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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 10/28/11 Sugar In the Gourd

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:

blockader - Posted - 10/27/2011:  21:07:06

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 .

The Fiddler’s Companion entry is, as usual, interesting and informative:

SUGAR IN THE GOURD [1]. OldTime, 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’.

Two dirty TOTWs in a row! The entire entry can be found at .

Heres a video of SITG in a jam setting with Georgia favorites Beverly Smith and John Grimm. I believe that is BHO’s own R Buck on fiddle as well: .

And a video featuring Adam Hurt: .

My favorite BHO sound file version is again John Grimm but accompanied by Craig Evans/Frailin, to great effect:">" target="_blank">

Although this fretless version is a close second:">" target="_blank">

Finally, here is how i play it, more or less.


Edited by - blockader on 10/28/2011 07:33:27

Sugar In the Gourd


banjoholic - Posted - 10/28/2011:  09:25:48

Great choice and great playing.  I also like Tut Taylor's dobro rendition of it, even if it is a little bluegrassified :)

For those interested, backup for this tune is also available at the old time jam site.  It's a pretty easy tune to pick up, and a good one I think for those just starting to play by ear.


SCclawman - Posted - 10/28/2011:  09:37:06

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!

J-Walk - Posted - 10/28/2011:  11:38:36

That's some mighty fine picking, blockader -- and a great choice for ToTW. For some reason, that tune never gets played at our jams. Maybe I'll try to change that.

My favorite recording is by The Arivada Ramblers, featuring Big Jim Griffith on banjo and Meghan Merker on Fiddle.

Another good one is by Wilson Douglas. He plays it in A, I've always been confused by the part structure. So today I wrote it out:




AAB 1/2 of B





Shave & Haircut

It's must be tough playing with him!

I'll try to record a version when I get my gourd banjo back from the shop. It seems like an appropriate banjo to play.

Julian44_4 - Posted - 10/28/2011:  12:06:07

TablEdit file here;v=18324

Don Borchelt - Posted - 10/28/2011:  12:28:11

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.

- Don Borchelt


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 10/28/2011 12:32:13

Sugar in the Gourd from Clifftop 2009


Julian44_4 - Posted - 10/28/2011:  12:34:43

Both Oldwoodchuck and Jan-Olov Sundkvist have tabs in their collections.

blockader - Posted - 10/28/2011:  17:45:00

thanks for the kind words, everyone. i shoulda mentioned as that is where i was able to pick up the tune from, as usual.


mojo_monk - Posted - 10/29/2011:  05:44:47

Not one of my favorite tunes, but here are a few that I always have to replay when they come up:

By Marcus Martin, Manon Campbell, Artie Vandergriff, Israel "Tom" Welch.



Edited by - mojo_monk on 10/29/2011 05:49:13

Tamarack - Posted - 10/29/2011:  08:03:47

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.

cbcarlisle - Posted - 10/29/2011:  08:52:00

Much entendre can be doubled by context, as they used to do on the show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

"I was walking down the street....If you know what I mean!"

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