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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 8/12/16 - Snake Chapman's Tune

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EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/13/2016:  08:52:02

So, this Tune of the Week appeared for about 15 minutes last night. As is the case with many old-time tunes, it has more than one title, and after posting it I thought to myself "I did remember to check the TOTW archives under the other title, right?" Wrong. I wrote it up as Snake Chapman's Tune, but it was covered by J-Walk as Home With the Girls in the Morning in TOTW #173 back in 2011.  So I deleted the thread, intending to write up a different Snake Chapman tune today.

However, I have reconsidered, for a few reasons. First of all, J-Walk's post was quick "emergency back-up" one, filling in for a volunteer who had forgotten to post, and as such did not go in to much detail. I found the rather circuitous route by which the tune entered the old-time repertoire to be an interesting story, one worth telling. Also, even though Snake Chapman's Tune is the more recent name, originating only in the 1990s, today the tune seems to be known by that title as much if not more than it is by its original name; if someone is looking for information on Snake Chapman's Tune, they might not know to also search under Home With the Girls in the Morning.  And finally, I don't really have time to find, research, and write up a different tune today (even though I would much rather do that than work in the yard for hours in 95 degree heat).

So, in my role as the current TOTW Grand Poohbah, I have given myself special dispensation to post a tune that has basically already been covered.  I will, however, dock my pay as punishment.




Today's Tune of the Week is Snake Chapman's Tune, which - not surprisingly - comes to us from Kentucky fiddler Snake Chapman.  Or at least it sort of comes to us from Chapman - more about that later.

I was at Clifftop last week, and I came across references - musical, conversational, and otherwise - to Snake Chapman quite often over the course of the festival.

 photo 92abaa80-a76a-4545-9307-f6bef452f199.jpg

So I thought I would choose one of his tunes at this week's TOTW, and what better choice than his eponymous tune, one that I assumed was a signature tune of his.  As it turns out, he may not have played it very often and when he did he called it by a different name.  Still, it is a great tune, so here it is as a Tune of the Week.


OWEN 'SNAKE' CHAPMAN (1919-2003)

 photo 43d45a07-e926-4d76-bf50-40eca4a22f4c.jpg

photo by Brandon Ray Kirk

An excerpt from an extensive biography of Chapman - written by Paul Roberts - on the Rounder Records website:

Owen 'Snake' Chapman was born in 1919 near the town of Canada in north-eastern Kentucky. His personal story is almost an archetype for the experience of the Kentucky mountain people in the 20th century - born and raised in a log cabin, he worked as a coal miner from late teens to middle-age, retiring early with black lung and working briefly in the auto plants of Detroit before returning to the family home in Chapman's Hollow sometime in the late '60s.  Whilst 'archetype' isn't the first word that springs to mind to describe his highly individual fiddle style, Snake's musical history also runs the gamut of all the key developments and changes in Appalachian tradition during this period, and being gifted with an exceptional musical memory his playing is a kind of living archive of 20th century Kentucky fiddling.

His immediate family heritage probably reaches back as far as anyone still alive at the end of the 20th century.  His father, George 'Doc' Chapman, was born around 1850 (he was 67 when Snake was born) and thus learnt his music from the antebellum generation.  Consider this - Snake learnt fiddle when he was "eleven or twelve" off a father who must have been around 78 by then.  If Doc had done the same he would have been learning off someone born in 1783, a mere seven years after the Declaration of Independence!  On one level this is nothing special - many of the older fiddlers recorded in the 1920s and 30s played music rooted in the antebellum era - but there can be few fiddlers still alive able to claim this level of musical antiquity.  It is a sobering thought that two of Snake's uncles fought in the Civil War!

Snake, however, is a 20th century musician.  Whilst his initial influences were his father and the older players he met around Williamson (notably Ed Haley), it was the great Radio and Contest fiddlers of the thirties and forties he most tried to emulate in his youth, particularly (and predictably) Arthur Smith.  For a long time he played little of his older heritage, his main interest lying in the popular 'Hillbilly' music of the era, playing first with Clayton and Russell West as the Kentucky Redbirds (heavily influenced by the Delmore Brothers and the Dixieliners) , and then with Molly O'Day (Laverne Williamson) and her brother Cecil, though his music never lost the connection with dancing - much of this work seems to have been for square dances, and not just for radio and concerts.  In the '60s Snake almost inevitably got into Bluegrass, and one gets the impression he was a decent Bluegrass fiddler - he remains good friends with Kenny Baker - while in more recent times he has rediscovered the music of his father's generation and become involved in the Old Time revival - full circle.


