This tune is very popular in my region and is one of those that seems to come up in just about every jam. I believe it is also a common tune at dances but with 16 rather than 8 measures in the B part, as it is usually played. Sugar In The Gourd is also the eponym of the much loved online old time radio “station” available for free to all at sugarinthegourd.com/ .
The Fiddler’s Companion entry is, as usual, interesting and informative:
SUGAR IN THE GOURD . Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; Virginia, West Virginia, North Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri. G Major (Brody, Perlman, Reiner & Anick): A Major (Frets, Silberberg). Standard tuning. AB (Silberberg): AABB (Brody, Perlman, Reiner & Anick): AA'BB'C (Frets). There are several “Sugar in the Gourd” tunes, related and unrelated. This version of “Sugar in the Gourd” is melodically related to "Turkey in the Straw," and historically predates it, the words having been printed in the 1830's (Charles Wolfe). It was mentioned in an account authored by William Byrne describing a chance encounter with West Virginia fiddler ‘Old Sol’ Nelson during a fishing trip on the Elk River. The year was around 1880, and Sol, whom Byrne said was famous for his playing “throughout the Elk Valley from Clay Courthouse to Sutton as…the Fiddler of the Wilderness,” had brought out his fiddle after supper to entertain the company on a hunting trip (Milnes, 1999).
There are a few explanations of the meaning of the title. Formerly it has been thought that ‘sugar in the gourd' might refer to a practice of hanging sugar-filled vegetable gourds around a dance floor—to ease the friction for dancers sugar would periodically be thrown on those sections of the floor where the traffic was the heaviest. Another explanation, not mutually exclusive, is that ‘sugar in the gourd’ is a euphemism for completed coitis—in other words, depositing sperm into a womb is putting ‘sugar in the gourd’.
blockader, that's some fine picking you've done there on your recording. Thanks for introducing me to the song. Enjoyed reading your description of the song history, and then listening to the song. An all around fantastic job!
Really fine performance, blockader. Lot's of joyful bounce! Good tune choice.
This is a recording I made at Clifftop with my pal Don Couchie. Don is on fiddle, leaning on those double stops just the way I like it; I am three-finger picking on my short scale, semi-fretless Paramount, in open A tuning.
Thanks Blockader for another fine TOTW. Both my banjo and the forum have been sadly neglected lately, but I always check in on Fridays for the TOTW.
I never knew the old-timers were so risque, but I guess they were busily populating the Appalachians at the same time they were creating the music. I have heard various lyrics to Sugar in the Gourd, now that I think about it the lyrics are full of entendre and innuendo.