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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW - 12/5/14 - Katie Bar The Door

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banjukebox - Posted - 12/04/2014:  12:24:48

Here's my first shot at tune of the week - I'm hoping all the links work.

"Katie Bar The Door" is an expression used primarily in the southern U.S. It basically means something like "Start preparing because something bad is going to happen."

I remember a boyhood friend whose mother used the term quite frequently. She'd say something like: If you don't get off your butt and clean your room, it's going to be Katie Bar the Door when your dad gets home."

There are many theories as to the phrase's origin. It was first found in print in a poem by James Whitcomb Riley called "When Lide Married Him", published in 1894. You can find an excerpt here:

The most intriguing explanation of the source of the expression involves Catherine (Kate) Douglas. In February of 1437 an assassination plot was brewing. The target was King James I of Scotland. The King and Queen were in their room preparing to retire for the evening. Also present was Kate Douglas, one of the Queen's ladies in waiting. Conveniently, the bolt to the door had been secretly removed by the King's chamberlain (also involved in the plot). A commotion was heard outside the door as the assassination gaggle approached. Kate, realizing what was happening, sprang to the door and placed her arm through the staples in an attempt to block their entry while the King made his escape through the sewers. (Really? They ought to write a song about this). Unfortunately, the evil-doers were able to force their way in, breaking Catherine's arm in the process. The king was captured and murdered.

I learned the song from Rayna Gellert and Susie Goering's CD: Starch and Iron. A sample can be heard here:

​Here's a link to the sheet music:

According to her liner notes, she learned the song from Andy Cahan who got it from Roscoe Parrish. Roscoe recorded the tune in 1986 on his album "The Old Time Way: (Heritage 070) which is now out of print. There's a vinyl copy on Amazon available:     He played the tune on Fiddle and Banjo. Here's a link to his banjo version:

I was unable to find any other recorded versions of the tune, but there are a few youtube recordings.

Here's one I put up today:

One by Blindjesse (BHO Member)

here's a dulcimer version:

​I know I tabbed this out at some point, but I'm unable to find it today. However, a copy of Maya's tab (Stringband.Mossyroof) - a great source for tabs - is available here:

And finally, you can hear Jimi's version here:

Just Kidding.


banjo bill-e - Posted - 12/04/2014:  13:28:26

Cool story, I've always wondered about that expression. Like the Jimi pic, too!

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 12/04/2014:  13:31:05

A fine inaugural TOTW - thanks for contributing!

I enjoyed the tune, one I was not really that familiar with (even though I have that "Starch & Iron" CD).  I was also not too familiar with the phrase itself - I've heard of it, but (being from the north) don't know that I've ever heard it in everyday conversation.  An interesting (possible) history behind it.  Poor Katie - I hope the new regime provided adequate medical care for her broken arm...

ScottK - Posted - 12/04/2014:  14:53:04

Hey Pat,

Great write up and great picking!  Really enjoyed both.

Back when I was starting to get out to jams here in Portland both "Starch and Iron" and Rayna's "Ways of the World" were real popular around here, so I ended up learning a bunch of tunes off them as lots of fiddlers were playing them.  Katie Bar the Door was one of them.  I recorded a version and posted it here.  I thought that was just a couple years ago, but BHO tells me it was six years ago.  shock  Time flies when you're having fun I guess. smiley

BTW, I'm going to try to make it up to the Bellingham Folk Festival in a couple weeks.  Any chance you'll be there?

Cheers, Scott

vrteach - Posted - 12/05/2014:  08:18:08

Ah, Katie Bar the Door. Back in November of 2008 there was some thread here about this tune. It inspired me to try out multi tracking on my then new Fostex recorder, and the result is a mix of me on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. In it you can hear the unfortunate banjo player trying to follow the flubs of all the other players. I have to say that I don't recall playing Katie Bar the Door since then. Shame on me, it's a nice one.

Thanks for the tune and info, and welcome to the TOTW group.

Edited by - vrteach on 12/05/2014 08:22:57

Katy, Bar the Door


JanetB - Posted - 12/05/2014:  11:39:35

A wonderful inauguration into the TOTW, Pat.  Thanks for choosing an intriguing tune where I'm encouraged to listen more to Rayna Gellert and learn from her fiddling.  Roscoe Parrish is also most worthy of study.  Including a painting here has made Katy's story even more memorable.  The various versions here are all delightful. I wish I could multi-track, Eric.    If anyone wants a tab, I'll be able to upload one next week.

Katy Bar the Door (TOTW)


Dock Jekel - Posted - 12/06/2014:  17:51:39

Very nice job. Thanks for the cool tune- so many cool tunes- so little time.... Your version is great. Boy, I sure would like to see Jimmy playin' that banjer!

blanham - Posted - 12/07/2014:  07:13:06

I think anything from Roscoe Parish makes a good TOTW, so good choice!  My contribution is based on Roscoe Parish's banjo solo recording, which is linked on the original post.  His playing on this tune is characterized by the complete absence of hammer-ons, slides, or pull-offs.  However, he gets a driving rhythmic sound by using lots of drop-thumbs and brushes. - Bob

Katy Bar the Door


banjukebox - Posted - 12/07/2014:  08:05:15

Thanks for all the kind words and thanks to all those who contributed versions of their own.

Scott- I don't think I'll make it to Bellingham (the kids will be home for the holidays), but I'm thinking about going to the Portland OT Music gathering.

I worked up a tab that approximates my version.

You can see it here: 

I'm looking forward to doing this again.


Tamarack - Posted - 12/07/2014:  18:39:37

A wonderful tune and a good story!

I don't recommend looking up the history of James I of Scotland. A baffling cast of characters comprised of Scottish clans and nobility or wannabe nobles, with lots of literal and figurative backstabbing. Murder and intrigue continued through James II, III, and IV.

vrteach - Posted - 12/08/2014:  14:07:19

Well, I'm at work waiting for the computer do finish something. So I decided to give this tune a try again. Here is a quick version, kind of at the edge of being in control (especially in the B part, which differs from my normal fingering patterns) .

It's certainly a fun tune, I'm glad to be reminded of it..

Edited by - vrteach on 12/08/2014 14:10:14

Katie Bar the Door


Zischkale - Posted - 12/08/2014:  14:16:04

Great post, Pat! The expression and tune are new to me, so I enjoyed this one. Cool melody, I sit here stranded on break at work with no banjo in hand, but it sounds (and looks) like the tune falls beautifully out of Double C tuning. 

Some interesting history, to boot--somebody should strap some lyrics to this thing.

JanetB - Posted - 12/08/2014:  21:26:28

Here's a tab for the above MP3 I recorded after listening to Rayna Gellert.'s fiddle.  Bob's banjo version from Roscoe Parrish sounds just like how Roscoe would sound, to my ears -- even the tone sounds just right.  Eric added an energetic, yet lightly played, version.  All most enjoyable -- a TOTW that again has been fun and successful. 

I gather there's a dark side to this piece of Scottish history -- the turmoil of politics.  It's similar if you read the books of Kings in the bible, as is true in much of history.  Still, one feels the valiance shown by Catherine Douglas.  The way Rayna plays this, the higher notes in the A part express this feeling, at least in my imagination -- it's part of the enjoyment I get from this music and why tune titles are meaningful.

Katy Bar the Door tab


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