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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 4/20/12 - Blind Steer in a Mudhole


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/234227

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/20/2012:  10:44:08







Today's Tune of the Week is Blind Steer in a Mudhole, a fairly simple twelve-measure tune (eight-measure A part, four-measure B part) in the key of A that comes to us from southern Ohio fiddler Jimmy Wheeler.

 

I came across the tune during some recent research into Ohio fiddle tunes that began when my local weekly jam chose a different Ohio piece as their own tune of the week.  Being an Ohio native and living again in the state after a twenty year absence, that selection sparked in me a desire to enrich my current southern Appalachian-centric repertoire with some tunes that were born and popularized a little closer to home.  Compared to the long, rich history of field recording and tune collecting in areas like North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and so forth, Ohio seemed to be unexplored territory, and it has been relatively difficult to find old time tunes indigenous to the region. Much of the state's early-20th-century traditional fiddle and banjo music heritage has no doubt been lost - again compared to, say, Appalachia or the Ozarks - but fortunately there were a handful of people recording traditional Ohio artists back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. 

 

One of those people was fiddle player Jeff Goehring.  He recorded a number of southern Ohio fiddlers in the late 1970s and 1980s - Ward Jarvis, Lonnie Seymour, Cecil Plum, John Hannah, Arnold Sharp, and Jimmy Wheeler.  Many of his recordings can be found on Field Recorder Collective releases, including one from 2004 devoted to Jimmy Wheeler - FRC401 (fieldrecorder.com/docs/store20...tm#frc401 ). Jeff was also a founding member of The Red Mule String Band, a central Ohio old-time group popular in the 1980s. It was their recording of Blind Steer in a Mudhole on the 1994 Rounder compilation album "The Young Fogies" that introduced me to the tune.  Although I just discovered that album last month, I did actually see the Red Mule String Band many years ago - in 1985, I think.  That was back when I had a more casual interest in the music, buying the occasional Folkways album but not seeking out live performances, and not yet even thinking of taking up an instrument.  I somehow found myself at a concert of theirs in, of all places, the sculpture garden at the Columbus Museum of Art.  Not quite the usual venue for an introduction to live old-time string band music.


 


Jeff recorded Jimmy Wheeler in the early 1980s at Jimmy's home in Portsmouth, Ohio, a river town located at the southernmost point of the state, where the Scioto River flows into the Ohio (the Scioto being the namesake of the popular fiddle tune Big Sciota).  Jimmy was in his mid-60s at the time (he would die a few years later in 1987 at the age of 69) and had spent most of his life working as an instrument repairman and a professional musician, playing fiddle, guitar, and bass.  He played both old-time and popular music in a variety of groups over the years, including a long stint with Forrest Pick as "The Personality Boys" on WPAY in Portsmouth.


 


I could find no mention of his birthplace, but I assume it was Portsmouth or elsewhere in Scioto County.  Many of the southern Ohio fiddlers recorded by Jeff had actually been born in Kentucky or West Virginia, coming to Ohio as adults in search of work.  But it seems Jimmy's family had been in Ohio for a long time. A book on the history of Adams County, immediately to the west of Scioto County, contains the following passage:


 


"Dr. F. Cumming, while touring "the western country," tells of stopping at an inn run by Timothy Mershon near Locust Grove Ohio, in August, 1807. Timothy Mershon had been a tavern keeper in Hunterdon Co. NJ, where he had also served in the militia during the Revolutionary War.

"Mershon is from the Jerseys, he has a numerous family growing up, and is now building a large log house in which he means to keep a tavern. Three of his sons play the violin by ear -they had two shocking bad violins, one of which was of their own manufacture, on which they scraped away without mercy to entertain us, which I would have most gladly excused, though I attempted to seem pleased and believe I succeeded in making them think I was so."


 


Timothy Mershon was Jimmy Wheeler's great-great-great-grandfather. The fiddle-playing sons were Jimmy's great-great-great-uncles and possibly his great-great-grandfather.


 


[That information comes from Helen Armstrong, a cousin of Jimmy's, who posted it on the Field Recorder Collective's website: fieldrecorder.com/docs/notes/w...trong.htm .]



Since Jimmy's father was also a fiddler, it seems the Wheeler family may have been able to boast of an unbroken fiddle music heritage stretching back seven generations.  Perhaps their playing improved with each generation (or maybe Dr. Cumming just couldn't appreciate good frontier fiddling when he heard it).


