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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 11/1/2013: Hell and Grace

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:

ScottK - Posted - 10/31/2013:  21:47:17

Hi All,

Janet's Rebels Raid post last week is a tough act to follow.  Great job, Janet!  I loved both the history and the music.  And William Stepp is a favorite of mine, too.

The only thing to do this week is something completely differentsmiley  So I decided to present a modern tune that I can't find much information about, hence won't have to write much about. smiley

My son Erik is an Irish trad fiddler who also plays a pretty good old time fiddle on occasion and who has a good ear for catchy tunes.   A few years ago we attended Fiddle Tunes together where Eric Merrill was on the tutorial staff for Irish fiddle.  (I think Liz Carroll may have been the faculty member for Irish fiddle that year.)   While there we picked up Eric Merrill's The Western Star CD.  It's a really good recording blending a variety of influences.  From the liner notes:

The Western Star combines my deep love of traditional music of Ireland and Appalachia with a respect for elements of modern country music. I have been performing around the world for years with various traditional ensembles.

I recorded The Western Star using fiddles and violas I built. I was helped by a number of great and gereous musicians. John Herrman (banjo), John Doyle (guitar), Matt Heaton (guitar and electric guitar), Ted Davis (guitar), John Whelan (accordion), Corey DiMario (bass), Rachel Loy (bass), Danny Noveck (electric guitar), Kristin Andreassen (harmony vocals), Brian Hanlon (bodran), Damon Addleman (drums).

I hope you enjoy it. Please give it a listen.


Eric Merrill himself plays fiddle, banjo, and guitar on the recording in addition to singing.  At Fiddle Tunes that year he sat in with fretless banjo on a great session in the stairwell of 204 in the wee hours of the morning with Dirk Powell, Sammy Lind, and Justin Robinson ripping it up on fiddle.

The last tune on the CD is Hell and Grace and was written by Eric for his grandmother, Helen Grace.  This tune caught my son Erik's ear (can you tell that my wife has Norwegian ancestry?  smiley) so he learned it on fiddle.  I subsequently learned to play it on banjo to play it with him.

I think Eric Merrill plays Hell and Grace in F on the recording.  When Erik learned it he played it in cross F, so I just tuned open G down to F to play it with him.  We played it that way out at Weiser a couple years ago and it led to a couple of extended cross F jam sessions as folk wandered by and got intrigued about playing familiar cross A/G tunes in a lower register.  But for this TOTW I've recorded the tune in A.

Poking around the web, I didn't find much info about Eric Merrill or this tune beyond the liner notes.  But he's a young guy who I've met out here in the Pacific Northwest a couple of times, so I would bet that a few BHO folk know him.

Anyway, Hell and Grace is a really fun tune to play on banjo.  I recorded a banjo version and posted it here.  I also posted a fiddle and banjo version from a porch practice session last summer when Erik, Joanna Macrae, and I were preparing to play a square dance together.  I'm working on a tab and should get that posted next week.

Cheers, Scott

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 11/01/2013:  06:58:49

Nice one, Scott.

I stumbled into an article on Eric:



J-Walk - Posted - 11/01/2013:  11:34:49

Great tune choice, Scott. I bought Eric Merrill's track and was stumped on the B part. Then I realized that it's crooked and is missing a measure.

The chords go like this (in G):

G/// G/// G/// D///
G/// C/ G(B)/ C/ D/ G///

Em/// C/ D/ G/// G///
Em/// C/ D/ G///

aeroweenie - Posted - 11/02/2013:  09:58:01

Pretty tune, it gives me a sense of peace.  Nice banjo playing Scott.

Tamarack - Posted - 11/03/2013:  21:48:29

Yeah -- definitely gives a peaceful easy feeling. 'Tis a gift to make up a new tune that sounds old.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 11/04/2013:  15:59:27

This was a tough one, perhaps well above my pay grade.  Took me a bunch of days to get close to it.  I had a good deal of help from some friends, none of whom should be held responsible for what I post here. 

John Walkenbach, who provided an essential hint with his posting about the chords on the TOTW thread, offered a private diagnosis of several first efforts. 

On John’s advice I drilled Eric Merrill's recording (accessible on at   ) of the tune into my brain.   When I’m trying to work out a TOTW challenge, I put the iTunes version on a loop and play it during my morning walk with my two hounds.  At the end of our 6 mile walk I’ve got the tune ringing in my brain, and the hounds are ready for a nap in a banjo-free zone.

I listened intently to Scott Killops banjo sound byte, and his recording of the banjo/fiddle pairing on this tune – Scott, you’re a class act player.   

And I reached out to Baron Collins-Hill whose clear mandolin picking of the tune on Youtube provided some good help.  See his video at:


Anyway, this is what I came up with.




That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Nice to be able to use the TOTW resources as a remedial banjo clinic.  Great players on board and all are very free with their superb advice and guidance.  I’m grateful.


Play hard,



ScottK - Posted - 11/04/2013:  17:11:14

Great picking, Lew!  And thanks for adding the links to the article and to the Baron Collins-Hill video.  I think I've seen that article years ago, but couldn't find it when I was preparing this TOTW post.

I think you'll find that the more you play this tune, the more you'll enjoy playing it.  There's something about the crookedness and the handful of long notes in it that just make it fun to play.

I was out of town all weekend, so didn't finish my tab yet.  But I should be able to finish that tonight and scan it at work tomorrow and get it posted.  (I'm a funny mix of old tech / new tech.  I haven't learned to use any of the tab editing tools yet, so I write my tabs by hand and scan them in.  But I only ever write tab when I'm taking a turn at TOTW, so the frequency hasn't been enough to get me to take the time to learn one of the tools.)

Cheers, Scott

ScottK - Posted - 11/05/2013:  07:57:44

Hi All,


This morning I posted a tab for Hell and Grace in the BHO Tab Archive.  You can find it here.



JanetB - Posted - 11/06/2013:  05:23:21

Thanks, Scott, for a novel TOTW tune and source.  Now I know about Eric Merrill, also thanks to the article Lew posted.  It's an honor for a grandmother to have a tune named after her.  I can understand how a grandmother would let her grandchild understand the difference between hell and grace.

Helen Grace


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 11/06/2013:  05:47:33

Nice, Janet.  You made it seem easy.  Great clarity.  And, dare I say, grace.

Take care,



ScottK - Posted - 11/06/2013:  06:45:07

Wow Janet, that's just beautiful picking. As usual from you. :-) You make a pretty tune ever prettier!


JanetB - Posted - 11/08/2013:  06:19:47

Thanks, Lew and Scott.  I was listening this morning to more from Eric Morrill's CD The Western Star.  What an appropriate name for him as well, coming from Seattle.  He has an old-time and Celtic repertoire but approaches them with his unique art on instruments he built himself.  The innovative instrumentation gives each track novelty to my listening ear.  I particularly liked The Morningstar/Lady Hamilton and Biddy Martin's/Queen of the Earth, Child of the Sky.  The latter tune tells me he's listened to West Virginian fiddler Edden Hammons.   I'm guessing a favorite banjo player, John Herrmann, was on tracks 1, 7, and 8, but I haven't seen liner notes to verify.  Thanks again, Scott, for letting us be aware of a young player embracing the old traditions with his own style.

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