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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 1/15/2106 - Jaybird

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:

jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/15/2016:  06:34:40

The 2016 TOTW (OT) is off to a great start with Citico and Waterbound.  This week I am adding Jaybird.  Just to clarify any confusion, there are several other Jaybird titled tunes: Marching JaybirdJaybird in a High Oak Treeand Jaybird Died of the Whopping Cough.  All wonderful, and all different.

Jaybird is a tune that I learned way back when I first started playing the banjo, and it has stuck with me through the many years of on-and-off playing.  I first encountered Jaybird in Jon Burke’s tab book, Old Time Fiddle Tunes for Banjo (1968). I partially deciphered the tab for Jaybird, but I mostly learned the tune at festival jams in the ‘70s.

In his tab book (p. 77), John Burke attributes the tune to Art Rosenbaum, and further states that “Art Rosenbaum played this tune at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in 1966.”  Art Rosenbaum apparently learned Jaybird from the Indiana fiddler, John Summers.  The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes also cites John Summers as the source player.

Jane Rothfield recorded Jaybird on the 2008 album i Fiddle they Banjo.  Other than this, I am unaware of other commercial recordings of the tune by Old Time musicians.  Jaybird does get played in Bluegrass circles, so I would imagine that there are some commercial recordings by artists of that genre, but I haven’t done the research to find out. 

According to the Traditional Tune Archives (TTA), Jaybird is a multi-regional tune, with roots in Missouri, Pennsylvania, and New England, as well as Indiana.  Not surprisingly then, there are several slightly different variations of the tune.  Call this tune at a jam session, and you are likely to spend a few go-throughs getting in sync with the other players.  The TTA also reports that Samuel Bayard considered Jaybird to be a derivative of the British air “Ladies Breast Knot."

There are several lyrics for Jaybird, but rather than reproduce them here, you can go to the TTA to get them if you are interested (linked above).

Until I started the research for TOTW, I only knew one version of Jaybird.  I now refer to this as the “Revival version” because it was the version that was popularized during the Old Time revival of the 60s-70s.  Brendan Doyle, Adam Hurt, and Beth Hartness play this version in a BHO contribution.

 But there is also an older version that I now call the “John Summers version.” You can listen to Mr. Summers play his version at the Slippery Hill website.

 The John Burke tab fits with the Revival version.  It would be interesting to know how the changes evolved as the tune passed from John Summers to Art Rosenbaum to John Burke and then to the festival world.  Any insider clues out there?

So, here is the pop quiz part.  I’ve listed and linked below, several recordings of Jaybird by different artists.  You be the judge of each of the renditions---Revival, John Summers, something in between, or yet another version?

 Cathy Fink and friends (YouTube)

 Old Time Contrarians (YouTube)

 Adam Hurt (BHO Jukebox)

 Tom Joad (BHO Jukebox)

 Truman Price (YouTube)

 Lastly, I’ve included my takes on both the Revival and John Summers versions.  I’ve also posted tef files associated with my Tabs tab on my personal page.

Of course, please add your knowledge and rendition(s) of Jaybird.  Go forth, dance a clog while sittin’ on a log, and re-revive this delightful tune.

Edited by - jack_beuthin on 01/24/2016 15:42:24

Jaybird (Revival version)

Jaybird (John Summers version)

Jaybird (Revival version)

Jaybird (John Summers version)

banjered - Posted - 01/15/2016:  08:19:41


Very nice! We have been playing this tune at our jam lately. That is a great sounding banjo! Which one of your banjos is it?

