Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

 All Forums
 Playing the Banjo
 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tune of the Week 01/13/12: Abe's Retreat

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:

YorkshireWannabeOldTimer - Posted - 01/13/2012:  01:48:33


The tune that I'm chosen has various names: Abe's Retreat, The Battle of Bull Run, Manassas Junction. The titles mark the defeat suffered by the Union Army in the first major land battle of the US Civil War, on July 21st 1861. I first encountered a version of the tune on Dwight Diller's great album Just Banjo 99, a version which makes it one of those lovely heavy minor-y modal tunes: there's a great Youtube video of Diller playing the tune on fiddle here; he seems to have learnt his version from Lee Hammons, judging from his reminiscences at the start of the vid. There's another slightly different strand of versions of the tune which make it more major-y and Celtic sounding to my ears, as illustrated by the fiddle playing of West Virginian fiddler Emory Bailey here and the fiddle playing of WV fiddler Wilson Douglas here.

The ever-informative Fiddler's Companion says this about the tune:

ABE'S RETREAT. AKA and see "The Battle of Bull Run," "Manassas Junction." Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA, W.Va. A Mixolydian. Standard, AEae or GDgd (Harvey Sampson) tunings. AABB. The alternate title makes it clear that the Abe referred to is Abraham Lincoln, who, as President, was Commander in Chief of the Union army which met a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Bull Run (or, in the South, the Battle of 1st Manassas), Virginia, July 21st, 1861. The tune was in the repertoire of Wilson Douglas (1922-1999), a fiddler from Clay County, West Virginia. Another famous West Virginia fiddler, Burl Hammons, plays a similar tune, according to Bill Hicks (1975), and remembers a song connected with the tune having to do with Noah's Ark, with the refrain "forty days and forty nights." Sources for notated versions: collected in the 1950's from W.Va. fiddler Emory Bailey (Calhoun County, W.Va.) by Dr. Malvin Artley of Elon College, N.C., via the Red Clay Ramblers (N.C.) [Spandaro]; Paul Kotapish (Berkeley, CA, c. 1970's) [Songer]. Songer (Portland Collection), 1997, pg. 17. Spandaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; pg. 47. Appleseed Records, Cordelia’s Dad – “Spine” (1998). Augusta Heritage Recordings AHR-004C, Harvey Sampson and the Big Possum String Band – “Flat Foot in the Ashes” (1986/1994. Learned by Calhoun County, W.Va., fiddler Sampson from his father and brother Homer). Cassette C-7625, Wilson Douglas - "Back Porch Symphony." Wilson Douglas – “Fiddle Tunes from Central West Virginia.” Flying Fish 009, Red Clay Ramblers ‑ "Stolen Love" (1975). New Lost City Ramblers – “There Ain’t No Way Out.” Rafe Stefani – “Hell and Scissors” (based on Emory Bailey’s version). PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor – “The Civil War Collection” (1996).

There's a nice bunch of versions of the tune on Youtube, e.g. as played by Silasbanjo, Spinzorelli, Sorrythatusertaken, The Gilded Bats. And there's also">a range of excellent recordings currently on the BHO Jukebox by blanham, mralston, Sid Barone, Vega$ Fairbanks, RWJones1970 (x2), Fretless in Texas and Vrteach, which I've put into a little Playlist.

Finally, here I am, bashing my way through a version last Saturday morning:


Edited by - YorkshireWannabeOldTimer on 01/13/2012 01:51:58

Abe's Retreat


Tobias - Posted - 01/13/2012:  02:16:25

Great tune.

In my band we love playing this tune. Our banjoplayer plays it tuned aAEAE.