As noted in that passage, Snake Chapman's old-time fiddling repertoire bookended his life - he learned and played local traditional tunes as a boy and young man, and then again during the last couple of decades of his life. In between he played a wide variety of music, including a great deal that he learned from popular radio broadcasts and records.  During those years he was influenced by Arthur Smith, Bob Wills, bluegrass greats like Kenny Baker, and many others. Accounts of his playing in 1958 suggest that he was basically playing bluegrass fiddle, and a list of his most common tunes at the time has little overlap with a similar list from the 1990s.

As late as the mid-1980s Snake was still largely playing modern, bluegrass tunes, but at about that time he began to be visited and recorded by field recorders such as Bob Butler, John Harrod, and Bruce Greene, who were of course looking for the old tunes Snake would have learned from his father and other older fiddlers in the 1920s and 30s.  In an interview with Scout Prouty Harrod suggests that those visits prompted Snake to concentrate more on the old-time fiddling of his youth:

"I don't know what the process was by which he went back to playing those older tunes.  Bob Butler visited him before we did and made a cassette recording of him which he sold. Of course, Bob Butler would have been asking for the old tunes; that could have been what got him started back on the old tunes.  In that 1986 video with Paul David Smith (, he was playing mostly bluegrass and modern tunes.  Left to himself, that's what he was playing in 1986. Then when they started recording him, people were asking for the old tunes and he kept up with them.  If he didn't have one he made one up.  He wouldn't claim it was old, he'd admit that he made it up.

Those field recordings led to several commercially recorded releases in the 1990s.  First came "Fiddle Ditty" in 1994 on Appalshop, followed by two albums on Rounder, "Up in Chapman's Hollow" (1996)  and "Walnut Gap (1999).  Those records helped bring Snake's music to a wider audience in the last decade of his life and introduced many of his tunes to the old-time jam repertoire.  Snake died in 2003 at the age of 84.



As alluded to above, there is a good bit of confusion surrounding Snake Chapman's Tune, with some casting doubt on whether Snake even played the it.  He did play the tune, but under another title.  It wasn't given its current name until fairly recently, and both titles are still in use, with many people not realizing they are referring to the same tune.  As best I can determine, here is how Snake Chapman's Tune has come down to us.

A traditional modal tune known by the name Home With the Girls in the Morning was in the repertoire of J. Dedrick Harris around the turn of the last century.  Born in Tennessee in 1868, Harris spent much of his life near Ashville, North Carolina, and became closely associated with the western North Carolina fiddling tradition.  In 1924 he became one of the region's earliest recording stars, when he and Ernest Helton cut six sides for the Broadway label in New York City; however, Home With the Girls in the Morning was not among them.  Other than one additional track - "The Cackling Hen' - recorded for Ralph Peer in 1925, those six records were Harris' entire commercial output.  Nevertheless, he had an enormous influence on an entire generation of western North Carolina fiddlers, and is credited with contributing a great many tunes to the area's prewar fiddle repertoire, including, it is assumed, Home With the Girls in the Morning.

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J. Dedrick Harris

At some point Bob Wills came across the tune, added lyrics, and recorded it in October of 1947.  It became one of those many tunes that Snake Chapman learned off of the radio or records during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and he continued to play it the rest of his life.  He eventually forgot the name of the tune, even if remembering that he got it from Bob Wills.

In the late 1980s, Bob Butler visited Chapman's Hollow and made recordings of Snake, recordings that included the now-nameless Bob Wills tune. In 1988 Bob put out a cassette of those sessions ("Snake Chapman and Paul Smith, Fiddle Music from Pike Co., KY" ) on which the tune was either untitled or called Bob Wills Tune.  Shortly thereafter Dirk Powell learned the tune from that cassette, and when he, John Hermann, and Tom Sauber included it on their 1993 album "One Eyed Dog" they renamed it Snake Chapman's Tune.