More! Banjered


jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/15/2016:  08:41:38

Thanks Tom, glad to hear that Jaybird is in circulation out your way.  That reminds me that the Portland Parlor Pickers also have a recording on their website:


On both recordings I am playing my Enoch Dobson

Jay K - Posted - 01/15/2016:  08:43:57

Great choice, nicely played! Looking forward to trying it tonight. Thanks!

greenbrooms - Posted - 01/15/2016:  08:58:51

love your sound, jack! all the jaybird tunes are home-runs, and this is no exception. looking forward to plunking through it tonight


Edited by - greenbrooms on 01/15/2016 08:59:06

drjack - Posted - 01/15/2016:  10:56:33

Jaybird was recorded by John Burke on the "Old Fashioned Dance Music" lp with the Yankee Carpetbaggers in 1968 It is also on the sound sheet that accompanied his booked.

jamesd - Posted - 01/15/2016:  11:17:14

Jack, what a great write up on this tune.  This is a really nice tune.  And thank you for all the work you did on the tabs and tef files.  Very good work!

banjo bill-e - Posted - 01/15/2016:  12:16:18

Nice TOTW, Jack. Good playing and nice clear tabs, too.

carlb - Posted - 01/16/2016:  05:30:19

Jay Bird from the Hamblen Collection of tunes played by David Russell Hamblen (1809-1893 of Cumberland Gap, Lee County Virginia; moved to Brown County Indiana, 1857) and his son Williamson (1848-1920) and copied by Armanis [?; hand written addition difficult to read] Porter Hamblen (1875-195-) son of Williamson.

A number of years ago, talk of the Hamblen Collection came up on BHO (search for a number of other posts concerning Hamblen)

and FHO

(You can check my comments in the above link.)

This may be the path of how this tune arrived in Indiana.

Jay Bird from Hamblen Collection


jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/16/2016:  06:38:24

Carl, That is a really interesting piece of history.  I've never thought of Jaybird as an Appalachian tune.  Even the TTA does not mention Virginia or Appalachia as a source area. Yet, Mr. Hamblen apparently brought the tune to Indiana from Virginia.  I wonder if the tune was only known in the Hamblen family, and so it departed Lee County when D.R. Hamblen left, or was it disseminated there before he left (in which case, you would think that it would still be part of the traditional repertoire of Lee County).

The Hamblen notation is close to the version known from John Summers.  The notation though includes F naturals in the A part that creates an odd minor character to the Hamblen rendition.  Do you think this is real, or a transcription error?

An additional note: John Cohen and the New Lost City Ramblers are a link in the tune chain between John Summers and Art Rosenbaum.  Read the reminiscence by John Cohen here.

Edited by - jack_beuthin on 01/16/2016 06:39:24

JanetB - Posted - 01/16/2016:  15:21:52

Well-done TOTW, Jack!   I think I can pass your pop quiz by now, but chose to record only the older John Summers version.   Here's a link to that source recording:   I also appreciate Carl Baron's detailed addition to its history.  

Our backyard jaybirds are the Steller's Jay.  They made a good showing yesterday and today, making the tune even more fun, but wouldn't pose for the camera.


VIDEO: Jaybird (TOTW)
(click to view)


jack_beuthin - Posted - 01/17/2016:  08:17:31


Originally posted by drjack

Jaybird was recorded by John Burke on the "Old Fashioned Dance Music" lp with the Yankee Carpetbaggers in 1968 It is also on the sound sheet that accompanied his booked.

I've been laid out with a head cold this weekend, so my most energetic activity involved tracking down this LP.  Mission accomplished.

Jaybird is the first track on the LP.  The Yankee Carpetbaggers play the John Summers version, not the Revival version (as Janet pointed out, the main variation is in the B part).  I managed to tab John's banjo playing, or at least something pretty close to it.  Curiously, the tab in John's book is the Revival version.  The tab book was published in 1968,  the same year the album was released.   It seems that the B part variation is pinned to 1968.  Speculation on my part, but perhaps the variation originated with John Burke.

Jaybird (after John Burke)


Paul R - Posted - 01/23/2016:  22:56:01

Great work, Jack. Just FYI, Ken Perlman has a "Jay Bird" tune in his book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Clawhammer Banjo, and a recording on the accompanying CDs. It's yet another variant of the Burke version.

Page47 - Posted - 01/28/2016:  10:54:16

My name is Jay.  When I was in college, some of the guys I worked with called me Jaybird.  Mike Chew (of Dogwood Banjos) just finished a beautiful instrument for me and because I was so involved in the design he decided to make it a standard Dogwood model called The Jaybird.  The I saw this TOW and figured what better way to debut my new banjo!

I hope you like it!

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