Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

 All Forums
 Playing the Banjo
 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 09/16/2016 Liberty (Two-Step)

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:

vrteach - Posted - 09/16/2016:  08:04:44

For this week I'm submitting the well-known, and well-loved, D-tune "Liberty." It's a tune that I learned in my first or second year of playing banjo, 40 years ago, from tablature. I play it pretty much the same way today, and have never tired of it.

Although this melody is played just about everywhere in the US, in researching for this TOTW I must admit that I'm a little confused about the origin of the tune. Let's start out with the information from the Traditional Tune Archive.

Traditional Tune Archive:

LIBERTY [1]. AKA and see "Reel de Ti-Jean" (Canadian), "Tipsy Parson (1)," "Raccoon and the Possum," "Spanish Polka," "Liberty Two-Step," "Liberty Hornpipe." Old-Time, Bluegrass; Breakdown. USA, Widely known. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Silberberg): AABB (most versions). According to Paul Wells, the first recordings of the tune were by Texas fiddler Bob Wills, though Tommy Jackson also made a recording for Dot Records that may have helped popularize the tune. However, Meade finds earlier recordings by Georgia's Fiddlin' John Carson (1925), Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers (1928), and Herschel Brown (1928). Paul Tyler notes that "Liberty" seems to be the "hoedown" of choice among Cajun fiddlers, when asked to play one. "Liberty" is one of '100 essential Missouri tunes' listed by Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden. The reel is very popular among Ozarks fiddlers, according to Beisswegner & McCann, where it is often an introductory tune for beginning fiddlers (in simplified version), although the authors suspect it is a relatively recent addition to Ozarks fiddle repertoire. Indeed, "Liberty" has for some decades been an introductory tune for beginning old-time style fiddlers. In Martin Scorcese's period film The Gangs of New York (2002) a dulcimer player is briefly shown and heard playing the melody.


Recorded sources: Apex AL 1613, "The Best of Don Messer and his Islanders, Vol. 6" (appears as "Liberty Two-Step"). Front Hall 010, Fennigs All Stars- "The Hammered Dulcimer Strikes Again." Gennett 6447 (78 RPM), 1928, the Tweedy Brothers (Harry, Charles, and George, from Wheeling, W.Va., who played twin fiddles and piano). Heritage 048, Golden River Grass - "Georgia Fiddle Bands" (Brandywine, 1982). Kicking Mule, Art Rosenbaum- "Five String Banjo." Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association 001, Pete McMahan - "Ozark Mountain Waltz." Rounder 0016, Vasser Clements- "Crossing the Catskills."

I'm pretty sure I learned my version from the Art Rosenbaum album mentioned above, plus the associated tablature book.

But, when listening to the earliest recordings of "Liberty" they don't seem to be the melody in D that I know, and really to me sound more like the melody that the Traditional Tune Archive lists as "Liberty [2]", and which sounds to me very much like the melody I know as "Red Apple Rag" in G.

John Carson (1925)

Hershal Brown & His Washboard Band Orchestra (1929)

The Tweedy Brothers (1928)

So, when I looked for the source of the D tune I know, the earliest recording I found was by Don Messer in 1953. Don Messer was a fiddler from Canada (New Brunswick) who had been on radio and later television from 1929 until 1969.

Don Messer and His Islanders - Liberty Two-Step

Transferred from the LP "On The Air", a 1960 promotional item produced for Canada Packers, one of Messer's sponsors. The original single release was Apex 26394 (1953)

And then the next recording is the one of Jack Harris of East Texas (not sure of the date) which was transcribed in volume one of the Christeson collection published in 1973. Here is the recording of Jack Harris.

So? So I wonder if the tune is is a relatively recent introduction to the US fiddle community, rapidly spreading through radio and fiddle contests.

I'm not alone in being confused on the source of the tune, as evidenced by this "mudcat" thread:

I hope someone in the Hangout community can shed some more light on the origin of this melody. I would point out that there is a page on the tune in a blog associated with Mark O'Conner, but I think there are some errors in that, which seem to be just repeated from other sources: , still I have not been able to hunt down some of the British/Scottish tunes mentioned.

Anyway, it's a great tune There are 35 versions here in the BHO music archives, plus many in video. I'll attach one we recorded at our Wednesday session this week. I'll enjoy hearing more.

OH, I'm away from home, and when I get back I'll see if I can find an Ozark version that I got from hangout member M-D.


Edit: fixed some typos and made it a bit more clear that I'm talking about the D tune, not the G or C tunes. Still have not found my copy of the Ozark version.



Edited by - vrteach on 09/19/2016 19:46:32

mojo_monk - Posted - 09/16/2016:  09:11:35

Nice pick, Erich! Plenty of great versions of this tune floating around out there. The longer I've played the more interested I've become in revisiting the first tunes I learned. This is one of those tunes, so thanks for the kick in the pants.

Nice inclusion of the Tweedy Brothers version. Charles Tweedy's piano "backup" style is top-notch. The two brothers used to tour the mountains in a flatbed truck with an upright piano on it, performing for people in the towns they passed through! 

I'm interested to see what others contribute to this thread. Liberty is a great tune. I'm particularly fond of the Skillet Lickers version, usually called "Liberty off the Corn Liquor Still" since it comes from their comedy skit "Corn Liquor Still in Georgia". Anyways, here it is: 



JanetB - Posted - 09/16/2016:  09:57:30

Great pick, Erich, though I think we have two tunes going here.  The one you know is the one I know as Liberty, too, learned from John Burke's Old Time Fiddle Tunes for Banjo in the 70's.  What I discovered that's interesting is that when the tune is called Liberty 2-Step you get the version we know.  Try an on-line search.  It was popularized in the Ozarks and Canada.

AndrewD - Posted - 09/16/2016:  10:48:10

I think the older ones listed in the first post are "Liberty off the corn liquor store". Great tune - But not the Liberty I know (I also got it from the John Burke book in the 70s).. The fiddler I play with has been pushing me to learn the Corn Liquor one. I think I'll do just that.

bhniko - Posted - 09/16/2016:  12:16:32

Whoooh...that's a foot twiching tune. Erich...fine perky picking.

JanetB - Posted - 09/17/2016:  13:01:34

Thought I'd give both Liberty versions a try.  The one you play, Erich, is quite familiar, but you added something to new to mine.  I found your fiddled Liberty on Fiddle Hangout and liked your notes in the B part for a down-the-neck variation.  

The other Liberty comes from Fiddlin' John Carson of Georgia, whose 1923 recordings are considered to be the first records of country music.  It was the only Liberty version from the links above that wasn't crooked.

Edited by - JanetB on 09/17/2016 13:02:10

Don Borchelt - Posted - 09/17/2016:  13:22:57

Fine picking, Erich, I always like to hear you play.  And of course, fine picking by Janet also.  The Skillet Lickers Liberty, aka Liberty Off the Corn Licker Still, is a completely different tune, as is the Bob Wills' Liberty.  I think Messer's version is probably the earliest recording of the version Eric is picking, and the one I believe he intends as the TOTW.  I learned it originally from Doc Watson's picking, on the Flatt & Scruggs Columbia Album Strictly Instrumental, which was released in 1966.

Tommy Jackson recorded the tune for Dot records in 1954, a year after Don Messer's recording, and it wouldn't surprise me if Jackson got it from the Messer recording.  Messer was a big influence on fiddlers in the lower 48 in his day.

Ed Britt and I have been playing this one for awhile.  Here we are busking in Harvard Square five years ago.


I have been meaning to learn Liberty Off the Corn Licker Still for awhile; we play it a lot at a jam I attend in Somerville, Massachusetts every Sunday evening, but I've pretty much been faking it for years.  I think now I'll figure it out from Janet.  Thank you, Janet.

- Don Borchelt

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 09/17/2016 13:31:58

rickhayes - Posted - 09/18/2016:  16:36:27

Fine picking everyone.

Zischkale - Posted - 09/19/2016:  09:33:20

Shocked that we haven't gotten around to Liberty yet! Thanks for covering it, Erich - great picking in the mp3 you posted, I really like the mandolin taking harmony over banjo at around 1:20. Reminds me of Fuzzy Mountain String Band doing "Protect the Innocent." Need more of that.

vrteach - Posted - 09/19/2016:  19:30:18

Aaron: mostly I was mighty pleased to be able to grab Liberty (2-Step) for a TOTW! I also like it when Mark goes to low harmony on the mandolin, while I go to high harmony on the banjo. In this case we still had the fiddle in the middle, but if it is just the two of us the melody is left implied between us. It's like we are making REAL music!

Don: I always like to hear your duets with Mr Britt.

Janet: I've never thought of doing the B part high rather than low. I think I'll try to steal that from you.



Edit: I would add that Liberty off the Corn Liquor Still is still open for a TOTW, in my opinion.

Edited by - vrteach on 09/19/2016 19:35:00

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Privacy Consent
Copyright 2024 Banjo Hangout. All Rights Reserved.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories