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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 17 July 2015 _ Coleman's March

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:

banjukebox - Posted - 07/16/2015:  22:34:04

This week’s TOTW is Coleman’s March. It’s one of those tunes with an interesting story behind it. Apparently, fiddling Joe Coleman was (wrongly) accused and convicted of murdering his wife. He was sentenced to death by hanging. On the way to the gallows he played a dirge-like tune that is now called Coleman’s March. Before he was hanged, he promised his fiddle to anyone who could play the tune better than he did. A nice synopsis of the story can be found here:

The tune originates in western Kentucky. It is actually a slowed down version of an old Irish song called “The Irish Jaunting Car.” During the Civil War, the words of the song were changed and the song “Bonnie Blue Flag” was created. It became one of the most popular songs in the Confederacy.  A synopsis of the tune’s origin at the fiddler’s companion:

COLEMAN'S MARCH [2]. AKA and see "The Bonnie Blue Flag," "The Jaunting Car." Old-Time, March (6/8 time). USA, Kentucky. The melody was played by fiddler Pat Kingery (1912-1976), born in Glasgow, Warren County, Kentucky, a remote region, and was also in the repertoire of Sammy Walker; it was recorded by Red Belcher (on Page Records, c. 1947). D.K. Wilgus and Jim Nelson state it was pretty a common fiddle tune in Warren, Metcalfe, and Monroe Counties in south-central Kentucky. The melody is cognate with the Confederate anthem “The Bonny Blue Flag,” especially as played by Hoyt Ming (see Homestead 103, “New Hot Times”). Wilgus stated that “Bonny Blue Flag” was derived from an Irish song in 6/8 time called “The Jaunting Car,” but many fail to see the connection. The original linking of “Jaunting Car” and “Bonnie Blue Flag” may have come from Sigmund Spaeth’s History of Popular Music in America.

Older recordings of Coleman’s March are hard to come by. Reports say that Bruce Greene collected the tune as recorded by Kentucky fiddler Gene Connor in 1962.

Vermont fiddler Pete Sutherland recorded the tune in 1982 on his album: Eight Miles From Town. This recording is credited with the increased popularity of the tune. I will try to post a link to a clip below.

My first exposure to the tune was thru a great youtube recording by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer.:

I immediately fell in love with the tune and set out to figure out my own version:

There are numerous excellent recordings on youtube posted by BHO members. Here are just a few:

Don Borchelt:

Brad and Ken Kolodner:

​Cathy and Adam Hurt:

And, of course, (RIP) Dave Hum:

​This is a great tune in the key of D that I think everyone should learn.





guitarman8491 - Posted - 07/17/2015:  04:21:01

Pat this tune was a real treat..very interesting history that went along with it. Enjoyed your playing of it as I did the others....thanks for posting this.

Kernel - Posted - 07/17/2015:  08:21:00

Here's a simple banjo tab.

Here's a fiddle transcription if you're lucky enough to have a fiddler who's willing to work up new tunes with you.


mworden - Posted - 07/17/2015:  08:57:02

Beautiful tune.  And, Pat, I really like your treatment.  Sounds great when you play up the neck.  Well done.

JanetB - Posted - 07/17/2015:  09:27:11

Thanks for a wonderful tune and presentation this week, Pat.  Your video portrayal and your banjo tone are absolutely lovely, especially going up the neck. 

I learned Coleman's March after hearing Don Borchelt with Ed Britt a while back.  Instead of using double D tuning I used open G tuning and tuned the 5th string down to an A note.  A bit quirky, I suppose, but enjoyable to play.

Coleman's March

Coleman's March (CH, open G tuning) tab

vrteach - Posted - 07/17/2015:  10:52:16

Great tune, great write-up. I first heard Coleman's March from the local dulcimer group several years ago. And then I worked out a version soon after hearing the Fink-Marxer duet. Here's how I played it soon after that.

Edited by - vrteach on 07/17/2015 10:55:24

Coleman's March


bhniko - Posted - 07/17/2015:  14:35:32

Just to thank everyone for making TOTW one of the highlights of my listening pleasure. Absolutely, positively it is a joy to hear the different takes from different fingers.

Edited by - bhniko on 07/17/2015 14:35:55

Matt Buckley - Posted - 07/17/2015:  17:32:59

The recording above of Pete playing Coleman's is not the definitive version played by Pete.  The finest version, slow, soulful and haunting, appears on his legendary LP Poor Man's Dream.  I have the CD, but alas I'm not skilled in posting tunes from CDs.  If someone else has the Poor Man's Dream version, and can post, that would be brilliant.  Or you can send me a private message explaining now I can get the tune off my CD and posted to the Hangout.





