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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW, 7/22/16 -- Chased Old Satan

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JanetB - Posted - 07/22/2016:  07:25:21

Starry Crown is the title of a Rhys Jones and Christina Wheeler CD and is the memorable phrase in the chorus of Chased Old Satan, track 13.  The source recording is from the two-sided issue of a 1931 session by the Woodie Brothers with Ralph Peer called Chased Old Satan Through the Door.  This is the first time I’ve chosen a song with lyrics for TOTW, as opposed to strictly instrumental.  When I first heard Rhys and his wife, Christina, playing twin banjos it was the fiddles that attracted me, but once I heard the lyrics it doubled my enjoyment.  The biblical exhortation of “resist the devil and he will flee” came to mind.


I met old Satan down the lane

Hit him on the head with a walking cane

And I’m going to wear that starry crown over there


I chased old Satan round the stump

Gave him a kick for every jump

And I’m going to wear that starry crown over there


I run old Satan through the door

And hit him on the head with a two-by-four

And I’m going to wear that starry crown over there



Over there, over there, I’m going to wear that starry crown over there

For I got no skillet and I got no lid

But ash cakes taste like shortening bread

And I’m going to wear that starry crown over there.


I wondered about ash cakes, thinking they were associated with Native Americans.  I discovered they’re made around the world, and include “foods such as potatoes, corn, onions, and nuts which can be roasted by burying them in hot ashes for insulation and placing live coals on top of the ashes. Ash cakes were also baked by wrapping dough in cloth, placing them in a cleaned out corner of the fireplace, and covering them with ashes and coals. They were supposed to have a delicious flavor when baked that way, but it was difficult to control the heat, or keep the bread clean. (From 'Don's Spicy Kitchen’).”  I watched a video demonstrating ash cake cooking methods.  Beginning at 4:04 you can see how cornbread is mixed and baked.

I also wondered about the words “starry crown.”  The Starry Crown (a different song completely) appeared as a hymn as early as 1750, and is also the title of an 1869 Sunday school melody book publication.  The phrase appears in the lyrics of Down to the Valley to Pray (one of my favorite Doc Watson songs) and in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” as Down to the River to Pray.  The 1897 hymn Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown has been sung by Alison Krauss and the Cox Family. 

Though starry crown is not a term mentioned in the bible, it’s easy to figure out the meaning – if one resisted evil temptations (chased old Satan), doing good in this life, then a heavenly reward was forthcoming (I’m gonna wear that starry crown over there).  Financial problems (I’ve got no skillet and I’ve got no lid) can be surmounted by seeking alternatives (ash cakes taste like shortening bread).  The message is that those who live wisely and righteously shall shine like stars.

The Woodie brothers who recorded Chased Old Satan in 1931 were from one of the “lost provinces” of North Carolina – Ashe, Alleghany, and Watauga  counties – a reference to this region’s historic isolation from the rest of North Carolina caused by the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  There’s a CD with some tracks by Ephraim Woodie and the Henpecked Husbands, as well as other groups who recorded between 1927 and 1931:  Music from the Lost Provinces.  Their musical heritage was rich, including the likes of G.B. Grayson, Al Hopkins, Frank Blevins, and Albert Hash.

The brothers were Ephraim, Dale, and Lawton Woodie.  Ephraim was born in 1906, achieved the rank of colonel, overcoming nearly-blinding cataracts as a child, and died in 1978.  He is credited as Chased Old Satan’s author, though we know of performers who would make this claim in order to own the song’s copyright.  The song is said to have borrowed lyrics from other songs.  Lawton played harmonica and Ephraim played a Gibson L-4 guitar – a present from his brother for his high school graduation the year before. They recorded for Ralph Peer, the clever, ambitious A&R (artist and repertoire) man from Okeh records, on May 29th, 1931, but only sold less than 900 records.  

BHO member Mojo Monk, (Sean Barth) did research and a tab, so check out this information:   Thumb-lead banjo tab and story behind Chased Old Satan   You can also learn more here:  Colonel Ephraim Woodie.  