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Track #7 - Snake Chapman's Tune

That is the name by which it seems to have entered the contemporary old-time repertoire, and most current jam versions of the tune seem to be traced back to the Powell/Hermann/Sauber version.

This has caused some confusion, particularly with older fiddlers who played the tune as Home With the Girls in the Morning.  Kerry Blech relates this story:

A curiousity was that when Art Stamper was out in the Northwest a number of years ago, for the Fiddle Tunes festival, and finding out I was a fan of both his father's playing and Snake's (who lived near each other and knew and admired each other's playing), he cornered me for a few minutes and got his fiddle out. He plays this melody for me and then says "Do you know the name of that?" I nodded. "What do you call it?" I said "Go Home With the Girls In the Morning", and he replied "So do I, but all these people around here call it 'Snake Chapman's Tune.' I've played with Owen and he calls it the same thing I do." I said, "Where'd you learn it?"  "From Dirk Powell"  he replied, "about 6 months ago, but I heared it years ago, from Bob Wills."

It should be noted that before being popularized as Snake Chapman's Tune by Dirk Powell in the 1990s, other younger musicians and bands had played it over the years as Home With the Girls in the Morning.  Perhaps the best known of those versions was that by the Deseret String Band on their 1974 album "Land of Milk and Honey".  They stated that they also learned the tune from the Bob Wills recording, not from any earlier, traditional source. (Indeed, I could find no recording of the tune that predates the Bob Wills version; evidently until that time it had remained solely a part of the oral tradition.)



Snake Chapman's own version of Home With the Girls in the Morning/Snake Chapman's Tune was not included on any of his 1990s commercial releases.  As far as I know the only place it was ever released was on the 1988 Bob Butler cassette, which is long since out-of-print and as far as I can determine completely unavailable in any form.

The Dirk Powell/John Hermann/Tom Sauber version can be found on the compilation "Old Time Music on the Air", and a clip can be heard here:

The Bob Wills version:

The Deseret String Band:


Other versions that I have come across include:

Banjo and fiddle, Will Keys on banjo:

Fiddle, banjo, guitar: Ray

Fiddle, guitar, Claude and Jeanean

Solo banjo, Kenneth

Solo banjo, Blaise



Clawhammer version by Mike Iverson:

Three-finger melodic version by Cory;v=17334

Standard notation based on the Dirk Powell version can be found on the TaterJoes site:

Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 08/13/2016 16:38:59

Steve Donnelly - Posted - 08/13/2016:  13:55:40

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/13/2016:  16:22:10

Steve pointed me to this "unknown tune" BHO thread from last year, which turns out is mostly a discussion of Snake Chapman's Tune/Home With the Girls in the Morning.  Don Borchelt's post in the thread could pretty much serve as a TOTW write-up of the tune, so I would encourage you to read it for the additional information and recordings he includes.

Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 08/13/2016 16:24:35

JanetB - Posted - 08/13/2016:  21:35:23

Between you and Don there's lots of reading to enjoy, Brett, and lots of videos to watch. Thanks for giving such a detailed account of Snake Chapman's Tune.  I chose the One-Eyed Dog's recording to learn from as I always like John Herrmann's music.  The tune is interesting in its chordal flavor and allowed me to make choices between versions as I arranged it for clawhammer.  Perhaps a less notey version would be easier to play, but it was a good work-out in lots of eighth notes, double thumbs, hammer-ons, pull-offs, alternate string pull-offs, and a couple of tied notes.  Thanks, all, for indulging me every week in exploring these tunes.  Every one of them is a gem!

Edited by - JanetB on 08/13/2016 21:36:29

robinja - Posted - 08/14/2016:  08:25:21

I first heard this tune played by Greg Hooven on a Smithsonian Folkways Fiddle compilation. He called in "Won't Come Until Morning". You can listen to a snippet here:




vrteach - Posted - 08/15/2016:  07:38:09

I play it under the name "Came Home With the Girls in the Morning," based on the Deseret String Band version. I'll attach the version that I did a few years back before I had remembered the other verse that they sing. I just about always play it as a song, not as a fast tune.

VancePants - Posted - 08/17/2016:  16:19:56

Just listened to Janet's nice version... and noticed it was a TOTW... so, here's my effort from a while back, if'n anyone be interested.

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