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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) - 4/11/14 - Pretty Little Cat

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mworden - Posted - 04/11/2014:  10:59:43

This week's old-time tune of the week is Pretty Little Cat from West Virginia fiddler Wilson Douglas.  

Wilson Douglas

You can hear Wilson's original recording of the tune on the Slippery Hill site here

As is the case with many old-time tunes, there are several other tunes with the same title (in fact, I considered three other tunes to do this week and each of them shared a name with other tunes and one was known by a number of other titles, as well).  I chose this tune for a number of reasons.  First, I'm not sure why but I seem to have an affinity for tunes from West Virginia.  It seems to always be the case these days that when a tune grabs me and won't let go it turns out to be a WV tune.  Two of my maternal great grandparents were from WV, so maybe it's some sort of ancestral homing beacon.  Second, I have a real fondness for "modal" tunes.  I love that tonally ambiguous, haunting quality they can have.  Pretty Little Cat is generally played on the banjo out of A-modal tuning (aEADE).  Finally, I've been trying to learn to play some fiddle for the last year or so and this is one of the tunes I've been working on a lot.  

Wilson recorded the tune with one A part and one B part.  When it comes up in jams around here, we usually play the A part twice (AAB).  It's a really fun jam tune (except maybe for the guitars).  I don't know if they are related or not, but there seems to be a family resemblance with Kitchen Girl - enough so that I can't play one if I've played the other one first without getting all mixed up.

There aren't too many recordings available.  Erynn Marshall plays it as part of a medley on her excellent album Calico.  You can listen to her recording here:

BHO's Chuck Levy (ChuckJo) plays a very tasty version on his fretless Enoch banjo in a video here: .  I believe that Chuck might have a tab available for those interested.

Worth noting is that the banjo playing on the Wilson Douglas recording is by Kim Johnson, who is a member here on the hangout.  I've sent her a PM and perhaps she will stop by.

For my contribution, I recorded a version with banjo and tried overdubbing some fiddle.  I still have a long way to go to get the dynamics and the rhythmic bounce that I want into my fiddling but I'm having fun with it.

Carry on.  -Mike

Edited by - mworden on 04/11/2014 12:52:06

Pretty Little Cat


bornold - Posted - 04/11/2014:  11:06:26

These Minor tuners are my favorite! Nice pickin and fiddilin!

janolov - Posted - 04/11/2014:  11:24:41

ChuckJo's tab was in Banjo Newsletter November 2013.

J-Walk - Posted - 04/11/2014:  18:30:55

I love to play along with Rayna's recording of that tune, but I've never met anyone else who plays it. 

It''s a really fun jam tune (except maybe for the guitars). 

Playing guitar is also fun, anticipating that IV chord in the B part...

mworden - Posted - 04/11/2014:  18:56:52

I tried to add a guitar part to my recording (guitar is my first instrument) but just couldn't get anything I thought worked well.  I think someone who was better at putting together bass runs than I am could make it work.

Is there a Rayna Gellert recording of this tune somewhere?  Can you point to it?

Tamarack - Posted - 04/12/2014:  06:49:58

Very cool tune. Good to have pretty little cats and pretty little dogs running around the place.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 04/12/2014:  07:23:20

and "Pretty Little Shoes" too.


J-Walk - Posted - 04/12/2014:  08:00:42


Originally posted by mworden

Is there a Rayna Gellert recording of this tune somewhere?  Can you point to it?

Oops. I meant to say Erynn Marshall (not Rayna). 

aeroweenie - Posted - 04/12/2014:  09:21:10

Very catchy tune, nice pick!  Is there a preferred banjo tuning used for this tune?  I think it could be done equally well in A major or sawmill though they would give the tune different flavors.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 04/12/2014:  14:47:47

Hey J-Walk, is this the recording you mentioned?

I like the way it goes dark in the "B" part...

