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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 04/15/2016 - The Brushy Fork of John’s Creek

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Mtngoat - Posted - 04/14/2016:  20:32:42

TOTW (OT) 04/15/2016 - The Brushy Fork of John’s Creek

I’ve chosen The Brushy Fork of John’s Creek for this installment of TOTW.  The tune is endemic to Eastern Kentucky and is said to commemorate a minor Civil War skirmish in Pike County at the far eastern end of the State, bordering present day West Virginia.

During 1864 the Jackson – Blackburn Troubles, pitting families with northern and southern sympathies, erupted on John’s Creek and a fight between small detachments of regular troops, dispatched by Washington and Richmond to support the opposing partisans, occurred there on April 6 of that year.   The action was indecisive with the Federals withdrawing north through the Big Sandy Valley towards the Ohio River and the Confederates retreating south over the mountains back into Virginia.  The war ended in 1865 but the bitterness between neighbors who fought on opposite sides of the conflict continued unabated and spawned the horrific Kentucky family feuds that followed.

Knott County, Kentucky fiddler Hiram Stamper (1893 – 1991) learned The Brushy Fork of John’s Creek from Shade Slone, a Civil War veteran.  Here’s a video of Stamper playing the tune in 1985 when he was 92 years old.  He seems to be enjoying himself.    Hiram Stamper .

Here’s a recording by well-known fiddler Art Stamper (1933 – 2005), son of Hiram, from his album Goodbye Girls I’m Going to Boston.  Art played professionally with the biggest names in Bluegrass, but he always valued the old tunes and archaic styles of eastern Kentucky.   According to the liner notes John Hermann is doing the banjo work:  Art Stamper and John Hermann .

Here’s a string band version by the Railsplitters.  I actually learned the tune from Brett Ratliff who plays guitar for the band.   Brett is an outstanding banjo player and singer whose solo CD Cold Icy Mountain is available from Appalshop.    Railsplitters Old Time String Band

Here’s a banjo / fiddle duet recorded on location on John’s Creek:  John's Creek

Here’s a recording by Jesse Wells.  Jesse Wells

I was unable to find a tab but this Kenneth Elkington video serves as a pretty good tutorial.  In A modal tuning the A part melody is on frets 3, 5, and 7 of the first string while the B part is essentially an embellished A minor chord repeated several times as a place holder.   Kenneth Elkington

Readers are encouraged to post comments, performances and tabs.

Edited by - Mtngoat on 04/14/2016 20:37:03

llrevis - Posted - 04/14/2016:  21:17:14

A tab by Adam Hurt appeared in Banjo Newsletter along with a tab of John Riley the Shepherd. 

JanetB - Posted - 04/15/2016:  06:47:05

Great pick, Mountain Goat, and I appreciate the history you uncovered.  Adam Hurt's arrangement is indeed fun and easy to play in SRB tuning (i.e. Cumberland Gap tuning --fDGCD).  He plays it in this video on that wonderful little bottle-neck gourd used in his Earth Tones CD that originally inspired me to seek him out as a teacher.  

In my arrangement, he had given the assignment to explore the Old Cumberland Gap tuning of f#BEAD, which he had me raise to g#C#F#BE for better string tension. Though not as easy to play as the SRB version, it's still fun.


Edited by - JanetB on 04/15/2016 06:48:24

Brushy Fork of John's Creek (TOTW)


bhniko - Posted - 04/15/2016:  09:07:01

So tenderly...tenderly played. Feels like a warm blanket wrapped around one's shoulders.

Tobus - Posted - 04/15/2016:  09:57:00

Super pick!  I considered doing this one, but it's such a "huge" tune, with so many versions and so much history, I didn't know how to tackle it.  I believe Art Stamper recorded it under a couple of different names, including the Brushy Fork of Buckthorn, or the Long Fork of Buckthorn.

There's also apparently another version of this tune from John Salyer.  Similar, but different enough that it should really be considered a separate variation.  I think it was from the same source at the tail end of the Civil War, but probably morphed on its own.  John Hartford recorded that version.

