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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW, 4/1/22, Grub Springs


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/382373

JanetB - Posted - 04/01/2022:  10:30:08


 



Grub Springs is the first tune in the compilation of Mississippi fiddle tunes known as “Great Big Yam Potatoes,” which IMO deserves more attention. In recent years some attention has been given this collection by Harry Bolick and Stephen T. Austin, who included songs and tunes in a fairly new book called Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930’s. There is another tune with the same title, recorded at the same time by fiddler John Hatcher, but we’ll save that for another TOTW.



In 1939 Herbert Halpert traveled to the South from New York and gained the assistance of Abbott Ferriss of Mississippi. With the motto “folksong is American folklore,” they took an army ambulance christened the “Sound Wagon” and transformed it into a recording vehicle. It carried the cumbersome recording equipment, as well as a cot and cabinets for food and supplies. The two men traveled and collected a great many tunes and songs, which eventually made their way to the Library of Congress. W. E. Claunch provided five tunes which are on the Great Big Yams and Potato collection, but actually recorded 24 total. 



In 1997 Stephen Wade completed  A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings  (Rounder CD 1500) which he edited and annotated. It includes "Grub Springs" among its selections. He wrote about the tune and Ernest Claunch both there and  later, in his  book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. Stephen visited the family in Mississippi and learned from them that Grub Springs was a community near Guntown where Claunch lived. 



William Earnest Claunch is our featured fiddler for Grub Springs, Tune of the Week. He was born near Guntown, Lee County, Mississippi in 1894, living on the land worked by his grandfather who immigrated from England. All the Claunches were musical and Earnest’s father, grandfather and brothers played fiddle. A family story tells of the older men and brothers working together to clear land while young Earnest played fiddle on a tree stump. Earnest also played banjo, mandolin, piano and French harp, often at dances and fiddle contests and at regular family gatherings.



Harry Bolick’s book, on pages 248 – 249, quotes Claunch from the May 10, 1939 field notes of Abbott Ferriss: “Don’t know one note from another.” “I followed shows and carnivals all my life, ‘till I got murdered – married I mean.” He visited seven states while playing music.





W.E. Claunch & daughter Christine Hagood, courtesy Great Big Yam Potatoes liner notes



 


From the liner notes of “Great Big Yam Potatoes”, by Tom Rankin and Gary Stanton: 1. "Grub Springs." The fiddle is cross-tuned [AEAE], played in the key of A. The guitar is clamped [with capo] at the second fret and flat-picked. This particular tune has never been reported elsewhere, although John Hatcher of Burnsville, Mississippi, played a different tune under the same title. The tune is typical of a large number of two-part Southern dance tunes in which one part [the fine] is played primarily on the higher strings of the fiddle and the other part [the coarse] is played principally on the middle strings. The two-part tune is played AABB. The coarse consists of a short phrase repeated three times contrasting with a fourth phrase that brings the melody back to A. The fine is … musically equaling the wisdom "two steps forward and one step back" [D-F#-E-A-F#-E-D]. An exciting effect is created by ending the fine on the dominant chord [E] instead of returning to the original chord [A], which leads our attention back to the beginning of the tune, in order to resolve the melody. Claunch also hollers in unison with the fiddle at points in the performance, another way of adding excitement.



At most dances where music was played there was a caller, who sang out the calls for the couples to execute. However, it was not unusual for fiddlers to know calls and even call house dances, if no caller was present. Claunch gives us just a taste of the calls he associated with the tune, but not the entire dance: ‘Up Four, All Sides Circle, All of them swing.’



I personally don’t hear the “subdominant” ending of the B, or “fine”, part, in the original recording, which would be an E chord if played in the key of A, but it would sound good if played that way and I tab it such, though actually resolved the tune in my recording by simply going back to the dominant chord at the end of the B part. Claunch plays (and sings in the last round of the B part) just one note at the end and the guitar accompaniment doesn’t seem to go to that V chord.



What I really like about the tune is the melody and movement in the B part, which the liner notes above describe musically and allegorically (“two steps forward and one step back”), but not emotionally. For lack of better words, it is “poignant and happily expectant and then conclusive, but not over.” This is what grabs me about so many old-time tunes: they’re short little concertos that move our spirits!



