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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 10-03-14 - High Yellow

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J-Walk - Posted - 10/03/2014:  08:18:54

This week's tune is High Yellow. Even if you've never heard it before, it might sound familiar to you. The A part is very similar to "Martha Campbell" (or is it the old Maxwell House Coffee commercial?), and the B Part is similar to the melody of "It Aint' Gonna Rain No Mo'."

It's a fun tune -- easy to play on banjo, and quickly picked up by others at a jam.

What does the title refer to? From Wikipedia:

High yellow, occasionally simply yellow, is a term for persons classified as black who also have a high proportion of white ancestry. It is a reference to the golden yellow skin tone of some mixed-race people. The term was in common use in the United States at the end of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. It is often considered offensive. It is reflected in such popular songs of the era as "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

The original recorded source is by Henry Reed, and Alan Jabbour seems to be pretty much responsible for keeping this tune alive. In 1967, Alan Jabbour recorded Henry Reed playing the tune, and he writes:

This tune is of a class in the Upper South that seem to be touched by the idiom of ragtime without being derived from the world of popular music. They are perhaps evidence that ragtime developed as a country style parallel to--or even prior to--its development as a cosmopolitan popular style around the turn of the century. Henry Reed said that he learned this tune from a mulatto fiddler from Texas (on another occasion he suggested that this fiddler was from Cabell County, West Virginia).. The Hollow Rock String Band performed this tune under the title "High Yellow," which is adopted here for cross-referencing purposes, but Henry Reed gave no title for it.

You can also listen to Jabbour talking about the tune here. And here's a rather low quality video of him and Ken Perlman playing it (the tune starts at 3:05).

Other recordings

Surprisingly, this tune hasn't been recorded much. Here's all I could find:

Tab and notation

Henry Reed's recording was in the key of C, but fiddlers have no problem playing it in D.

  • Yigal Zan's banjo tab is available here. He plays it the key of C, using A modal tuning. (Note: I find it works out very well using Double C tuning).

  • Notation for High Yellow is included in The Phillips Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, and also in the Milliner & Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes.

And finally, here's a recording from a Tucson jam earlier this year (key of D), plus a video of me playing a quick and dirty solo banjo demo (key of C, double C tuning).

High Yellow

VIDEO: High Yellow, Clawhammer Banjo
(click to view)

Tatersoup - Posted - 10/03/2014:  09:13:00

Thanks so much! This is a great jam and play-along tune.

MrManners - Posted - 10/03/2014:  09:20:44

I assume the name" High Yellow" refers to Henry Reed's cited source,any way i can't get enough of Henry's Version,i am including my version,which i hope to slow down and  tighten up a little.It is one of my favorite because of it's snappy rhythm and melody

warning 3--finger

Edited by - MrManners on 10/03/2014 09:31:02

BDCA - Posted - 10/03/2014:  09:35:30

Nice..We should play it tonight!




JSCB - Posted - 10/03/2014:  10:48:50

Great tuner. Can't wait to get home and play.

bhniko - Posted - 10/04/2014:  08:28:39

Enjoyed the post...great tune. Thanks.

JanetB - Posted - 10/05/2014:  14:59:06

Upbeat and fun, John.  Thanks!  I especially liked watching Alan Jabbour with Ken Perlman where I also heard a Southwest rhythmic flavor. I can just see this tune played with trumpet, accordion and guitar, accompanying colorfully dressed dancers.

It's interesting there are three different tunings to choose from.  I took your advice and played in double C.

High Yellow (TOTW)

High Yellow tab

J-Walk - Posted - 10/05/2014:  15:49:17

Janet, you really nailed it. Excellent rendition.

I can understand what you're saying about playing it with a SW flair.

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