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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 5/13/16 - Wagoner

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:

JanetB - Posted - 05/13/2016:  07:21:54

This TOTW goes by more names and spellings than I care to remember.  I first heard it as Tennessee Wagoner.  Next I heard it as Wild Wagoner, played by Edden Hammons.  You can also find Wagoner preceded by the states Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Then there’s Old Time Wagoner, Wagoneer, Waggoner, Wagonner, Wagner, Wag’ner, Jolly Wagoner Reel, Johnny Wagoner, Johnny Walker, Miss Brown’s Reel, and Reel Marie.  And besides this is the related tune, Wagoner One-Step, also called Wagner’s Hornpipe.

R.P. Christeson, the well-known Missourian tune collector and fiddler, included Wagner (#54) in The Old-Time Fiddler’s Repertory and traced it to a Scottish tune, “The Belle of Claremont Hornpipe.”  However, Pennsylvanian Samuel Bayard (1908 – 1997), another tune collector, as well as a professor emeritus, stated its roots went back even farther and called Tennessee Wagoner a “composite tune” with older Scottish background.

 A popular fiddler from Missouri, Vesta Johnson (b. 1922), remembered playing Tennessee Wagoner as a 9 year-old for a neighbor’s square dance.   Her version is linked below.  R.P. Christeson quoted, “If one arrived at a dance and did not hear ‘the Tennessee Wagoner’ ringing out that the event would not be enjoyable.”

My image of the title is that of a person who drives a wagon – a difficult and important job before the advent of motorized vehicles, but an alternate story relates it to a famous horse race in 1839.


 Gray Eagle

 It was said that one of President Thomas Jefferson’s favorite fiddle tunes was Grey Eagle (or "Old Gray Eagle).  Read about the connection between Grey Eagle and Wagner.  The former was a great racing stallion, the other an unknown horse named Wagner who beat him in 1839.  For the winner there was a gigantic purse, as well as the release from slavery of the jockey, Cato.  The defeat was so momentous a re-match was demanded, upon which Grey Eagle lost again and injured himself as well.   And so the tune is also associated with a racehorse.

I find there are two versions within the Wagoner family.  One is the commonly known Tennessee Wagoner and the other is Wagoner One-Step.  You can hear similarities and differences.   Compare the two with my favorite recordings:  Steve Arkin's Tennessee Wagoner and Rayna Gellert's Wagoner One-Step from Earl Collins' version.  

Here are some of the many videos and recordings out there:

 Arthur Smith's Tennessee Wagoner

Eck Robertson's Texas Wagoner

 John Salyer's Wagoner

Walter McNew's Wagoner

 Charlie Walden's Tennessee Wagner

Vesta Johnson's Tennessee Wagoner, Track #26 

Jerry Milnes and Mac Benford's Tennessee Wagoner at 3:00 (with some great clogging)

Jilson Setter's Wild Wagoner in the Harry Smith Anthology (like Tennessee Wagoner)

Jilson Setter's music with animation

Norman Blake's Tennessee Wagoner 

Tony Gilmore's Wagner (in RP Christeson collection)

Greg Brooks Kentucky Wagoner on Allen Sisson's historic fiddle (from a 1920’s version)

Earl Collin's Wagoner One-Step (Rayna Gellert’s inspiration)

Tom Sauber's Wagoner One-Step

Red William's Wagner's Hornpipe


In my video which follows I’ve combined Edden Hammons’ Wild Wagoner with Rayna Gellert’s Wagoner One-Step.  One thing I’ll remember is Rayna’s words:  “It must be one of the world’s happiest tunes.”  I agree and hope to hear your version of Wagoner this week.

Edited by - JanetB on 05/13/2016 10:12:56

VIDEO: Wild Wagoner/Wagoner One-Step
(click to view)

Wild Wagoner (Tennessee Wagoner) (CH) tab

Wagoner One-Step (CH) tab

crosselli - Posted - 05/13/2016:  07:37:06

That was wonderful. Such a pleasant tune played so well. Thanks for sharing.

