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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) - 5/1/15 Twin Sisters (Boys of Bluehill)

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:

mworden - Posted - 05/01/2015:  08:21:58

Our tune of the week this week is Twin Sisters.  

What's that you say?  Haven't we already done that tune?  No, this is not the modal tune by the same name from Sidna Myers, which was a previous TOTW.  This week's tune is a completely different tune in the key of D.  Twin Sisters is closely related to and possibly a descendant of the Irish hornpipe The Boys of Bluehill, also published as Beau of Oak Hill among other titles.  The Boys of Bluehill remains popular at Irish sessions (I'm told) and an excellent and extensive write up of the tune can be found here:  From this account, it seems that we cannot be certain of the tune's origin: 

...the fact remains that the provenance of this tune is unknown.  It has been argued to be (1) an old Irish tune, and (2) originally a Scottish tune, and (3) an old American tune that was brought back to Ireland and then Irish-ized. Interestingly, there’s some evidence of the melody travelling back and forth across the pond...

Twin Sisters appears to be popular in the West Virginia region but variations of this tune are common and widely played and are known by a number of other names including Silver Lake and The Old Ark’s A-Movin.  Henry Reed played a variant called Sally Ann Johnson, which you can hear at the Slippery Hill site:

Many tunes in the old time repertoire derive from the Scotch-Irish tradition and it is very interesting to me to hear how the tunes differ or have changed or evolved in terms of melody, phrasing, ornamentation, etc.  Matt Brown and Jessica Ziegler directly compare Twin Sisters and The Boys of Bluehill in this Youtube video:  Matt mentions in a discussion on Fiddle Hangout that they have an entire show in which they compare related tunes across traditions that sounds like it would be a lot of fun to see and hear.

On Banjo Hangout a nice clawhammer version by UNYBP can be heard here

Dean Barber (FretlessInTexas) has a nice banjo/fiddle video here

A tab from Ken Torke can be found here:

The structure of the tune can vary depending on the source.  The version I play is derived mostly from the playing of West Virginia fiddlers Ernie Carpenter and Melvin Wine.    Ernie Carpenter only plays the B part one time through (AAB), which is how it often turns up around here but it drives me nuts.  I like to play the B part twice.  Another variant substitutes the first phrase of the A part for the last phrase of the B part and then lands hard on the IV chord at the end.  Rhys Jones plays it this way on his excellent album "All I've Gots Done Gone".  One other version of this tune I've been influenced by is from Chance McCoy on his album Debut (which I can't recommend highly enough).  Adam Hurt plays banjo on this album and there is a nice video of Adam playing the tune at a Clifftop jam here

A video of Melvin Wine playing it can be seen here:  Unfortunately, I don't have a link I can share to the Ernie Carpenter version.

Here is my version (with some suspect guitar; I've been learning it on the fiddle, too, but I'll spare you this time...).  In honor of May Day, I hope you'll seize the means of (music) production and let us hear your playing.


Twin Sisters


Cyndy - Posted - 05/01/2015:  09:22:32

This is one of my favorite D tunes!

Missouri fiddler Vesta Johnson plays a version that she calls "She Oughta Been a Lady," very similar but with an interesting variation in the B part. There's a link to it on this page


vrteach - Posted - 05/01/2015:  09:37:46

Cool. In our jam group we play the hornpipe version of Boys of Blue Hill, slowly enough that I can fiddle it. But when with Lylek, we do a fast reel version.

I like that Vesta Johnson version. She Oughta Been a Lady gets my vote for a title!

g3zdm - Posted - 05/01/2015:  09:42:47

 Very interesting. We play Boys of Bluehill regularly at Irish sessions but I had never come across Twin Sisters before.

The linked video from Matt and Jessica shows the difference (and similarity) very clearly.


Chris Muriel, Manchester, UK

frailaway - Posted - 05/01/2015:  10:26:36

Great tune, nicely played Mike. I learned it recently but it has come at a cost. I can no longer play the A part of Sally Ann Johnson. It keeps morphing into Twin Sisters. Kudos to anyone who can play them back to back.

banjukebox - Posted - 05/01/2015:  13:39:09

Great choice - it's now on my "to learn " list. Thanks for posting.

carlb - Posted - 05/02/2015:  05:58:42

Here's my tab, derived from Melvin Wine's fiddling, that was published in the Banjo NewsLetter in February, 1984.;v=18444

mworden - Posted - 05/02/2015:  06:06:05

Carl, thanks for posting that.  I'd love to hear you playing it if you get inspired to make a recording.  

