I probably first heard this tune a few years ago when Spring Fed Records did their initial re-issues of some Davis Unlimited LPs from the 70s. Two of the re-issued LPs were from the Indian Creek Delta Boys, a group of old time musicians from Charleston, IL, who spent a lot of time looking up and recording older fiddlers in the state of Illinois. Most of the tunes (and there are a lot of great ones!) that the Delta Boys played were learned from these fiddlers. Cora Dye was recorded for their second album, and you can listen to a sample of it here. (I highly recommend both albums by the way).
Garry Harrison, the fiddler of the Delta Boys, compiled a tune/song book in the early 2000s called Dear Old Illinois that featured tunes and songs from Illinois. A 3 CD set of the field recordings they had made back in the 70s was also available. Sadly, both the CD and book have been out of print for a while, but is supposedly due for a repress in the near future. Cora Dye is one of the tunes in the book, and was originally played by Jim Reed of Benton, IL. The notes in the book state that it was "learned by Mr. Reed from its namesake, a Benton area musician who was said to have played it on the guitar." You can listen to an mp3 of Mr. Reed playing Cora Dye here.
I recently revisited the tune after hearing (and listening repeatedly to) Dan Gellert's masterful banjo version on his latest release, the DVD and CD he made for the Old-Time Tiki Parlour. (I also highly recommend this one). From the liner notes that were written by Christopher Berry: "Musically the tune sounds like one of the many offshoots of the "Shoot the Turkey Buzzard" family; this setting shares its melody with "Old Sage Friend" recorded for the Library of Congress by legendary black string band Gribble, Lusk and York. Dan here plays in F position out of "sawmill" tuning with the fifth string tuned down a step, which works well for playing tunes originally in G on the fiddle."
I first heard Cora Dye from a posting by the long-absent bassman in 2007. The next year I got the Indian Creek Delta Boys album, and then recorded my version, included below. I don't play the tune anywhere near as much as I wish I did.
Adam, your banjo and style give it the just-right old-time feel. Frankie and Erich's good versions help me get the tune in my head. In attempting to learn it I also found a Dan Gellert video and listened to Adam's Hurt lovely version on his "Fine Times at our House" CD. I ended up learning from the Illinois fiddler Jim Reed on the "Dear Old Illinois" CD. I'll be glad when it's re-released to get the liner notes and learn more from this historic set.
Nice coincidence. Cora Dye is the tune I've been noodling on the porch over the last few weeks and so, selfishly speaking, the chance to hear everyone else's take on it it kind of nice!
I learned it as a fiddle tune back in Illinois--it seems like it was a standard in Chicago--and so when I started experimenting with it, I tuned in G. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I realized Dan plays it in fDGCD and as soon as I tried it that way, it was like, "Yes! Of course."
To me, Cora Dye seems to fall into a category of tunes that will never get old because they leave so much room to explore--and those are my favorites.