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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 1/24/14: Bull at the Wagon (and others from the Lewis Brothers)

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:

Adam Kiesling - Posted - 01/24/2014:  16:45:23

I was recently at the Portland Old Time Gathering (and had a great time, by the way, but that's neither here nor there). I was fortunate enough to have been asked to play some guitar for one of the dances, along with fiddlers Amy Hofer and Colin Harris, banjoist Charlie Beck, and bassist John Hurd. During the run-up to the Gathering, Amy, Colin and I were kicking around ideas for tunes, and Amy mentioned the four tunes that The Lewis Brothers recorded back in 1929 for the Victor Label: When Summer Comes Again (waltz), Caliope (schottische), and two reels--Sally Johnson and Bull at the Wagon.

Born in San Antonio, Denmon (guitar) and Dempson (fiddle) moved to Otero County in their childhood and remained there for the rest of their days, mostly ranching and playing music. I think it's kind of a travesty that they only recorded four tunes, but they're among some of my favorite old-time tunes. They're very idiosyncratic. Caliope can be found on a re-issue entitled "Turn Me Loose (Outsiders of "Old Time Music)", and the other three tunes can be found on the first volume of County's "Texas Old-Time String Bands." Unfortunately, I had purchased my copy of the County re-issue via iTunes, so I don't know what the liner notes have to say about the Lewis Brothers.

I also don't know much about the history of Bull at the Wagon, but it gets played occasionally for dances in the Twin Cities. It's an A tune, and some fiddlers cross-tune their fiddles whereas others will play it in standard. It's possible that Dempson learned it from a record, but I don't have any idea of what that record might have been. Here's what the Traditional Tune Archive has to say: The third part imitates the bellowing of the bull (there's a great scene in the documentary about 78 collector Joe Bussard where he mentions this while listening to the 78).

Oklahoma fiddler Earl Collins, who later moved to Los Angeles, learned his version from the Lewis Brothers 78 and included it on his release, "That's Earl: Collins Family Fiddling." His version can be listened to courtesy of the Slippery Hill website: I believe that Tom Sauber is the banjo player here, and it was recorded sometime around 1975 or so. It's a great record, and worth seeking out a copy if you're into this kind of thing.

I probably first heard the tune via banjoist Bertram Levy's recording, "That Old Gut Feeling."  Here he is playing along with fiddler Kirk Sutphin:

Here's a great harmonica version from Fayetteville's Seth Shumate:

I'm hoping to record a version tomorrow at a rehearsal and will post it afterwards.

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 01/24/2014:  17:01:19

I had not heard of Bull at the Wagon or the Lewis Brothers before - thanks for introducing me to the tune and the brothers.

RG - Posted - 01/24/2014:  17:59:52

J-Walk - Posted - 01/24/2014:  18:12:26

Adam, I'm sorry I missed you in Portland. I was having so much fun jamming I didn't really seek out people to meet.

In any case, this is a recording I made of Bull at the Wagon on Friday night. I have no idea who else was playing. Probably Ray Leach leading with the fiddle. 

Bull At The Wagon


ZEPP - Posted - 01/24/2014:  18:22:19

Here's a quick version I did 9 Years ago.  What I wrote about it was:  "Used to play this in a band back in the '70s (though I played guitar) and it popped into my mind when I was looking for a tune on which to demonstrate a custom Ramsey banjo that came in for sale. It was a 12" banjo with a rolled brass tone ring--essentially the sound one gets from a Standard or Special. Anyway, I played the tune capoed to A, i.e. gDGBD capoed at the second fret. Feb 2005"

I've always like this tune, but IMHO, it needs a fiddle.




jbalch - Posted - 01/24/2014:  18:53:10

Here  is a killer video of two of the best fiddlers in Nashville or anywhere else. With Dan Knowles on banjo. Great tune!

Edited by - jbalch on 01/24/2014 18:58:44

VIDEO: Bull at the Wagon ~ Shad Cobb & Brian Christianson
(click to view)


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 01/25/2014:  03:23:51

This great version pairs John Hartford with Bob Carlin:

Here's a Youtube video that makes it quite accessible on banjo:


Edited by - Brooklynbanjoboy on 01/25/2014 03:26:50

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 01/25/2014:  13:50:31

Great TOTW choice.
Nice music, well played.


Zepp always manages to add zest to a tune, to infuse it with a load of fun. Thanks for sharing.


Here's my crack at it:


JanetB - Posted - 01/25/2014:  14:13:14

Adam, I'm thankful that you always come up with interesting, new tunes and their history to explore. 

I'm currently reading The Devil's Box, Masters of Southern Fiddling and the Lewis Brothers recordings occurred during the pioneering era of commercial recording, described in Charles Wolfe's first chapter.  There was less recording after the terrible economic recession in 1929.  It must have been a great disappointment for musicians like them who wanted to get into the market at the time.

This version is from Earl Collins using the above Slippery Hill link.  It probably wants to be simplified, but for now gives me an introduction to this delightful tune. 

Bull at the Wagon


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 01/25/2014:  15:17:09


Wonderful.  Nicely played.



Adam Kiesling - Posted - 01/25/2014:  22:09:25

Thanks for all the notes and different versions of the tune. I think my favorite part of the TOTW is when people add their own version, especially when they take the time to learn it and put together their own arrangement.

Here's my quick and dirty recording--Tom Schaefer on the fiddle, Bob Douglas on the mando, and I'm on the banjo. We're called the Tune Jerks, but don't let the name fool you, we're nice guys (mostly).

Bull at the Wagon


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 01/26/2014:  03:37:02

Tight band sound.  Thanks for sharing.

jojo25 - Posted - 01/26/2014:  13:55:07

thanks Adam...nicely done...the only thing wrong with this tune is that none of my local buds play it:(

ClayTech - Posted - 01/28/2014:  17:32:38

Here we go. Sorry for the poor recording. I only have my phone to record with.


Bull at the Wagon


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