Recordings found so far, please share if you know of others:



William Earnest Claunch



George Mert Reves (Recorded in Arkansas on a 1960’s recording, though Mr Reves lived in the Oklahoma Ozark region.  It’s slightly different, but you can hear an embedded Claunch version)



Pat Lyons



Twin fiddling by Mary Jane Epps and Michele Lanan



Brad and Ken Kolodner with Alex Laquement This one is slow and pretty!



Chris Haigh Fiddle lesson included



 



 



bolick.net Excellent website source for Harry Bolick's work on Mississippi fiddle tunes



 



 


Edited by - JanetB on 04/01/2022 19:09:09


Mtngoat - Posted - 04/01/2022:  10:47:05


Great tune, great write up, and great performance. A+

jenorma1 - Posted - 04/01/2022:  10:50:40


Not banjo but I have to plug Mark Harris' version of this tune on his album "Old time guitar," which I probably my favorite take on this one:



youtube.com/watch?v=DNiq4uMmMLo



Its outrageously good (and yes that's only one guitar). Thanks for all of your excellent work on this (as always!) Janet - I'll see if I can get a version of this one recorded.

JanetB - Posted - 04/01/2022:  11:12:44


quote:

Originally posted by jenorma1

Not banjo but I have to plug Mark Harris' version:



Its outrageously good (and yes that's only one guitar).






That was indeed outrageously good, Jeff, best yet!  Hope to hear yours, too. 

RG - Posted - 04/01/2022:  16:39:03


Such a great tune Janet! I play this all the time on fiddle, but oddly enough not that much on banjo. This will change-haha!

Don Borchelt - Posted - 04/02/2022:  07:31:19


One of my favorite tunes, Janet, and I love your take on it. I just uploaded a video that I found on my back-up drive that I made ten years ago, but for some reason never finished the editing. I am playing my semi-fretless Paramount in a variant of open A that I use all the time, which is basically open A with the 2nd string dropped a whole semi-tone (aEABE). In G it would be gDGAD. This is back when I was experimenting with the idea of playing without picks, but I eventually decided I wanted my Nationals after all.



 


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 04/02/2022 07:32:03

JanetB - Posted - 04/02/2022:  09:20:19


Nice, Don, and very pretty up the neck. Picks are brighter, aren’t they, especially for solo and dueting. I wonder what your learning source was…

RG - Posted - 04/02/2022:  13:20:26


quote:

Originally posted by Don Borchelt

One of my favorite tunes, Janet, and I love your take on it. I just uploaded a video that I found on my back-up drive that I made ten years ago, but for some reason never finished the editing. I am playing my semi-fretless Paramount in a variant of open A that I use all the time, which is basically open A with the 2nd string dropped a whole semi-tone (aEABE). In G it would be gDGAD. This is back when I was experimenting with the idea of playing without picks, but I eventually decided I wanted my Nationals after all.



 






Don, I could listen to your pickin' all day!

Noah Cline - Posted - 04/02/2022:  14:31:03


Thanks, Janet. It is a nice tune, and sounds good both fast and slow. I think I came by it originally by the Kolodner video you linked above. I worked up an arrangement in eAEAB tuning (double c relative) on gourd banjo, based on Brad's playing and chordal choices.  


JanetB - Posted - 04/02/2022:  20:29:46


Thank you, Noah. I thought the tune wouldn’t be so widely played, but am seeing that some of my favorite players already know it. Each has brought something unique to Grub Springs and I bet Mr. Claunch would have been surprised. You give it a delicate and lyrical quality.

John D - Posted - 04/03/2022:  12:51:26


Have enjoyed all the versions! Here's my take:

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

John D

cmic - Posted - 04/04/2022:  01:46:03


quote:

Originally posted by John D

Have enjoyed all the versions! Here's my take:



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



John D






A real pleasure to listen to you rendition, 3 minutes w/ foot stomping, etc.