The Woodie brothers performed with guitar and harmonica, but many recordings include banjo.  Some of my favorite performers of Chased Old Satan are included below – Rhys Jones, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Uncle Earl.  Enjoy!



Carolina Chocolate Drops

Uncle Earl

John C. Campbell Folk School

Stairwell Sisters

Sail Away Ladies

Frailin Craig Evans and Deb duet

My arrangement for clawhammer banjo is simple – I basically “play the words.”  I’d appreciate hearing others’ banjo styles and hope you’ll give this one a try.

Edited by - JanetB on 07/22/2016 08:02:21

Chased Old Satan

Chased Old Satan (CH) tab

banjered - Posted - 07/22/2016:  09:57:42

Delightful. Nice singing -more! Thanks! Banjered

bhniko - Posted - 07/22/2016:  13:55:00

A great 'pick me upper' on this Saturday afternoon. Great pick for TOTW.

rickhayes - Posted - 07/22/2016:  14:27:24

Yes, Janet, fine playing and singing and a good tune.  Picked Richard up so much he jumped right into the weekend a day early! wink


Bill Rogers - Posted - 07/22/2016:  15:43:48

Good one.  I'm jealous of you singing smiley.

JanetB - Posted - 07/23/2016:  09:24:16

Thanks for the positive response to the song!

I've written to Rhys Jones regarding his learning source for Chased Old Satan and also his use of "Starry Crown" for the CD title as well as his business name, but haven't heard back yet.  I'm fairly certain he learned the song from the 1931 Victor reading, headed by Ralph Peer.  

As I read more about Peer I'm developing a gratitude for folks like him that brought the music to our ears.  I'd been wanting to get his biography ever since re-reading the Carter Family's biography Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone by Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirshberg.  Knowing that Peer recorded the Woodie Brothers, I finally got the book Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music.  It doesn't include the Woodie Brothers, but the history of his career and the people he recorded is fascinating.  

Peer listened carefully to regional musical styles and sought to commercialize and catalogue ones that the market would be hungry for.  The Woodies recorded with a band in 1929 and as a duet in 1931, but the economic market wasn't favorable for their success.  Their style would fit in with his "Old Familiar Tunes" series, also known as Hill Country Music.  It was during the Depression when the rare success stories like the Carter Family still flourished, but even they eventually had to go to Texas to be on the air and continue their money-making venture.  

Some of the names associated with Ralph Peer's recording success are Mamie Smith, Fiddling John Carson, Al Hopkins and the Hill Billies, Louis Armstrong, Vernon Dalhart, Henry Whitter, Emmett Miller, and of course the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and many, many more.  Peer was a spearhead for genre development such as blues, jazz, country, and and old time music.  

Peer also piloted the notion of taking advantage of copyrights and sought to own them upon recording his chosen material.  Copyrights made him rich and also alerted musicians to the possibilities of earning more money with their music.  The Woodies were paid only the small portion due to them upon recording by the now-famous Victor Talking Machine company.  I believe the figure was $50 per side.  I'm about a third done with the book and recommend it to those of you who like to know more of the historic picture.


Edited by - JanetB on 07/23/2016 09:36:56

Ralph Peer biography


blanham - Posted - 07/23/2016:  11:23:38

Very nice playing and singing, Janet!  I've liked this song ever since I heard it on Flying Jenny's first CD.  They credit the Woodie Brothers in the liner notes.

JeroenJ - Posted - 07/23/2016:  13:54:36

Janet, how do you do that little "ditty" on the fifth string? I am clueless how you can make it sound twice, subtle as it is.

JanetB - Posted - 07/23/2016:  14:46:40


Originally posted by JeroenJ


How do you do that little "ditty" on the fifth string? I am clueless how you can make it sound twice, subtle as it is.

Do you mean the sound of my thumb hitting the drum head and the 5th string simultaneously as it gets into position right before plucking the 5th string?  Timing-wise it would occur at the time you play a "dit' in "bum-ditty."

