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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW for 7/1/11: Five Miles from Town


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/209994

Don Borchelt - Posted - 07/01/2011:  05:19:01



This weeks TOTW is a really squirrely old tune from Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport, called Five Miles from Town.  Davenport learned the tune from his father, Will Davenport, growing up on the family farm in Wayne County, in the south central part of the state, near the border with Tennessee.  Davenport, a WWII combat veteran, is now 89, and lives in Jamestown, Tennessee, just a few miles down the road from where he was raised.  In 1992, Davenport received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of his contribution to American music.  Brown University ethnomusicologist Jeff Titon has posted a nice biography of Clyde Davenport on line:



Jeff Titon’s biography of Clyde Davenport





Clyde Davenport



In a thread on crooked tunes a month or so ago, Lew Stern (Brooklynbanjoboy) wrote: “I recall Dwight Diller describing crooked tunes as tunes that just seem to take off in a completely unexpected direction from the way they started out, zigging where they might have been presumed to zag -- so to speak.”  I think this is a fundamental insight, that the essential quality of a crooked tune is its melodic freedom, not just the existence of one or more extra beats, which are a result more than a cause.  I can’t think of a better example of this than Five Miles from Town.  Listen to Clyde Davenport play it, in the smooth style that earned him his NEA fellowship, and the admiration of old time musicians everywhere, in a recording he made at Berea College in 1970, from the Digital Library of Appalachia.



Clyde Davenport fiddling Five Miles from Town



The A part- the course part of the tune- starts out normally enough, with an 8 beat strain that repeats itself, a melody that sounds  sort of familiar; Titon in his book Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes identifies it as part of the “Dubuque” or Duck River family of tunes.  But just when you figure the A part is over, the melody zags north in a new direction, before ending like the first two, and adding another 8 beats to the part.  The whole thing then repeats.  The B part, the fine part, gets truly squirrely, with some very unusual timing in its phrasing.  When it is done it has only 23 beats, one beat less than the A part, before it repeats.  I found a transcription of Davenport’s tune in PDF format on a website called The Way of the Fiddle, you can see in print how the melody tacks more often than a racing sloop:



Transcription of Five Miles from Town



I first heard this tune a few years ago at a the old time music jam that has been occurring at Sandy’s Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts just about every Monday evening for the last thirty years or so.  Jon Gersh and Kathy Fletcher, who have led the jam for quite a few years now, were kind enough to record this with me in their basement studio.  I have attached our rendition, below.  Kathy is playing fiddle, Jon is playing banjo clawhammer style, and I am playing three finger style, in open D tuning.  Jon and Kathy are known around Boston as Planet Banjo, and have an old time group called the Dixie Butterhounds.





As always, for anyone who is interested, I have a tab of my three-finger style arrangement at my website:



Three-finger style tab of Five Miles from Town



There are four versions of Five Miles from Town posted in the BHO MP3 archive.  They are all well worth listening to.  The first is from Joe Newbury, Raleigh, North Carolina, made in January, 2008, with his band, The Tarheel Hot Shots.  It doesn't get any sweeter than this, moves at a real clip.  I really like the ending  Jeff Crane (snackmaster), Ulster Park, New York, posted his version in October, 2008, with Laurie Hauptmann on fiddle.  This is a truly great, haunting performance, really well done.  BHO member edavidt, Port Townsend, Washington, uploaded his version in January, 2009.  This is a nice, quiet, thoughtful job of picking.  Sounds like a fretless with gut or nylon strings. Steve Arkin, Valley Cottage, New York, always the contrarian, calls his version Five Miles to Town.  Recorded at Clifftop in August, 2010, it features John Hoffmann and Jim Collier on fiddle, Jim Nelson on guitar, Dedo Norris on bass, and Steve on banjo.  The banjo is right in there, keeping those fiddle players honest.  Some truly fine picking.



