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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (10/14/11) East Virginia

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:

Adam Kiesling - Posted - 10/14/2011:  08:26:44

One of my favorite collections of music happens to be the American Anthology of Folk Music. First released in 1952, the Anthology was compiled by Harry Smith and consists of 84 different songs (originally recorded between 1927 and 1932) that run the gamut of old blues, old-time, early country, Cajun and gospel. Smithsonian/Folkways reissued the compilation on CD in 1997.

Buell Kazee (1900-1976) was born in Burton Fork, KY and worked as a pastor in Lexington, KY. He started playing the banjo at an early age and also received some formal musical training. He ended up recording 58 sides for Brunswick between the years of 1927 - 1929. He also is represented on the Anthology with three tracks: "The Butcher's Boy," "The Wagoner's Lad," and "East Virginia."

Here is his version of "East Virginia." According to the 1997 reissue's liner notes, Buell recorded this on April 20, 1927, and it was released as BR 154B.

Here is what Harry Smith had to say about "East Virginia" (from Smith's original 1952 liner notes). Smith had one or two lines written about each song in the Anthology, and basically summed each one up in a pretty dry manner.


I haven't been able to find too much info about the age of the tune itself, but I haven't been able to dig into it all that much. The Carter Family also had a song called "East Virginia Blues"; it shares some of the same lyrics, but it's melodically related to the song "Greenback Dollar." Kentucky banjo player has a song called "Oh Molly Dear" that hews pretty closely to Buell's version.

There are quite a few versions of this tune out there on the web. Here's one I like by Elizabeth LaPrelle and Kirk Sutphin:

Lastly, here are two attempts from your's truly. One was done on my Menzies tackhead, the other on my Brooks banjo tuned down a few steps. Both are done in sawmill. I probably shouldn't have attempted to sing with a head cold, but oh well........

East Virginia (steel string)

East Virginia

blockader - Posted - 10/14/2011:  08:35:46

a great song and nice renditions, head cold or not. heres another performance of it i am partial too:


p.s. buckeye banjo?

Edited by - blockader on 10/14/2011 08:41:14

Adam Kiesling - Posted - 10/14/2011:  08:47:44

Thanks for the note, Justin. My steel string banjo is a 30L with a silverspun rim by Brooks Masten. He does some very nice work.

One thing I forgot to add in my initial post. There's a great blog about the Anthology that is done by Hangout member Gadaya:

staronjeff - Posted - 10/14/2011:  09:46:22

let not forget different name same song

janolov - Posted - 10/14/2011:  12:30:45

According to the New Lost City Rambler's Song Book this tune can be traced back to seventeenth century England. One of the first Southern Mountain recording of it was Clarence Ashley's "Dark Holler Blues" ca 1928, which was a modal version with banjo as accompanying instrument. Ashley later sang virtually the same tune and similar text to the accompaniment of guitar and bluesy mouth-harp on East Virginia Blues. About the same time the Carter Family recorded the song entirely in major and two part harmony. Later in the 1930's the song developed into the popular Greenback Dollar.

There is also another nice modal version in Pete Seeger's book with a very cool banjo break/solo.  

majikgator - Posted - 10/14/2011:  13:56:39

i do the sound board every Thursday for two of my friends, they do this song pretty frequently, it adapts well to any style banjo or all your regular instruments as well. Just a great sonmg and a welcome TOTW. Nice rendition you did just fine.

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 10/14/2011:  18:46:02

East Virginia is a great song and has been in my repertory since I first heard the New Lost City Ramblers do it around 1960.

I can help fill in a bit of historical background on it, because I looked it up in Sharp's collection or perhaps Lomax (time sorta mushes stuff like this together) and discovered that I already was familiar with the song in another guise. It is an American version of "Silver Daggers" a Child ballad in which the hero has to leave the area because his loved one is the daughter of the local lord. He being lowly borne, has no business being around her and those Silver Daggers dominate the entire ballad.

There is also a depression era version which takes that same longing and applies it to a piece of property

"I don't want your millions, Mister

   I don't want your diamond ring

All I want is my home, Mister

   Please give me back my farm again"

And anyone who does not have the Harry Smith collection should get it immediately - if not sooner. Mike Seeger told me to get a copy but at the time money was tight for me and I didn't own a copy until I married (I didn't actually marry her to get the collection, but it sure was a great bonus) and I still think of my pre-anthology days as the dark ages. It is the quintessence of Old Time Music.

Edited by - oldwoodchuckb on 10/14/2011 18:53:09

TOTW - Posted - 10/14/2011:  23:35:37

Contains Art Stamper, Ashley & Foster, Buell Kazee, Cisco Houston, Clarence Ashley, Elizabeth Laprelle, J.D. Crowe & the New South, Jack Eilliot & Derroll Adams, Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson, June Carter Cash, Lily May Ledford, Logan English, Mike Seeger, New Lost City Ramblers, Pete Seeger, Pete Steele, Ralph Stanley, Roscoe Holcomb, Rusty York, Carter Family, Stanley Brothers, The Steeldrivers, The Weavers, Walter Williams

Hunter Robertson - Posted - 10/15/2011:  01:11:20

There's a beautiful version sung unaccompanied by Lee Monroe Presnell. There are 2 recordings of him, one on The Traditional Music of Beech Mountain on Folk-Legacy and the other on Nothing Seems Better to Me. You can hear it here, no. 39, "Old Virginny":


Edited by - Hunter Robertson on 10/15/2011 01:11:50

hendrid - Posted - 10/15/2011:  07:20:00

Nice tune Adam. Thanks for the research and also yours Janalov. East Virginia, Dark Holler, some of East Virginia Blues maybe and such. has an abc notation for East Virginia melody. A version with fiddle and band is on


stevel - Posted - 10/17/2011:  07:29:43

great song. i play in in fDGCD. i learned it from recordings by George R. Gibson and Clifton Hicks.

mbuk06 - Posted - 10/17/2011:  12:03:34

Of all the wonderful songs that I've come to love since taking up the banjo East Virginia is my all-time favorite. Not sure why one song would get me that way. It's probably a lot to do with the lyrics and the timelessness and fundamental nature of the story. My guess is there can't be many of us with a pulse who don't sense some resonance on one level or another. Just fascinating to learn more about the history on this post.

Blockader...I love that version on YouTube too.

Uncle Sinner - Posted - 11/01/2011:  10:59:03

Walter Williams does a great hell-bent-for-leather version of this, I think on a Library of Congress banjo compilation.

bordertownbrown - Posted - 11/01/2011:  11:37:42

This is my version which was recorded several years ago, taken mostly from Clarence "Tom" Ashley, I do like the versions by Buell Kazee and the Carter Family but Ashley's "Dark Holler" is my favorite.

(click to view)


Strumelia - Posted - 11/02/2011:  09:52:38

Another variation of East Virginia is Little Maggie, basically the same tune and shares some lyrics.

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