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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 01/19/13 Old Chattanooga

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:

Mtngoat - Posted - 01/18/2013:  03:58:05

TOTW   01/19/2013 Old Chattanooga

I came across “Old Chattanooga” while surfing the net researching my last TOTW (Walking in the Parlor) in August.  The thumbnail picture of Blaine Smith caught my eye immediately as it brought back memories of similar old-timers I have known in Kentucky.

The original field recording with Mr.Smith on fiddle and Florrie Stewart on banjo is here:

Ron Williams, who produced the field recording, gives some history of the tune here:

The New Binkley Bros., a Tennessee band with rural roots, render the tune in traditional fashion here:

There's a smooth banjo and fiddle duet here but you'll have to scroll down to find it:

The Haints have a string band version with nice old-time finger picked banjo here:

This jam group sounds great despite being light in the banjo department:

Tabs for Old Chattanooga can be found in “Banjo Without Tears” by Hilary Dirlam, “Fishin’ Creek Blues” by Dick Kimmel, and in Ken Perlman’s September, 2012, column in Banjo Newsletter.

Flat Top is located on Walden’s Ridge in east central Tennessee, north of Chattanooga.  It’s tough terrain settled by tough people who worked hard to make a living out of the wilderness.  Their descendants are still the dominant population there.

Back in the early 1970’s I had a job on a railroad gang repairing tracks across the Ridge.    One of our local hires kept me enthralled with stories of his adventures.  One day he showed me a long, nasty scar on his leg and explained it was from a bullet he received in a local bar six months before.  His friends had tied off the wound and abandoned him in the parking lot of the nearest hospital, twenty miles away.  He said the sheriff never even bothered to investigate the shooting based on the locally accepted theory that the parties involved would settle it amongst themselves.

When I gave him his first paycheck he announced he was going down to the bar to celebrate.   I said “You’re crazy.  They’re going to kill you if you go back in there.”    He replied “Nah, I’ll be alright.  They weren’t shooting at me; they were shooting at another feller.”


Edited by - Mtngoat on 01/18/2013 04:02:56

R Buck - Posted - 01/18/2013:  05:57:53

It is a good tune, they have a lot of good tunes in that area around Chatamoogie.  Smoke in the Clouds is another goodern.

LyleK - Posted - 01/18/2013:  06:18:30

Excellent choice!  By the by, Ron Williams is a BHO member, so hopefully he'll chime in.  At the beginning of the youtube where he describes his source for the tune,  Ron mentions the Pine Breeze recordings.  Some of these are available from Ron's music page at BHO.  There is a collection available for purchase at  I would definitely recommend visiting that site, which explains a bit about the Pine Breeze project (named for a local school).  There is a download for the liner notes, but if you purchase the CDs they are only available by mail (no download).  I highly recommend them.  They are similar in vein to the "Dear Old Illinois" recordings, so the audio quality is not always the best.  As the liner notes indicate:

"All the recording equipment was consumer quality and much of it was used and old and not at all ideal for field recording."

But the collection contains a lot of unique tunes and has a lot of variety . . . again, much like the "Dear Old Illinois" recordings.

Edited by - LyleK on 01/18/2013 06:22:56

JanetB - Posted - 01/18/2013:  07:14:02

Great, great choice, Travis!  I'll be looking forward to this weekend to hear all those links, and looking for yours, too.  Mine came from Dick Kimmel's Fishin' Creek Blues CD.



blockader - Posted - 01/18/2013:  08:49:12

what a great, smooth tune!

rbuck, a local fiddler plays one called "Smoke Behind the Clouds" that is pretty similar to "Walkin In My Sleep."

Edited by - blockader on 01/18/2013 08:55:06

Mark Johnson - Posted - 01/18/2013:  09:30:57

That Blaine Smith version is really nice.  His phrasing is really lovely, I especially like how he draws out those whole notes followed by that nice flurry / arpeggio bit.  


Cool tune, something to work on this weekend.  Thanks!

janolov - Posted - 01/18/2013:  09:32:24

This tune seems to resemble  "Cumberland Gap" a lot, just as "A Chaw of Tobacco" some weeks ago.

J-Walk - Posted - 01/18/2013:  09:51:01

That's a great tune. On The Haints album, they play it in F -- which is pretty close to where Blaine Smith plays it in that recording.

Probably wouldn't want to play it right before after "Booth Shot Lincoln."

Assuming it's in G, does it go to an Em chord, or is it a C chord? It can go either way, and it the choice changes the feel of the tune.

atleson - Posted - 01/18/2013:  10:03:18


this is one of those tunes which could go to either chord, but i tend to  favor  minor chords whenever i have a chance.



camcumberland - Posted - 01/18/2013:  13:04:51

I learned this tune using a lesson Ron Williams gives on his youtube channel. Yet another extremely fun song to play!

VIDEO: Old Chattanooga
(click to view)


Mtngoat - Posted - 01/18/2013:  18:14:12

Janet and Cam, thanks for posting your great takes on the tune.

djvarnell - Posted - 01/19/2013:  13:08:23

This tune is played a lot around Chattanooga jams, it is definitely a C chord as played by the original Blaine Smith.
Also the reason its a little bit lower than G tuning is because Blaine played a Viola, He was a BIG feller.

Evan C - Posted - 01/19/2013:  17:41:35


Originally posted by atleson

this is one of those tunes which could go to either chord, but i tend to  favor  minor chords whenever i have a chance.