MP3 of Five Miles from Town played by Joe Newbury



MP3 of Five Miles from Town played by Jeff Crane



MP3 of Five Miles from Town played by edavidt



MP3 of Five Miles from Town played by Steve Arkin



There are two BHO YouTube videos of Five Miles from Town.  Dick Glasgow (Ptarmigan), Ballycastle, County Antrim, Ireland, shot the video of Tim Kerr & pal Jay playing Five Miles from Town in the Curfew Tower, Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim, Ireland, in July, 2009.  A spirited performance, sounds like it came straight from Wayne County.  The Curfew Tower is the town of Cushendall’s old dungeon, now an artists’ residence owned by Scottish pop icon Bill Drummond.  Adam Nash (lindyguy), New York, New York, showed some more of that New York contrarianism with his very modified version of Five Miles from Town, moving the extra crooked phrasing around a bit in a way that will offend some purists.  But it is well played, just the same.  I think the old guys did that, too, sometimes, when they felt like it.



Video of Five Miles from Town played by Tim Kerr and Jay



Video of Five Miles from Town played by Adam Nash



Cruising out on the internets, I found some truly remarkable versions of Five Miles from Town.  The Digital Library of Appalachia has another fine recording of the tune from Jake and Sarah Owen, recorded at Warren Wilson College in October, 1990.  Jake, I think, is the son of Malcolm and Vickie Owen, members of the seminal Fuzzy Mountain String Band.   Appalachian dulcimer master Don Pedi has recorded a wonderful version; it can be found at the website for Bear Meadow Appalachian Dulcimers. Christy Burns, a fine young hammered dulcimer player from Chattanooga, has a great performance posted on YouTube that is worth checking out.



MP3 of Five Miles from Town played by Jake and Sarah Owen



MP3 of Five Miles from Town played by Don Pedi



Video of Five Miles from Town played by Christy Burns



I regularly attend three different old time jams in the Boston Area, and Five Miles from Town is played often at all of them. This is a quintessential tune, and- I have to admit- one I found to be real challenge.  I had to listen to it repeatedly to be able to internalize the complex melodic structure, before I could even begin to figure it out.  But the moment I grasped what was going on, it was an epiphany.  This is a window into a very old way of music, a way that has survived like a tenacious weed against all attempts by some old time music experts to exterminate it through condescension.  They need to get over it.  Some tunes, like Five Miles from Town, are just plain not square on purpose. 



- Don Borchelt



 



Edited by - Don Borchelt on 07/01/2011 05:41:32



Five Miles from Town


Jon Gersh, Kathy Fletcher and I, playing Five Miles from Town

LyleK - Posted - 07/01/2011:  06:52:29



I love this tune, but it doesn't seem to get played around here.  It was pretty popular back in Knoxville, TN (because of proximity to Clyde) where I used to live.  All the versions here are great.  I had come across some of them a while ago and as a consequence decided there was absolutely no point in me recording a version, but I did do a CH tab (more on that later).  This also appears to be a "WildJimbo" fav.  See the archived thread at banjohangout.org/archive/190728 for a link to Jim's youtube, and for an *.mp3 that "Twelvefret" made of Clyde fiddling Betty Baker and Five Miles From Town.  In that thread there are also links to Jim's tab and mine at BHO, but I think those links may not work in the current iteration, so here they are:



Jim's banjohangout.org/tab/browse.as...p;v=14145



Lyle's banjohangout.org/tab/browse.as...p;v=14153



P.S. - It's in the archived thread, but for those that don't want to root around give track #14 on the CD "Five Miles From Town" at cdbaby.com/cd/dlovettfriends a listen.  Smokin'!



Edited by - LyleK on 07/01/2011 07:00:06

J-Walk - Posted - 07/01/2011:  07:10:43



I've been looking for something challenging and squirrely, and I think I found it.



