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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 7/14/2017 Five Miles of Ellum Wood

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mjt0229 - Posted - 07/13/2017:  19:17:04

The TOTW for July 14th is Five Miles of Ellum Wood. Most resources I can find lead directly back to an album of the same name by the modern-day fiddler Bruce Greene, for whom old eastern Kentucky fiddle tunes are a specialty. As best I can tell, this is no exception. It’s the title track for one of Greene’s classic recordings, and I haven’t found any earlier recordings from historic instrumentalists.

I don’t have much additional information about the tune itself. It appears fiddlers play the tune in A modal (AEAE). I found banjo tabs for the tune using both A (aEAC#E) and A modal (aEADE). I’m still working out an arrangement, but I suspect I’ll prefer it in A despite one or two odd reaches. 

I looked around a bit to see if Ellum Wood was a place in Kentucky, but I didn’t find anything obvious. My guess is that “Ellum” refers to “elm”. Google turned up a clipping included in the The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society that references, “[t]he old ellum tree whar Breckinridge spoke”. Elm seems to be pretty common in Kentucky place names. I grew up in Ohio, a few hours north of Kentucky and we had some beautiful old elm trees that could easily have dated back to the days when this tune was new. Those trees are mostly gone now due to Dutch elm disease.

Five Miles of Ellum Wood came to my attention originally from a quick video the Pisgah Banjo Company posted to its Facebook page a few months ago, featuring Rachel Eddy playing the tune on her new banjo. I wasn’t already familiar with Rachel Eddy, but her playing is excellent and the tune stuck in my head. If you look around the internets, you can find plenty of relevant videos, but not too many solo banjo recordings. There are also a smattering of banjo tabs, including one on Tater Joe’s and one by the BHO’s own JanetB.

Here are a couple of tabs I found online:

And a few videos:


​I'm on the other side of the country from my banjos this week and next, but I'd love to finish an arrangement of the tune and post something sometime soon.



JanetB - Posted - 07/13/2017:  19:55:50

A superbly beautiful tune, Mark.  Bruce Greene is a national treasure himself.  

No"homework" for me this week!  I cleaned up my tab and here's my MP3.

RG - Posted - 07/13/2017:  21:52:24

Oh man, love playing this tune on both banjo and fiddle...always a conundrum at a jam when I have the other instrument in my hand-hahaha!  Great TOTW pick!!!

As always, very nice version Janet!

Edited by - RG on 07/13/2017 21:53:16

jack_beuthin - Posted - 07/14/2017:  07:33:28

Another really good one, and nicely presented.  I've been listening to this tune a good bit lately, and have faked it in a few jams, including the CROMA festival that just ended.  This just kicked it up on the "must learn now" list.

And yes, Bruce Greene--anything from Bruce Greene gets my attention.

I enjoy hearing this tune at a slower, more loping pace (eg, David Deacon, Janet B).  Seems to bring out the haunting quality a bit more.  But, hey, Foghorn's up-tempo rendering with finger-picked banjo ain't so shabby either.

I'll try to tab out David Deacon's version in the next few days.  There doesn't seem to be that much variation on this tune, but we can see how this compares to all the other tabs.

jack_beuthin - Posted - 07/14/2017:  14:49:04

Okay, I got David Deacon's fine banjo rendition tabbed (at least pretty close).  Note that he used sawmill tuning, whereas Janet used standard A tuning for her equally haunting rendition.  Either one works fine, all depending on how you want to play the tune.  Also, I played the Deacon rendition along with Bruce Greene's fiddling of this tune, and it meshes well.  Those slides on the fretless that David plays, really add a lot of flavor, but they work on a fretted banjo too.  Go forth and learn/play this fine tune.  I can now scratch it off my "must learn now" list.  Thanks Mark for the motivation to get this one to the top of my list.

Edited by - jack_beuthin on 07/14/2017 14:51:53

Winged Words - Posted - 07/15/2017:  03:41:46

Thanks for this tune Mark. One bar in Janet's tab was really tripping me up yesterday. I think it was bar 8 from memory. Not difficult, but my rh just couldn't get it. This morning it just clicked into place. It's those little wins that keep us all going I guess. Now to try Jack's tab of David Deacon's playing, which definitely reminded me I need a fretless.

Thanks to all and to all TOTW volunteers. I look forward to every Friday!

PS - does the A part of Janet's playing remind anyone else of Jeff Norman's version of Yew Piney Mountain? It seems to have the same feeling of mist through the trees.

Edited by - Winged Words on 07/15/2017 03:47:53

Beardog - Posted - 07/17/2017:  08:09:59

Great little tune! I am listening to it right now, trying to get it in my head. Gonna try to get it under my fingers on the fiddle first, then transfer it to clawhammer banjo next, as I am still so new to the clawhammer style.

Edited by - Beardog on 07/17/2017 08:12:45

Beardog - Posted - 07/23/2017:  07:29:42

Here is my quick and dirty beginner's try at the tune:


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