Jay K - Posted - 07/17/2015:  19:48:43

Love your version and playing Pat, thanks!

Matt Buckley - Posted - 07/18/2015:  07:30:20

To hear Pete's definitive version click on:

Then click on: CDs

Then scroll down to Poor Man's Dream, and click on Sample Track Coleman's March.

It's an amazing version, and the song following is wonderful.  First heard this when I moved to Vermont over 30 years ago, and I still associate Poor Man's Dream with that magical time in my life. 



Edited by - Matt Buckley on 07/18/2015 07:35:25

Jay K - Posted - 07/18/2015:  08:20:32

Love your version too Janet! And always appreciate the tab to get started!

maryzcox - Posted - 07/18/2015:  09:40:00


If you would like to hear Coleman's March with a somewhat different feel to it--listen to the version on "Drumming On the Edge Of Banjo". We spent a lot of time & consideration to make it sound like a very slow march that you might imagine a 19th century infantry division marching.  You can listen to little audios of it on itunes, cdbaby, amazon, or the whole thing on Pandora (for free) .  Or on my website. 

Sorry not to be able to download it here--but I'm in the mountains where i don't have great download conncection & although hackers have no trouble pirating my mp3s--I don't seem to be able to get my own mp3s off my itunes list to share :) LOL :)

But do take a listen if you are interested in a slightly different take on this tune--I love this tune & spent a great deal of time and effort to record it with a fresh sound and not to copy someone else's version. :)

Best wishes,

Mary Z Cox


g3zdm - Posted - 07/19/2015:  00:12:57

 I have had the pleasure of playing this one along with Don and Ed on 1 of my Boston work trips.

 In fact I 1st came across the tune at an OT jam in Waltham, MA.

 The A part also reminds me of the A part  of an Irish tune called Blind Mary...


Chris Muriel 

Paul Meredith - Posted - 07/19/2015:  13:13:50

One of my favorite tunes, great pick and write up Pat.  I enjoyed your youtube recording and the other versions people have posted so far.  I learned this tune a couple years ago but I don't recall exactly how, most likely I heard it on Sugar in the Gourd and then went to youtube - I've learned a lot of tunes that way, what great resources we have these days.  Here is my version, on a minstrel banjo tuned in open D (like G tuning but stepped down).

Coleman's March


Tamarack - Posted - 07/19/2015:  20:16:40

Another great tune -- I am really liking slower versions of well-known tunes.

Bill - Posted - 07/20/2015:  09:01:32

And here's my version of this lovely tune. Double C.

VIDEO: Coleman's March
(click to view)


Don Borchelt - Posted - 07/20/2015:  14:40:53

Pat, a fine choice for Tune of the Week, and your quiet, restful version is elegant, well played and fitting.  I loved listening to Dave Hum play this once again, I've listened to it a bunch or more times over the last three years.  I sure do miss Dave, he was as gentle a soul as there ever was.  The rising tide of his banjo picking raised the musical level of this entire forum.  I don't know when he recorded it, but this video was published only about two months before he died.  To listen to him play, it almost sounds like he knew.

I love all the versions posted here, by Janet. Erich, Paul, and Bill.  We miss Chris here in Boston; now that he is retired, he never comes to see us anymore!

I've attached below the recording of Coleman's March that Don Couchie and I played at our first jam session on Geezer Hill back at Clifftop 2012.  Don is playing fiddle, I am three finger picking in open D on my semi-fretless Tubaphone.  I sure hope that sumavitch is packing his tent and sleeping bag right now, because its a long way from Lake Sachego, Ontario to West Virginia!  For me, it just won't be Clifftop if he doesn't show.

- Don Borchelt

Coleman's March from Clifftop 2012


greenbrooms - Posted - 07/20/2015:  15:51:54

one of my recent favorites! i learned this a few weeks after forum member Jeff Norman posted an incredible exercise in modes using "coleman's march." everyone should check it out over HERE


i recorded a take after an evening thunderstorm around that same time. the sky was a really nice color, and there was still a little lightning and thunder off in the distance. all of the virginia summer sounds add a nice touch smiley

VIDEO: kevin hewes - coleman's march
(click to view)


Noah Cline - Posted - 07/20/2015:  21:38:02

Here's my take:

I'm aware that there is another version (Irish) of Coleman's March, but it's not exactly the same as this version. Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill recorded it on their Welcome Here Again cd.