 


Jeff Goehring posted his own thoughts and impressions of Jimmy and his music, along with a description of one of his recording sessions, on the Field Recorders website ( fieldrecorder.com/docs/notes/w...hring.htm ).  His entire account is well worth reading - the following is an excerpt focusing on Blind Steer in a Mudhole:


 


He plays very notey and fluidly, utilizing trills when they work. Kind of his own creative touch. Buddy Thomas and Haley both used "trills" to enhance their sound. Jim also sited older area fiddlers as sources for some of the tunes, which led me to the conclusion that these tunes weren't strictly Kentucky tunes but also were popular amongst Portsmouth area fiddlers of an earlier era.


 


Other tunes were strictly from Jim's father, like "Blind Steer in the Mudhole," and one which he called affectionately, "Dad's Tune." Other ones I also have never heard anywhere else, like "Six White Horses," "Cauliflower," "Dover." Plus some standards played by most Ohio fiddlers like Stonewall Jackson, Liberty, and Raggedy Ann. He also played a couple other Canadian type tunes: Joys of Quebec and the No Name Polka.

 


The tune "Blind Steer in the Mudhole" struck me as one of the most unique tunes he played the whole session. He learned the tune from his father. The first part of this tune was uncanny. I've never heard anything like it before. It starts out in the E chord, though the tune is actually, according to Jim, in the key of A. The second or "B" part of the tune is almost note-for-note derived from the Scottish, French-Canadian piece "Money Musk." It kind of makes one ponder upon the origin or creation of fiddle tunes once again.

 


The "A" part of Blind Steer is very bizarre and uncommon. I'm pretty sure I've not heard that particular melodic strain in anything else. The use of the open strings, double-stopping and drones is familiar to other pieces of earlier vintage. But that particular one is a first for me. Not that I've got that broad of a background anyways.




As mentioned in that account, Jimmy said he learned Blind Steer in a Mudhole from his father, Jim.  I could find no other reference to its origins, and am not sure whether it was a traditional tune that never traveled far from its southern Ohio/northern Kentucky roots, whether it was basically a family tune that the Wheelers had been playing for generations, or whether Jim Wheeler came up with it himself. The modern recordings of it that gave a source (several didn't) cited only Jimmy Wheeler.  The recent versions I found all appeared shortly after the Field Recorders release mentioned above, so I'm guessing that the recording of Blind Steer in a Mudhole on that disc, not the Red Mule String Band version, was used as the source recording.  Of course, it may be a more common tune than I realize, since I have only been paying close attention to old-time music for a few years. I was, for instance, somewhat surprised to find it in Steve Kaufman's "Favorite Traditional Fiddle Tunes for Flatpicking Guitar".


 


I did not, however, find it in any of the banjo tablature books I checked, and it seems that Blind Steer in the Mudhole  has not really been adopted by banjo players the way so many fiddle tunes have been.  It is perhaps a tune more appropriate for the Fiddle Hangout, but on the other hand I thought it might be worth introducing into the banjo repertoire - I mean, you can never have too many tunes to learn and play.

 


 


Here are the various online versions I found, including those referenced above:



Jimmy Wheeler, "Field Recorders Collective FC401", recorded by Jeff Goehring: fieldrecorder.com/docs/store20...tm#frc401  (solo fiddle)


 



Jimmy Wheeler, "Berea College Digital Library of Appalachia", recorded by John Harrod: dla.acaweb.org/cdm4/item_viewe...amp;REC=2 (solo fiddle)  (solo fiddle)



 



The Red Mule String Band, on "Young Fogies" (1994): amazon.com/The-Young-Fogies-Va...0000002M3  (full band)



 



Pete Sutherland, on his 2004 album "Streak o' Lean" (paired with  Icy Mountain): amazon.com/Icy-Mountain-Blind-...0014BWVMY  (fiddle and guitar)




Bill Christophersen, on his 2008 album "Hell & High Water": cdbaby.com/cd/billchristophersen (fiddle and banjo)

 


Dave Marshall, on his 2009 album "Pleasant Hill":  cdbaby.com/cd/dmacjb  (fiddle and banjo)






I could find no solo banjo versions, but there is banjo tab on the Mossy Roof site:  stringband.mossyroof.com/Blind...dhole.png



 


The only online video I found was of a couple of buskers in a Toronto subway station: youtube.com/watch?feature=play...5U#t=140s

("We're playing 2 tunes. The first is Little Billy Wilson and the second (at 2:20) is Blind Steer in a Mudhole. Cheers, Jay")





I don't know where the title of the tune comes from. I guess the same place most traditional fiddle tune titles come from - some old-time musician's practical yet slightly quirky imagination.  If I try, I can hear in the B part of some versions - particularly that by the Red Mule Band - the repetitive struggles of a stuck steer.  I have been trying to come up with a banjo version of their recording, although since my learning-by-ear skills aren't that great what I play is based just as much on the Mossy Roof tab. Anyway, I enjoy playing the tune- I hope some of you do as well.

