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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Wild Horses in the Canebrake

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JanetB - Posted - 07/22/2014:  08:54:52

Many of you will recognize this tune as "Hosses in the Canebrake" from Bob Carlin's seminal 1986 recording of banjo/fiddle duets Banging and Sawing.  Interestingly, the fiddler, James Bryan, begins with the part I'd consider the B part, so I did, too.

With some research I discovered source recordings of Kentucky fiddler Jake Phelps (1883- 1977):  Another one was done by musicologist D.K. Wilgus and the tune appears as Horses in the Canebrake in Jeff Titon's book Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes.  I wish I could find more information on Mr. Phelps--background on him is scarce.  If anyone has knowledge or photos of him I'd appreciate it, as he also fiddled the Tune of the Week which I'm currently researching.

If you haven't got the CD Banging and Sawing I strongly recommend it.  Fiddlers on it include James Bryan, Brad Leftwich, Bruce Molsky, and Judy Hyman.  Bob Carlin's clawhammer banjo is always delightful and tasteful.

I also wonder about the title and how many wild horses may have roamed in Kentucky, if that's where the tune originated.  I can find lots of photos of running horses, but none in a canebrake....Thanks in advance for listening and sharing.




Edited by - JanetB on 07/22/2014 09:42:17

Horses in the Canebrake

Wild Horses in the Canebrake tab

Mark Johnson - Posted - 07/22/2014:  09:20:49

Lovely playing as always, Janet.  I'm not much of a poet, and am a bear of very little brain, so I can't think of novel ways to compliment your playing.  But I really do enjoy it, it's very clean, crisp, elegant and peaceful.

To my ears this is from a family of tunes that may have even more names than variations (which is a lot).  I hear it as being the same as/very very related to tunes known variously as Stoney Point, Wild Horses at Stoney Point, Wild Horses, the Pigtown Fling, Buck Creek Gals, Kelton's Reel and many more.  

It was the subject of a TOTW back in 2011:  Sadly many of the links haven't survived over the years, but maybe it can get you pointed towards some other sources/version should you be interested in going down that rabbit hole. Even just searching for "Wild Horse" on the Digital Library of Appalachia opens up a bounty of treasures:

Take care,


Edited by - Mark Johnson on 07/22/2014 09:32:26

rickhayes - Posted - 07/22/2014:  09:44:09

Janet, I agree with Mark's compliment.  Quite nice.

bhniko - Posted - 07/22/2014:  09:47:28

Those ten little fingers sure do make lovely sounds.

Mark Johnson - Posted - 07/22/2014:  10:23:01

Ok, further listening leads me to retract the idea that this tune is the "same as" the other Wild Horse family of tunes, but the crashing vi chord in the B part suggests it's related to me.  I'd be curious to see what others think, and am curious to see what Mr. Titon says in Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes when I get home tonight.

All of which shouldn't lead us astray from the fact that it's a nice tune (regardless of relation to other tunes) and very well played here.  I seem to have a knack for thread drift that needs to be deliberately countered sometimes.



Edited by - Mark Johnson on 07/22/2014 10:26:59

Paul Roberts - Posted - 07/22/2014:  10:40:26


JanetB - Posted - 07/22/2014:  10:57:17

Thanks for your kind words.  Happy, yes!  Mark, I also hear similarities in Stoney Point and this tune under discussion.  There are differences, but enough similarities to conclude they're related.  Thank you for pointing this out.

Happily, I just heard from Bruce Greene, who I'd contacted when I began learning this tune.  As he's the one who recorded Jake Phelps in 1965, he was the logical person to get information from.  Bruce says that the correct name for the tune is "Horses in the Canebrake" and that he was told it came from "across the waters" and had a different title.  In addition, I've just learned that Bruce taught James Bryan the tune in the mid 1980's.

Here's some what Bruce wrote about Jake:  He was a farmer who lived in a little place called Pea Ridge, Todd County, Kentucky and learned many of his unusual tunes from a fiddler, Will Stigall (born in the 1860's) and from a black fiddler named George Holland.  There was a local plantation nearby, allowing Black musical influence in the region.  People called him "Mr. Jake," as a show of respect, but he also went by W.L. (William Lee Phelps--his real name).  Bruce also explained that farmers used to run their livestock in the thick canes as a way to keep them from wandering too far.

I'm grateful to Bruce for responding so helpfully.  He's a living legend I don't know enough about yet, but look forward to learning more about his music.


Debs - Posted - 07/22/2014:  12:51:52

This is a tune I haven't heard before, but as always you play with such sensitivity and style that makes me want to learn more.  Thank you, Janet,  for expanding my horizons.

