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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Old-Time terminology question: "Taters"


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banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:17:41


I thought I'd post here because it seems the most relevant spot on BHO to ask.



A few days ago I was introduced to a brand new (to me) term ... "Taters" which as explained to me, is an introductory lick played on the fiddle. The folks who were throwing that term at me indicated it's an old-time fiddler term that's been around forever. Just to be clear, they made an mp3 of the lick and emailed it to me. After listening, it's just a shuffle-type lick on fiddle I've heard a million times, but never called that.



It's basically 4 beats of a shuffle lick on fiddle before a tune kicks off.



Just wondering, from the experienced folks here on Old-Time area, if this is a regional phrase or is a universal concept in old-time music?



I learn something new everyday, it seems. This one checks that box!



Insights into its use and origin is appreciated.


Edited by - banjoy on 02/28/2022 05:19:29

lapsteel - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:21:07


I heard it as “four potatoes” . That starts the tune.  

Then "dum da-da dum dum" that ends the tune is "shave and a haircut, two bits".


Edited by - lapsteel on 02/28/2022 05:23:40

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:22:57


quote:

Originally posted by lapsteel

I heard it as “four potatoes” .






Interesting. In the sample they sent me, One Tater is 4 beats intro, and then in the same recording they called out Two Taters, played it, it was 8 beats intro.



This is all new to me.

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:27:35


Being a banjo picker yes, of course I'm familiar with Shave and A Haircut. It's funny you mention that as it was the example I used in our discussion, as a term I was familiar with.

So based on your reply, it does seem to be a thing. Ya learn something new all the time!

lapsteel - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:33:02


I think that the fiddler uses it to set the tempo.

Fret-Less - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:48:30


In our circle we call it "potatoes." Four beats to set the tempo, typically from a fiddler, Nashville shuffle in the correct key. (bowing Long-short-short 4X). You name the tune and the key, then bring it in. It should be strong enough that musicians understand exactly when to start, or at least aren't surprised by the pickup notes. I consider it to be comparable to a rock jam call out 1! 2! 3! 4!, or even a conductor waving their arms.


Edited by - Fret-Less on 02/28/2022 05:51:53

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:54:52


Yes exactly, it's used to set the tempo. It's quite similar to that droning G-lick on banjo before kicking off something like Blackberry Blossom. The fiddle would do the same thing, a droning lick before kicking off. So now I know. Taters.

I guess the "meat" is the tune itself LOL

m06 - Posted - 02/28/2022:  05:55:34


If you say ‘taters’ here OT fiddle players will know what you mean. It’s a universal way of kicking a tune off so that everyone hits that first beat and also indicates the tempo.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:01:47


On classic era banjo sheet music the "shave and a hair cut" is just called a "break".

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:03:49


A reply from Canada, another reply from England ... apparently it IS a universal concept. I just never heard it before at the dozens of old-time jams I've been too in my life. I suppose I just wasn't paying attention, if I heard it before it did not register. But I do "get it" now. Kinda makes sense, in a weird way.

(It's kinda like that raising one's foot or leg to indicate this tune is about to end thing. Not sure where that came from, I was exposed to that decades ago and it also seems universal. No matter where I go, when someone raises their foot I know (as does everyone else) this tune is about to end, to listen for it.)

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:06:38


quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

On classic era banjo sheet music the "shave and a hair cut" is just called a "break".






Wow that's interesting. I'm wondering if Scruggs changed that because of his use of the lick to end tunes? I have a very vague memory somewhere deep in this old grey matter, of a musician actually saying the words "Shave and A Haircut, Two Bits" along with that ending lick. I have no clue where I would have heard that, it's a memory from childhood. But that one is imprinted on my banjo DNA from the get-go, I guess for that reason.

Randy Dishmon - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:42:03


I’ve heard of it…its the intro, shuffle lick to kick off many, many fiddle tunes. Banjo players would know it is the fourth string sliding from 4th fret to 5th fret shuffle that every player knows and has used a million times.

Almost all fiddle tunes start with some variation of it.

lapsteel - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:48:44


quote:

Originally posted by banjoy

A reply from Canada, another reply from England ... apparently it IS a universal concept. I just never heard it before at the dozens of old-time jams I've been too in my life. I suppose I just wasn't paying attention, if I heard it before it did not register. But I do "get it" now. Kinda makes sense, in a weird way.



(It's kinda like that raising one's foot or leg to indicate this tune is about to end thing. Not sure where that came from, I was exposed to that decades ago and it also seems universal. No matter where I go, when someone raises their foot I know (as does everyone else) this tune is about to end, to listen for it.)






