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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 09/13/2013 Going Up Town

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:

vrteach - Posted - 09/13/2013:  09:22:46

I've chosen to submit Going Up Town (or Goin' Uptown) for this weeks tune. It's a D tune, and as you will easily hear that it has some similarities to Ragtime Annie, Avalon Quickstop, and maybe even Liberty.

The Fiddler's Companion has the following entry:

GOING UP TOWN. Old‑Time, Breakdown. D Major. Standard. AA' (Devil's Box): AB (Kuntz): AAB (Phillips). John Hartford's note given along with his transcription of the tune reads: "Oscar Stone added this part to 'Ragtime Annie' (which it sounds like in the 'A' part) so, according to Howdy (Forrester, Nashville fiddler), he could claim it."  See also "Avalon Quickstep" which is melodically similar in parts. Sources for notated versions: Tennessee fiddler Oscar Stone via Howdy Forester via John Hartford [The Devil's Box], Liz Slade (Yorktown, New York) [Kuntz], Pete Sutherland with the Arm and Hammer String Band (Vt.) [Phillips]. The Devils Box, Vol. 22, No. 4, Winter 1988, pg. 51. Kuntz, Private Collection. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), Vol. 2, 1995; pg. 57. Brunswick 232 (78 RPM), 1928, Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters (Nashville, Tenn.). Kicking Mule KM216, Arm and Hammer String Band ‑ "New England Contra Dance Music" (1977). Marimac 9111, Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters (1928) ‑ "Goin' Up Town: Old Time String Bands, Vol. 2."


Oscar Stone, mentioned above, was the fiddler for the group called "Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters" who seem to be the first recorded version of the tune. So, Oscar Stone may have developed this tune from Ragtime Annie. Humphrey Bate was indeed a physician in the Nashville area, but he was a skilled and enthusiastic musician also. His band was one of first stars of the Grand Old Opry, beginning in 1925 when the show was still called the Barn Dance. You cand find out more about Humphrey Bate on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

The Possum Hunters were a fairly large band, often consisting of 2 fiddles, 2 guitars, banjo, cello, bowed bass, tiple, ukulele, and Dr. Bate who conducted and played harmonica. They recorded Goin Uptown, in 1928. It has been reissued a number of times on collections of the band, and more general collections. I've attached an excerpt of that recording here. I don't know the make up of the band, and I assume that the man giving the calls is Dr. Bate himself ("Hurry people, HURRY! Rest when you diiiie!").


LP CoverI learned the tune from this album, New England Contra Dance Music, published by Kicking Mule Records in 1977. I think I probably got it in 1980. It's a great album and I listened to it a great deal for a couple of years. But, I really only learned two tunes from it, and it was the medley of Going Up Town and Avalon Quickstep by the Arm and Hammer Stringband. I was REALLY pleased when doing the research for this posting to find that an mp3 version of this out-of-print LP is available for download from:, but I've also included an excerpt from the album in this post in case the link goes down. I learned the tunes by setting my turntable to 16rpm which greatly slowed down the sound and kept it in the same key. But it sure made it terrible to listen to!

Over the years I continued to play the tune, but never found anyone who knew it and I even forgot  the title and where I learned it. In 2006 I posted a version on the Hangout asking what it was. John_D identified it for me, although he thought that I had done something to the B (high) part. Finally last weekend  in Gilman (IL) I brought it up at a jam and Steve from Ann Arbor knew the tune; I finally got to play it with someone else! But sure enough, his B (high) part was rather different from what I was playing. I wish I had had my recorder out. I'm attaching the version that I posted then, I think un-capoed and so more-or-less in C.

The Fiddler's companion has two versions in ABC notation, and I think that my version matches the second one there, and Steve's version matches the first version. But it's hard to tell because neither one plays quite right for me.


Anyway, I hope some other folks learn the tune so I can find someone to play with. It's a rollicking little tune. I've included a short video in which I play it  twice at tempo, and twice slower.

Edit: Oh, and I'm a terrible tablature writer, but I decided to do an image that describes that repeating phrase in the tune. It's one of my few melodic drop-thumb bits.

Edited by - vrteach on 09/17/2013 10:11:41

repeating phrase in Going Up Town

Goin' Uptown - 1928 Humphrey Bate excerpt

Going Up Town - 1977 excerpt

VIDEO: Going Up Town
(click to view)

Goin' Uptown


ajisai - Posted - 09/13/2013:  11:00:33

I love this tune! I picked it up from a Chicago jam but I didn't know anything about it. It's  always fun when it comes up and I'm sorry I missed playing it with you at Gilman.

John D - Posted - 09/13/2013:  11:21:02

Good one, Erich.  I also learned this tune from the New England Contra Dance LP.  Here's a quick take:

Going Uptown Polka


vrteach - Posted - 09/13/2013:  11:59:30

ajisai: good to hear that they are playing it up in Chicago. We played Going Up Town on Saturday night, so you probably weren't around yet. I wanted to play it again, but I wasn't in a jam in D again until Sunday morning and by that time Steve was packing up.

John D: Cool!

janolov - Posted - 09/13/2013:  12:28:46

It is a nice tune and it look/seems like it is worth to try. The first part (as Erich plays it) gives the association to Ragtime Annie, and the second part I think sounds similar to "We're Up Against It Now" by Uncle Dave Macon (and the New Lost City Ramblers)? In some of the recordings the high part also gave me association to an old traditional Swedish walking tune.

