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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 8/28/15 - Red Steer


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/308292

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/28/2015:  18:20:00


 



Today's Tune of the Week is Red Steer, which comes to us from fiddler John Dykes and his Magic City Trio.  I don't remember where I first encountered the tune, but my primary source is a version by Ohio fiddler and field recorder Jeff Goehring.


 


 




JOHN DYKES and DYKES MAGIC CITY TRIO


 


 photo mct.jpg



Dykes Magic City Trio (John Dykes, Myrtle Vermillion, Hub Mahaffey)

 


John Dykes (1882?- 1940s?) was a well-known fiddler in the east Tennessee and southwestern Virginia area during the 1910s and 20s.  Information on him is somewhat scarce and contradictory (thus the question marks above), and instead of trying to evaluate and summarize the various sources I have come across, I will instead just extensively quote from and paraphrase one of them, Charles Wolfe's liner notes to the album "Dykes Magic City Trio, String Band Classics", released by Old Homestead Records in 1987.


 


It was July 27, 1927, and the readers of "The Big Stone Gap [Virginia] Post" were getting some good news.  "Old Fashioned Dance Friday", the headline read. "Dykes, famous fiddler, will furnish music", it continued.  "J.R. Dykes of Kingsport, who is nationally known as an old-time fiddler, together with his associates, will furnish music for a genuine square dance at Pleasure Island Friday night.  Mr. Dykes has just returned from New York City, where several selections of his famous 'mountain music' were recorded. He was selected to make this music only after a representative of the recording company had heard over 800 contestants".


 


That famous audition, the first of its kind where a record company had consciously sought out old-time music talent in Appalachia, had been held the previous February in Norton, Virginia.  Among the 800 contestants that Fiddlin' John Dykes had beaten were A.P. Carter and The Carter Family. Ironically, the week of this dance, 75 miles to the southwest in Bristol, Victor talent scout Ralph Peer was auditioning the Carter Family for his company.  But Fiddlin' John Dykes and "his associates" - known as "The Magic City Trio" - had done some 14 sides and already had records in the stores. They had become stars, and were already recognized as one of the best fiddle bands to come out of Appalachia.


 


Although John Dyke was a well-known and very influential fiddler in upper east Tennessee, rather little is known about his life.  He was born about 1882 and spent years working in the mines in Wise County, Virginia.  He won fame as one of the best square dance fiddlers in the area. "He fiddles to perfections all the old tunes used for dances at the mountain homes" commented one newspaper writer of the time.


 


By the middle 1920s, John Dykes found he could no longer work in the mines. He moved to the bustling new town of Kingsport, Tennessee - known as the "Magic City"  - and in about 1925 formed The Magic City Trio with two younger musicians,  autoharp player Myrtle Vermillion (a cousin of Sara Carter's) and guitarist-singer G.H. 'Hub' Mahaffey.  After the group was formed , they played a wide variety of socials and dances in the Kingsport area.


 


Then came February, 1927, and their audition in Norton. In March they were invited to come to New York and record.  On the way to New York, the band practiced on the train, and collected small change in tips from fascinated passengers.  This was good, because when Dykes got to Grand Central Station he was promptly robbed of their expense money. The record company executives, though, were glad to see them, and especially liked the sound of Myrtle Vermillion's autoharp.  Dykes later told friends that the record company "made him play his tunes different" when he recorded - whatever that meant.  But the executives in charge told Myrtle that the group "didn't have no idea what fine records we made, and said they would outsell any of this scientific stuff".


 


The group recorded 14 tracks over three days.  It was the second day of recording, March 10, that brought forth the best of the fiddle tunes. Among them was "Red Steer", a tune associated with another fiddler from the area, Cowan Powers, who had recorded it in 1924 under the name "Brown's Dream".


 


The Magic City Trio continued to perform until about 1932, when Myrtle Vermillion's duties as a mother and housewife began to interfere with her wish to play music. Hub Mahaffey played with a number of local bands up through the 1960s.  John Dykes was pretty much out of music by the 1930s, although he still went to fiddling contests and occasionally did a square dance.   He died sometime in the 1940s, thinking perhaps of his brief shot at glory and of the well-crafted legacy during those memorable three days he spent in New York City in 1927.