The fiddler had to raise his foot because both his hands were occupied.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:53:12


quote:

Originally posted by banjoy

quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

On classic era banjo sheet music the "shave and a hair cut" is just called a "break".






Wow that's interesting. I'm wondering if Scruggs changed that because of his use of the lick to end tunes? I have a very vague memory somewhere deep in this old grey matter, of a musician actually saying the words "Shave and A Haircut, Two Bits" along with that ending lick. I have no clue where I would have heard that, it's a memory from childhood. But that one is imprinted on my banjo DNA from the get-go, I guess for that reason.






The musical phrase was not used a lot and usually was just a coda with no explanation.  When it was called something it just said "break" over the coda.



I'm not sure Scruggs' playing has anything to do with classic era banjo.



 



 

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:55:38


lapsteel

Aren't both hands of all musicians tied up? LOL

This seems universal now, everyone does it, banjo pickers, geetar pickers, mando pickers, it's something that seems to be universally used and understood.

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:58:11


quote:

Originally posted by Joel HooksI'm not sure Scruggs' playing has anything to do with classic era banjo.

 






Not what I was saying. I was just pondering if that well known tag was called Shave and A Haircut because of its popular use later on. I think the answer is, yes, of course.

TreyDBanjoKS - Posted - 02/28/2022:  06:59:00


We use it in Kansas too.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 02/28/2022:  07:09:40


quote:

Originally posted by banjoy

quote:

Originally posted by Joel HooksI'm not sure Scruggs' playing has anything to do with classic era banjo.

 






Not what I was saying. I was just pondering if that well known tag was called Shave and A Haircut because of its popular use later on. I think the answer is, yes, of course.






I don't know when "break" became the term for taking turns playing solos, that sort of arrangement seems to come about with radio and microphones.  Perhaps it was from Hawaiian music?



I have only ever seen "break" in connection with a coda.. usually some variation on the "shave etc."



Here it is used in a banjo arrangement of a piano piece...



archive.org/details/FarmerBung.../mode/2up



In this example it is inserted separate part to be played as a coda.



I have found some variation of the phrase in use as early as the mid 1880s, here is an example at the end of "Mississippi Walk Round"



archive.org/details/FrankB.Con.../mode/1up



 



 

Don Borchelt - Posted - 02/28/2022:  07:31:18


quote:

Originally posted by Fret-Less

In our circle we call it "potatoes." Four beats to set the tempo, typically from a fiddler, Nashville shuffle in the correct key. (bowing Long-short-short 4X). You name the tune and the key, then bring it in. It should be strong enough that musicians understand exactly when to start, or at least aren't surprised by the pickup notes. I consider it to be comparable to a rock jam call out 1! 2! 3! 4!, or even a conductor waving their arms.






This explains it perfectly.  But around here in the Boston area they call them "pahdadoes."  Once in a great while, the banjo player is asked to kick off a tune, and if you are a clawhammer picker, you just do four solid bum-ditties, with the first note on the first note of the scale.  Don't get too fancy, or the fiddlers will never ask you to start a tune again.

Fret-Less - Posted - 02/28/2022:  07:42:20


I find it interesting that potatoes takes practice. It really helps to practice on your own bringing a tune in at a tempo you can control and stay with. Yes, banjos or any instrument can start the tune, but in this setting it's still called potatoes. I don't think bluegrass folks call it this though. But it doesn't matter. One fiddler I know simply starts it by four long strong bow strokes, and that does the job fine.


Edited by - Fret-Less on 02/28/2022 07:46:31

Alvin Conder - Posted - 02/28/2022:  07:47:23


Taters.

Have not heard that term in years. Heard it first in North Carolina and I thought they were pulling my leg.

Funny that it’s almost universal.

banjoy - Posted - 02/28/2022:  07:50:09


I enjoy understanding stuff and appreciate where things originated and came from. Was this phrasing carried over from Europe, or through Irish fiddlers or something? It seems like it might have been an ethnic thing early on, an extension of culture? Some of the history insights posted above are pretty interesting I'll have to read those links.

And of course not every fiddle tune kicks with taters, but many do.

Bob Buckingham - Posted - 02/28/2022:  09:00:27


Frank, here's a reply from just down the road. The term "potatoes" "taters" is a term used by some to describe the setting of the beat for a fiddle tune. This is usually used in the dance setting to show the dancers and call the tempo or to get the band on the same page in a show. There will be much discussion, but after a half century dances and tunes etc. I care not to hear the chatter.

m06 - Posted - 02/28/2022:  09:30:29


Here as intro to the tune is an example of ‘taters’ from the fiddle player at our local OT session.


beegee - Posted - 02/28/2022:  09:52:41


Common fiddle parlance in NC for the little shuffle introducing a fiddle tune.

rcc56 - Posted - 02/28/2022:  11:23:43


In my corner of the world, we say "potato."

