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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 8.1.14 John Brown's Dream

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:

ChuckJo - Posted - 07/31/2014:  21:57:01

John Brown’s Dream has long been one of my favorite tunes. 

I first became aware of it through Tommy Jarrell’s fiddling, and later through his banjo playing.  The tune is widespread, with many variants, and a host of tunes that seem to be related.  Tommy’s father Ben can heard playing it with De Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters (1927).  Franklin George says that the source for the tune "Herve (or Harv) Brown, hence Herv Brown's Dream.  Tunes that have been identified in the family include “Brownstream,” “Herv Brown’s Dream,” “Jimmy Johnson Pass That Jug Around the Hill,” “Little Rabbit”  “Pretty Little Girl,” “Pretty Little Miss,” Devil’s Dream,” “Stillhouse Branch” and “Table Mountain Road” (From ).  I asked Kerry Blech about John Brown’s Dream and he gave the following:

Fiddlin' Powers of SW Virginia and Family recorded "Brown's Dream" for Victor in August 1924, but it was never issued and they never re-recorded it, so we don't know how "developed" it was

The Sweet Brothers from Washington Co., VA recorded it for Gennett as "I Am Gonna Marry That Pretty Little Girl" in July 1928, but it was "rejected". Fortunately a test pressing survived and it has been issued on numerous times since the 1960s on LPs and CDs.

Clark & Luches Kessinger (of St. Albans, WV) recorded it in February 1929 as "Johnny Bring the Jug Around the Hill" for Brunswick.

Guthrie Meade, in his book "Country Music Sources" notes several additional cognates:

"Give the Fiddlers a Dram" in Marion Thede's "The Fiddle Book";

"Old Hen She Cackled" as recorded by Bill Stepp in Salyersville, KY in 1937 as AFS 1572-B3

"Old Hen Cackled" recorded by Luther Strong in Hazard, KY also in 1937 as AFS 1535-B1

"Brownlow's Dream" was what Ed Haley called it. He was originally from Logan Co. WV but lived much of his life in Boyd Co. KY.

Hobart Smith called his version of the tune "Devil's Dream" on his Rounder recording (Rounder CD 0032).

Tommy Jarrell tuned the 4th string of his banjo down from it’s usual “E” to an “A”, an octave lower than the third string for the tuning banjo version was in the tuning aAAC#E.

I play it here on a 6-string fretless banjo in aAEAC#E.  The banjo was built for me by Ken Bloom.

John Brown of course was a famous (or infamous) abolitionist who is best remembered for his failed raid on Harper’s Ferry 1859.  Well, the raid succeeded, but failed to rouse slaves and supply them with arms in order overthrow their servitude.  Brown was ultimately captured by U. S Marines commanded by Robert E. Lee, after J.E.B Stuart failed to negotiate a surrender. 

John Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom he had met in his formative years as an abolitionist in Springfield, Massachusetts, to join him in his raid, but Tubman was prevented by illness, and Douglass declined, as he believed Brown's plan would fail.

Brown was found guilty of treason against the commonwealth of Virginia and was hanged on December 2. The execution was witnessed by the actor John Wilkes Booth.

On the day of his execution, Brown wrote his last prophecy, which said,

“I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.”

(The info and pictures of John Brown come from: )


This tune has been discussed in the following threads:!msg/..._HFv6XMoJ

VIDEO: Chuck Levy Plays John Brown's Dream on a 6 String Fretless Banjo
(click to view)

John Brown's Portrait, 1859

John Brown's Last Stand

John Brown's Newspaper

John Brown's Prophecy


retiredpostaldude - Posted - 08/01/2014:  07:46:52

Thanks Chuck ......................Wow .... what interesting piece of history .... I enjoy learning something new everyday !


Mark Johnson - Posted - 08/01/2014:  08:28:47

7 years of TOTW and we still have so many classics to cover.  Great selection, and very thorough write-up!

Great version on that beast of a banjo, too, Chuck.  Very well played.