Tobus - Posted - 05/13/2016:  10:05:56

Excellent choice for TOTW!  You're right - it's one of the happiest sounding tunes I know, and I love all the variations of it.  Great playing on your video!

The version I fell in love with a couple of years ago was from Jason and Pharis Romero's Back Up and Push album, featuring Erynn Marshall on fiddle.  This version is played more simply (less melodic notes) than the original, but has a bit of a crooked B part which gives it a nice flavor.

Wagoner on YouTube (Jason & Pharis Romero with Erynn Marshall)

JanetB - Posted - 05/13/2016:  10:11:16

Delightful, Tobin!  You get the best with those three musicians -- the Romero's and Erynn Marshall.

Thanks, Chris.  It's indeed a happy, pleasing tune.

Johnnie 5 - Posted - 05/13/2016:  14:37:27

here is a three finger attempt,i love the definite signature rhythm some folks  play on this

Edited by - Johnnie 5 on 05/13/2016 14:44:54

JanetB - Posted - 05/13/2016:  21:34:38

Johnnie5's video proves that Wagoner is the ideal backdrop for a horse and wagon scene, as well as other archaic transportation modes and slap-stick comedy routines.  Don't forget to check out the link on top that has Jilson's Setter's Wild Wagoner set to animation.  It's really that kind of tune, isn't it.

Don Borchelt - Posted - 05/14/2016:  13:56:50

A fine choice for Tune of the Week, Janet, and really nice versions by you and Johnnie 5.  I like the transition that Johnnie does to Golden Slippers, one of those great old time tunes that just about every old country or mountain fiddler could play, years ago, but you rarely hear it any more.

About four months ago I did an internet collaboration on Allen Sisson's Kentucky Wagoner with fiddler Rob Fong, of Ashville, North Carolina.  I met Rob at the Brandywine Revival last June, and got to play some tunes with him again at Clifftop.  Rob is a remarkable and talented young musician, so I was honored when he asked me recently to throw on a banjo track for a few of his tunes, including this one.  In addition to being a great fiddler, Rob is also an accomplished bass fisherman.

Rob Fong and Don Borchelt picking Kentucky Wagoner

                                        Rob Fong

The link below is the MP3 recording I sent to Rob, so he could hear how I played it:

Don Borchelt picking Kentucky Wagoner at old person speed



JanetB - Posted - 05/14/2016:  16:44:56

Wow, Don, so sweet!  Like someone commented, "smooth and comfy, like my old flannel shirt."  Good to have your solo banjo, too, and I see there's the tab on your website (

I hadn't heard of Allen Sisson until doing this TOTW (see link at top of Greg Brooks fiddling Kentucky Wagoner on Allen's own fiddle) and now I've heard of him twice thanks to you posting his 1920's version of Kentucky Wagoner.  (On last week's TOTW there was something called the Beider-Meinhoff Phenomena -- I guess it's real!)  Next thing you know I'll be hearing more about Rob Fong.

BTW Don, old person speed is sometimes the best.

Wyozark - Posted - 05/15/2016:  15:23:08

About three years ago I was perusing an antique store in Custer SD and I found a 1939 edition of Cowboy Dances – A Collection of Western Square Dances by Lloyd Shaw.  Shaw was a Colorado Springs teacher who documented a lot of folk dance in the early 20th century.  In the earliest part of the book he documents the music he encountered, along with some Old Time fiddlers who were playing well before the beginning of that century.   In his interviews with the fiddlers he asked them to list their favorite tunes to play for dances.  Many of these tunes I recognized as ones that are often mentioned here on BHO or in our TAB books.  Fiddler Emerson Howard’s favorites were Soldiers Joy, Wild Horse, Mississippi Sawyer, to name just three.  Smokey Minson listed his favorites as Hoe Down, Soldiers Joy, 8th Day of January, Arkansas Traveler, Turkey in the Straw, and “Waggoner.”