 




Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 04/20/2012 19:06:36

majikgator - Posted - 04/20/2012:  11:43:49



NIce high energy tune, i too was born in that general neck of the woods a long long time ago since i've seen it.


vrteach - Posted - 04/20/2012:  13:28:19



Good tune, and a remarkable write-up. I'll see if I can work up a version.


Julian44_4 - Posted - 04/20/2012:  13:38:53



Tab



banjohangout.org/tab/browse.as...p;v=18324


RG - Posted - 04/20/2012:  15:04:39



Real fun tune to play and cool write-up, going to work this out on the fiddle as well...thanks for posting!


J-Walk - Posted - 04/20/2012:  16:15:25



Well that one moves right along. I have five different recordings of it, but I've never really noticed it. I think the Dave Marshall recording is the easiest to learn from. I'll give it a try.


J-Walk - Posted - 04/20/2012:  16:49:25



Does anyone think that the two parts are in different keys? One's in A and the other is in E?



Both part parts use the same chords, so it doesn't really make much difference. But it sounds like a key change to me. Maybe that's what makes this simple tune so appealing.


J-Walk - Posted - 04/20/2012:  17:43:37



Here's a corrected link for the subway busking video:



youtube.com/watch?feature=play...5U#t=140s


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/20/2012:  18:32:22



quote:


Originally posted by J-Walk




Here's a corrected link for the subway busking video:



youtube.com/watch?feature=play...5U#t=140s






 



Thanks for correcting that - guess I was multi-tasking a bit too much and pasted in the wrong link.



I've changed it in the original post.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/20/2012:  19:21:37



quote:


Originally posted by vrteach




Good tune, and a remarkable write-up. I'll see if I can work up a version.






Thanks Erich, glad you enjoyed the tune and the write-up.  Looking forward to your version.



 



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 04/20/2012 19:23:39

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/20/2012:  19:27:21



quote:


Originally posted by RG




Real fun tune to play and cool write-up, going to work this out on the fiddle as well...thanks for posting!






 



Glad you are enjoying the tune RG!   Wish I could play it on the fiddle as well.



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 04/20/2012 19:29:54

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/20/2012:  19:35:26



quote:


Originally posted by J-Walk




Well that one moves right along. I have five different recordings of it, but I've never really noticed it. I think the Dave Marshall recording is the easiest to learn from. I'll give it a try.






Just out of curiosity, what are those five recordings?  Are they all commercial releases, or are some "field recordings" (of jams and such)? Just trying to compile a list for myself of the available versions.


J-Walk - Posted - 04/20/2012:  21:53:19



The recordings I have:



Red Mule String Band (From Young Fogies Vol. 1)

Jimmy Wheeler

Pete Sutherland

Dave Marshall et al

Unknown players recorded at Clifftop 2011


atleson - Posted - 04/21/2012:  06:10:02



as always, i'm fascinated by Mark Olitsky's playing.  If he's playing in Amodel, what are the chords he seems to be playing, and, especially, what is he doing so far up the neck.  I'm finding it hard to get some of the melody which, intentionally i think, is not really clear.  Great tune to listen to, though----real zen tune.



 



jim


Rocketrob - Posted - 04/21/2012:  07:42:59


Wonderful write up!
Thanks for exploring South and SouthEastern Ohio.

-Relocated Buckeye

stigandr5 - Posted - 04/21/2012:  09:33:07



This is a fun tune!



Here's my canjo rendition and an accompanying tab. Thanks for such a gem this week!



 






VIDEO: "Blind Steer in a Mudhole" N.A. Wendte
(click to view)


Blind Steer in the Mudhole Tab

Castania - Posted - 04/21/2012:  16:27:09



 A big thanks for this one . . . and a another thanks for that tab! 



Ken



 


J-Walk - Posted - 04/21/2012:  17:26:34



Nice job on that canjo!


Tamarack - Posted - 04/23/2012:  04:40:29


A Blind Steer in a Mudhole would indeed be a predicament.

Thanks EggerRidgeBoy -- a fine old tune with interesting origins. There must be lots of non-Appalachian tunes out there. Around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, five string banjos were a parlor instrument in the northeast and midwest (and elsewhere). I wonder how many wayward sons snuck out to the barn with Mom or Dad's banjo and made up some tunes with their fiddle-playing friends.

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/24/2012:  10:39:34



quote:


Originally posted by Rocketrob




Wonderful write up!

Thanks for exploring South and SouthEastern Ohio.



-Relocated Buckeye






Glad you enjoyed it.



I've been compiling a list of Ohio old-time tunes, which so far basically consists of those tunes from the Ohio fiddlers mentioned in my post that either were written by them or for which there is no other source.  I'd like to come up with banjo versions of those fiddle tunes, but my learning-by-ear skills are such that it will probably take me a long time to do so. Anyway, if and when I get some of those done, I'll post them on my BHO homepage.