JanetB - Posted - 07/23/2016:  14:59:33


Originally posted by blanham


Very nice playing and singing, Janet!  I've liked this song ever since I heard it on Flying Jenny's first CD.  They credit the Woodie Brothers in the liner notes.

Thanks, Bob -- that means a lot coming from you.  I see that Joyce Cauthen from Flying Jenny recorded an anthology of Alabama fiddlers called "Possum Up a Gum Stump, Home, Field and Commercial Recordings of Alabama Fiddlers."  I have her book With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow, Old-Time Fiddling in Alabama, but haven't become familiar with it yet.  Thanks for the link with Joyce's band -- here it is embedded from youtube.  I'd not heard of their banjo player, Charlie Hunter, before -- he can sure claw!


Edited by - JanetB on 07/23/2016 15:00:15

JeroenJ - Posted - 07/25/2016:  04:13:34

Thank you, Janet. When I land the thumb on the fifth string, there's just no way I can make it ring before plucking it. I did not want to be too technical. I only noticed how nice and subtle that fifth string ditty is.

JanetB - Posted - 07/25/2016:  19:08:10

I think it's admirable that you're listening carefully to nuances and banjo tones, Jeroen.  I do, too.  In fact, because my 5th string tended to resonate a lot  -- too much for my tastes -- I thought I'd try a hide head from BHO member John Balch to replace the fyber skin one that came with my banjo.   I just put on the new goatskin hide last week.  Then two days ago I put on some nylgut strings.  I want my banjo to sound warm, clear, bright, and mellow all at once.  I like the result so far and think I can hear the difference in my trial recordings.  

When a banjo plays with a fiddle I like to hear it plunking beneath the fiddle's prominent, constant, bowed resonance.  That's the sound I'm trying to get from my Mac Traynham Whyte Laydie.  That particular tone ring is known to be very bright and sustaining, and I've always put a towel or piece of foam behind the head to buffer extra sound.  With this new set-up I don't need to stuff the head.  My 5th string sounds clear, but doesn't have the extra overtones heard in many of my MP3s.  The other strings don't "twang" so much.

Another aspect to consider in listening is the interplay of banjo with vocals.  I didn't want the banjo to overwhelm the voice so much so that you can't decipher the words.  I had to record Chased Old Satan more than once because my microphone was closer to the banjo than my mouth and I played louder than I sang.  I've heard lots of home recordings guilty of this. I've often had trouble hearing what people are singing until I see the lyrics in writing because their banjo is too loud.  It could be I'm hard of hearing ("what did you say?" is a phrase I had to use with my first graders many times), but if a person enunciates the words or I'm already familiar with the lyrics I can hear them clearly.  There's a fine art to all of this and you've got me expressing my thoughts.....

Zischkale - Posted - 07/26/2016:  06:30:29

Thanks for posting, Janet! Really like hearing a banjo song to shake up the typical fiddle tune repertoire, and hadn't heard this one. Really like the baritone harmony vocals in the Woodies, this one sounds like a lot of fun to sing. Also, thanks for the description of the hide head on your 'jo - I saw a John Balch ad for them recently and was very tempted. I need to compare this sound to your previous recordings -- were your last couple TOTW's done on the same banjo, with the original fyber skin head and tone ring?

JanetB - Posted - 07/26/2016:  10:04:12

Nice to hear from you, Aaron.  To answer your question, this is the first TOTW recording where I used the John Balch 5-star goatskin hide head.  However, the nylgut strings weren't on the banjo yet and I'll be expecting a different tone than in Chased Old Satan where I still had steel strings.  

The last two TOTW recordings were on the same banjo with the original fiber skin head and Whyte Laydie tone ring.  With the new nylgut strings I'm finding that my fingernail needs to be very smooth because the string has some texture to it, compared to the smoothness of a steel string.  I sometimes use a plastic Alaska pick to clawhammer, almost always giving a brighter, clearer tone than my bare nail.  

So many banjo-tinkering methods for experimentation.....

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