Now a couple of other fiddlers were also named and presented lists.  The author allowed each fiddler to spell or write the title as he understood it.  So while Smokey names Waggoner as a favorite tune, down the list another fiddler, “Dad” Eads, listed two versions: Tennessee Wagoner and Missouri Wagoner.  I noted the one less “g” from the previous title.  I did some research but I found very little about Missouri Wagoner, except that I did see a comment where someone said that Missouri Wagoner is like Tennessee Wagoner but with a "couple of surprises." Because of the age of the book, I think that the differences probably go back quite a ways. Does anyone have additional information about the tune Missouri Wagoner and what might make it different from the other Wagoner tunes? Thanks so much.

Johnnie 5 - Posted - 05/15/2016:  16:21:11

This will probably only muddy the water more but ,but these are snips from a 1940s book i have of old time fiddle music and much of it was collected in Missouri .

It is a great old book with fun tunes and stories to go with them

JanetB - Posted - 05/15/2016:  17:21:16

And so I need to add Missouri Wagoner to my list of titles for Wagoner.  The description in the above book, Traditional Music of America, indeed describes the westward bound wagoneer as I picture him, plus tells of his additional prowess as a fiddler.  It suggests that the tune was played as far back as in 1849 and offers a simplified variation.

I found that Charlie Walden, well-known Missouri fiddler and founder of Missouri's Old-Time Fiddler's Association, has a notated version of Wagoner where he also has it listed as the "Missouri Version" (see last entry in the first section of PDF Tune Sheets: and the notation here:  However in this video with Charlie Walden fiddling it's called "Tennessee Wagner." Yet perhaps this version is close to what one could call the Missouri Wagoner, in answer to Michael's question above.


BobTheGambler - Posted - 05/16/2016:  12:49:54

JanetB - Posted - 05/17/2016:  21:40:08

And so, that Baader-Meinhof phenomena happened here -- I somehow knew I'd hear more of Allen Sisson and thanks to Bob the Gambler above, now I have.  Here's some info about him:   He was born in 1873 in northern Georgia, was a Tennessee State Champion Fiddler, recorded ten sides for Edison in the 1920's, and one of those recordings was Kentucky Wagoner.  There's a relationship to the other Wagoners, but differences, too.  Sisson's descendants celebrated his musical accomplishment, as well as his clogging skill.

Bob Stiles is harder to find info on.  He was a Texas fiddler in a family band called the Four Old Timers whose Wagoner recording was included on the first cut of a 78 rpm album called "Turn Me Loose: Outsiders of Old-Time Music."  His version resembles Tennessee Wagoner as it's commonly played.  His band had a tuba played by his son, a banjo played by his other son, and his wife played piano.  Bob is shown on the album cover playing the fiddle with his left hand on top of the neck in a very unusual position.

BobTheGambler - Posted - 05/18/2016:  07:59:26




A couple more "Wagoners" from my collection that I couldn't find youtube links for: Uncle Am Stuart, Frosty Lamb, Esker Hutchins from his FRC disc, and Stephen Tucker from Herbert Halpert's Mississippi field recording.

Edited by - BobTheGambler on 05/18/2016 08:01:33

Paul Meredith - Posted - 05/18/2016:  20:06:32

Great pick Janet, and very informative write up & examples.  I first heard this tune from the Dillards & Berline Pickin & Fiddlin album - Berline was only 21 years old.  Byron Berline remains one of my favorite fiddlers.  His version of Wagoner starts at 16:20

Your banjo rendition is very nice!

JanetB - Posted - 05/19/2016:  08:22:02

Thanks, Pete and Paul, for contributing more examples of Wagoner. It shows the tune's wide appeal in more than one genre and throughout many states. 

Don Borchelt - Posted - 05/21/2016:  07:42:09

Janet wrote: "Don, old person speed is sometimes the best."

It reminds me of an old joke I heard once, about a young bull and an old bull grazing on top of a hill, looking down at a herd of cows in the pasture below.  The young bull says to the old bull, "I'm gonna run right down to that herd as fast as I can and have me one of them fine heffers."  The old bull replies, "You go right ahead, son.  Me, I'm gonna walk down and have the rest of them."


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 05/21/2016 07:42:42

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