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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 5/29/15: Fine Times at Our House


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/304393

Don Borchelt - Posted - 05/29/2015:  10:55:08


Today we would say that he was a free spirit, one of the last, perhaps, of a vanishing breed of mountain woodsmen who lived off the land.  When he was born in 1874, logging was already a growing industry in central West Virginia, but the first modern band saw mill that allowed for the processing of large quantities of lumber would not open until 1881, so jobs were not yet that plentiful.  The coal industry in West Virginia was even more in its relative infancy; the first railroad built to haul coal out of the central west Virginia mountains was still nearly a decade away. So Edden Hammons father and older brothers provided for the family in the same way that many of their neighbors did, they hunted for bear, deer, and small game, they fished for mountain trout, foraged for wild fruits, and dug for ginseng, while his mother raised vegetables in a small garden and preserved in jars what they didn't immediately eat.  And yes, they occasional made moonshine.  Edden was the baby of the family, so while his father and older brothers all played the fiddle, it was Edden, pampered by his parents and older syblings, who was able to develop his fiddle talent to an exceptional level.  By the time he married in 1892, at the age of 18, jobs in logging and mining were now becoming more plentiful, and his young wife began nagging him to give up his music and go to work as soon as the vows were spoken.  But he is said to have answered, " "Pon my honor, I'll lay my fiddle down for no damn woman."  She walked out on him after three weeks.  Five years later, in 1897, he married his second wife, Elizabeth, who agreed to wed despite warnings from Hammons' own family that life would be hard, hard, hard.  Life with Edden Hammons was hard, moving frequently, always living in rented and borrowed quarters, but he and Elizabeth would raise five children, and remain together until her death in 1954.  Edden would pass away of heart failure one year later, at the age of 80.  He never did go to work for anyone.   





           Edden Hammons (1874-1955)



Like many mountain children, Hammons started on a gourd fiddle, but it wasn't long before he graduated to a "factory made" model.  Later on, he would be known for carrying his fiddle around in a flour sack. He would take it out of the sack, blow off as much of the flour dust as could be done in an instant, and play the ghostly looking instrument that sounded equally as apparitional due to his liberal use of cross tunings and double noted drone strings.  He was a fiddler in the old style.  He was known locally for winning most of the contests he entered, and with the arrival of the telephone, he would often entertain his neighbors via party line, an early version of the internet chatroom.  His daughter Emma relates:



"They'd call him up and tell him to play such and such a tune that somebody wanted to hear him that were visiting and would he play it, and my father would take the receiver off and let it hang down and he'd play tune after tune for them, and all the people who owned a telephone, I suppose, would listen in ... usually in the evening when everybody was home ... As I say, it was a party line and everybody had his own ring, like ours, I believe, and I was only about four or five or something, but it seems to me ours one and a half rings, and other people's were one and others two and so on, and when you'd hear the phone ring you'd know exactly whose phone they were calling, and if it was ours, I'm sure everybody took the receiver off to listen to what was going on."



As widely known and appreciated as Hammons was around Pocahontas, Randolph, and Webster Counties, the rest of us would never heard him fiddle had it not been for folklorist Louis Chappell (1890-1981), a member of the faculty  of the University of West Virginia, who recorded 52 tunes from Hammons over three sessions in August, 1947.  These are the only known recordings of Hammons fiddling.  One of those tunes was Fine Times at Our House, and today, it is our Tune of the Week.



Edden Hammons playing Fine Times at Our House



Alan Jabbour has written, " This tune has turned up infrequently around the country, but its wide distribution shows it to be an old and once widely known fiddle tune." The title appears to refer to a birth in the household, as reflected in a verse that has been collected with the tune from another West Virginia source:



Fine times at our house, Kate’s got a little one;

Bless its little soul, it’s another little pretty one.