Hah, that wouldn't go over too well where I am from. Dan Gellert is famous for his staunch insistence that there are no minor chords in old time music, and he has a fair number of students in N. Indiana. I haven't had the chance to pick his brain on that issue though, so I don't know the details.

atleson - Posted - 01/19/2013:  20:09:59

Dan Gellert is fabulous, and i wish i could hear him more often. i wouldn't question him about the "rules" of old time music, but

i personally like minor chords. 



aeroweenie - Posted - 01/20/2013:  11:17:42

Great TOTW, I really like variety of the versions posted so far.  This tune reminds me of one which has a lyric something like "don't drink nothing but corn...", I don't know if it was Chattanooga or something else.  Anyway, here is my take on Chattanooga.  One could do all kinds of stuff with this tune but if playing with a fiddle I think its best to keep it simple.

Edited by - aeroweenie on 01/20/2013 11:19:21



Mtngoat - Posted - 01/20/2013:  12:13:31


I like those slides, I play the B part without the real high notes about half the time, and I'm usually content to bang along behind the fiddler too.

aeroweenie - Posted - 01/20/2013:  13:57:08

So, "Don't Drink Nothing but Corn" is a tune unto itself, as most here probably already know.  Listening to it on youtube, it is very different than Chattanooga, just a phrase or two that are similar which is what triggered a connection in my mind.  So, never mind!

J-Walk - Posted - 01/20/2013:  14:59:51

Here's one more. This was recorded at a huge jam yesterday.



Mtngoat - Posted - 01/20/2013:  16:49:59


Sounds like you have a wonderful jam group.  I wish we all could be so lucky..  I especially liked the banjo; it's there, not overly elaborate, and right on the beat.  I hope whoever called this one was inspired by TOTW.

J-Walk - Posted - 01/20/2013:  18:03:32

The fiddler who called it was cornfed, and after I expressed my surprise he confessed that he knew it was a TOTW. 

It was an awesome jam. Probably 15-18 players. On that tune, there were at least four banjos, plus a banjo uke. I was positioned among four great fiddlers and it was great. I drove home with a headache, but it was worth it.

It's a monthly jam hosted by John Beland and the Arthritis Brothers. If you're ever in southern Arizona, check it out. 


J-Walk - Posted - 01/20/2013:  18:19:28

There was no shortage of fiddlers at that jam.


Paul R - Posted - 01/20/2013:  20:13:31

Good tale to go with a good tune.

John, seems like everyone had a good time at that jam, and kudos to John Beland for hosting.

Steve Jeter - Posted - 01/21/2013:  08:16:02

My first tune of the week post. please forgive the humming

VIDEO: Old Chattoonaga Clawhammer TOTW
(click to view)


Mtngoat - Posted - 01/21/2013:  09:30:20


Another great version and some more great playing.  Looks like you use the Em rather than the C as was discussed earlier.  I like your version and your hat.

Steve Jeter - Posted - 01/21/2013:  10:27:35


Originally posted by Mtngoat


Another great version and some more great playing.  Looks like you use the Em rather than the C as was discussed earlier.  I like your version and your hat.

  I guess I do use Em , I actually didnt think about , just thought those 2 notes fretted sounded good.  Ill have to try C to see what sounds like


YorkshireWannabeOldTimer - Posted - 01/21/2013:  15:31:47

Really enjoyed this TOTW: the variety of excellent versions posted has been great. Here's a version got using the Blaine Smith recording posted at the start:

Old Chattanooga


Chadbanjo - Posted - 01/21/2013:  17:03:11

Hi, had a good listen to most of the above versions here today, great playing all around and a great tune.

Was a little hesitant in posting this. Wanted to learn a new tune today. So with what i absorbed today from you guys, I sat down tonight and I came up with this....

Anyhow,  I like what I came up with so far, thats fine.... Can I call it Chattanooga? I in the ball park? I just can't fart out anything and call it a tune. :)

Old Chattanooga


Steve Jeter - Posted - 01/22/2013:  06:48:38

Chad, to me yes, you can , nice setting.

YorkshireWannabeOldTimer - Posted - 01/22/2013:  07:29:57

Yep, no need for hesitation there: that was excellent.

Chadbanjo - Posted - 01/22/2013:  12:27:31

Well, listening to you fellers, you sound like you know what you're talking i'll take your word for it, thanks.

Mtngoat - Posted - 01/22/2013:  16:38:57

YorkshireWannabe and Chadbanjo,

I have a tin ear and you've stretched the melody to the very limits of my comfort zone,   I still recognize great playing though despite my hearing problems.  Thanks for the posts.

vrteach - Posted - 01/23/2013:  14:36:53

Well, I'll add another ear-denting version. On December 4 of 2011 bho member MrSrubas posted a version of Old Chattanooga, and I got caught up in it enough that I cobbled a version the next day. Haven't played it since, and it's also the last tune that I added to my personal site because I began running up against my space quota and I haven't gotten around to changing hosting plans. Gotta do that some time, but it takes effort and money and I'm lazy and cheap.

Listening to what I played then makes me think I was partially mixing up the B part with "Big-Footed Man," or what I play when someone plays that. I like MrSrubas' version better than mine.

Old Chattanooga


Mtngoat - Posted - 01/23/2013:  15:10:05

vrteach and MrSrubas,

Two more outstanding performances!    I'm always amazed at the diversity of the posts to TOTW and this week is no exception.   The styles range from primitive to eclectic and there's something for everyone.  TFTC.   

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