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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 1/30/15 - Sherburn's Breakdown


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/298592

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 01/30/2015:  16:33:05


Due to a minor glitch in my Tune of the Week calendar (I evidently thought that 2015 was some sort of rare "anti-leap year" with 364 days, the missing day being January 30), I am posting a quick back-up tune.

 

That tune is Sherburn's Breakdown, which comes to us from the fiddling of John Ashby.



 



JOHN ASHBY



 photo Ashby_John_standing.jpg

 

John Ashby (1915-1979) was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, to a family with roots in the area stretching back to the late 1600s.  His father and grandfather - along with many uncles - were musicians, and John went on to become one of the pre-eminent fiddlers in that part of Virginia.  In the 1930s he helped found the Free State Ramblers, a band that for decades was a mainstay of old-time music in the region.

 

In 2007 the Old-Time Herald published a long article on John, which can now be read it its entirety on the Field Recorders Collective site: fieldrecorder.com/docs/notes/ashby.htm

 

It is all well worth reading but I will just excerpt a few highlights here:



 



John began playing fiddle when he was 11 years old. His early influences were his Uncle Joseph, from whom he learned Broad Run Picnic, named for a river flowing through Fauquier County, and John L. Sullivan, from whom he learned the Ashby tune played today by most old-time fiddlers, Johnny Don't Get Drunk.



John is said to have composed Ashby's Breakdown, Going to the Free State, and the Fauquier County Hornpipe.



John Ashby, with cousin Irving on banjo and neighbor Edgar Payne or brother Marshall on guitar, began playing together about 1930. By the early 1940s the band had developed into a group they named the Free State Ramblers. This classic band that played from the 1940s through about 1956 consisted of John on fiddle, cousin Moffett Ashby (Jr) on guitar, John's brother Marshall on bass, Morrison Greene on mandolin, and Bill Robinson on banjo. Bill Robinson played a two-finger picking style and a frailing style. Moffett tells that after playing the two-finger style for a while Bill switched to "beating" the banjo. Moffett recalls that Robinson began coming to dances and saying that he "forgot" his banjo. Instead, he would pull out his whistle during the "Paul Jones" (mixers) to tell folks when to stop and change partners. They eventually discovered that the store had repossessed the banjo. Bill was known to "stretch a tale," to exaggerate and tell tall tales.



As musicians, the Free State Ramblers gained an excellent reputation in the 1940s. Early in their career they competed in their first fiddle convention in Front Royal and John won first place. John and the Ramblers played at Constitution hall from 1938 to 1943 for the National Folk Festival. At the peak of their career, in 1946 they traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, and won the band competition. After winning another contest sponsored by Connie B. Gay in Warrenton, they played occasionally over Connie B. Gay's radio show on WARL in Washington, DC, for the two years from 1947 to 1949. They would travel from Warrenton to Washington, play 2-3 numbers, and head home. Moffett tells about the time they were hired to perform at a major hotel in Washington, DC and dressed in the stereotype of country musicians by wearing overalls instead of their usual suits. When they got there, the doorman refused to let them in, until they finally convinced him that they were hired to perform.



 photo FreeStateRamblers.jpg



John Ashby and the Free State Ramblers



The name "the Free State Ramblers" has a colorful history. Sherburn Farm, the center of Ashby property, is located about 3 miles from Orlean in an area of about 12 square miles called The Free State. The first settlers had long-term leases from Lord Fairfax. However, in 1806 this land was purchased by Chief Justice John Marshall. When he tried to collect rent, his new tenants refused to pay rent, taxes, or to attend schools or church. They declared themselves independent of the U.S. and named a King. John Ashby's uncle Charlie was King of the Free State in the late 19th century. Eventually, after 25 years, the Free Staters lost in court.



Although he played music every weekend for house parties and dances, music did not pay the bills. John farmed and worked as a carpenter by trade. On the staff at Airlie estate for about 11 years, he worked with other Free State craftsmen to renovate the buildings. The founder of the Airlie Foundation, Dr. Murdoch Head, remembered him as a man of "quiet dignity, good humor, and absolute integrity"



Toward the end of his life John received national recognition. In 1978 he won first place for old-time fiddler and best all-around performer at the Galax (VA) Old time Fiddler's Convention. He played at the National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Northern Virginia in 1978. John Chilton Ashby died in May 1979. He was 64 years old.