JanetB - Posted - 08/01/2014:  08:42:35

Chuck, your video looked-and-sounded-so-good, but ever-so-challenging (as usual).  I managed to find Hobart Smith's LOC recording (Devil's Dream") and it didn't seem too hard.  I'll be re-reading more about the John Brown history, which I've also watched on a Ken Burns DVD.  When I watch it again I'll listen for this tune and in the meantime will enjoy listening to the other versions you've included as sources.

John Brown's Dream (TOTW)

John Brown's Dream tab

vrteach - Posted - 08/01/2014:  08:46:11

Another one of my favorites, although I don't play it often. When I do, I tend to rush it a bit. Here's a version I did as part of a bunch of tunes I did in standard G tuning when I first brought home my used Tradesman.

John Brown's Dream


ChuckJo - Posted - 08/01/2014:  09:27:47

Wow Janet and Erich,


Great takes on JBD!  Janet, you really draw out lovely still quality in the tune, and Erich, you make it rip!


Yee Haw!


Chadbanjo - Posted - 08/01/2014:  10:21:41

Cool history there.I learned this one a couple years ago and forgot about it. What a good tune, Im getting back now today.


blockader - Posted - 08/01/2014:  10:25:30

One of my favorites! When Tommy and Fred got tight on it, thats just the best thing there is. Heres a video of it being played at the annual Breakdown I host at my farm every November. I'm fiddling in this vid but I love to play it on banjo just about as much. 


VIDEO: John Brown's Dream
(click to view)


J-Walk - Posted - 08/01/2014:  11:17:20

Here's another video, featuring Lydia Sylvia Martin on banjo (with help from many others).

VIDEO: Old Time for Obama
(click to view)


BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/01/2014:  11:50:45

I recorded Frank George on fiddle with Kim Johnson on banjo and also Grace Forrest on fiddle at the 2013 Berkeley Old Time Music Convention.

I had not uploaded the video, but I think it is a wonderful example of Kim Johnson's clean banjo playing along with Frank's old time fiddle.


MrManners - Posted - 08/01/2014:  15:45:35

3 finger version used for sountrack,yeh i am a jarrell fan 

Zischkale - Posted - 08/01/2014:  21:27:58


Originally posted by J-Walk

Here's another video, featuring Lydia Sylvia Martin on banjo (with help from many others).

Man it's like my Gran's worst nightmare! Lydia Martin seems cool, hadn't heard of her. She's pulling some real Uncle Dave Macon moves there.

Thanks for posting Chuck, love this tune, especially when Tommy does it. I shamefully haven't heard it in duet form with he and Fred, but will have to track it down soon. Love that six-string banjo, lots of awesome tuning possibilities there, and you play it real well.

Paul Meredith - Posted - 08/04/2014:  18:33:09

Chuck, good pick and great write up.  Another one of those tunes that one would assume had already been a TOTW - not!

I learned this tune mostly by osmosis, I had heard it a lot and one day a year or so ago, while noodling around on the banjo, I realized I was more or less playing it.  Since then I have actually learned (more or less!) the four part version.

John Browns Dream


mbuk06 - Posted - 08/07/2014:  05:56:26

Great tune choice. Am I right in thinking that Pretty Little Girl that I learned is just a two-part version of John Brown's Dream? Sounds like the exact same tune just two instead of three parts to me?

blockader - Posted - 08/07/2014:  15:35:30


Originally posted by mbuk06

Great tune choice. Am I right in thinking that Pretty Little Girl that I learned is just a two-part version of John Brown's Dream? Sounds like the exact same tune just two instead of three parts to me?

Tommy's dad Ben Jarrell and Charlie Lowe supercharged Pretty Little Girl to make JBD, or so the story goes. They did the same with Backstep Cindy and Sally Ann. Fred Cockerham always maintained they were the same tune. I follow his lead and sing the Pretty Little Girl verses in addition to the more commonly heard lines. 

Heres Ben Jarrell and Frank Jenkins along with Da Costa Woltz doing it in the 1920s as Da Costa Woltz Southern Broadcasters.