There are lots of recordings and videos to learn from. I have recordings by  Rayna Gellert, and Tom Brad & Alice. The CD by Shesham and Lotus is called "Five Miles From Town," but (oddly) doesn't include the tune.



Thanks for giving me something to do, Don.


jayh - Posted - 07/01/2011:  08:23:16



Yes, this is a great one - and one I need to learn. Bruce Molsky has a great recording of this too on "Bruce Molsky & Big Hoedown".



Edited by - jayh on 07/01/2011 08:23:37

TOTW - Posted - 07/01/2011:  09:03:47



Rayna Gellert & Susie Goehring - youtube.com/watch?v=XzqrsIHthCk

Bruce Molsky & Big Hoedown - youtube.com/watch?v=MVwAcEyc-Ko

Tom, Brad & Alice - youtube.com/watch?v=6ofWAqdo2co



Edited by - TOTW on 07/01/2011 09:08:01

J-Walk - Posted - 07/01/2011:  10:45:39



Three hours later, this tune is starting to make sense to me.



Here's what I worked out for the chord structure. It's played AABB. The B part is where it goes all squirrely, so trust your ears rather than my chords.



A Part
------
D/// D/// D/// A/ D/
D/// D/// D/// A/ D/
Bm/// Bm/// Bm/// A/ D/

B Part
------
D/ D/ D/ D/ D/
D/ D/ D/ A/ D/
D/ D/ D/ D/ D/
Bm/// Bm/// Bm/// A/ D/



I've listened to quite a few recordings and it seems that there are lots of variations. Some people (like Rayna) start with the B part, and some people tend to straighten it out a bit to reduce the squirrely factor. That's the best of part of it, I think.


RG - Posted - 07/01/2011:  13:40:00



Hey Don-another TOTW well done!  You've picked some of my all time favorites as of late (Isham Monday's "Fire On the Mountain", Edden Hammon's "BIg Hoedown"), and now one of my favorite Clyde tunes...nice!!  You do a real nice version of this (as always).  We almost always play this one at our weekly jams (need to learn this on fiddle as well), we play it like Clyde plays it...nice and crooked! 


ramjo - Posted - 07/01/2011:  15:05:41



The dozen or more versions listed above make a great soundtrack for the cocktail hour. There's enough variation in style--Joe Newberry's can almost pass for bluegrass, don't you think?-- that it doesn't get repetitious. There's also a nice solo clawhammer version that came up after playing TOTW's youtube link to Tom, Brad, and Alice's.  I was pleasantly surprised. I'd have to say, though, my favorite is the Don, Jon, and Kathy version.



PS. Here's that link to WildJimbo's youtube that Lyle mentioned: youtube.com/watch?v=tNWn9AvCqBU&NR=1



Edited by - ramjo on 07/01/2011 15:10:52

Don Borchelt - Posted - 07/01/2011:  15:22:59



RG wrote: "Hey Don-another TOTW well done!  You've picked some of my all time favorites as of late (Isham Monday's "Fire On the Mountain", Edden Hammon's "BIg Hoedown"), and now one of my favorite Clyde tunes...nice!! "



My thanks to RG, J-Walk, ramjo and all for the very nice comments.  I realize now I had a "senior moment," when I did the work on this a few weeks ago.  I found the Burns video through a Google search, but I never got around to a YouTube search, thinking for some reason, later, that I had done it already.  So I missed all the great vids by WildJimbo, Rayna Gellert, etc.   But no harm done, faster acting neurons than mine got the job done.  It's nice that the youngbloods are helping out us old geezers! big



Now, what we need are some more BHO versions...



Edited by - Don Borchelt on 07/01/2011 15:23:37

J-Walk - Posted - 07/01/2011:  16:41:24



Two more videos:



youtube.com/watch?v=qwauptitowE - Three guys playing in a bookstore. Good quality.



youtube.com/watch?v=4ejDWYbpLW0 - No description, but that's gotta be Clare Milliner & Walt Koken. Not great audio or video.