Jabbour notes that the A part is generally found only in tunes with this title, while the B part is something of a more common floater, so it may be that this is another example of the process of an earlier lullaby or play-party song turned into a fiddle tune, a process that fiddler and musicologist Erynn Marshall describes in her book about West Virginia fiddling, "Music in the Air, Somewhere, the Shifting Borders of West Virgnia's Fiddle and Song Traditions." Hammons plays the entire tune in the key of A in Mixolydian mode, which is essentially a major scale, but with the 7th degree of the scale flatted, so that it is a natural 7th rather than a major 7th.  In this case, the note is a G rather than a G#. For this number, Hammons tuned his fiddle ADAE, basically standard fiddle tuning, but with the 4th string tuned up a whole tone from G to A.  This is a common old time fiddle tuning for tunes in the key of D; it's use for tunes in A is more unusual.  The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes, by Claire Milliner and Walt Koken, includes seventeen tunes in this category; five are tunes collected from Edden Hammons.  The tuning proves useful for A tunes that prominently feature the low D- the 4th degree of the scale- somewhere in the melody, as does Fine Times at Our House, in the A part, at the end of the 4th measure. This is the note that gives this melody it's unique character. Note also that the A part is slightly crooked, with an extra beat at the cadence at the end of the A part. I have done my own transcription of Hammons rendition, and have included as much of the double noting that he does as I could hear.  This is the sound that gives his fiddling that archaic flavor, those ancient tones, to borrow a phrase.   



Fine Times at Our House-Fiddle Transcription





     Edden Hammons and son James



A few years before he passed away in 1981, Professor Louis Chappell donated his entire collection of West Virginia field recordings, including those of EddenHammons, to the University of West Virginia's Regional History Collection.  The Hammons opus was eventually released on two CD's, The Edden Hammons Collection, Volume One, and The Edden Hammons Collection, Volume Two   Volume One, which includes Fine Times at Our House and some of the other less known tunes in his repertoire, has been out of print for some time, but used copies can still be found on Amazon, at a steep price.  I think I got one of the last copies from UVW. 



What turned me onto this tune some years ago, though, even before I obtained the source recording, was a truly sweet version by a young fiddler named Matt Brown, who included it on his CD, Lone Prairie. I don't know Matt, but I knew his father, Tim, from jam sessions years ago at Old Joe Clark's in Cambridge, Massachusetts, back when Tim was the age Matt is now. Sometimes the acorn really doesn't fall far from the tree.  Matt is accompanied on this CD by Paul Brown (no relation), playing very elegant old time three-finger style banjo. You should own this CD, if you don't already, it doesn't get any better than this. I have linked to a sample of Matt's fine version of Fine Times at Our House.  



Matt Brown playing Fine Times at Our House (sample)





There are quite a few videos of this tune uploaded to YouTube.  I have embedded five which I thought were of particular interest.  The first is a live performance by Brad Leftwich and Ken Perlman at the Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, near Denver, Colorado, in July, 2004.

 





The second video features the incomparable Rayna Gellert, competing in the fiddle finals at Clifftop, in August, 2008.  Holy Hammons, listen to those double notes! Rayna included it on her CD Starch and Iron.  She came in second place, behind Erynn Marshall.  

 







The third video is a live performance by Adam Hurt, Stephanie Coleman, and Beth Hartness, in what appears to be a house concert, from April, 2011.  Adam is always right there.





Next is the Hangout's own Janet Burton, of Smartsville, California, gracefully playing Fine Times at Our House on a fine little fretless gourd banjo, built by Robert Crowder.







This last video is another live performance, this time by Rayna's daddy, Dan Gellert, at the Florida State Fiddlers Convention in Trenton, Florida, in October, 2014. Who would have thought that a flatlander from Dayton, Ohio could sound so like a mountaineer?  There is hope for us all.





Fine Times at Our House was the first video that I posted on the Banjo hangout, back in November, 2010.  In August, 2011, I came back from Clifftop and posted a recording I made with fellow Hangouter Don Couchie early on Sunday morning, after we had packed our gear to leave.  On both recordings, which are attached at the bottom of this post, I am playing three finger style banjo on my short-scale, semi-fretless Paramount tuned aEAC#E, which is the same as open G tuning capoed on the 2nd fret.  I love playing music with Don, he has a great ear for old-time music, and can learn in seconds a tune that takes me days.  Don loves playing out in the open, and I believe he would have been very happy living the life of a woodsman, Edden Hammons style, if his wife would have let him.





      Don Couchie



I have a tablature of my three-finger setting posted on my website.



Edden Hammons, of course, was part of a larger, extended musical clan all descended from Edden Hammons grandfather Jesse Hammons, a woodsman and fiddler who moved to West Virginia from Kentucky in the 1840's. In 1964, Alan Jabbour and Carl Fleischhauer of the Library of Congress, with additional fieldwork by Dwight Diller, completed a detailed history of the Hammons family, available online, which is very interesting reading.



