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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 6.28.13: L & N Rag

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:

ChuckJo - Posted - 06/27/2013:  11:36:04

The fiddle tune, “L & N Rag” has intrigued me for a long time, but it hasn’t until recently that I’ve taken the time to study it.   One of its charms is its phrasing, which seems to include “extra” beats in the second half.  Here is my clawhammer banjo version in the key of C (gCGCD).  I am playing a model of the Gold Tone banjo Bob Carlin helped develop, the BC 350+.  The design of the inlay and headstock of the BC 350+ draws inspiration from the classic elegance looks from the original Orpheum line of  banjos.

Alex Hood’s Railroad Boys recorded L and N Rag and Corbin Slide in April, 1930.  They never recorded again, and had never recorded before. The band Alex [Alec] Hood, banjo; John V. Walker, violin; Clyde Whittaker, guitar; Bert Earls, guitar.  All of this information is taken from  “John V. Walker: Corbin’s Finest” by David Nelson, published in the JEMF Quarterly in 1972.  A tip of the hat to Kerry Blech, who forwarded the article to me.

Under the sponsorship of the Middlesboro Piano Company, the group, called Alec Hood’s Railroad Boys (Since all were employed by the L & N) were to record ten numbers for the Vocalion Company.  When they arrived at the recording studio they were told that a group which included Lowe Stokes and Slim Miller were working on a skit called “The Hatfield-McCoy Feud”.  The Hood musicians were pressed into service as actors in the skit, which was practiced all day before satisfactory takes were made.  Mr. Walker recalls them sending out for yards and yards of calico to tear for simulated fighting, and using pads and paddles for sounds of gunfire and running.  His own line was “Stand back boys, I’ll shoot”.  It was not until late evening that the “Feud” session was completed, and the Railroad Boys were told to cut two numbers, and there would be a supper break, after which they were to return and the other eight pieces.  Since they had a train to catch, they were unable to work on the after-dinner session.  Hence, only two sides were put on wax.  “L &N Rag” was a popular fiddle tune of the area which was usually called “Sleeping Lulu”.  It was recorded under this title by fellow Kentuckians Richard D. Burnett and Oscar Rutledge.  The other side of the disc was “Corbin Slide.”…The record had some impromptu talking on it, and this was done by Mr. Brown, the man in charge of the recording studio—probably the talking itself was to break up the straight instrumentalism of the number.

Here is the spoken part as I hear it. It sounds to me like a few of the band members are speaking.

“Oh Alec Hood and his Railroad Boys playing that L and N Rag.”

“Yeah boy, they just down from Corbin.”

“That’s a good place to be away from, Corbin.”

“Alright, step on it now there, Alec.”

“When I say away from Corbin, I mean a pretty good town after all.  We like it. Whether the rest of you folks do or not.”

“Say Alec” 

“Yeah what do you say?”

“Don’t that L & N run from Mingo or something”? 

“Yeah boy and that old southland too.”

VIDEO: Chuck Levy Plays L & N Rag on Clawhammer Banjo
(click to view)

L & N Rag for clawhammer banjo

jamesd - Posted - 06/27/2013:  12:21:30

Chuck, what a great tune you selected for this week.  And  thanks for all the videos of the tune. This is a catchy tune and gives me something nice to learn.  Also, thanks for the nice tab you also provided.  Good job.

Edited by - jamesd on 06/27/2013 12:22:36

stevel - Posted - 06/27/2013:  12:23:35

i'm another who has always enjoyed this tune, but has never sat down to try to learn it.

fellow member tom berghan has a wonderful mp3 post here on the hangout:

Edited by - stevel on 06/27/2013 12:26:33

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/27/2013:  14:57:16


Nice job.

How did you get the cicadas to sound off in precise unison with your rendition?

Challenging tune. Thanks for the write up, the tab, and the various videos.


J-Walk - Posted - 06/27/2013:  17:20:18

Good choice, Chuck. I'm a newbie to OT music, and first got acquainted with this tune from the Light & Hitch album.

Can anyone explain why this is in the key of C? I suspect it's because it works out best for the fiddler.

In my circle of players, a tune in C pretty much means that it will rarely be played. But I've noticed that C fiddle tunes have a pretty identifiable sound. 

ChuckJo - Posted - 06/27/2013:  17:43:39

Well the short answer is it is in the key of C 'cause that's where Alex Hood and his Railroad Boys played it.  It is a fiddle tune, and the tune flows pretty easily off the fingers on the violin.  Making the banjo fit is part of the pleasure and challenge of C tunes.  Also, they often sound cool. 

