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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 5/8/15 - High Up On Tug

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EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 05/08/2015:  15:21:03


Today's Tune of the Week is High Up on Tug, which comes to us from West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons.  I came across it on Ken Torke's TaterJoe's website (, a great clawhammer and old-time resource that has provided me with a number of good tunes lately.

EDDEN HAMMONS (1875-1955)

 photo Edden.jpg


Edden Hammons was a member of the famed Hammons family of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, whose banjo and fiddle playing traditions had, by the mid-1900s, been known to generations of their central Appalachian neighbors.

The family first gained national prominence in 1973 with the release of "The Hammons Family: A Study of a West Virginia Family's Traditions", a two-record set focusing on Edden's nephews Burl and Sherman and his niece Maggie, compiled for the Library of Congress by Dwight Diller, Alan Jabbour, and Carl Fleischhauer.  However, Edden had earlier become the first of the family to record when in 1947 he played 52 tunes for folklorist Louis Chappell (35 of those tracks were released in 1984 as "The Edden Hammons Collection" by the West Virginia University Press). Edden is the sole - or at least the most important - source for a number of popular fiddle tunes, including Shaking Down the Acorns, Big Sandy, and Old Greasy Coat.  He was known in his lifetime as a powerful and distinctive fiddler, and his influence has continued to be felt in old-time music to this day.

A great deal has been written about the Hammons family and their place in the old-time music of Appalachia and I won't try to summarize it here, especially since I'm guessing most people reading this TOTW are already very familiar with Edden and the other members of his family.  For those who want more information, good articles can be found on the Musical Tradition ( ) and Old Time Music ( ) websites.


The name of the tune most likely refers to the Tug Fork (aka Tug River, aka Tug Fork River), a 159-mile tributary of the Big Sandy River in West Virginia.  For much of its length, Tug Fork forms the border between West Virginia and Kentucky, and its upper reaches, in McDowell County, West Virginia, flow through some of the area's most remote and rugged landscape.   I assume that the phrase "high up on" is a way of saying "way upstream" or "up near the source", although it could perhaps also be a reference to rising or high water levels.

 photo 300px-Bigsandyrivermap.png

The river's name is thought to originate in an episode during the French & Indian War. In 1756 a group of about 350 Virginia militia men and their Cherokee allies tried to bypass the French forces at Fort Duquesne (modern Pittsburgh) and attack Shawnee villages in the Ohio Country by traveling up the Tug Fork and Big Sandy River valleys.  The goal was to move rapidly and carry out quick "search and destroy" missions by carrying few provisions and living off the land as they marched, but game proved to be scarce in the Tug Fork valley and the surrounding terrain was too rugged to allow easy hunting.  Eventually they were forced by starvation and mutiny to retreat to Virginia, but not before being reduced to eating strips of boiled leather, known as "tugs".

 photo trestle.jpg

The Tug Fork valley was the setting for the two well-known events in the history of Appalachia - the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud of the late 1800s and the 'Matewan Massacre' of 1920.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud long ago attained almost mythic status in the folklore of the U.S., to the extent that the actual facts of the conflict are largely forgotten.  Sparked, it is said, but the theft of a prized pig in 1878, the feud - between the Hatfields of Mingo County, W.V., and the McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky - lasted over a decade and cost about a dozen lives.  By the second half of the 20th Century, this tale of clan-based violence and revenge had become the subject of Disney shorts and Bugs Bunny cartoons, and supposedly even served as the inspiration for the game show "Family Feud" (Hatfield and McCoy descendants actually appeared on the show in 1979).

The Matewan Massacre (aka The Battle of Matewan) is the name given to a gun battle between striking coal miners and coal company security men in 1920, in the Tug Fork town of Matewan, West Virginia, an episode that left seven security men, two miners, and the Mayor of Matewan dead (the Matewan police chief and his deputy were shot to death a year later by one of the surviving security men).  The battle was the subject of the 1987 John Sayles film "Matewan", while the aftermath is covered in the play "Terror of the Tug", by West Virginia playwright Jean Battlo.


High Up On Tug is in the key of G.


Fiddle:  Edden Hammons, 1947:

Solo banjo:  Clawhammer Mike: clawhammertuneoftheday.blogspo...-tug.html

Banjo and fiddle:  Stefan Curl:

Stringband:  Dead Men's Hollow, on their 2007 album "Two Timin' "

Stringband:  The Mercury Dimes, on their 2007 album "Dime-o-Mite!"


Tab & Notation

Clawhammer tab by Ken Torke:

Standard notation:


Edden Hammons Collection,


Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 11/17/2015 18:55:49

Paul S - Posted - 05/08/2015:  17:34:14

I for one would like to thank you for this TOTW choice, I hadn't heard of this one.


RG - Posted - 05/08/2015:  19:36:30

Great tune!  The Edn Hammon's collection is a must for anyone with an interest in this music...

Edited by - RG on 05/08/2015 19:37:07

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 05/09/2015:  02:46:50

OK.  I know it is early on a Saturday morning, but I can’t help myself. 


This fine TOTW piece has brought out the EDDEN/EDN “controversy.” 


The only documented use of the spelling of the fiddler’s name, “Edn,” is Cal Price's 1906 newspaper story.


Carl Fleischhauer, who wrote the Hammons family history for the 1973 Library of Congress project, recently told me:  “How did the family itself spell the name?  The authority Alan [Jabbour] and I used when we re-did the booklet for the Rounder CD set was Edden's gravestone.” 


