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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 9/20/2019 Johnson Boys


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/357112

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  10:29:11


Wade Ward's "Johnson Boys" appears on County Records' Clawhammer Banjo, v. 3 (CO-2718-CD), and I suspect that's where it first caught my ear. But, it's Jont Blevins' version, published on The Field Recorders' Collective (FRC117), that inspired this Tune of the Week choice. I'm very fond of his playing.



The Traditional Tune Archive entry labels the tune as an old-time reel in D but mentions that it's also played as a song with lyrics that tell tales of the Johnson Boys' exploits. For more information, check out the background information. Tab from Jack Beuthin is also available here.



Here's an early example of the tune played as a song in a recording done by The Hillbillies in 1927.





And, here's an example verse: "Johnson boys went a-courtin', The reason why they did not stay, The reason why they did not stay; They had no money for to pay their way, Had no money for to pay their way, They had no money for to pay their way."



Another example, of particular interest to me, is a video of the tune as played by Albert Hash, Emily Spencer, Thornton Spencer. According to the Field Recorders' notes, Jont Blevins learned from Albert Hash's great uncle and it was the Spencers who made the recordings of Jont Blevins. Lots of connections there!





And then, here are two more examples for good measure. The first one is Frank Proffitt, Jr. and it features dulcimer and feet. (This takes my fancy because I'm fond of both as accompaniment when I play the fiddle.)





The second is a more modern interpretation by Brittany Haas and Paul Koweert.





The thing I love about this tune is that the skeletal melody is simple enough that it's easy to pick it up quickly so it can just be enjoyed on the porch. But, a recording like the one Jont Blevins made is complex enough to catch my ear and keep me wondering, "What is he really doing there?"



I don't have a polished personal recording but I'll attach a quick, one-time-through, unpolished, un-arranged, work-in-progress, recorded with a computer mic to give you an idea of where I'm going with it.



Be sure to check out the BHO media archive, though. There are quite a few example recordings there. And, please post your own versions to fill out this thread.



And, how about a bit of fun? Consider tapping into your inner lyricist to write a new verse to the song and let us see/hear what you create!


Edited by - Cyndy on 09/20/2019 11:24:33


ndlxs - Posted - 09/20/2019:  11:26:45


I've always liked David Lindley's version, recorded in the Great Folk Scare of the early 1960s before he was David Lindley. It is pretty non-canonical of a version, and seeing as how the second part goes up to a high D you aren't likely to find many fiddlers to play this version with you. But it is fun to play. youtube.com/watch?v=UTR0IPSde2I

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  11:32:09


ndlxs Nice addition to the thread. It follows the melody, but offers a completely different take on the tune!

I've noticed that introduction that moves down the scale in a number of versions on YouTube. Anyone know where that feature originated? Just curious.

hoodoo - Posted - 09/20/2019:  15:43:29


Thanks for choosing this tune as the TOTW

Here is my quick take on an inexpensive, yet very fun to play fretless Don Gardner banjo


banjohangout.org/myhangout/med...archived=

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  16:19:02


hoodoo I like the sound of the brushes as the tune picks up and I love the part that sounds like 5-T-5-T-5-T. It gives it a whole different feel and it really fits with the sound of that banjo. Thanks!

Bill Rogers - Posted - 09/20/2019:  17:10:05


One of the few tunes I play in double-C/D. Just doesn’t sound right in standard C.

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  17:22:43


Bill Rogers Now I'm genuinely curious. What's standard C tuning? And what are the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between playing it in one tuning or the other? I have to admit--on this one, I haven't given the tuning any thought.

dfwest - Posted - 09/20/2019:  18:02:28


great tune. I often play it in open G, starting with a hammer on to 2d string, 3d fret. Go on from there.

Dave

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  18:28:38


dfwest Just tried it in G. Always fun to experiment! The B part doesn't feel all that different but the A part has a much more open ring to it. I'm wondering if it would be easier to sing it there? (I'm SO not a singer.)

Jack Baker - Posted - 09/20/2019:  18:31:20


Hi Cindy,


Standard C tuning is just dropped C, meaning the 4th string is tuned down one note from D to C...Jack  p.s. I must admit I've never heard it called Standard C tuning, just dropped C...