RG - Posted - 06/27/2013:  19:04:34

Great pick Chuck and nicely played, love those video versions you posted, especially the Sausage Grinder and Sauber Sauber & Carter tune!

mgoers - Posted - 06/28/2013:  12:06:10

Thanks, Chuck. Haven't attempted this on the banjo. I currently play it on mandolin. Maybe this will inspire me. Great tune!

aeroweenie - Posted - 06/28/2013:  18:17:56

Nice going Chuck, I recognize the tune but never knew what it was called.  Great example videos and you do a good job with it too.  I too like the second part, it either has extra notes or odd phrasing, or both.  I'm putting this on my list of tunes to learn.

piscesgrrl - Posted - 06/28/2013:  20:13:21

Chuck, your playing is beautiful. I love how I can feel every note. Thank you for providing all of these other videos. It really helps me get the tune in my head. Off to play...

Dock Jekel - Posted - 06/29/2013:  21:36:58

Very interesting. catchy tune. Did not know too much about this one. The video of the Saubers and Carter was most pro! Rags are great to have in the bag to add variety to a performance or just the repertoire in general. I use Pig Ankle rag for this purpose. I could stand to learn a few more rags Dock

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 06/30/2013:  13:21:02

I just stumbled across an old 2010 BHO thread containing pics posted by Don Borchelt of the L and N route from the late 1800s:

JanetB - Posted - 06/30/2013:  18:13:49

Chuck, your Tunes of the Week are always so interesting (and challenging)!  I've tried it in open G tuning after listening to the 1930 recording of Sleeping Lulu by Burnett and Rutherford.

Sleeping Lulu


ChuckJo - Posted - 06/30/2013:  18:45:19

Thanks to everybody that commented.  Janet, you always come up with something wonderful/beautiful from my TOTWs.  J-Walk, the reason the cicadas are in tune and in time, is that they have learned the tune in the 80 attempts it takes me to get one mostly clean recording.

LyleK - Posted - 07/01/2013:  20:21:00

Not where I want it to be yet, but we've got a house guest coming tomorrow evening.  There's no way I want Clarke Buehling to hear me woodshedding this one!


VIDEO: L&N Rag - Clawhammer banjo
(click to view)


Hilarie Burhans - Posted - 07/02/2013:  18:04:15

Wow, nice tune pic, Chuck!  I just sat down and learned the thing but can't decide how crooked to make it. First I worked on it with the Tom Sauber video, which took a while to get the B 'cause I so suck at learning crooked tunes!  Then I listened to the rest and the Burnett and Rutherford video ironed the whole thing out.  I think it's now one of those tunes I'd only ever play with a fiddler and I guess I'll just have to do it his or her way, whatever that is.  Oh, and Judy, that was lovely!

Hilarie Burhans - Posted - 07/02/2013:  18:05:44

...and Lyle -  now I'm afraid I'm not playing nearly enough notes ;-)

JanetB - Posted - 07/02/2013:  19:20:27

Hilarie, I noticed the crookedness, too, which was a good reason to go with the Burnett and Rutherford version.  Now the big question for me has become, what exactly is a rag?  I've read the Wickipedia article, but it really only gets into syncopation as being the key.  I think there must be some common chordal progressions and a typical "sound" that lets it be identified as its own genre.

ChuckJo - Posted - 07/02/2013:  20:10:52

Hi Hilarie,

Great to hear from you!

For my two cents, L & N and Sleeping Lulu are different but related tunes.  The unexpected phrasing is essential to the character of L & N and a key to its charm.  I find these sorts of things attractive and oompelllng.  Burnett and Rutherford's Sleeping Lulu is a fine tune with conventional phrasing.  The Skillet Lickers' Lulu is a bit more wild.

Learn 'em all I say!

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 07/03/2013:  04:24:37

Not sure this gets us closer to where we want to be and what we want to know but in his book MELODIC CLAWHAMMER BANJO (Oak, 1979), Ken Perlman says (p.48) that rags “were made up of three or four sixteen-measure parts.”  The C part “was usually a different key from the other parts.”

LyleK - Posted - 07/03/2013:  05:31:29


Originally posted by Hilarie Burhans

....First I worked on it with the Tom Sauber video, which took a while to get the B 'cause I so suck at learning crooked tunes!  

Grrr!  I didn't even catch  the fact that the B part is not square.  It is "cut time" with some 2/4 thrown in for good measure (intentional double entendre).  My all time favorite version is Jeremy Nutter's.  Don't hurt [uh-oh, another one?] none that this is on Adam Hurt's "insight" CD.  Anyhow, there are a lot of notes in Jeremy's version, many of which I was not finding until I looked at Lamancusa's transcription (  But that transcription does not show the crookedness.  This morning I checked Stacy Phillips' transcription which does show the timing correctly.  I've since corrected my tab which I'm attaching here.  Given that I now have an incorrect version stuck in my brain it will take forever to get it straight (or un-straight, as in crooked).  Warning: there are some things in the tab that look like triplets, but are three eighth notes

L & N Rag tab


banjoholic - Posted - 07/03/2013:  07:03:48

The crookedness drove me nuts when I first tried learning this tune (on fiddle) a while back, and I had to fight the urge to just straighten it out. Now it's my favorite part, and as Chuck said essential to its charm.