Edited by - Noah Cline on 07/20/2015 21:42:39

VIDEO: Coleman's March ~ BHO TOTW
(click to view)


Noah Cline - Posted - 07/20/2015:  21:45:57

Reading banjukebox's post, I never made the connection between The Bonnie Blue Flag and Coleman's March, though I do remember the reference to The Jaunting Car.

Zischkale - Posted - 07/21/2015:  05:38:43


Originally posted by JanetB


Thanks for a wonderful tune and presentation this week, Pat.  Your video portrayal and your banjo tone are absolutely lovely, especially going up the neck. 

I learned Coleman's March after hearing Don Borchelt with Ed Britt a while back.  Instead of using double D tuning I used open G tuning and tuned the 5th string down to an A note.  A bit quirky, I suppose, but enjoyable to play.

I think bluegrass uses the aDGBD tuning to play in D -- never occured to me one could drop the string down to A. I think it works, keeps a lower drone ringing throughout. 

How out of whack did your other strings get when you tuned the 5th down?

JanetB - Posted - 07/21/2015:  08:15:36


Originally posted by Zischkale

...drop the string down to A. I think it works, keeps a lower drone ringing throughout. 

How out of whack did your other strings get when you tuned the 5th down?

The other four strings went a bit sharp.  After re-adjusting them everything stayed in tune.  I often have a hard time listening to a dissonant drone string and sometimes look for a different string to thumb instead of the 5th string, or not play it at all when I feel that way. 

I'm sure enjoying the other posts for this unforgettable tune and am curious about its older roots that have different titles. 

vrteach - Posted - 07/21/2015:  08:58:25

The "Bonnie Blue Flag" was a TOTW back in 2010:

We discussed the "Irish Jaunting Car" connection, but not the Coleman's March connection.

JanetB - Posted - 07/21/2015:  10:30:00

Thanks for the link, Erich.  The Coleman's March melody does indeed have roots with the tunes you sited, but the treatments are 180 degrees apart -- upbeat vs. tragic.  I wonder how hard it would be to change an upbeat song into a tragic one....Is it merely tempo?  Phrasing?  Slight note changes?

banjoike - Posted - 07/21/2015:  20:07:14

Always loved this song. Heard it by Tom Berghan way back when. I play it kind of raggedy ..... with warts ...but here it is.

CamC - Posted - 07/21/2015:  20:53:13

Here's my version, I used the Pete Sutherland link that Pat provided to learn it in double d. I'm playing it here in double c.

VIDEO: Coleman's March
(click to view)


banjukebox - Posted - 07/21/2015:  21:42:54

Thanks for all the additional posts. So many interpretations and all of them sounded great! I have found another version of Coleman's March that is nothing like the one we are all playing.

Recording of Isham Monday :

There is also a tune called "Coleman Killed his Wife":

which may also be related, but is reported more similar to Green Willis (The Raw Recruit)

rtfm - Posted - 07/21/2015:  23:37:32

That version by Isham Monday is terrible! He plays the way I do. And I don't play the fiddle at all.


vrteach - Posted - 07/22/2015:  07:50:20

I wouldn't say "terrible" but it doesn't sound like the same melody to me. One of the comments on the DLA wonders if it is actually "Apple Blossom" and maybe mis-labeled. But it also seems that Monday had alternate melodies for tune names. For example the November 12, 2010 TOTW was Isham Monday's Fire on the Mountain:, and that certainly isn't the common tune by that name.

Jeff Titon taught Monday's version of Fire on the Mountain at the Breaking Up Winter before last. As I recall (and I may be thinking of a different fiddler) he said that Monday played with an extremely flat bridge on his fiddle; flat enough that he could play three strings at once. He also often tuned low.

Edited by - vrteach on 07/22/2015 07:53:17

LyleK - Posted - 07/22/2015:  08:39:19

quote (in regard to Isham Monday's "Coleman's March":

Originally posted by vrteach

 One of the comments on the DLA wonders if it is actually "Apple Blossom" and maybe mis-labeled. But it also seems that Monday had alternate melodies for tune names. 

Maybe the low part is "Apple Blossom" (I can't really tell), but the high part sounds a lot like the high part from "Big Tennessee" - of which there's a nice recording from "BrendanD"  But in any event, if there's any Coleman in there he is extremely well hidden.

OldPoppy - Posted - 07/23/2015:  12:47:34

I love the tune but that oft-told story of its origin strikes me as highly improbable. Maybe I'm just too literal minded.

Dock Jekel - Posted - 07/28/2015:  15:21:54

This tune is a staple for my band because its sad/slow and adds variety to all our hoedown tunes.

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