The Hammons Family:  A Study of a West Virginia Family's Traditions



As part of the field research, numerous recordings were made of family members, including Burl Hammons, Edden's nephew.  I have linked to a sample of Burl Hammons (1908-1993), playing Fine Times at Our House.  Burl told Jabbour that he learned the tune from another uncle, Neal Hammons, which may also be where Edden learned the tune, as the two versions are very close.



Burl Hammons playing Fine Times at Our House (sample)



The Hammons version of Fine Times at Our House is the one that is played almost exclusively by old time musicians today, but as Jabbour noted in the above history of the Hammons family, it fits historically into a larger family of related tunes by that share the name.  Indiana master fiddler John W.  "Dick" Summers (1887-1976) of Marion, Indiana was recorded in 1964 by Pat Dunford and Art Rosenbaum for Folkways Records, and issued on a compilation album featuring various Indiana old-time musicians, called Fine Times at Our House.  Summers learned the tune from a neighbor and mentor, Tom Riley, who was originally from Bath County, in northeastern Kentucky, so Summers fiddling likely reveals more of the Appalachian fiddle tradition than that of north central Indiana.  The Indiana collection is still available on CD from Smithsonian/Folkways.  



John Summers plays Fine Times at Our House



In 1944, musicologist Samuel Preston Bayard of the University of Pennsylvania completed his famous collection called Hill Country Tunes, Instrumental Music of Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Included in the collection was a version of Fine Times at Our House, collected from Irvin Yaugher, Jr., of Mount Independence, in October, 1943. In his sixties, Yaugher grew up in "Yaugher Hollow," where his family had long been settled.  He was a coal miner and a gunsmith.  Later in 1944, Bayard would collect two more tunes by the same name, which were very close to the Yaugher tune, but these would not be published until 1982, as part of his massive collection "Dance to the Fiddle, march to the Fife.  All three are obviously closely related to the Hammons tune, except the A parts in each version, while following a meloodic structure similar to Hammons', all appear to be in a minor sounding mode, either Dorian or Aeolian, before switching to the major sounding Mixolydian in the B part. The Hammons version is entirely Mixolydian.  I have combined scans of Bayard's Pennsylvanian Fine Times at Our House into a single PDF document.  Bayard was an "old school" folklorist, who generally didn't use a recording device, relying instead solely on written transcriptions. Not trusting my sight-reading abilities, I converted all three versions to MIDI files, which are linked below.  



Fine Times at Our House-Bayard Transcriptions



Fine Times at Our House-Yaugher



Fine Times at Our House-Smalley



Fine Times at Our House-Ireland



In my research for this Tune of the Week, I uncovered two other tunes called Fine Times at Our House, played by West Virginia fiddlers Franklin George and Melvin Wine.  I've linked to samples below, but I admit that I don't hear much if any resemblance to the Hammons tune.  Good fiddling, though, just the same.



Franklin George playing Fine Times at Our House (sample)



Melvin Wine playing Fine Times at Our House (sample)



There are a number of fine versions of Fine Times at Our House posted here on the Hangout, but I will let the members add them, rather than see them get lost in this long introduction.  I look forward to hearing some fine banjo picking from your house!





- Don Borchelt



Edited by - Don Borchelt on 05/30/2015 05:17:09



VIDEO: Fine Times at Our House
(click to view)


Fine Times at Our House from Clifftop 2011

trapdoor2 - Posted - 05/29/2015:  11:15:14


Masterful write-up, Don. Great tune, of course. Well done!



I hear the arc of the tune in Franklin George's playing and maybe the ghost of it in Melvin Wine's...


blanham - Posted - 05/29/2015:  20:31:20


Great TOTW choice!  There are plenty of nice gems on the 2 volumes of Edden Hammons CD's (never mind the thrashing guitar on some tracks ... if you have it, you know what I mean).



 




Fine Times at Our House

   

Don Borchelt - Posted - 05/30/2015:  05:22:38


Thanks for the compliments, guys.  Bob, I liked your recording in 2012- I was the first to comment on it- and yup, I still like it today! Truly fine picking.  Hope you still play that Bacophone, it sounds great!.  Oh, and thanks for reminding me to add in a mention of the UVW CDs, I always forget something.