On that gravestone, under a banner of the name “Hammons,” the name “Edden” and the dates 1876 – 1955” appear on the left, and his wife’s name, Elizabeth D., and the dates “1876 – 1954” appear on the right.  See: 


The name Edden in some etymological sense is a descendant of Edwin.  The ‘silent W’ appears often but not always in Britain.  For the family, it was indeed pronounced ‘Edin.’ 


Fleischhauer continued:  “This headstone must date from the 1950s after Edden and his wife had died, and this seems to be how his children preferred to render his name as they remembered him.  If Alan and I had run into this stone prior to 1973, we would have used this spelling from the start.  This is the spelling that John Cuthbert used for the reissue of the Chappell recordings, which came along later.”


Dwight Diller has always spelled this Hammons fiddler’s name as “Edn,” though it has variously been rendered as Edden, Edwin, Edmund and so forth.  Dwight mimics Edn’s high pitched voice and unusual locution, quoting the fiddler as having to repeatedly remind folks that he was “E-D-N, just Edn.” 


In the current version of the manuscript of my book project on Dwight Diller, I render the fiddler’s name as “Edn.”  I’m convinced by the fiddler’s “Just Edn” line. 


Here’s an interesting parallel:


In a 2008 article about John Cohen’s field work in Kentucky, Scott Matthew speaks to the issue of the spelling of Roscoe Holcomb’s name, suggesting that the family rendered it Halcomb but somehow the spelling was altered in the process of “handling” Roscoe’s publicity. 


Matthew’s point on this matter:  “Through sound recordings, photography and film, Cohen spread Halcomb's music and image throughout the folk revival scene of the early 1960s, making him an iconic embodiment of artistic authenticity based in the grinding poverty of Appalachia (and turning his recognized name to Roscoe Holcomb along the way).“ 


See Matthew, “John Cohen in Eastern Kentucky: Documentary Expression and the Image of Roscoe Halcomb During the Folk Revival,” Southern Spaces, An interdisciplinary Journal About Regions, Places, and Cultures of the US South and their Global Connections, 6 August 2008, in the  “Overview.”  I am grateful to Carl Fleischhauer who brought this article to my attention.


We now return to your regularly scheduled TOTW.





hendrid - Posted - 05/09/2015:  09:04:16

The dots

ScottK - Posted - 05/09/2015:  18:51:06

Great tune choice and great write up! 

Coincidentally, a friend was looking for Edden's recording of Big Hoedown recently so I dug up my copy of the Edden Hammons Collection and have been subsequently spinning it in the car on my commute this past couple of weeks.  Haven't listened to it in a while, so it's been great to hear it again.

A couple more recent recordings of High Up on Tug are on Jason & Pharis Romero and Friends Backup and Push and on The Iron Leg Boys.

This tune has been on my to-learn list for ages, but I still haven't got around to it yet.  So many great tunes, so little time...

Cheers, Scott

JanetB - Posted - 05/10/2015:  20:19:11

You never disappoint, Brett!   

Thanks for explaining the various spellings of Mr. Hammons first name, Lew.  I'll still go with Edden since it's on his gravesite and his CDs.  I'm hoping to hear of progress on your Dwight Diller book and request that you put me in line to get one.  I wonder if Dwight played this tune....

If anyone wants my tab I'd be happy to give it, but I think that Joe's tab is simpler, plus it has both both high and low arrangements. 

Joe Torke's site is indeed valuable.  I was inspired by his tab to try some slides, too, and after listening to Edden Hammons fiddle here's my relaxed-pace effort to play High Up on Tug.

High Up on Tug


slc - Posted - 05/13/2015:  16:38:09

I have to say I'm really glad this tune is posted. I worked it out on the fiddle a year or two ago and it was one of the hardest bits of long term concentration I've ever attempted! Interestingly, a banjo accompaniment was quite simple in comparison, since many of the challenging notes either fit well on the banjo or aren't needed. The more banjo players who have this, the more the fiddlers might pull it out - it's a great tune and should be played more.

The Iron Leg Boys recording was quite helpful btw; they seem to have followed Edden's orignal very closely, and the more modern recording was easier to work from for certain parts.

One thing - Edden himself mostly plays the low part "square" - equal beats part repeated three times. But once or twice he adds an extra beat (a pre-beat, and the beginning of the part) the third time through. A mistake perhaps? Most modern players (for example the Iron Leg Boys among others) play the last repeat with that extra beat every time. I think, when they learned it, they looped the part that contained the mistake (if that's what it was). Or perhaps they preferred it that way. Anyway, on balance I prefer this tune WITHOUT that extra beat; it's already such a complex and wonderful tune, that adding an extra beat is kind of gilding the lily imo.

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/23/2015:  10:38:32

I just corrected a small factual error in my original post - before this thread got archived - and in doing so realized that I had somehow never gotten around to responding to any of the comments.

So - thanks everyone for commenting!  I'm glad you enjoyed the tune.


Lew, thanks for the detailed information on the spelling of Edden/Edn's name.  I knew something of the confusion/controversy, but had never investigated the issue in depth.  Just on quirkiness alone, I rather prefer "Edn" - and agree that when confronted with various possibilities, one might as well go with the individual's own words; in this case "Just Edn" (assuming Dwight is accurately quoting Edden/Edn)..

Scott, thanks for those additional recordings of the tune. "Back Up and Push" is in my collection, but I haven't listened to it in awhile, evidently.

Janet, I'm glad you liked the tune (back in 2013, in a comment on SLC's banjo/fiddle version, you even noted that you thought it might make a good TOTW).  Thanks as always for your version.

Stefan, thanks for your work in figuring out both the fiddle and banjo arrangements a couple of years ago, and for your thoughts on the eccentricities of Edn's version (that extra pre-beat). 


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