Paul "Aeroweennie" suggested playing it out of other tunings.  I tried it in gDGCD:





Edited by - Brooklynbanjoboy on 04/12/2014 14:50:28

JanetB - Posted - 04/12/2014:  14:51:53

Well, Mike, you've uncovered another little gem.  Thanks, and also for the nice fiddle duet you played.  I, like you, played it AAB--just couldn't help it even though I listened mostly to Erynn Marshall's version with its AB pattern.  In a book she wrote, called Music in the Air Somewhere, The Shifting Borders of West Virginia's Fiddle and Song Traditions Wilson is quoted telling of his grandmother, Forest Rose Morris, who told him when he was 12 or 13 years old and visiting her to learn fiddle:  "You've got a head like a gourd.  You can't learn nothing!"

A good article about Wilson Douglas appears in Mountains of Music, West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal.

I'm playing a Gold Tone cello banjo.

Pretty Little Cat (CB)--TOTW


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 04/12/2014:  16:54:40

Very pleasant playing, Janet.  We put it on a loop and the hounds and I listened to it for our three evening miles into town and back.  Great walking music.  Really set a challenging stride for me.  That cello is special.

Play hard,


dbrooks - Posted - 04/12/2014:  16:59:25

Is this tune a companion piece to "Pretty Little Dog"?  It sure shares or mirrors many of the phrases.  I learned "Pretty Little Dog" from Laura Schulman's fine CD, and it has become a staple at the weekly contra dance we play at here in Louisville.

Here are a couple of videos of "Pretty Little Dog":


aeroweenie - Posted - 04/14/2014:  11:04:50

ok, here is my take on the tune.  I was wrong about the tunings  (see above) though - for me it lays out much better in sawmill tuning than in regular A tuning.  I resisted the urge to play it AABB and did it AB per Wilson Douglas.

It is fun to play though easy to over embellish, which I think I am guilty of.  I hear little relation to Pretty Little Dog, another great tune, but do hear elements of Kitchen Girl and Sandy Boys.  I look forward to playing this with a fiddler!

Pretty Little Cat


mworden - Posted - 04/14/2014:  12:27:26

A story I've seen related in several places was that WV fiddler Lee Triplett heard a different tune, perhaps Pretty Little Shoes, and when trying to remember how it went later concocted the tunes Pretty Little Dog and Pretty Little Cat - but a different Pretty Little Cat than than the one from Wilson Douglas.  Listening to those other tunes, sometimes I think they might be related to the Douglas tune and other times I think it's just my imagination.

On the subject of Pretty Little Dog, this version from the very talented Travis Wright (SCclawman) always just blows me away: Pretty Little Dog

ChuckJo - Posted - 04/14/2014:  18:45:44

This version of Pretty Little Cat comes from West Virginia fiddler Wilson Douglas.  Named for president Woodrow Wilson, Douglas was born in 1922 on a farm in rural Clay County in an area known as Rush Fork. I did not know Wilson well, but did get to encounter him a few times.   He had a fierce feeling and passion for old-time music that was moving and inspiring.  Wilson Died at age 76 in 1999.

Wilson recorded "Pretty Little Cat" on "Fiddle Tunes from Central West Virginia", with fine accompaniment of Kim Johnson on banjo and Mark Payne on guitar.  Wilson's version has only one A and one B part.  Lee Triplett, an older Clay County fiddler played a different melody that he called Pretty Little Cat.

I am playing an Enoch fretless with a Whyte Laydie tone ring that was originally built for Carolee Rand.  This recording took place September, 2013, in Gainesville, Florida.

VIDEO: Chuck Levy plays Wilson Douglas' Pretty Little Cat on and Enoch fretless banjo
(click to view)

Tab for Pretty Little Cat

atleson - Posted - 04/15/2014:  15:32:41

another fine tune.  There's nothing like those West Virginia model tunes, at least to me.  This tune, at least as played by Wilson Douglas, does not remind of "Pretty Little Dog" or "Pretty Little Shoes" but, instead, it sounds like a variation of "Sandy Boys," my favorite WV tune.



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