 


 


FIDDLIN' COWAN POWERS and HIS FAMILY BAND


 


 photo fiddlinpowers02.jpg



The Cowan Powers Family Band (Charlie, Ada, Orpha Lou, Carrie Belle, Cowan)



As noted above, John Dykes probably got the tune Red Steer from Fiddlin' Cowan Powers (1879-1953), who was active in the teens and twenties in the same southwestern Virginia area.  With his children Charles, Orpha Lou, Carrie Belle and Ada, he formed the Cowan Powers Family Band, which is generally considered to be the first family stringband to appear on record.   In August, 1924, they recorded seventeen tracks for the Victor Record Company, eight of which were released. One of those recordings, Old Joe Clark, became the third best selling record of the year.  They went on to record nine sides for Edison in 1925, and a further six for Okeh in 1927, before disbanding around 1930 as the girls got married and started families.


 


It was the August 18, 1924, session which produced Powers' version of Red Steer, under the name Brown's Dream, but it was not among the eight recordings released by Victor.  As far as I can determine, it has never been made available in any form.


 


 


THE TUNE


 


As suggested by the name given to the piece by Cowan Powers, Red Steer is considered to be part of the John Brown's Dream family of tunes.


 


The Fiddler's Companion has this to say:




RED STEER. AKA and see "Brown's Dream [1],” “John Brown’s Dream." Old-Time, Breakdown. GDgd tuning. From the playing of fiddler John Dykes, of the Kingsport, Tennessee, area, leader of the Dykes Magic City trio. The tune as a member of the “John Brown’s Dream” family of tunes. Richard Blaustein sees similarities in the ‘A’ part with  Dykes’s “Callahan Reel” and a tune called “Boatman”; and in the ‘B’ part with “Paddy Won’t You Drink Some Good Old Cider.” Old Homestead OHCS 191, "Dykes Magic City Trio" (Eastern Tenn.) {originally recorded on a Brunswick 78, 1927}.


 


As far as I can determine, the name Red Steer originated with John Dykes.  Tracing the tune back any farther basically leads to the history of John Brown's Dream itself.


 


Red Steer is in the key of A. It has three parts, but in Dykes' own arrangement of the tune those parts seem to be somewhat randomly ordered.  Jeff Goehring used the rather unusual pattern ABBCB.


 


 


AUDIO AND VIDEO


 


 


Dykes Magic City Trio (1927)youtube.com/watch?v=huWrwTmcyF...=youtu.be


 




 


 




 


Fiddle and banjo - Tim & Deane: youtube.com/watch?v=k6jyCniFW4g


 


Fiddle and banjo - frfiddle: fiddlehangout.com/myhangout/me...archived=


 


Fiddle and guitar - Joe Decosimo & John Schwab: youtube.com/watch?v=yCdkEXcI6BE


 


2014 Clifftop jam - Grace Forrest, Steve Arkin, John Herrmann: youtube.com/watch?v=Ge2Fn_v_1x0


 


2015 jam - Rayna Gellert, Jack Devereux, and friends: youtube.com/watch?v=8zbQPW7ykfg


 


 


 


Jeff's version can be found on the FRC release devoted to his fiddling: fieldrecorder.org/product/jeff-goehring/


 


The tune is also on the 2003 album "Shout Lulu", from The Rockinghams (John Herrmann on banjo, Rafe Stefanini on fiddle): discogs.com/Rockinghams-Shout-...e/7241004


 


 


TABLATURE


 


From Tim Rowell (based on Jeff Goehring's fiddle version): cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/13037/doc...289540542


 


From Ken Torke (based on the fiddling of Joseph Decosimo and Rafe Stefanini): taterjoes.com/banjo/RedSteer.pdf


 


 


Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 08/30/2015 11:20:04

RG - Posted - 08/28/2015:  19:12:32


One of my all time favorite jam tunes on fiddle!  Great TOTW!  Now, I dare anyone to tell me they can hear that autoharp...


Kernel - Posted - 08/28/2015:  20:14:55


Here's my tab. taterjoes.com/banjo/RedSteer.pdf. And...two fiddle transcriptions. One from Rafe Stefanini (Rockinghams CD) and one from Joseph Decosimo (Bucking Mules CD) taterjoes.com/fiddle/RedSteer.pdf.  I used both of these to base my version on. It's a fun, raucous tune.


Jay K - Posted - 08/28/2015:  20:22:34


Great write up, nice choice. Looking forward to giving it a go. Thanks!

jasper - Posted - 08/29/2015:  06:09:25


Great job ERB, on it this morning, nice tabs too! Thanks.


JanetB - Posted - 08/29/2015:  09:38:02


Indeed a great write-up, Bret, and plenty of examples.  I'd heard of the Cowan Powers Family Band, but not the John Dykes Magic City Trio.  I choose The Rockinghams and fiddler Rafe Stefanini for figuring out a clawhammer arrangement.  Their "Shout Lulu" is an all-around classic CD I continue to learn from.  Red Steer is the very first track. There are three parts with eight measures each to this dance tune as played by The Rockinghams, but some of the C part resembles the B part.  Here's one more tab.




VIDEO: Red Steer
(click to view)


Red Steer tab

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/30/2015:  11:12:15


quote:

Originally posted by RG

 

One of my all time favorite jam tunes on fiddle!  Great TOTW!  Now, I dare anyone to tell me they can hear that autoharp...







 



I only added the tune to my repertoire recently - it is a lot of fun to play.  



I won't take you up on that dare, since Myrtle's autoharp is more theoretical than real to my ears, as well.  Evidently the record company executives' preference for the instrument somehow didn't translate to making it audible on the record.



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 08/30/2015 11:25:58

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/30/2015:  11:16:01


quote:

Originally posted by Kernel

 

Here's my tab. taterjoes.com/banjo/RedSteer.pdf. And...two fiddle transcriptions. One from Rafe Stefanini (Rockinghams CD) and one from Joseph Decosimo (Bucking Mules CD) taterjoes.com/fiddle/RedSteer.pdf.  I used both of these to base my version on. It's a fun, raucous tune.







 



Thanks for the tab and the transcriptions, Joe.  Your site is one of my primary sources of banjo tab, and one that I check every time I do a TOTW.   Except this time, evidently - not sure how I missed your version of Red Steer.  (I've added a link to your tab in the original post, in case some people don't read the entire thread.)


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/30/2015:  11:25:15


quote:

Originally posted by JanetB

 

Indeed a great write-up, Bret, and plenty of examples.  I'd heard of the Cowan Powers Family Band, but not the John Dykes Magic City Trio.  I choose The Rockinghams and fiddler Rafe Stefanini for figuring out a clawhammer arrangement.  Their "Shout Lulu" is an all-around classic CD I continue to learn from.  Red Steer is the very first track. There are three parts with eight measures each to this dance tune as played by The Rockinghams, but some of the C part resembles the B part.  Here's one more tab.







 



Thanks for your version, Janet, and for the tab.  I don't have that Rockinghams CD - I'll have to add it to my list.



I had heard of neither the Dykes Magic City Trio nor the Cowan Powers Family Band before researching this tune. That is one thing I love about the Tunes of the Week - they almost always lead to fascinating bits of history.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/30/2015:  11:27:39


Thanks to all for commenting - I'm glad you enjoyed the tune.


vrteach - Posted - 08/30/2015:  14:31:22


Never heard of the tune. I like it. It sounds easy to play along with--so I hope someone I know knows it so I can play along. I'm at work doing back ups and updates. These are boring so i brought my fiddle in. I've tried playing along with the posted versions, but the tempos are past my abilities. I'll have to be home near my banjos to work it out.



Edited by - vrteach on 08/30/2015 14:40:09

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