A "short potato" is 4 beats long in cut time, and a "long potato" is 8 beats.



Short potato: | _ .. _ .. |_ .. _ .. | =>

or: |quarter - eighth-eighth - quarter - eighth-eighth | quarter - eighth-eighth - quarter - eighth-eighth | => tune . . .



For a long potato, double the short potato.



Used by any lead instrument to set the tempo for dancers and/or other musicians.

3 finger banjo players usually use a slightly different rhythm: | .... _ _ | .... _ _ | => tune . . .

or: | timt - i-pinch - | timt - i-pinch - | => tune . . .



Fiddlers sometimes use a syncopated potato: | _ .. _ .. | ._. _ _ | =>

or: | quarter - eighth-eighth - quarter - eighth-eighth - | eighth - quarter - eighth - quarter - quarter| =>


Edited by - rcc56 on 02/28/2022 11:36:23

Dan Gellert - Posted - 02/28/2022:  12:18:14


The fiddler sawing four beats to set the tempo of a dance tune must be nearly as old as fiddling itself.



Calling it "(four) potatoes" started some time during the middle 20th c. Where and by whom has been the subject of some discussion:



mandolincafe.com/forum/threads...Professor

 

chip arnold - Posted - 03/01/2022:  05:56:59


Here is the origin. Listen to the bum pa dit ty rhythm. I thought we all knew this a kids.

video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/sea...ion=click

banjoy - Posted - 03/01/2022:  06:22:35


quote:

Originally posted by Dan Gellert

The fiddler sawing four beats to set the tempo of a dance tune must be nearly as old as fiddling itself.



Calling it "(four) potatoes" started some time during the middle 20th c. Where and by whom has been the subject of some discussion:



mandolincafe.com/forum/threads...Professor

 






Wow thanks for posting that link. That is an excellent read.



 

banjo_brad - Posted - 03/01/2022:  12:05:21


I remember the "shave and a haircut" from my youth (1940's-50's), and I wasn't even aware of banjo or fiddle players. It seemed to be used to end a lot of sketches and cartoons back then. Often to soft-shoe tunes, with the last 2 beats accompanied with the the arms being thrown forward, one-at-a-time to end up with the palms up, slightly ahead and to one side of the performer.

(I hope I have described something that will trigger others' memories.)

WVDreamin - Posted - 03/01/2022:  18:17:40


quote:

Originally posted by banjoy

quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks

On classic era banjo sheet music the "shave and a hair cut" is just called a "break".






Wow that's interesting. I'm wondering if Scruggs changed that because of his use of the lick to end tunes? I have a very vague memory somewhere deep in this old grey matter, of a musician actually saying the words "Shave and A Haircut, Two Bits" along with that ending lick. I have no clue where I would have heard that, it's a memory from childhood. But that one is imprinted on my banjo DNA from the get-go, I guess for that reason.






The Skillet Lickers (and others) used that lick to end tunes back in the beginning of the 78rpm era (mid 1920s). Earl's got no claim to it other than he'd heard it in his youth. 

Don Borchelt - Posted - 03/01/2022:  21:22:02


"Shave and a haircut, two bits" has been the standard ending among barbershop quartets for at least a century, so I'm guessing that's where the Skillet Lickers and other bands picked up on it.



As a kid, more than half a century ago, I can remember the children's chant, "one potato, two potato, three potato, four," which might be the inspiration for the name applied to the fiddlers' potatoes.


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 03/01/2022 21:24:09

banjoy - Posted - 03/02/2022:  04:33:50


WVDreamin I'm sorry I guess my post wasn't clearly worded but I was "wondering out loud" more about the terminology and how that got applied and not so much the origin of the lick. Don Borchelt 's post above sure rang a huge bell for me ... his post evoked very foggy, vague memories within me from probably the early 1960s, seeing on a grainy B&W tv imagery of barber shop quartets which I think got some air play back in that timeframe, when television entertainment was still had deep roots in vaudeville which included a variety of barber shop harmony groups.

I think even Archie Campbell's comedy bits on Hee Haw where he played a barber and told jokes, comes from that tradition...?

And -- head smack duh -- the entire "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits" originating from barbershop quartets, I mean, barber shop, shave, haircut, duh!