 


carlb - Posted - 05/30/2015:  08:20:20


quote:

Originally posted by Don Borchelt

Fine Times at Our House-Bayard Transcriptions

Fine Times at Our House-Yaugher






Don, a magnificent contribution. I just like to add, that I recorded the Yaugher version for Slippery Hill. I added double stops that worked for me.

slippery-hill.com/HillCountry/...arron.mp3


 


TO in JoMO - Posted - 05/30/2015:  08:28:04


I really like this tune and worked it up a few months ago after listening to Chris Coole's and Erynn Marshall's recording. You did a great write up of this tune. I'll have to try out your 3 finger version. Heres my clawhammer version in clawhammer I'll attempt.



VIDEO: Movie on 5 30 15 at 10 02 AM
(click to view)

   

RWJonesy - Posted - 05/30/2015:  09:14:09


FINE TIMES AT OUR HOUSE : A Film On Old Time Mountain Music / with the Hammons



m.youtube.com/watch?v=JFMfjPH7IRs

 



Edited by - RWJonesy on 05/30/2015 09:15:33

JanetB - Posted - 05/30/2015:  15:14:22


quote:

Originally posted by Fairbanks

FINE TIMES AT OUR HOUSE : A Film On Old Time Mountain Music / with the Hammons




m.youtube.com/watch?v=JFMfjPH7IRs

 







Thanks for this link.  And thanks, Don, for this fine TOTW.  Your research gets an A+.



Here's my 2012 MP3, but I listened again today to Edden Hammons version and made a few changes to the tab of the first A part.  The variation I play on the second A part comes from another source.  




Fine Times at our House


Fine Times at our House (CH) tab

banjo bill-e - Posted - 05/30/2015:  16:02:21


Wow Don, great job on TOTW, just great.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 06/01/2015:  08:46:19


Wow, some great versions.  Carl, that is wonderful fiddling.  I suspect that Yaugher probably added double stops, too.  Bayard includes them only rarely in his transcriptions, but I can't believe that the use of the technique slowed down to a crawl at the Mason-Dixon Line, which for Yaugher was only about 15 miles from his home.  Bayard himself notes in his introduction to the collection that many of the fiddlers he met would "shave down the tops of their bridges until the strings are nearly on the same plane, making continuous double-stop playing easier... Of course, not all players practice this double stop droning, some prefer it, others avoid it, while still others take advantage of harmonic possibilities, as much as their tunes will allow, but do not prodice the drone effect."  He doesn't say which category Yaugher falls into.  One interesting thing, Bayard shows the 2nd note of the A part, the F#, as slightly flatted.  He describes this as a "change of pitch of less than a half tone..."   He only briefly mentions the use of non-chromatic notes, writing that the fiddlers did it deliberately, so that "faulty ear and fingering cannot be blamed for the intervals they play."  In his introduction to "Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife,"  he adds little to his explanation, saying only that such notes are "less than semi-tones.  These are the 'neutral' tones: somewhere between natural and flat, or natural and sharp."  When I made up the MIDI files, I couldn't figure out how to produce a note outside of the chromatic scale, so I decided to use the F natural, rather than the F#.  This is because in "Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife,"  Bayard says that "the 'shading-off,' as it were, from one mode to another, that characterizes these versions is a genuine, and once common, feature of our fiddling tradition."  So I wanted the A part to sound more Dorian, in contrast to the Mixolydian B part.  But I suspect the actual note was probably closer to the F#, as I believe you have played it, so that the whole is really modally ambiguous.



Tim, great picking, I love the tone you are getting from that banjo.  Janet, also great picking; I was the first one to comment on that one back in 2012, too!



Fairbanks, thanks for posting the video, a real treasure.  Made by folks from the Boston University School of Public Communications in 1972, just one year before I graduated just up the road at Boston College.  That fellow Dwight Diller sure looks young in those videos!  I looked young then, too.    



- Don B.



 



Edited by - Don Borchelt on 06/01/2015 08:51:28

BrendanD - Posted - 06/02/2015:  01:52:52


Don, you've done a terrific job researching and writing up this tune, which is one of my long-time favorites! I really enjoyed listening to the the many versions that you and others have posted as well, not least the beautiful finger-picked version you play in the video.



