in clawhammer should have Arnie's and Chris Coole's recordings--this is just one. If you don't have them, go to their site  and buy them!



Arnie's version was the first version of this song I ever heard, when I was first getting into this music.  Then I found the tab in Brad's book and was thrilled to be able to learn it, but was really thrown by the 3/4 time.  Of course later on I realized that all the other versions of the song were in 3/4 time, and Arnie's version was the exception.  I love it in 4/4 time, and I think Arnie's version is still my favorite.  

Arnie's and Chris' 5 Strings Attached vol. 1 & 2 probably get more play time than almost any albums I have.  You've gotta get them, and anything else by them together or individually.  

RG, thanks for this wonderful contribution, and for putting a 2-finger version up.  

RG - Posted - 06/25/2011:  20:02:06

Thanks to all for the great comments regarding the tune selection and for posting suggestions & links to other versions & thanks Robert, Scott, Don, Blanham & Darren for the kind comments, appreciate that! 

Scott your version sounds real nice, that chording sure does add texture to the tune a bit & subtly changes it in a very interesting way, nice touch.  Blanham, your version on the Tranjo sounds mighty good, nice interpretation & you sure pull some great tone out that banjo, which once again shows it's the archer and not the arrow!

As I posted, this tune is one of my favorites and glad that I could share it with other folks who like it as much as I do...

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