Edited by - Debs on 07/22/2014 12:57:08

JanetB - Posted - 07/23/2014:  07:30:00

Thanks, Deb, for sharing something so nice!  I, too, am constantly expanding my horizons.  One of my next learning ventures will be to listen to Bruce Greene's fiddling.  He recorded a CD called Five Miles of Ellum Wood, Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Solos I'd like to have.  Since Bruce taught Horses in the Canebrake to James Bryan I'm extremely interested in other tunes he learned while collecting and recording old-time Kentucky fiddlers.

Zischkale - Posted - 07/23/2014:  21:56:30

Excellent playing, real fluid and digging that tone. Great tune, too--I like that tied note into the B part. Enjoyed following along with the tab.

mworden - Posted - 07/24/2014:  08:09:14

Lovely and tasteful as always, Janet. 

I second your endorsement of "Banging and Sawing".  It's a terrific collection of music.  I think "Indian on a Stump" might be my favorite from that album, but that's for another thread....

I also wanted to add another appreciation of Bruce Greene.  I'm an aspiring fiddler these days and I find a lot of inspiration in his playing.  Definitely one of my favorites.

JanetB - Posted - 07/24/2014:  08:15:47

Thanks for listening, Aaron.  You're a "critical thinker," as we say in education lingo, but the term should be an "analytic thinker."  You're always supportive--never critical!

I used to call tied notes "dotted notes."  When tabbing I discovered there's actually a note choice called "tied note."  It's easy and when arranging a fiddle tune I often leave out the space before the 5th note rings.  Adam Hurt calls these a "ghost note" because he teaches that the finger should make the clawhammer stroke as if going to strike the string, but then don't really play it.  It allows the thumb to get in position for its upbeat note.

I'm debating to change the tune title to Horses in the Canebrake.  The only place where it's "Wild" is in the Milliner-Koken collection which sites Bruce Greene as the collector, and he says the title doesn't have wild.  So if you see it's changed, that's why.

JanetB - Posted - 07/24/2014:  08:23:09


Originally posted by mworden

I also wanted to add another appreciation of Bruce Greene.  I'm an aspiring fiddler these days and I find a lot of inspiration in his playing.  Definitely one of my favorites.

Thanks, Mike.  I just order a CD he recommended if I want to get to know his music--Five Miles of Ellum Wood.  He says that these tunes are the obscure ones he found while collecting in Kentucky.

mworden - Posted - 07/24/2014:  08:51:12


Originally posted by JanetB


Originally posted by mworden

I also wanted to add another appreciation of Bruce Greene.  I'm an aspiring fiddler these days and I find a lot of inspiration in his playing.  Definitely one of my favorites.

Thanks, Mike.  I just order a CD he recommended if I want to get to know his music--Five Miles of Ellum Wood.  He says that these tunes are the obscure ones he found while collecting in Kentucky.

A great collection of solo fiddle playing.  I'll will be interested to hear your impression when you have a chance to listen and digest.

JanetB - Posted - 07/24/2014:  09:22:28

I'm glad I went on his website to find Five Miles of Ellum Wood for $19, including shipping.  It's $79+ on amazon!

Laurence Diehl - Posted - 07/24/2014:  10:13:01

A lovely, fresh sounding tune Janet - thanks!


As a side note, I recently attended the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Pt. Townsend WA where I heard fiddlers from all over the US (including Missouri, New Hampshire) I realized there are so many fiddle tunes and styles out there that I had not heard before. Yet most people seem to stick the the 20 or 30 standards that are familiar.

SCclawman - Posted - 07/25/2014:  07:32:49


When I think of the reason I started playing banjo, it was this sound here that drew me in. It's this sound and type of song that keeps me playing and interested in learning and playing more. Sadly, my banjo has been in the case for the last few months without much playing, but this tune and the way that you play it draws me back and reminds me that I need to spend more time with this beautiful instrument playing songs like this.


JanetB - Posted - 07/25/2014:  08:30:40

I'm happy to hear from both Laurence and Travis--two musicians whose music I always enjoy.  I agree with you, Laurence, that it's good to get "out of the standards box" and seek pleasing music   I'm still seeking old-time fiddle nuggets that aren't commonly heard.

I like what Bruce Molsky and Bob Carlin wrote: "We feel that old time music traditional music can be truly regional without being geographically so.  Our wonderful community of music makers and music lovers is the 'region.'"  With so many musicians worldwide we should get tons of musical variety.  Those two gentlemen, along with James Bryan and the other fiddlers on Banging and Sawing have introduced me to several tunes "out of the standards box."

Travis, I agree with you that there's a certain quality and character of this music that we instantly recognize when we hear it.  Others would have poetic words to describe it better than I can.  I'm positive you'll take out your banjo when you're able.  Family is higher on the priority list--learning some kids' songs might be a way to combine the two!

Edited by - JanetB on 07/25/2014 08:34:25

Charlotte,age 1


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