 



SHERBURN'S BREAKDOWN



The tune is in the key of G.  Its name comes from Sherburn Farm, the historic homeplace of John's branch of the Ashby family since being deeded to his grandfather Nimrod Ashby around 1840.  I have not yet discovered who the Sherburn was that originally gave his name to the property.



 photo JohnAshbyHome.jpg



John Ashby at the Sherburn Farm homeplace



 



Audio and Video





John Ashby and the Free State Ramblers recorded three albums for County Records in the 1970s.  Sherburn's Breakdown can be found on the last of those, 1979's "Fiddling by the Hearth": myspace.com/johnashby/music/so...-19484153

 

The Foghorn String Band included the tune on their 2003 album "Rattlesnake Tidal Wave": grooveshark.com/#!/search/song...Breakdown



The MossyRoof site has a sound clip of Greg Canote, Jere Canote and Candy Goldman playing the tune: stringband.mossyroof.com/Sherb...kdown.mp3



There is a YouTube video of the Soda Rock Ramblers performing the tune during a 2012 Flagstaff, AZ, contra dance: youtube.com/watch?v=e5K1wigE6rw

 



Tablature





Mossy Roof site has tab by Maya Whitmont: stringband.mossyroof.com/Sherb...kdown.png

 

Ken Torke has tab on his TaterJoe's site: taterjoes.com/WCMC/SherburnsBreakdown.pdf.



Ken's site also has multiple recordings of the tune in various settings, along with a transcription in standard notation (thanks to Ken for pointing out these additional resources): taterjoes.com/WCMC/Fall2013.html



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 02/03/2015 18:38:27

Paul Meredith - Posted - 02/01/2015:  07:29:19


Nice tune and interesting info, I was totally unfamiliar with the tune and with the Free State Ramblers.  Thanks for filling in, a week without a TOTW would be sad indeed!


Kernel - Posted - 02/01/2015:  07:58:53


On taterjoes.com/​WCMC/Fall2013.html you can find a recording of Candy Goldman playing the version I tabbed out from the class. There is also a recording of Greg Canote's fiddle and  a transcription that might be useful for talking your fiddler friends into playing the tune with you. It's a fun tune. 



 



 


JanetB - Posted - 02/01/2015:  09:18:36


Thanks, Brett, for an interesting and novel replacement for TOTW.  I'll be reading the info and history more carefully and investigate further.  John Ashby made three CDs and I like his fiddling.  One of his tunes is in the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes book, therefore also in the Slippery Hill website.  Here's my arrangement from the link you provided above.




Sherburn's Breakdown (TOTW)


Sherburn's Breakdown tab

mworden - Posted - 02/01/2015:  12:09:26


I like this catchy tune, which I had never heard before.  I decided to learn it from the Foghorn Stringband version (though I can't play it that fast).  Rather than try to play a note-for-note version, I decided to focus more on getting the feel of the tune as I might play it in a jam with a fiddler (though I did spend a few minutes in vain trying to get the ascending run in the second phrase before I thought better of it).




Sherburn's Breakdown

   

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/03/2015:  16:22:57


quote:

Originally posted by Paul Meredith

Nice tune and interesting info, I was totally unfamiliar with the tune and with the Free State Ramblers.  Thanks for filling in, a week without a TOTW would be sad indeed!







 



Glad you liked it.  It was an unknown tune to me as well, until I came across it about a week ago.  I had heard the name Free State Ramblers while living in the D.C. area, but didn't know anything about the group before writing this tune up.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/03/2015:  16:25:47


quote:

Originally posted by Kernel

On taterjoes.com/​WCMC/Fall2013.html you can find a recording of Candy Goldman playing the version I tabbed out from the class. There is also a recording of Greg Canote's fiddle and  a transcription that might be useful for talking your fiddler friends into playing the tune with you. It's a fun tune. 




 




 







Thanks for that link, Ken (I've gone ahead and added it to the original post) - those recordings and the transcription are very helpful.  It is a fun tune, one that grabbed my attention right away the first time I heard it.  I'll have to introduce it to my local jam.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/03/2015:  16:33:28


quote:

Originally posted by JanetB

Thanks, Brett, for an interesting and novel replacement for TOTW.  I'll be reading the info and history more carefully and investigate further.  John Ashby made three CDs and I like his fiddling.  One of his tunes is in the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes book, therefore also in the Slippery Hill website.  Here's my arrangement from the link you provided above.







Glad you enjoyed the tune, Janet.  I was unfamiliar with John Ashby until coming across Sherburn's Breakdown.  Unfortunately his three albums from the 1970s are out of print, but I have added his Field Recorders Collective release to my (already very long) FRC "to buy" list.



Thanks very much for your lovely version, and for the tab.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/03/2015:  16:37:47


quote:

Originally posted by mworden

I like this catchy tune, which I had never heard before.  I decided to learn it from the Foghorn Stringband version (though I can't play it that fast).  Rather than try to play a note-for-note version, I decided to focus more on getting the feel of the tune as I might play it in a jam with a fiddler (though I did spend a few minutes in vain trying to get the ascending run in the second phrase before I thought better of it).







I thought it was pretty catchy, too.  After listening to it a time or two I found myself humming the melody - usually the sign of a good fiddle tune.   Thanks very much for posting your version.


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