Originally posted by Cyndy

Bill Rogers Now I'm genuinely curious. What's standard C tuning? And what are the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between playing it in one tuning or the other? I have to admit--on this one, I haven't given the tuning any thought.






 


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/20/2019 18:41:35

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  18:36:26


Jack Baker Very helpful. I just tried playing it in standard C and I agree with Bill. I end up needing to fret the C on the second string which doesn't give me the flexibility to slide up to the 5th-fret G when I want to. It's really fascinating to look at a familiar tune from different angles. :)

dfwest - Posted - 09/20/2019:  18:37:52


"dfwest Just tried it in G. Always fun to experiment! The B part doesn't feel all that different but the A part has a much more open ring to it. I'm wondering if it would be easier to sing it there? (I'm SO not a singer.)"

Cyndy,

I heard myself sing once and I promised myself never to do that again!

I play it in both double C and open G. The open G version can be made to sound kind of raggy, if you syncopate it a bit. I have come to prefer it for that reason.

Dave

RG - Posted - 09/20/2019:  19:35:55


Real nice Cyndy!!! Loved your rendition!

ndlxs-David Lindley was famed luthier (RIP) Larry Brown's roommate at UCLA and hung out with Tom Sauber, so he was exposed to some masters with OT chops...

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  19:45:22


@RG I always appreciate your support for my banjo endeavors. Thanks! And thanks for the added information. The "genealogical" connections in old-time music are fascinating. I'm thinking Tom Sauber must be my -- oh, I don't know -- grand-fiddle-bowing-uncle or the like? :)

Bill Rogers - Posted - 09/20/2019:  20:44:46


“Drop C” or “Dropped C” are, IMO, recent and unnecessary terms. I started playing in 1961. Common tunings were “C tuning”—gCGBD, “G tuning”—gDGBD, “G modal”—gDGCD, C modal—gCGCD, G minor—gDGBbD, Open D—f#/aDF#AD. Then “Double-C replaced “C modal.” Some became confused by “C tuning,” and began calling it Standard C,” because it had been the standard for 100+ years. I first heard “Drop C” about 8 or so years ago. It apparently started with G-tuning bluegrass players who didn’t know that C-tuning was the long-established standard tuning for 5-string, because their normal was G tuning.  So the world turns. Plectrum banjos are normally played in C tuning, and without a capo. Same goes for “classic-style” 5-string. 


Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/20/2019 20:53:40

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  20:51:13


Bill Rogers That makes sense. I didn't have a name for it but I think of "standard C" as a classic banjo tuning, which fits with the 100+ years. And, yes. I agree. Definitely not great for this tune. :)

Bill Rogers - Posted - 09/20/2019:  20:57:25


Side note—Walt Koken, as good a clawhammer player as there is, normally uses C tuning for his C and D tunes.

Cyndy - Posted - 09/20/2019:  21:09:09


That's fascinating. I just tried Soldier's Joy in standard-C and what seems to happen is that I have different chord options than I have in double-C when I want to hit more than one string (or add another single string as a filler to create interest). It's good to change things up now and again--if only as an experiment. Keeps things interesting! :)

Jack Baker - Posted - 09/20/2019:  21:22:23


Bill,


I hear ya but there are an awful lot of newbies coming in who don't even know what G tuning is...laugh You and I are about the same age so imagine me have to tell student after student what G tuning is much less that it's the key in many bgrass tunes....




Originally posted by Bill Rogers

“Drop C” or “Dropped C” are, IMO, recent and unnecessary terms. I started playing in 1961. Common tunings were “C tuning”—gCGBD, “G tuning”—gDGBD, “G modal”—gDGCD, C modal—gCGCD, G minor—gDGBbD, Open D—f#/aDF#AD. Then “Double-C replaced “C modal.” Some became confused by “C tuning,” and began calling it Standard C,” because it had been the standard for 100+ years. I first heard “Drop C” about 8 or so years ago. It apparently started with G-tuning bluegrass players who didn’t know that C-tuning was the long-established standard tuning for 5-string, because their normal was G tuning.  So the world turns. Plectrum banjos are normally played in C tuning, and without a capo. Same goes for “classic-style” 5-string. 






 


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/20/2019 21:23:39

Bill Rogers - Posted - 09/20/2019:  23:38:20


Right on that, Jack. Kinda scary.


Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/20/2019 23:40:53

From Greylock to Bean Blossom - Posted - 09/21/2019:  04:50:51


Did Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?



youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ



Ken

carlb - Posted - 09/21/2019:  05:06:16


quote:

Originally posted by Cyndy

Another example, of particular interest to me, is a video of the tune as played by Albert Hash, Emily Spencer, Thornton Spencer. According to the Field Recorders' notes, Jont Blevins learned from Albert Hash's great uncle and it was the Spencers who made the recordings of Jont Blevins. Lots of connections there!



I noted that Emily Spencer doesn't move her left hand position at all but yet gets just a perfect setting for what Albert Hash is playing. She uses the Galax lick (double 5th string stroke) and drop thumb just in the appropriate places. As you can tell, I really like what she's doing.

Cyndy - Posted - 09/21/2019:  07:47:17


carlb I agree. I just watch/listened carefully and it IS the "perfect setting"--just enough and not too much. I can't tell you how many times I've thought to myself how much I'd like to hear the Spencer's take on how Jont Blevins played. I've been fiddling more than banjoing recently, but taking on a bit of TOTW responsibility has pulled me back toward it. :)

Jack Baker - Posted - 09/21/2019:  08:11:40


Yes, it's on the "Pastures of Plenty" LP way back. Earl just plays some great backup banjo on this song....Jack




Originally posted by From Greylock to Bean Blossom

Did Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?



youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ



Ken






 


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/21/2019 08:12:31

Jack Baker - Posted - 09/21/2019:  10:38:36


Oops! Wrong LP...it was "Folk Songs Of Our Land"...




Originally posted by Jack Baker

Yes, it's on the "Pastures of Plenty" LP way back. Earl just plays some great backup banjo on this song....Jack




Originally posted by From Greylock to Bean Blossom

Did Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?



youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ



Ken






 






 


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/21/2019 10:39:16

JanetB - Posted - 09/21/2019:  17:13:41


I think you've presented a golden nugget tune, Cyndy, and you listen so carefully to each version and comment so thoughtfully.  Since I'm interested in Albert Hash, that was my go-to link for a clawhammer arrangement from his fiddle playing.  In 2016 I presented the tune Nancy Blevins and there's some interesting musical history about Albert and his family in that thread:  TOTW, 2/26/16, Nancy Blevins.



One of my favorites is Paul Roberts' melodic clawhammer version learned from studying John Burke's Book of Old Time Fiddle Tunes for Banjo.  





 



I can happily listen over and over to Dan Gellert and Brad Leftwich playing twin fiddles from their A Moment in Time recordings.




Edited by - JanetB on 09/21/2019 17:21:31


RG - Posted - 09/21/2019:  20:36:48


When I fiddle this tune (which is often), I base it on the Grant Brothers 1929 recording, learned from David Bragger... it's a great version, used to have the 78 but sold them all recently...

 



Grant Brothers "Johnson Boys" youtube.com/watch?v=aO372QN7xS8

From Greylock to Bean Blossom - Posted - 09/22/2019:  11:07:14


quote:Originally posted by Jack BakerYes, it's on the "Pastures of Plenty" LP way back. Earl just plays some great backup banjo on this song....JackOriginally posted by From Greylock to Bean BlossomDid Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?

youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ

Ken Thank you Jack! I will get to studying on that backup.

ken
Jack Baker

Cyndy - Posted - 09/23/2019:  14:01:29


Thanks to From Greylock to Bean Blossom for pointing out the Flatt & Scruggs recording, to @RG for reminding me of the Grant Brothers, and to JanetB for jogging my memory on the Leftwich/Gellert version.

When I wrote this post, I was really thinking of Johnson Boys as a "nice little clawhammer banjo tune" and juxtaposing the other versions has expanded my appreciation of it.

And, Janet, I hadn't made the connection between "Nancy Blevins" and Jont and you know how much I love genealogy, right?! Thanks for pointing that out. And for posting your version and tab.

I've been teaching my daughter a bit of banjo. I think this is the next tune I'll share. :)

maryzcox - Posted - 10/03/2019:  14:51:39


maryzcox.bandcamp.com/track/johnson-boys



Here's the Johnson boys we recorded in 1999 on banjo & fiddle.  Kay Van Treese is fiddling & I'm on my old Gibson banjo. :)   There's a simple clawhammer tab to it in the Vintage Banjo Tab Book too :)  



maryzcox.com


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