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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 06/17/2016 – Pretty Little Widow

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:

Mtngoat - Posted - 06/16/2016:  19:55:14

TOTW (OT) 06/17/2016 – Pretty Little Widow

I’ve chosen Pretty Little Widow for this installment of TOTW.  North Georgia fiddler Clayton McMichen (1900 – 1970) learned the tune from his father around 1913.  McMichen joined the popular Skillet Lickers band in 1925 and recorded Pretty Little Widow with that group on October 23, 1928.

Skillet Lickers:

A biography of McMichen is here:


John Ashby (1915 – 1979) of Fauquier County, Virginia, recorded the tune for Ray Alden.  He credited McMichen as his source:

A remembrance of Ashby is here:


Sammy Walker (1910 – 1987) of Barren County, Kentucky recorded this version for Bruce Green in 1975:


Larry Sigmon & Martha Spencer recorded this banjo and bass duet in 2015:


A short history and discography of the tune is on the Bluegrass Messengers site here:


Readers are encouraged to post comments, performances and tabs.

BTW, I will be offline for at least the next week and perhaps more, depending on how well things go.  I will check in if the opportunity presents itself but you, dear readers, will likely hear little from me during that time.  I thank you in advance for your contributions.  They are greatly appreciated.

janolov - Posted - 06/18/2016:  10:04:55

I think it is a good tune - and it is worth more comments and reflections that have showed up till now.

I began to look for tab and notation and other versions, and I found that PLW seems to be both a D tune and an A tuner. I find similarities between the different version

  1. John Burke's book Old Time Fiddle Tunes For Banjo contains a tab in double D tuning (aDADE)

  2. Also contains a tab in gCGCD which seems to be a deciphered version of John Burke's tab:

  3. The other versions above seems to be in A or G 

I also found Stringbean on . I think his version is worth a listening.

JanetB - Posted - 06/18/2016:  15:34:22

Thanks, Mtngoat and Jan-Olov.  It was fun to learn about Pretty Little Widow.  I've been wanting to know more about Clayton McMichen who I recall Bill Monroe describing as someone whose music influenced him.  

Stringbean's quick, expressive performance was great!  He plays energetically, but it doesn't seem difficult to do, with simple noting and slides and clawhammer rhythm.  

One thing I've noticed about all the versions is that the instrumental A part uses the "double tonic" or mixolydian mode, but the vocals don't and resemble the B part.  It's the A part that's the catchy aspect of the tune.  Another thing is that sometimes the A and B parts are played more than twice.

I put together three sources for a clawhammer arrangement -- Clayton McMichen, William Stepp, and John Ashby.  The latter two are both on the Slippery Hill site: and

Pretty Little Widow (TOTW)

Pretty Little Widow (CH) tab

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