Here we play it while rehearsing:


YorkshireWannabeOldTimer - Posted - 01/13/2012:  02:24:23

Very fine version there Tobias; I missed it on my Youtube trawl. I've just noticed that there's a tab for the tune, based on the playing of Rafe Stafanini and leaning in the major-y direction, in Steve Parker's book Clawhammer Banjo String Band Favourites. People use a range of tunings for the tune. Steve Parker uses open G up to A as the tuning (a tab of Dwight Diller's version was available on his website which used Open G); I've played it in Sawmill and some other versions use that tuning (some tabs on Dwight Diller's website put it in Sawmill but they seem to have gone); RWJones on the BHO uses GGDGD

Edited by - YorkshireWannabeOldTimer on 01/13/2012 02:37:49

earlsgranada - Posted - 01/13/2012:  05:17:06

Abe's Retreat is probably my favorite modal tune, along with Fine Times at Our House. I play my version in gDGAD capoed up two frets. The notes hen with the capo on would be aEABE.

Great tune, and thank you for sharing this.


blanham - Posted - 01/13/2012:  05:25:59

Nice choice of a tune.  I like all the different versions on the Banjo Hangout.  Here is a tab to go with the one that I recorded, which you already added to your Abe's Retreat playlist, Yorkshire.  Mine is based off of the Emery Bailey version, so it's not quite like the Dwight Diller version.

Edited by - blanham on 01/13/2012 05:26:46

Abe's Retreat Tab


Clawdan - Posted - 01/13/2012:  05:50:41

I think my favorite recording of this tune is the one by Vince Farcetta. Great tune, great player.


hendrid - Posted - 01/13/2012:  08:05:52

Here is a sheet music version in G or maybe that's Aminor.  Don

Albuquerque Megaband has a version in mp3

Edited by - hendrid on 01/13/2012 08:16:47

cbcarlisle - Posted - 01/13/2012:  12:13:03

There's more than a passing resemblance to "Little Beggar Man," etc. This tune cries out for non-fretted intonation.

I like the low string on this version.

banjo bill-e - Posted - 01/13/2012:  12:29:07

Hearing this tune for the first time changed my banjo life! Dwight Diller's version on Banjo 99 is what FIRE is all about in playing. Not speed, but intensity, and drama! This is one solo banjo recording that should be played loud! This tune set the direction that I would go on my banjo quest. I don't know how far I will get, but I know what I'm reaching for, and this tune is a great example of it. For all of that, I have never tried to learn it, so I guess maybe it's time to give it a try.

YorkshireWannabeOldTimer - Posted - 01/13/2012:  13:21:53

Many thanks for the tab and pointers to further excellent versions! I agree, cbcarlisle, that it would send great on a fretless banjo, in the right hands: I've tried playing it myself on my fretless tackhead and mountain banjos but I'm not expert enough reliably to get the highest notes in the second part sounding right. I love the Diller version too, banjo bill-e  - I think trying to catch it off his recording was maybe the first time I tried to get a tune by ear on the banjo.    

jamesd - Posted - 01/13/2012:  13:46:17

Yorkshire, great tune you have selected.  This is the first time I have listened closely to the tune and I really like it.  And Many thanks to Bob for posting his tab for the tune.

Now I have another tune to learn, thanks,   James......

J-Walk - Posted - 01/13/2012:  15:58:25

Good tune. I've heard it many times, but I never tried playing it.

I took Curt's advice, and figured it out on a low tuned fretless. If I get it half-way presentable, I'll post a video.

Julian44_4 - Posted - 01/13/2012:  19:51:42

arranged for banjo by Dale Allen Pfeiffer;v=18324

Don Borchelt - Posted - 01/20/2012:  07:32:07

I'm a week late, but this is such a fine tune, I thought I'd bump the thread anyway.  Nice picking by "wannabe" and nice fiddling by Curt.  Here is my version, which I first posted about six months ago. 

Abe's Retreat Three Finger Tab

The Great Skedaddle


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 01/20/2012 07:41:37

VIDEO: Abe's Retreat
(click to view)


Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Privacy Consent
Copyright 2024 Banjo Hangout. All Rights Reserved.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories