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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW, 9/23/16 -- Pretty Little Dog

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 - 09/23/2016:  08:37:38

Sometimes it’s a friend, a jam, a workshop, a concert, or a CD/DVD that gets you motivated to learn a new tune.  In this case it was after reading Lew Stern’s new book Dwight Diller, West Virginia Musician that I got inspired to further seek out this region’s music.  Pretty Little Cat had its turn as TOTW, so now here is Pretty Little Dog.  I found it on an album called Old Drake featuring Dwight and Jimmy Triplett.  The tune's author is Lee Triplett, though no relation to Jimmy, as Carl Baron pointed out to us (thanks, Carl!).

Many West Virginia tunes are in sawmill tuning, as is Pretty Little Dog (gDGCD, capoed or re-tuned up two frets).  I never tire of hearing them and learning a new one is a great treat.  They sound good in medleys, such as with Old Drake, Ducks on the Millpond, or Yew Pine Mountain.  The melody of Pretty Little Dog reminds me of the family of tunes including Clinch Mountain Backstep.   


 photo triplett_lee_up_standard_zpsrhzanqjk.jpg

Lee Triplett (from:


Lee is recognized with these words in the WV encyclopedia site: “Clay County has always been proud of its mountain music. Many of its old-time musicians have distinguished themselves at state and national festivals. French Carpenter, Doc White, Ira Mullins, Lee Triplett, Wilson Douglas, and Jenes Cottrell were all well known in their time as traditional mountain musicians….One of the most intensive and competitive fiddle contests in our state has always been at the Glenville festival, even though the only prize is a blue ribbon. Clay County’s Lee Triplett and Ira Mullins carried on a lifetime rivalry at Glenville, to the delight of the festival audience.”

It’s been a bit hard to get much information about Lee Triplett and perhaps some readers here can help.  You can hear him recorded on the Digital Library of American recordings.  From Dwight I heard a story about the tune and a bit more.  It goes that as Lee was having difficulty learning a tune from another fiddler, he composed Pretty Little Dog.  Dwight says, “Doc White, from the same Clay County community, played Pretty Little Shoes.  Lee said, ‘I could never get it right so I made up Pretty Little Dog and Pretty Little Cat’….Lee Triplett was about 70 years old back in ‘72/’73…He never drove a vehicle.  Said, ‘I can drive a blind horse (under reins) through the woods, but I never drove a car.’”  Lee befriended Dwight, and was certainly one of his mentors.

In the 1973 recording below you can hear Lee state he “made two tunes in one day.”  From Dwight we know the other tune was Pretty Little Cat, and so I think Doc White had a little dog and a little cat that inspired the titles.  Here are both tunes:

Lee Triplett's Little Dog

Lee Triplett's Little Cat    (This was TOTW on April 11, 2014.  Lee wasn’t mentioned, yet now we know he indeed wrote Pretty Little Cat, though it was played by and credited to Wilson Douglas.  Wilson’s recording was done in the 1990’s.  Lee’s was in 1971 and you can hear him say at the beginning, “Let’s play Doc White’s Little Cat.”)

And here are just some of the good versions on Banjo Hangout which demonstrate the variety of styles expressed in Pretty Little Dog:

Bob Blanham

Chip Arnold



Yigal Zan and Brian Duncan duet (Yigal on fiddle)

Cathy Cress  

Guy Wolf

Other great samples:

Dwight Diller and David Nemec, track 14

Fuzzy Mountain String Band, track 15

Annie and Mac

Hilarie Burhans tutorial

This is musical notation as printed in The Session website:

My take on Pretty Little Dog comes from Lee Triplett and from Hilarie Burhans’ video tutorial.  I play it like Lee with an AB pattern.  Hope you’ve enjoyed these many examples and give it a try, too.  If you have a pretty little dog photo I’d sure enjoy seeing it!


Edited by - JanetB on 09/24/2016 09:02:37

trapdoor2 - Posted - 09/23/2016:  10:32:37

Another one of my favorite tunes. For me, the definitive version is that of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. I bought that album when it hit the stands and it has been on my playlist ever since.

It is well to note that TAB for this tune is included in the seminal "Clawhammer Banjo" tutor by Miles Krassen. IIRC, Bob Blanham's version is from his compendium of tunes from that work.

Well done again, Janet!

BANJOJUDY - Posted - 09/23/2016:  15:48:07

Thanks for this Tune of the Week.   It is a favorite of mine that, imo, doesn't get played enough.  

tommac - Posted - 09/23/2016:  16:08:52

Here's another from a few years ago.

dbrooks - Posted - 09/23/2016:  16:46:29

Nice choice. We play this one often at out weekly contra dances.


Twangcat - Posted - 09/23/2016:  18:57:56

I enjoy learning tunes by ear and have been working on this one for the past couple of days by listening to it and watching videos of it being played. I'm especially fond of the version Tom plays (posted above).  Having it appear as the TOTW is a happy coincidence. Great tune and nice to know its history. I'll be keen on learning Pretty Little Cat as well. Thanks for posting it.

Edited by - Twangcat on 09/23/2016 19:02:02

rickhayes - Posted - 09/23/2016:  20:01:15

For a tune that seems so popular I'm surprised I don't remember ever hearing it.  Enjoyed your take Janet along with all the others' you cited. 

janolov - Posted - 09/23/2016:  21:36:50

It is one of my favorite tunes. As a curious coincident, yesterday (Friday) we had to took away our 11.5 year old Daisy. She was Old English Sheepdog and a very pretty dog, but she was very tired at the end. Fortunately we have a new 14 week old Bernen Senner.


carlb - Posted - 09/24/2016:  03:57:50


Originally posted by JanetB

and Jimmy Triplett, son of Lee Triplett -- the tune’s author.

As far as I know, this is not true. They are not related.

JanetB - Posted - 09/24/2016:  09:01:09

Thanks, Carl, for pointing out that Lee and Jimmy Triplett aren't related.  I'll fix it above.  This was confirmed in a Fiddle Hangout post which also has a picture of Lee I hadn't yet seen:  We still don't have much information about Lee.

Jan, sorry to hear about your dog, Daisy, and the picture is worth a thousand words!

Thanks, Tom, for including another fine version of Pretty Little Dog.  Here's your embedded version:



bhniko - Posted - 09/24/2016:  10:49:11

Janet, seems like you never stop and thank goodness for that.

As mentioned to you before you have made my playing the banjo so interesting and helpful since knowing you.

Never would have done the research that you offer up on the old time players.

Have to bottle up that energy and put it up for sale.

Well done as always.

chip arnold - Posted - 09/24/2016:  12:41:51

Thank you so much for including my version. :-)


Yigal Zan - Posted - 09/25/2016:  16:20:56

Here is an example of how we played PLD some time in the upper half of the 1970s. The fiddler is most likely Chris Romain. I play the banjo. The recording was in Albuquerque, on a cassette tape, by Doug Casteel of Corrales NM, an unofficial student of mine, a good banjo and other instruments player, a vintage banjo collector and restorer. 

JanetB - Posted - 09/25/2016:  19:10:03

Thanks, Yigal, for sharing Pretty Little Dog which you recorded so long ago.  Lee Triplett's recording was in 1972, though I don't know when he wrote the tune.  Lots of us seniors began playing in the 70's.  Your version tells me I should have saved my cassette recordings, as you did....

Glad to hear from you Dick and Chip.  Your version was great, Chip, and the guitar adds depth.

It would still be fun to see more of our pretty little puppies.  Here's Holly, my daughter's new pup, still so young her big ears wouldn't stand.  What a bundle of energy and thank goodness for naps!

 photo abc7affe-2618-47b4-a9cb-40aa6488e3fa_zpsrhshynxh.jpg




OldPappy - Posted - 09/25/2016:  21:15:00

I absolutely love this tune. For reasons I cannot explain it always reminds me of a time when I was a kid and was just trotting along a little mountain stream just for the joy of running in such a beautiful place. That is the picture this tune paints for me.

Week before last Dwight played this tune(on fiddle), over the phone for me. He just wanted me to hear it, and it was beautiful.

As I type this, I am sitting in my camper in Dwight's front yard. I came up to deliver a new banjo I built for him, and we have been playing music all day long, along with Ralph Roberts, and a few other local musicians. A grand time was had by all.

Dwight is known more for banjo, but he is a powerfully good fiddler too, and plays this tune wonderfully.

Tomorrow I am going to ask him to play it, so I can start picking it up on banjo.

Good Pick!!

Since we are sharing photos, here is one of my "Pretty Little Dogs"




Edited by - OldPappy on 09/25/2016 21:17:55


Don Borchelt - Posted - 09/26/2016:  09:05:47

A fine choice for TOTW, and extra fine picking from Janet, as elegant and graceful as ever.  I especially like the nice nice harmonizations, Janet, that you sneak into the B part the second time through.  I also loved Tom Mackenzie's wonderful version, and not just because I love a little brush with my clawhammer.  Ended too quick, though!  Yigal Zan is always a pleasure, even as a youngster, it's clear he was a master.

I finished and uploaded the video below ealier today; I haven't played it in awhile, and I was surprised how fast it came back to me.  I am three finger picking my short scale, semi-fretless Paramount, in a variant of open A (aEABE), with the 2nd string tuned down a half step.

Gonna get me a dog, I think.

- Don Borchelt

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 09/26/2016 09:06:18

JanetB - Posted - 09/26/2016:  15:10:18

When a title or tune stirs our memories and gives us images, that's powerful, OldPappy.  And your stories of Dwight are most cheering.  Your little dog looks to be extra special (not to mention that matching shoe in the photo -- yours?)!  I'd sure like to hear Dwight on that new banjo you made, so please post when you can.

Don, your Pretty Little Dog is indeed pretty.  You go up the neck like no other.  Did you play this with stitches in your right hand?  The tuning you use isn't one I've used much at all and the modal sound it makes catches my ear right away.  If it's down one step to gDGAD, Anita Kermode calls it "Willie Moore tuning" as well as "Moonshiner tuning" (

Here's another photo, and I hope to see more.  An unplanned litter produced the dog of my grandson's dreams!  Her mom is little, but Whiney is going to be big one day (and I can't get the photo smaller -- I'm learning to use Photobucket).


 photo 5ecaaa3a-e9ff-47ac-9ed4-eab41001d8a5_zpsgsioln5j.jpg

Edited by - JanetB on 09/26/2016 15:12:20

Yigal Zan - Posted - 09/26/2016:  16:56:17

Regarding Janet's saying that "Lee Triplett's recording was in 1972, though I don't know when he wrote the tune,..." The Fuzzy Mountain String Band's album where PLD is track 15, was out in 1971. They must have learned the tune from earlier performances.

JanetB - Posted - 09/26/2016:  17:19:58

Thanks, Yigal.  The liner notes of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band credit Pretty Little Dog to Lee Triplett, so he was already playing it by 1971.  Perhaps they learned it when Lee was active in fiddle competitions and attended conventions, as in Glenville, West Virginia.  His recordings on the Digital Library of Appalachia were done in Carter County, Kentucky at the Mountain Heritage Festival in both 1971 and 1973.  We don't have much information on Lee Triplett yet, but perhaps more will surface.

OldPappy - Posted - 09/26/2016:  20:50:34

Don't have a clue whose shoe that is, but do know it most certainly is not mine. Probably one of the kids was sitting on the other side of the table.

 That pretty little dog I posted a picture or is "Dixie"

Here is a picture of Dwight and Lee playing together, and another of Dwight playing a banjo I built a couple years ago..

Edited by - OldPappy on 09/26/2016 20:53:31


JanetB - Posted - 09/28/2016:  10:35:12

Thanks for the photos, Andy.  I read Dwight's comment (in Lew's book, referenced above) about Lee Triplett as one of the influential "Old People" in his life -- he "fed coal to my boiler and turned the heat up."

On Fiddle Hangout I found Lee's birth date --  July 6, 1897.  There's also reference to a video with Lee playing fiddle, but the link no longer works (

Don Borchelt - Posted - 09/28/2016:  12:53:56

Janet asked: "Did you play this with stitches in your right hand?"

Yeah, but when i went yesterday to have the stitches out, the doc told me it hasn't healed, and to lay off the picking for a little while.  Holy crap!


JanetB - Posted - 09/28/2016:  13:13:22

Uh oh, Don, you ought to rest that hand.  I recommend trying a harmonica for a week.  All I could find so far on youtube is Pretty Little Dog on the jaw harp -- not my idea of pretty.


tommac - Posted - 10/01/2016:  09:55:27

The latest of our Pretty Little Dogs, though not so little.


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