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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 11/27/15 - Uncle Henry

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mworden - Posted - 11/27/2015:  16:37:27

It is Thanksgiving week here in the US and I am thankful for the Tune of the Week.  What an incredible resource, an incredible community, and a constant source of inspiration.  

This week's tune is "Uncle Henry," which comes to us from the Ozark fiddler Violet Hensley.

Violet Hensley

Violet, from Yellville, Arkansas, is known as “The Whittling Fiddler of Arkansas.”  She made her first fiddle at the age of 15 in 1932 after learning by watching her father.

There are many great videos of Violet on line.  Now 99 years old, you can see her at the spry age of 93 playing the fiddle here:  If I can play half as good as that at that age, I would be thrilled.  Here's another one:  Here she is at the age of 97:  By far, my favorite one is this one where you can see her at 97 playing the fiddle on top of her head and carving a fiddle with an axe:

​Uncle Henry is a short and catchy D-tune that is usually played on the fiddle in DDAD tuning.  This tuning, with it's low D string, produces a great droning sound that you may be familiar with from tunes such as Bonaparte's Retreat.  Sometimes it can almost sound like the drone of pipes.  Many people have come to know this tune from the album "Traditional Fiddle Music Of The Ozarks: Vol. 1 - Along the Eastern Crescent".  You can hear Violet playing the tune here:  I was introduced to this recording by Sandol Astrausky, who, along with her partner, Rory McLeod, took over the Old Time String Band class at Brown after Jeff Titon retired.  According to Don Pedi, Violet told him that the real name of this tune was "Goodbye My Lover Goodbye" but that she told the person who recorded her that she got the tune from her Uncle Henry and that's what they put on the record.  I think that most who know the tune now still call it Uncle Henry.  That's the folk process in action, I suppose.  There are a few good videos of others playing the tune available.  One I particularly like is Travis Brink on fiddle and Dean Barber on banjo:

Here's a quick version I recorded today.  Listening back to it, I realize that I sometimes have a tendency to accidentally clip the 5th string when I'm going for the open 4th.  Guess I have to work on that a bit.

The tune is pretty quick to pick up and I hope to hear your version, too.


Uncle Henry


banjukebox - Posted - 11/28/2015:  06:42:35

Thanks for posting. I loved that video documentary that showed her playing and carving fiddles.

bhniko - Posted - 11/28/2015:  09:18:41

Thanks to all for TOTW posts. A highlight of BH for me.

JanetB - Posted - 11/28/2015:  17:50:28

Fun tune, Mike, and I like your clawhammer style tremendously.  Upon a bit of BHO sleuthing I found that the tune Goodbye, My Honey, I'm Gone is just about the same.  LyleK did it as the third TOTW in 2008, linking it to a minstrel era tune, but needing more research.  Here's the TOTW link, including  lyrics thanks to Banjo Judy. Lyle plays the tune with more extensive, nice variations.

It's really a privilege to learn from a female fiddler as old and talented as Violet Hensley.  I'm looking forward to watching all the video links more thoroughly.

Here's what I got from Violet Hensley's recording. 

Uncle Henry (TOTW)

Uncle Henry (CH) tab

Cyndy - Posted - 12/01/2015:  20:12:00

Violet's tunes caught my interest when I first picked up the fiddle and started listening to old-time music so I'll always have a soft spot for her playing.

Janet--I like what you've done with the tune. When I listen to it, I hear that little backwards slide that gives the tune its unique flavor. I can't tell if you're actually putting something like that into the arrangement or if you just hang on the notes in a way that perfectly suggests it to my mind, but whichever it is -- it totally works! :)

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