I also second Lyle's recommendation for Jeremy Nutter and Adam Hurt's version on Adam's Insight CD - it's fantastic.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 07/03/2013:  14:33:04

OK.  This was a tough one.  I started out in G tuning, with the Youtube video by Aaron Jonah Lewis as my guide.  He up-picked a great melodic version.  I spent about 4 days with that, working on a three fingered approach, and got about two bars into the tune before I was ready to go to a real bar.  And I’m not a drinking man, but this tune was a powerful incentive to start. 

JanetB showed that it is possible to get a great sounding clawhammer version of the tune done in a standard G tuning; she’s got a deft touch. Chuck Levy’s rendition, and Lyle’s recent contribution in his gCDCE tuning, were very well done, articulate versions of the tune.  Learned a lot from this TOTW. 

I eventually shifted to a double C tuning came up with this.

I’m gonna gather up all the notes I left out and put them in another video altogether.

I hope this coming Friday’s TOTW is the clawhammer equivalent of “Chopsticks.”

Play hard,



ChuckJo - Posted - 07/07/2013:  08:07:32

Just for context, here is the Alex Hood's L & N.

L & N Rag: Alex Hood and his Railroad Boys


gailg64 - Posted - 07/07/2013:  12:07:43

This just goes to say one should never make assumptions about historic music! For the last 20 or 30 years most of us assumed the banjo on the old records was clawhammer. But now that we can hear them cleaned up and slowed down, it sounds as if most of the old guys recorded on 78s were mostly uppicking. But mea culpa: upon closer listening, Hood's banjo on L & N Rag actually sounds like either tenor/or plectrum!

 And the reason Alex Hood & his RR Boys are in C is that when  "hillbilly rags" (Mike Seeger's name for this kind of tune) were most popular (turn of the century--20s), they were generally in C or flatted keys. The banjo part in a stringband performance of such tunes was done out of Drop C tuning (which allows for many keys) and the right hand style is either thumb lead 3 finger or tenor/plectrum.  With C tunes of this ilk, the banjo player generally played 3 finger in the basic/classic tuning (UNLESS they were playing tenor/plectrum//banjo mandolin!). 

PS Another reason I'd assumed Hood was fingerpicking is that on recordings made by musicians from upper east Tennessee, there simply was a lot of banjo fingerpicking, especially in string bands, either 2 finger (Will Keys is a modern example). Quite often, you'd hear this thumb lead drop C style that may reflect circus & medicine show influence on spreading a folk version of the mid-19th century 3 finger style.



ChuckJo - Posted - 07/09/2013:  05:07:22

As you say Gail, tenor/plectrum were not uncommon in the older recordings.  I like the sound.  My clawhammer interpretation was meant to closely match the fiddle melody.  Of course, the tune gets a lot of its lift from the running commentary about Corbin.

majikgator - Posted - 07/11/2013:  20:05:36

Great write up Chuck. That's a tune i probably would have missed if i were picking a tune. i hadn't thought of the tune in a long time and now i wonder why. Real nice job pulling that off on clawhammer banjo, sounded great. That Gold Tone even sounds good there a nice full sound from it. i really appreciate this one a lot it is not your generic fiddle tune played on a banjo. i'm impressed.

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 07/12/2013:  11:45:42

Catching up after returning from 3 trips in less than 3 weeks, and I saw this thread.

A year or more, I actually chose Adam Hurt's version for the ring tone on my cell phone - that's how much like(d) it.   It is on the Insight album.

Great choice, Chuck.  Thanks everyone for the contributions.


J-Walk - C tunes in my area don't get played much.  Not sure why, but many are rags and they are fun tunes.




greenepickins - Posted - 07/13/2013:  09:14:34

Wow Chuck! You have such smooth playing and your can pull the tone out of any banjo.
This song sounds great! Now I'm looking forward to a lesson.

banjosandy - Posted - 07/17/2013:  19:29:17

Chuckjo, the way you play this tune really moves me!

Kristopher - Posted - 07/17/2013:  20:00:28

Fantastic Chuck! I play a lot of fiddle tunes on my mandolin but never heard that one. Great song and very well done.

dejay1971 - Posted - 07/29/2013:  16:59:23





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