Every once in a while a tune catches my ear, takes my fancy, and stays on my mind for months or even years. Vernon Spencer’s "Stony Point" is just that sort of tune. I learned it on fiddle a while back and I’ve been playing it ever since. Then, a few weeks ago, it came up on banjo during my lesson, and I found myself thinking, "That would make a good tune of the week."
Actually, thanks to majikgator, "Stoney Point" was the focus of a TOTW thread back in 2011. In summary, it’s a popular G tune, known by many titles including "Pig Town" and "Wild Horses," and it’s been around long enough to have been included in publications from the late 1700s. For lots more information, see the original thread: banjohangout.org/archive/214272.
But the uniqueness of Mr. Spencer’s version makes the tune worthy of reprise: he plays it in in D; he gives it room to become crooked; and he slides a double-stop back on the B part in delicious way that makes it his own.
Let’s explore it. First, if you haven’t heard this version already, head over to Bandcamp and check it out. "Stony Point" is the third track on the Field Recorders’ Collective release titled "Vernon Spencer of Big Springs, Kansas" that came out just over a year ago. fieldrecorder.bandcamp.com/alb...ollection
Mr. Spencer was a Kansas fiddler, one link in a multi-generational chain of musicians that continues strong today. Tricia Spencer, his granddaughter, does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of his life and his legacy in her essay "Vernon Spencer & the Spencer Family of Big Springs, KS." It’s available here: fieldrecorder.org/vernon-spenc...rings-ks/ It’s definitely worth the read, not only because it provides a rich biography of Mr. Spencer, but also (and this is the genealogist in me speaking) because it’s a strong example of the power of a heart-felt family narrative.
The next thing to do is to listen to the full-band version of the tune from the Spencer & Rains’ The Skeleton Keys album. It rocks!
And, finally, how about experimenting with the tune on banjo? Every once in a while, my fiddle lesson (with David Bragger) includes a bit of banjo and a few weeks ago this tune came up in that form. He tossed out what I think was a spur-of-the-moment version which, to me, lays out across the five strings in a satisfying way. Here’s a bit of tab and a midi file that might serve as a jumping off point: banjohangout.org/tab/browse.as...p;v=24345.
In the track notes for the Field Recorders’ Collective CD, Tricia describes Mr. Spencer’s tune as "An interesting take on “Stony Point” which also showcases my grandpa’s sense of timing if he was left to fiddling by himself." I think maybe that’s one of the things I really like about this tune. It’s a good reminder to find the time and space and courage to let our musical selves shine through.
This tune is a special choice because it connects an awesome duet like Spencer and Rains to a source fiddler in the family. I listened to both renditions and like the presentation and timing of Spencer and Rains. Their crooked measures feel natural. Vernon's crooked A part was more unexpected because it only adds one beat instead of two in the middle of the A section, and it's the one I attempted. The last measures of the A part is a half measure. Another half measure appears in the middle of the B part. As for the "tasty" double stop Vernon uses, I use it at the end of both parts.
I added the optional C part one time in my video, but changed the way I normally play the A and B parts to get a feel for Vernon Spencer's version. In listening to the Field Recorders Collective CD to see if he often plays crookedly, it appears he doesn't. As Tricia remarks, it's probably because her grandfather was playing solo. The suggestion by you, Cyndy, to be innovative and individualistic is a good one. I took it to heart here. Even my tuning is different -- fDGCD. If need be in a jam I could pull out the cello banjo and get it to play in the key of D.