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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 12/11/2020 - Shear ‘Em.

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Mtngoat - Posted - 12/10/2020:  21:33:08

I’ve chosen “Shear ‘Em” for this installment of TOTW. I heard the tune at a Florida jam years ago and it stuck in my head. This turned out to be a relatively easy TOTW as most of the heavy lifting had already been done by Kerry Blech and posted on the Florida Fiddler’s Society or Traditional Tune Archive web sites. Basically I’m just providing links to existing online material that he researched and published.

Variants of the tune have been collected across a swath of the south from Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida and back up into North Carolina and even Pennsylvania. Pioneering Western Swing musician Bob Wills used the tune, learned from his father, as the basis of his 1941 hit recording “Take Me Back to Tulsa”. The Traditional Tune Archive’s citation for the tune, which it classifies as a tune family, can be found here:

Encyclopedia Britannica describes a tune family as “a group of melodies interrelated by melodic correspondence, particularly in general melodic contour, important intervals, and prominent accented tones. There may be differences of rhythmic pattern, mode, and text among melodies within a group. Such groups of related melodies may have evolved from a single melody that was changed by variation and imitation as it was diffused by oral tradition.” Wikipedia puts it this way: Often in a tune family "different tunes are the same" and "the same tune is different."

Here are some recordings illustrating those principles.

The Florida Fiddler’s Society web site featuring recordings of the tunes Mr. Blech assigns to the “Shear ‘Em” tune family can be found here:

A 1931 recording of “Walkin’ Georgia Rose” by the Pelican Wildcats is here:

Bob Will’s 1941 take on the tune is here:

A North Carolina version of “Shear ‘Em” by the Happy Valley Pals, featuring Hangout member Gail Gillespie on banjo, is here:

In the book A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman, published by the University of Alabama Press, Mr. Seaman indicates that “Shear ‘Em” was the first tune he learned to play and that it was the most commonly played tune at dances around rural Kissimmee, Florida before the advent of radio and the recording industry. There is a short section on the history of the tune beginning on page 45. The book is a good read and parts can be previewed here:

I find Mr. Seaman’s account of old time Florida dances, starting on page 25, particularly interesting because of its similarity to George Gibson’s description of early twentieth century dances in Kentucky found here:

I was unable to find a tab for the tune but the Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes gives a transcription for the Skillet Licker’s recording of “Cotton Bagging”.

Viewers are encouraged to post observations, opinions, performances, and tabs contributing to this thread.

Edited by - Mtngoat on 12/10/2020 21:43:47

JanetB - Posted - 12/12/2020:  19:28:50

This is a fun tune, Mtngoat.  It warrants more research on my part, but I went ahead and chose my two favorites to work on.  I like Gail Gillepsie and her Happy Valley Pal's sound in Shear 'Em.  And because the sing-along band I was in performed Take Me Back to Tulsa, I tried a clawhammer take on it.  Playing on cello banjo in a tuning comparable to double C allowed me to play along with the 1941 Bob Wills recording.  The singer does such a nice job simplifying the melody that I used it for an arrangement.

Edited by - JanetB on 12/12/2020 19:29:58

Hay-on-Wye - Posted - 12/12/2020:  20:13:11

Love how low the bass goes on that Janet

Mtngoat - Posted - 12/14/2020:  02:47:50


Fine work as always. As I recall the folks in Florida played the tune in G. Thanks to you I now have another arrangement and key to practice.

gailg64 - Posted - 12/14/2020:  09:00:55

Gail Gillespie

Shear 'Em is so common it's practically the Soldiers' Joy of the southern Coastal Plain. I grew up in North Florida and spent most of my life in North Carolina and heard it all my life played in G. All of the old fiddlers from Virginia to Florida knew Shear 'em/Shear them Sheep Even or Sharon. I learned it from a recording of Florida fiddler Cush Holston but it was played by North Carolina fiddlers mostly in the low country east of Raleigh.

Since I don't post often here I have forgotten how to add music!

JanetB - Posted - 12/14/2020:  09:03:30


Originally posted by gailg64

Since I don't post often here I have forgotten how to add music!

Luckily your band's version of Shear 'Em is included in the original post and I liked it best for learning from.  :)

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