 I made a little googling and found some more resources that is worth mentioning:

BHO member Edavidt has a good version in the music archive: 

There is a good fiddle version by Sam Dyer at the Digital Library Of Appalachia:

Fiddle notation (I think this is closer to Erich's and John D's version than the abc notation in Fiddler's Companion): 

Another version in fiddle notation: and also here:'_Up_Town

vrteach - Posted - 09/13/2013:  13:26:42

Thanks janolov for helping along the research. That version by Edavidt is great! I had searched the fiddle hangout for versions, but not the BHO. That version by Sam Dyer matches what I remember Steve playing for the B (high) part, but Steve's A (low) part was almost note-for-note the same as what I play.

That little repeated phrase that I illustrated with my minimal tab is the same that I use in Avalon Quickstep. And almost the same as something that I do for Liberty, which I learned from the Mel Bay book by Mueler..

I see the similarity to "We're Up Against It Now", although I think I do that out of open G tuning.

I was also reminded that I had another thing to post. As with most Kicking Mule records there was a companion book available. Banjo & guitar LPs had tablature books, but the more fiddle-oriented ones had notation. I've attached a scan from the page that had Goin Uptown, and a bit of Avalon Quickstep which is continued on the next page.

Goin Uptown from companion book to LP


bhniko - Posted - 09/13/2013:  15:09:12

Up Town has not cured my horrific cold...but it sure made me feel better. Enjoyed all the tunes played but the raw power of the 1928 version did jump out. From your post i assume you have a great library of old time banjo music. Thanks again for the I have to go back and replay them.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 09/14/2013:  13:40:21


A very sturdy TOTW, with a lot of good assistance from such far flung places as Sweden, California, and Chicago.   This broad participation by BHO members sort of makes the TOTW a successful coalition government. 

Your own playing was just right.  You very deftly handled a tune with a lot of dimension to it.  You get a lot of bounce from all of the banjos you play (I went to your “videos” to catch some more of your playing) and you got a lot of mileage out of that Enoch. 

I took a crack at it with my Fawley/Vega A scale tuned to Double D, as you suggested. 

I’ve always felt a little self-conscious about referring to tunes using titles that sought to capture the Southern or Appalachian pronunciation by leaving off the last part of a word and substituting an apostrophe for the portion that disappears into the dialect. 

So I thought I’d just use my Brooklyn Talk to refer to the tune.

Hence “Gunna Uptown.”




Thanks, Erich, and the other stalwart TOTW cadre, for this essay and accompanying dialogue on this neat tune, a very clever piece derived as it is from a similarly clever piece, Ragtime Annie.


Play hard,





Edited by - Brooklynbanjoboy on 09/14/2013 13:41:40

gailg64 - Posted - 09/14/2013:  19:59:14

Now you're in my favorite territory! Goin' Up Town one of my favorite Humphrey Bate & the Possum Hunters tunes. I have a framed copy of the sheet music cover. I'll upload a JPEG to my Hangout page. It includes the wonderful square dance calls, including the shouted "Shoo FLY...shoo fly SWING!"

Banjo playing style content: the banjo player, on the attached 20s recording of the Possum Hunters was the amazing Walter Liggett of Cottontown, TN (just north of Nashville). Liggett played in a wonderful old Tennessee up picking style, an interesting 2 (or 3 ) finger style, not clawhammer. (I think it might have been Charlie Faurot who jokingly called Liggett's style "morse code banjo"). With it's repeated 2-3-3 rolls and chops on the ends of measures, it sounds startlingly similar to another Tennessean, Murph Gribble, of Grundy county. The rhythm can be played using either 2 or 3 fingers.

 Hardware: Liggett played an open back Dobson-y looking banjo with a great many brackets on the mid-20s Possum Hunter recordings (IMHO, some of the best string band music ever captured on shellac). Like Sam McGee, Liggett & the bowed bass player Oscar Albright sometimes wore red "Toby" wigs---Toby was some sort of medieval British clown character. By the late 20s a promo shot shows Liggett with the usual Grand Ole Opry RB-1. Gibson probably sold more 5 strings in Tennessee than anywhere else! 

gailg64 - Posted - 09/14/2013:  20:43:50

Goin Up Town

Goin Up Town


vrteach - Posted - 09/15/2013:  10:39:18

Wow, thanks folks!

bhniko: Glad to be of some analgesic help.

Brooklynbanjoboy: Yup, the BHO/TOTW community is what makes these postings work as well as they do. Thanks for adding your excellent (and stalwart) version to the mix. Maybe some future TOTW can research "Ragtime Annie." That's one of my favorite tunes, and I sometimes have trouble getting people to play it.

And speaking of the TOTW community....

gailg64: Every TOTW is improved when you can add to the information. I never, EVER would have thought that there would be contemporary sheet music for this tune. Also, I had not known about Toby wigs. I've searched a little bit without success, although Wikipedia says that "toby" is slang for a tramp. I knew about "Toby Jugs," which are drinking mugs in the shape of humans. Also, there is "Sir Toby Belch" who shows up in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. I suspect the tramp connection is more likely. I had to include this image just to have an image from a Shakespeare play included in a TOTW. Sir Toby Belch is on the left. No banjo content is included.




Edited by - vrteach on 09/15/2013 10:48:00

JanetB - Posted - 09/17/2013:  06:21:38

Here's my try at this lively dance tune.  I'm grateful to you, Erich, because this is the first Possum Hunters' tune I've really listened to, though I've enjoyed the book by Charles Wolfe, A Good Natured Riot, the Birth of the Grand Ole Opry, where I first read about Dr. Humphrey Bate.  I learned that his band was what Mr. Wolfe called the "flagship" of the Opry's new show and "the doctor had one of the fastest barn dance teams on the air" in his day. 

Goin' Uptown


vrteach - Posted - 09/17/2013:  09:53:32

Lovely, Janet. You have the syncopation that I don't quite manage.

I also have not before heard many of the Possum Hunters recordings, but I'm going to get some more. I've also put in an order for a used copy of "A Good Natured Riot".

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