When I first heard Duck River I already liked it and when it was associated with Kentucky fiddler John Salyer’s (1882 – 1952) repertoire I wanted to learn more. It’s been challenging to compare tunes said to be very similar, such as Dubuque, Old Dubuque, Hell on the Nine Mile, Trouble on the Nine Mile and many more.
John Salyer’s sons recorded him at home in 1941 as he was reluctant and distrustful about getting involved in any commercial venture in music. Duck River is said by Jeff Titon in Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes to be part of a larger family of tunes. Read here about Duck River alternate titles and as part of a tune family.
Dubuque, or Old Dubuque is as popular as Duck River, but is associated with mid-west fiddlers. Charlie Walden has it on his 100 Essential Fiddle Tunes list. The source recording is Uncle Richard (Dick) Blaine Hutchison (1897 – 1986), a native Missourian who moved to Oklahoma. Uncle Dick also called it Trouble on the Nine Mile. R. P. Christeson of Missouri recorded Nebraska fiddler Bob Walters in 1951, playing it as Old Dubuque, #91 in The Old Time Fiddlers Repertory, Vol. 1. More information is found in Tune Archive discussion of the tune Dubuque with history of the town called Dubuque, located on the Mississippi River in Iowa.
There is also a good discussion on Fiddle Hangout of Bob Walter’s recording of Old Dubuque with references to older sources for similar tunes, including a minstrel one with lyrics, Possum Up a Gum Stump -- Fiddle Hangout discussion of Old Dubuque.
Sometimes recordings interchange the A and B part of one with the other, but the flavor of the song remains the same and unless you really study them you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. In one case the entire tune called Duck River was just like Uncle Dick’s version of Old Dubuque. To help me learn them as separate tunes I recorded a medley of them, so you can hear them side by side and see how similar you think they are.
Don’t forget your contribution here is most welcome. It’s what makes TOTW interesting and fun. I had to embed my video, as something is preventing it from uploading to BHO from youtube.
A fine rendition by Janet, just a great old tune, so great it needs more than one name. I'm surprised it hasn't been done already. Around here (the Boston area), when you suggest it, you often hear groans from players who think of it as an overworked chestnut. Not me, I could play it all night. Actually, we played it at the Old Time Jam last night for about ten minutes, at the Burren Pub in Somerville, led by the great fiddler Alan Kaufman. At some point, I turned on the voice recorder on my cellphone, and picked up the last three minutes or so. You can listen to it here. There were about six fiddlers, three guitarists, two mandolinists, a cellist, and one banjo picker (me). The banjo doesn't come across too clearly, but at least you will get an idea of how much fun we are having. If you are ever in the Boston area and feeling like some music on a Sunday evening, come by, goes basically from 6pm to 9pm.
Thanks for your kind comments and for Don’s recording of a Boston jam. The Duck River article was interesting in revealing that it’s neither in Kentucky or Missouri. The extent of travel of our favorite tunes never quite surprises me.
You’re right, Josh. Nancy Dawson was covered here in 2012 as Nancy Dalton and is indeed in the same family — good discovery and another nice rendition by you: TOTW, 10/19/12, Nancy Dalton. Jeff Titon includes it as Nancy Dawson, played by Isham Monday in his epic book Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes and notes the connections, too. Jeff also includes Duck River in his book, recorded by John Salyer’s sons. Though in the same family of tunes mentioned, Duck River was unique to the Salyers. All very interesting.