WildJimbo - Posted - 07/01/2011:  22:33:49



quote:


Originally posted by LyleK




I love this tune, but it doesn't seem to get played around here.  It was pretty popular back in Knoxville, TN (because of proximity to Clyde) where I used to live.  All the versions here are great.  I had come across some of them a while ago and as a consequence decided there was absolutely no point in me recording a version, but I did do a CH tab (more on that later).  This also appears to be a "WildJimbo" fav.  See the archived thread at banjohangout.org/archive/190728 for a link to Jim's youtube, and for an *.mp3 that "Twelvefret" made of Clyde fiddling Betty Baker and Five Miles From Town.  In that thread there are also links to Jim's tab and mine at BHO, but I think those links may not work in the current iteration, so here they are:



Jim's banjohangout.org/tab/browse.as...p;v=14145



Lyle's banjohangout.org/tab/browse.as...p;v=14153



P.S. - It's in the archived thread, but for those that don't want to root around give track #14 on the CD "Five Miles From Town" at cdbaby.com/cd/dlovettfriends a listen.  Smokin'!






I came here to re-link to my video. youtube.com/watch?v=tNWn9AvCqBU



So Lyle, thanks for the mention.  It's still a fun tune to play, even after playing it so much.  I need to set up a camera and get video of me, Roy Curry, and Christie Burns playing it; sounds really cool as a trio. 



-=Jim



Edited by - WildJimbo on 07/01/2011 22:40:30

WildJimbo - Posted - 07/01/2011:  22:37:37



Oh... another video of Christie playing it, but on banjo very late, and very mellow.



youtube.com/watch?v=AdlVH7Q5X78


derwood400 - Posted - 07/02/2011:  04:22:31


I was just watching that video of Tim Kerr and Jay. I really like that one. After watching it for the third or fourth time I noticed what was different about the guys banjo playing. His thumb seems to rest possibly almost on his index finger rather than coming onto the fifth string each time. He does have it hit the fifth string sometimes and he drop thumbs sometimes I think too but the rest of time the thumb is out away from the strings and not touching anything. Sorry it's kind of off topic but I just thought it was interesting.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 07/02/2011:  04:53:51



derwood400 wrote: 'I was just watching that video of Tim Kerr and Jay. I really like that one. "



Tim Kerr is an established pop artist and punk rock musician who lives in Austin, Texas, who also happens to play old-time banjo.  There are a number of other videos from his three week artists residency at the Curfew Tower in 2009, also shot by Dick Glasgow, including Winder Slide, Greasy Coat, Hunt the Buffalo, and a number of others.  He might be "punk," but he clearly knows what he is doing on banjo, and shows great respect for the tradition.  Click on the image below to see his website:





Edited by - Don Borchelt on 07/02/2011 05:01:51

WildJimbo - Posted - 07/02/2011:  07:11:05



Oh, since I mentioned Roy Curry there's also a youtube of him playing the tune: youtube.com/watch?v=OsU5V8bIeMM



No... not banjo, but a slick guitar version that might help folks hear the melody.



 



-=Jim


Don Borchelt - Posted - 07/04/2011:  04:33:56



There was a discussion on the Fiddle Hangout about a year ago regarding the timing of this tune, which I thought was kind of interesting.  It the fiddlers had to work at it, it makes me feel better.  Notice they blame the banjo player...



fiddlehangout.com/topic/16541



I also thought it was amusing when one member accused Koken and Milliner of playing the "festival version."



Edited by - Don Borchelt on 07/04/2011 04:43:32

RG - Posted - 07/04/2011:  12:33:38



Don-you are so right about the timing, Clyde's versions are always a bit different, even within the same recording there seem to be time changes, all very confusing but the sum of which equals one awesome tune.  I'm going to post my 2 finger version a little later, this one is hard to play without a fiddler (which is how I am used to playing it), have never really played it solo before...it is slippery!


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