JanetB - Posted - 05/03/2015:  06:38:33

Nice playing, as alway, Mike, and a great post.  Also it's a happy coincidence with my lessons with Adam.  Last month's song was Twin Sisters, which reminded me of Boys of Bluehill, so here's a medley of the two.  You'll hear Twin Sisters with a Celtic lilt!  In a Chief O'Neill book, Irish Folk Music:  A Fascinating Hobby (1910), I read that a young prodigy named George West fiddled the tune on a borrowed fiddle and introduced Boys of Bluehill to the Chicago region over a hundred years ago.  I'm looking forward to exploring the links above and also thank Carl for including his tab.

VIDEO: The Boys of Bluehill
(click to view)

Boys of Bluehill/Twin Sisters medley

Boys of Bluehill (CH) tab

LyleK - Posted - 05/03/2015:  10:24:50

And in Illinois it is also "Sliding Eight".  See the 20th page in Gaye Harrison's "Irish Music Circle" *.pdf ( where she has the tune from "Dear Old Illinois."

Perchance a reference to curling, where each team slides eight stones across the ice? - But seems unlikely.

RWJonesy - Posted - 05/04/2015:  04:01:38

Doc and Merle Watson did a cool version of Twin Sisters here:

mworden - Posted - 05/04/2015:  04:21:31


Originally posted by Fairbanks

Doc and Merle Watson did a cool version of Twin Sisters here:

A cool recording fer sure but that's the Sidna Myers tune, which is different tune than then the "BoBH" version.  

Fortunately, all new old time tunes are required to register with the International Old-Time Song Title Registry in order to avoid duplicate names on unrelated tunes.  I just can't remember if I should go to the branch in Elkins, WV or the branch in Salyersville, KY.


RWJonesy - Posted - 05/04/2015:  04:31:10

Ha! My apologies please. I don't normally post as soon as I awake.....and this is the very reason why as I fail to comprehend all that I am seeing. Shift work will do that to a person.

Edited by - RWJonesy on 05/04/2015 04:31:56

carlb - Posted - 05/04/2015:  10:21:43


Originally posted by mworden

Carl, thanks for posting that.  I'd love to hear you playing it if you get inspired to make a recording.  

OK, here is my sound version though not exactly as in the tab. One's playing evolves over time and it's been 31 years since the tab was published. The tuning is aDAde and is derived from Melvin Wine's fiddling.

Twin Sisters


Cyndy - Posted - 05/05/2015:  16:29:13

As I mentioned before, I really like this tune.

I've been having a grand time playing around with it during porch time this week--giving it slow groove, trying to give it more of a dance feel, trying to color the basic D-tune notes in new-to-me ways. A triplet even crept in earlier today, which was a first for me.

This recording is too cautious to capture any of that but it's a good representation of my basic take on the tune. : )

Twin Sisters

Just wanted to say thanks for choosing this one. It's been a delight!

Chris Yohn - Posted - 05/18/2015:  07:26:47

I'm new here and didn't realize this was a recent TOTW. Here is my version in regular, old open D tuning. Anyhow, such a great little tune. 

Twin Sisters

Edited by - Chris Yohn on 05/18/2015 07:28:34

Chris Berry - Posted - 05/18/2015:  17:21:00

Missed this as Tune of the Week. Mel Durham used to play this all the time and called it "Puss and the Baby." He had a verse to it as well, which goes along with Vesta Johnson's title:

I went right home to see my lady,

Nobody home but puss and the baby,

Puss was drunk and the baby was sober,

I took my hand and I turned her over.

Now if she hadn't been a fool, she might have been a lady,

Now she's married, gonna have a baby,

Saturday night and I don't mean maybe,

Gonna play a tune called "Puss and the Baby."

First half sung to the low part, second to the high part. Mel added the "y" to puss but the software changes it to asterisks. I don't think the lyric was intended to be that risque (although maybe a little)!


Edited by - Chris Berry on 05/18/2015 17:22:40

Cyndy - Posted - 05/18/2015:  17:27:43

I hadn't heard those lyrics before and I'd wondered about that title ... 

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