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/02/2022:  06:27:39


quote:

Originally posted by banjoy

WVDreamin I'm sorry I guess my post wasn't clearly worded but I was "wondering out loud" more about the terminology and how that got applied and not so much the origin of the lick. Don Borchelt 's post above sure rang a huge bell for me ... his post evoked very foggy, vague memories within me from probably the early 1960s, seeing on a grainy B&W tv imagery of barber shop quartets which I think got some air play back in that timeframe, when television entertainment was still had deep roots in vaudeville which included a variety of barber shop harmony groups.



I think even Archie Campbell's comedy bits on Hee Haw where he played a barber and told jokes, comes from that tradition...?



And -- head smack duh -- the entire "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits" originating from barbershop quartets, I mean, barber shop, shave, haircut, duh!






Archie was continuing the act of "end men" routines from the minstrel show tradition only without the burnt cork and overt racism (but plenty of sexism).  Instead of "Bones" and Tambo" they put it in a rural middle America barbershop. 



It has been awhile since I have read all of that stuff but I remember that some of his routines were taken directly out of old minstrel show joke books (with certain words changed).



 The final edited shows of Hee Haw was pretty much in the minstrel show format.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 03/02/2022:  06:36:15


Here is an example that was done by Grandpa Jones (and many others) when it was put into a song. Straight from the minstrel show stage... "I Am My Own Grandpa"...

Titled here as "His Own Grandfather"

archive.org/details/negrominst.../mode/1up

banjoak - Posted - 03/02/2022:  14:49:19


The origin of the terminology? The one that made sense to me... is from the kids rhyme, choosing or game often referred to as "Spuds Up".



ONE potato TWO potato THREE potato FOUR.

FIVE potato SIX potato SEVEN potato MORE.

(there are other variations in end rhyme and length).



That easily works as 4 beat count-in... and can be adapted to the Long-short-short pattern, Bum-ditty, or Nashville Shuffle.



edit: should add, that in the rhyme the TATE syllable has natural emphasis, that creates back beat.


Edited by - banjoak on 03/02/2022 15:03:34

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 03/04/2022:  13:30:12


"Taters".... always thought it was Bleugrass-speak.

Alex Z - Posted - 04/03/2022:  16:30:10


"One potato, two potato, three potato, four,



 Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more."



Little kids in a circle holding out their two fists, counting around to pick a person.  Has a nice rhythm.  By the time they get to eight a couple of times, it seems like a random pick.



Around here, the pick up notes are often referred to as "four potatoes" or "eight potatoes." smiley

mandobanjolibrarian - Posted - 04/06/2022:  16:07:21


I've always heard it referred to as a "potato," rather than a "tater," but I guess I'm not surprised that people use either/both.  Also, the explanation I've heard for choosing this particular tuber is that -- on the fiddle -- this type of lead-in kind of sounds like "PO-tato, PO-tato, PO-tato, PO-tato" (for the four-count variety).  I've also heard it compared to the "one, two, three, four" that drummers often vocalize to lead in a rock, blues, jazz, or other type of song.



For the "Shave and A Haircut" ending, I believe that's technically just a very short coda, and there are other types in OT, folk, and blugrass music, but this one is so common and well-known that people just refer to "Shave and A Haircut" and everybody knows what it is. 

Chance Northslope - Posted - 04/27/2022:  03:35:14


Here is my life-long understanding of "taters." If you are kicking of a song on an instrument (any instrument) you "announce" how many taters you will play, like, "2 potatoes...or 4 potatoes." Each tater is 1 measure; usually 2 is the number called (think alan munde), but fiddlers often play 4 in a big jam to really establish the tempo. Hope this helps...

jojo25 - Posted - 04/30/2022:  09:27:54


Frank...sometimes I call it rhutabagas...just for fun...lately I have taken on the role of starting tunes with my fiddler partner/wife...I close my eyes and start the tune in my head...silently using the words if the tune has any...find the beat...then count out loud...1, 2, ready, go...which is how she tends to do it...it works real well...and is tried and true

As for raising a leg to end a tune...yeah...tho I sometimes just yell out "one more time"...but a visual is nice as not everyone will always hear...in some of my circles the foot raising is "echoed"...just to make sure everyone knows...and...if ya really wanna keep going...you raise both feet...kinda hard to do...and form a "V"...indicating you want to veto the call for the last time and keep going

and then you can...if you wish... immediately restart the tune by calling out "1,2,3,4!!"...and recommence the tune...which can be a boat load of fun to do...tho not real often

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