Anyway, I prefer the Hiram Stamper version, and it's one of my favorites to play on fiddle, as well as banjo.  Modal tuning really gives it a great feel.  I'm attaching the tab for the way I play it.

Brushy Fork of John's Creek


Strumelia - Posted - 04/15/2016:  19:54:36

Mtngoat - Posted - 04/16/2016:  06:37:59

Janet and Stumelia those are wonderful performances. 

Tobus I picked up some licks from your tab.  


bhniko - Posted - 04/17/2016:  09:57:44


Delighted to see you back on the post. Haven't seen you playing for quite a while and I am sure I would have noticed.

And my Goodtime has a new Kevin Enoch which I decided upon after a lot of listening. Your fingers

seem to be having a great time being up in the air.

Paul Meredith - Posted - 04/17/2016:  17:07:03

Great pick for TOTW Mtngoat, your writeup is well done and very informative.  I first heard this tune in the Adam Hurt video Janet linked to above.  I found it hauntingly beautiful and set about learning it, though not note-for-note.  I need to play it more as my playing is a bit sloppy.

Brushy Fork of John's Creek


jenorma1 - Posted - 04/18/2016:  07:52:11

Great choice for tune of the week - this tune definitely had a resurgence in popularity in SW Virginia when I was living there a few years back (for several years I never heard it, then all of the sudden we were playing it at every jam); kinda neat how even old time has "trends" - one of the funny nuances that makes me love it even more : )  

Here's my version (from the first video I ever did for Elderly - on a Pisgah Possum):;t=1m56s

Sally Morgan and Mike Gangloff (from the Black Twig Pickers) play a pretty great fiddle/fretless banjo duo too:

Edited by - jenorma1 on 04/18/2016 07:54:19

Mtngoat - Posted - 04/18/2016:  18:43:33

Paul and Jeff thanks for the performances.  It's good stuff.

Jeff your observation about trending is insightful.  Adam Hurt's recording and videos seem to have been the impetus for the recent widespread interest in this tune.  

jenorma1 - Posted - 04/19/2016:  08:05:24


Originally posted by Mtngoat


Paul and Jeff thanks for the performances.  It's good stuff.

Jeff your observation about trending is insightful.  Adam Hurt's recording and videos seem to have been the impetus for the recent widespread interest in this tune.  

I think you're probably right about that - its hard to imagine that Adam Hurt's recordings wouldnt make waves when they come out : )  

His tune choices getting popular in jam circles are just one aspect of it: I think the bump in popularity of dobson tone rings, slotted headstocks, the use of sandy river belle tuning for G tunes (gDADE), playing with the index (rather than middle) finger....all these things were defintely around before Adam Hurt came along, but its hard to think that their popularity hasn't increased as new players (myself included) come along and adopt some/all of these tendencies.  

Anyways - not trying to hijack the tune of hte week thread - keep em coming people; I really love hearing everyone's different versions of this one!

Edited by - jenorma1 on 04/19/2016 08:06:37

Joe Newberry - Posted - 04/25/2016:  14:03:42

Here is a version of Brushy Fork from my old band Big Medicine.  That is Kenny Jackson fiddling, along with me on banjo, Jim Collier on guitar, and LaNelle Davis on bass.  

tommac - Posted - 04/25/2016:  16:33:59

Here is a slow and moderate tempo mp3 of Art Stamper's version. I have the tab in "Scratching the Surface" here.



Brushy Fork of John's Creek


Tobus - Posted - 04/26/2016:  06:29:15


Originally posted by Joe Newberry


Here is a version of Brushy Fork from my old band Big Medicine.  That is Kenny Jackson fiddling, along with me on banjo, Jim Collier on guitar, and LaNelle Davis on bass.  

Great rendition of the tune!  The I-IV chord progression in the A part was an interesting and unique choice that I hadn't heard before.  It took some "conditioning" for my ear to start hearing the familiar tune behind that chord progression, but I like it.  I could see myself borrowing that and working it into the tune when we play it, just for some variety.  Good stuff!

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