Edited by - blockader on 08/07/2014 15:38:51

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/07/2014:  16:29:18

Hey Paul, nice and crisp.  Hi Mike, there are plenty of similarities between John Brown's Dream and Pretty Little Gal.  I think of Pretty Little Girl as a 3 part tune, as played by the Sweet Brothers.

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/07/2014:  20:40:06

(Here's the Sweet Brothers)

VIDEO: Sweet Brothers I'm Gonna Marry That Pretty Little Girl (1928)
(click to view)


bertozzi - Posted - 08/10/2014:  10:07:21

great job would not expect any different

Bill H - Posted - 08/11/2014:  04:05:45

John Brown's Dream is a tune long on my list to learn. After listening to the TOTW examples and references to similar tunes, it sound so much like the version of Little Rabbit that I have known for years, except that Little Rabbit has five parts. John Brown's dream has three?

Are they indeed the same tune, or is it a case of regional variations in melody and tune name? Or just a coincidence.

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/11/2014:  14:07:18

Hi Bill,

Many people think that John Brown's Dream and Little Rabbit are related tunes.

I hear John Brown's Dream as a four part tune. The third and fourth part are similar, with the fourth part an octave lower than the third part on the fiddle. When I play the six string banjo I follow this pattern for the mostly. On a 5-string, I play the 4th part up the neck.

I think the source for Little Rabbit is Crockett's Kentucky Mountaineers who released a medley (as it read on the 78's label) " 'Little Rabbit' and 'Rabbit Where's Your Mammy' ". Some reissues of it on LPs only listed the first tune of the medley

Little Rabbit appears to have 3 parts, while Rabbit Where's Your Mammy has 2.

parts 1, 2, 3
parts 1, 2, 3
part 1
Rabbit Where's Your Mammy
parts 1, 2
parts 1, 2
part 1
Little Rabbit
Parts 1, 2, 3
parts 1, 2, 3

Thanks to Kerry Blech for help with this.

VIDEO: Pete Sutherland and Chuck Levy Play John Brown's Dream, 10.12
(click to view)

VIDEO: Crockett's Kentucky Mountaineers 'Little Rabbit' and 'Rabbit Where's Your Mammy'
(click to view)

vrteach - Posted - 08/11/2014:  14:34:31

For me, the only similarity comes in the first part. And even there I play something slightly different (I think). I actually do not remember where I heard Little Rabbit, but a few years back when LyleK and my mandolin-friend MarkM first got together they played the 5-part version of Little Rabbit--and I somehow knew what to do. Maybe I played it with Lyle c.30 years ago. Anyway a couple of weeks back Mark started "Little Rabbit" as our last tune as Lyle and his wife were trying to pack up and head out the door for their 90 minute trip home, and we all joined in....


Edit: I like at the end where everyone is agreeing on whatever it was that we were playing.

Edited by - vrteach on 08/11/2014 14:47:22

Little Rabbit Where's Your Mammy (UIS OT Group)


Bill H - Posted - 08/11/2014:  14:42:13

Many thanks for the info Chuck and the audio/video versions you posted.

As I said, I learned Little Rabbit with five parts years ago from John Burke's Book of Old Time Fiddle Tunes. Sure enough he  cites his source as Crockett's Mountaineers. So, I'm wondering if the reissue you mention with the title, Rabbit Where's Your Mammy dropped could lead to the idea that Little Rabbit has five parts, the two tunes between them having a total of five parts.

In recent years with the advent of You tube I can't seem to get the version I learned to fit in with what I hear. Clearly I need to get up to speed with this.

Reminds me of a long ride to a jobsite with my son. I had an old time banjo anthology CD playing in the van, and my son said, all these banjo tunes sound the same. I directed him to the track list and pointed out there were five different versions of Going Down the Road Feeling Bad on the CD.