I'll contribute two recordings of the tune here as well. The first is a low-res recording someone made of a late-night session at Clifftop in 2002, with me on nylon-strung fretless banjo, Mark Simos and Adam Rose on fiddles, and Tina Liza Jones on guitar. Our version is closest to Burl Hammons's, but you can hear us all trying to converge on a version with the same timing and phrasing as we explore the tune's twists, turns, nooks, and crannies:



Fine Times At Our House



The second recording is from another late-night session a few weeks later that summer at Rich Hartness's house in Greensboro, NC, with Rich on fiddle and me on banjo. Slightly different timing and phrasing than the version above, but also mainly from Burl Hammons's version:



Fine Times At Our House



I hope you enjoy them.



 



Edited by - BrendanD on 06/02/2015 01:53:15

Don Borchelt - Posted - 06/02/2015:  09:07:06


Great renditions, Brendan, both recordings!  Fine elegant playing, from start to finish.  I can see we agree on one thing, for sure, it takes at least a good eight minutes to squeeze everything there is out of a tune!  Today you go to an old time jam, and they play a tune maybe three or four times and then they're done and ready to move on.  What's the damn hurry?  They're probably that way when they're in bed, too.  Hell, after five minutes I'm just getting started.



- Don B.


Paul Meredith - Posted - 06/05/2015:  19:37:21


Don, great TOTW and excellent, informative write-up.  I've heard this tune a few times and liked it but didn't know what it was called.  Its on my to-learn list now.  And thanks to all who posted other, and their own, renditions, I can't remember a TOTW with more examples.


BrendanD - Posted - 06/05/2015:  19:52:25


quote:

Originally posted by Don Borchelt

Great renditions, Brendan, both recordings!  Fine elegant playing, from start to finish.  I can see we agree on one thing, for sure, it takes at least a good eight minutes to squeeze everything there is out of a tune!  Today you go to an old time jam, and they play a tune maybe three or four times and then they're done and ready to move on.  What's the damn hurry?  They're probably that way when they're in bed, too.  Hell, after five minutes I'm just getting started.




- Don B.







big



Yeah, that's what bugs me about Irish sessions. They've got all these wonderful tunes, and after three times through, just when I'd be starting to dig in and explore the tune in earnest, they dump the tune and are on to the next one! Fortunately, most of the folks I play with love to dig in deep like I do.



 


carlb - Posted - 06/06/2015:  05:59:31


quote:

Originally posted by BrendanD

Yeah, that's what bugs me about Irish sessions. They've got all these wonderful tunes, and after three times through, just when I'd be starting to dig in and explore the tune in earnest, they dump the tune and are on to the next one! Fortunately, most of the folks I play with love to dig in deep like I do.




That brings up my joke about Irish sessions. At old time jams, we'll often play the tune 20 times allowing those who don't know it time to catch it. You have to go to at least seven Irish sessions before you hear the tune 20 times, that is if they play that tune at each of those sessions.


Don Borchelt - Posted - 06/07/2015:  03:24:49


Brendan wrote: 'Yeah, that's what bugs me about Irish sessions. They've got all these wonderful tunes, and after three times through, just when I'd be starting to dig in and explore the tune in earnest, they dump the tune and are on to the next one! Fortunately, most of the folks I play with love to dig in deep like I do."



Carl wrote: "At old time jams, we'll often play the tune 20 times allowing those who don't know it time to catch it. You have to go to at least seven Irish sessions before you hear the tune 20 times, that is if they play that tune at each of those sessions."



Well, they are Irish, after all.  Sister Mary Patrick always said- get it over quick, it's sinful if you take too long about it. winkevil

 



Edited by - Don Borchelt on 06/07/2015 03:26:21

CamC - Posted - 06/16/2015:  18:57:43


I finally got around to recording this one. Great write-up Don, and as usual a great arrangement. Here is my attempt using your tab. youtu.be/P6zX_fSlSLI


Don Borchelt - Posted - 06/17/2015:  18:07:09


A great job of picking, Cam, well done. I'm thrilled that you found the tab useful.  You're pulling a wonderful, sweet tone out of that banjo, and I admit I'm a little jealous!



 


CamC - Posted - 06/18/2015:  09:04:18


Thanks Don.

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