Where in Ohio did you live?  I was born and raised in Columbus, but both of my parents were from Monroe County (along the Ohio river, between Marietta and Wheeling, West Virginia).


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/24/2012:  10:42:28



quote:


Originally posted by stigandr5




This is a fun tune!



Here's my canjo rendition and an accompanying tab. Thanks for such a gem this week!



 



 






 



Thanks very much for the video and the tab.  I enjoyed hearing your version, and spent some time last night learning it from the tab.  Glad you found it fun to play.


Clawdan - Posted - 04/24/2012:  10:49:51



Great tune choice and great write up. I was in Ohio from about 1983 or 4 and still have my place in Southern Ohio though I don't get there much anymore. The whole state is rich with old time music and this was one of those tunes that I played even without knowing the name of it. Thanks for the wonderful in depth look at this one.



Play Nice,

Dan

Clawdan.com


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/24/2012:  11:13:03



quote:


Originally posted by Tamarack




A Blind Steer in a Mudhole would indeed be a predicament.



Thanks EggerRidgeBoy -- a fine old tune with interesting origins. There must be lots of non-Appalachian tunes out there. Around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, five string banjos were a parlor instrument in the northeast and midwest (and elsewhere). I wonder how many wayward sons snuck out to the barn with Mom or Dad's banjo and made up some tunes with their fiddle-playing friends.






 



Yes, I would not want to be in charge of such a situation.  I had enough trouble getting my dog out of giant mud puddle (or small mudhole) a few days ago, during a walk in a local dog park. It is a mostly wooded park, and, at the very end of our two-hour visit there, she managed to find a small, hidden path that led directly to a two-foot deep mud puddle, which she of course happily jumped in before I could stop her.  We had to walk around for another 30 minutes until she was dry enough to put in the car.   I find that since taking up clawhammer banjo I increasingly view the world in "fiddle tune title" terms - it seems like several times a day I experience or see something and immediately think "that would make a good old-time tune title".  Like "Wet Dog in the Mud Puddle".



There probably were - and to some extent still are - a lot of tunes native to Ohio. They just haven't been collected on the same scale as they have been in the more well-known old-time music regions.  I would be curious as to the differences in music among the various parts of Ohio.  There were three very distinct bands of settlement across the state, with each band's history and culture closely reflecting that of the settlers' places of origin.  The southern, hilly region along the river was settled by people from Appalachia, a narrow band right through the middle by people from the mid-Atlantic, and the northern third by groups from New England.  Not surprisingly, most of the recording and collecting that I have come across has was done in the southern third of the state, where the geography and culture are similar to Appalachia (actually, several counties in the southeast are considered to be in Appalachia, for census purposes).  It would be interesting to find traditional banjo music from the northern parts of the state, to see if and how it differed from the southern areas.



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 04/24/2012 11:22:44

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 04/26/2012:  10:27:12



quote:


Originally posted by Clawdan




Great tune choice and great write up. I was in Ohio from about 1983 or 4 and still have my place in Southern Ohio though I don't get there much anymore. The whole state is rich with old time music and this was one of those tunes that I played even without knowing the name of it. Thanks for the wonderful in depth look at this one.



Play Nice,

Dan

Clawdan.com






 



I'm glad you enjoyed the tune and the write-up. 



I'm also glad to hear that you found Ohio to be full of old-time music.  I need to focus on exploring as much of that as I can.  Soon after I took up clawhammer banjo in 2008, I discovered your music, teaching materials, and banjo camps.  Your instruction books and tune collections have been very helpful to me, and I had hoped to get to one of the camps at your home in Gallia County - it looked like the perfect setting for a weekend of banjo picking (and it reminded me a great deal of my grandparents' homes in southeastern Ohio).  I didn't manage to do so before your move to Arizona, however.  I'm still aiming to attend one of your camps, though, and I keep an eye out for when you get east of the Mississippi.



It's interesting to hear that you played "Blind Steer in a Mudhole", even if you didn't call it that.  I'm guessing you learned it while living in Ohio?  Gallia County borders Scioto County, Jimmy Wheeler's home, so it would make sense that you picked it up from fiddlers in that area.  Then again, as I mentioned in my post, it might be more common and widespread than I realize - I don't have enough experience in jams and festivals around the country to judge such things.



 


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 04/26/2012:  13:56:37



We used to play a tune caled "Huldy in the Sinkhole" that might be the same or closely related. I can't remember that tune at all but I seem to remember playing something like that Blind Steer tune. My wiffe is no helpon this one as she has completely forgoten it too.


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