Bart Veerman - Posted - 08/14/2014:  06:46:35

Here's another tab for it

Don Borchelt - Posted - 08/16/2014:  14:54:31

A great pick for tune of the week, Chuck, hard to believe it has been neglected all of this time.  You've done a fine, engaging write up.  I love Chuck's take on this, reminiscent of Tommy Jarrell, just as smooth but even more growly, with that cool extra string.  Janet is as elegant and musical as always, she makes the banjo sounds like a harpsichord.  Eric (vrteach)gets it really moving, super clean, gutsy picking, and fine Tommy inspired singing.  Blockader's jam session makes we wish I lived in Georgia, I would of brought the whiskey.  Tom stretches out with his haunting three finger JBD medley; nice picking, Tom.  After listening to Paul's (aeroweenie) fine version, I've decided I have to learn how to do this osmosis thing he is talking about.  

I first heard this tune back around 1972, when an old fiddler walked up and joined a bunch of us in a late night jam session at the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention, on the Van Hoy Farm.  I had hitch-hiked down from Boston with just my banjo and a blanket.  I asked the fellow next to me who the new guy was, as everybody seemed to know him.  He said, why, that there's Tommy Jarrell.   Ed Britt and I play this every time we go busking, as we did today at the farmer's market in Wakefield, Massachusetts.  It never gets old.

- Don Borchelt

VIDEO: John Brown's Dream
(click to view)


Bill Rogers - Posted - 08/16/2014:  16:03:51

My favorite version is Hobart Smith's on fiddle.  Incredibly driving:

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/17/2014:  06:30:34

Wow, very nice interplay as always with Don Borchelt and Ed Brittt, driving and pretty at the same time!  I want to go to your farmer's market! 

Bill, thanks for the Hobart Smitth version.  Always great to hear Hobart!  If I didn't say so earleir, Paul, you've got it going on.  Judy, thanks for Frank George, Kim Johnson and Grace Forrest.  I  like Kim's clear, spare accompaniment, and the wonderful Frank George!

Thanks for making this discussion so much richer!


Fairbanks - Posted - 08/18/2014:  20:14:44

Love this one:


pg60 - Posted - 08/25/2014:  15:11:46

Thanks for posting this Chuck. I enjoy hearing all the great versions of the tune, but also enjoy learning about the tune's history.

DoubleDang - Posted - 08/25/2014:  20:15:08

Wow! You did some name dropping on that bit of history! Its interested how so many people were connected back then.  Maybe someone will be reading about you, chuck, in hundreds of years. The History of this song and this guy is more than anyone would expect! Thanks Chuck!

Tomasi1949 - Posted - 08/26/2014:  07:16:46

Tomasi1949 - Posted - 08/26/2014:  07:18:06


Thank you for the fine music and the historical perspective. You always add so much value to the Old Time things you touch!

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 08/26/2014:  16:27:14

Chuck and others - lucky me!  Got to watch and play with Kim Johnson (love that banjo playing) and Frank George this past weekend.  Miles Krassen and George had a nice reunion.  Check out the videos:

We had a short discussion about Brown's Dream, aka Harve's Dream per Miles Krassen, although there is one different note in the A part.  Frank George called it Jimmy Jackson - it was called different things in different counties.

Anyway, good song, not played much in this area, though.  

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/27/2014:  17:40:22

Hi Judy,

Thanks for the great videos of Miles, Frank, and Kim.


sgdesertrat1 - Posted - 08/28/2014:  07:13:53

I can't help but wonder if the name "Devil's Dream" is more common the farther south you go. Does anyone know?

CamC - Posted - 09/05/2014:  17:26:44

My take, on my new old banjo.

ChuckJo - Posted - 09/10/2014:  17:28:06

Hi Daniel.  Regarding Devil's Dream:  For me that conjures a different tune entirely, starting as a minstrel tune in Phil Rice's 1858 book.  Other than Hobart Smith, I don't know of other old-timers who referred the John Brown's Dream melody as Devil's Dream.  Perhaps someone else who knows more could comment.

Nice job Cam.  Snappy playing.

ChuckJo - Posted - 09/10/2014:  17:30:46

Not sure if the video was attached

VIDEO: Devil's Dream
(click to view)


Fairbanks - Posted - 09/11/2014:  00:54:26



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