Yummy. 8-)

Don Borchelt - Posted - 04/07/2022:  17:10:35


quote:

Originally posted by JanetB

Nice, Don, and very pretty up the neck. Picks are brighter, aren’t they, especially for solo and dueting. I wonder what your learning source was…






Thank you for you nice comment, Janet, and a thank you to RG as well.  I'm not sure where I learned it, exactly Janet, it was some time ago.  The date on my tab transcription is 2009, and I think i was likely playing it a few years before that; it was a popular tune at several jams I attended back then.  When I went looking for the video on my hard drive to post here, i came across a number of recordings.  In addition to the Claunch and Mert reeves versions you posted, I also found one on my drive by Mississippi fiddler John Hatcher (1886-1958), along with recordings by some of our contemporaries, including Rhys Jones, Matt Brown, and Jane Rothfield.  But I suspect I basically learned it from jamming, because none of these recordings included the word "slow" in the title, meaning I didn't slow them down to at least 1/3 speed!



I really loved the versions by both Noah Cline and John D.  Noah's very elegant version has some very nice, subtle variations, he pulls a lot of sugar out of that gourd.  John D knocks it down at square dance tempo, with that pulsing rhythm that gets your heart beating and your feet tapping.  That's what I like about the Hangout, we do not all have to sound the same.



- Don B.

Noah Cline - Posted - 04/07/2022:  17:25:15


quote:

Originally posted by Don Borchelt

quote:

Originally posted by JanetB

Nice, Don, and very pretty up the neck. Picks are brighter, aren’t they, especially for solo and dueting. I wonder what your learning source was…






Thank you for you nice comment, Janet, and a thank you to RG as well.  I'm not sure where I learned it, exactly Janet, it was some time ago.  The date on my tab transcription is 2009, and I think i was likely playing it a few years before that; it was a popular tune at several jams I attended back then.  When I went looking for the video on my hard drive to post here, i came across a number of recordings.  In addition to the Claunch and Mert reeves versions you posted, I also found one on my drive by Mississippi fiddler John Hatcher (1886-1958), along with recordings by some of our contemporaries, including Rhys Jones, Matt Brown, and Jane Rothfield.  But I suspect I basically learned it from jamming, because none of these recordings included the word "slow" in the title, meaning I didn't slow them down to at least 1/3 speed!



I really loved the versions by both Noah Cline and John D.  Noah's very elegant version has some very nice, subtle variations, he pulls a lot of sugar out of that gourd.  John D knocks it down at square dance tempo, with that pulsing rhythm that gets your heart beating and your feet tapping.  That's what I like about the Hangout, we do not all have to sound the same.



- Don B.






Thanks, Don! Haven't really played this tune since I recorded it 6 years ago. I need to dust it off again, and maybe I'll suggest it at the next jam as I've never heard anyone mention it (whenever it's decided to switch to A after playing D tunes for a couple hours lol). 

WVDreamin - Posted - 04/08/2022:  10:00:16


Somehow life got in the way last week and I missed this whole TOTW.





"Grub Springs" is one of my favorites from the Great Big Yam Potatoes album, and I agree it is a noteworthy collection. Great choice, Janet, and well played by all! 

slc - Posted - 04/09/2022:  11:32:09


quote:

Originally posted by JanetB


Great history. I have that book, and hope to pick up a few tunes from it (need to slog though reading music notation though).



Grubb Springs is a wonderful, kick-ass tune in a jam, and it really rocks on the banjo. I've never worked it out it on solo on the banjo however and now I'm inspired to get it "right".

JanetB - Posted - 04/09/2022:  14:55:00


Thanks much, John D, for posting your enjoyably played Grub Springs!



Reading fiddle transcriptions is the last method of learning which I prefer for learning tunes.  Following is a link to have some or all of the actual Mississippi recordings which are included in Harry Bolick's recent book.  Grub Springs is Track #4. "3 CD Set 147 tracks Includes 12 page illustrated booklet by Harry Bolick. Detailed discography. Primarily conceived as a way to get people and the economy back to work, Roosevelt’s WPA arts projects published state tour guides, collected ex-slave narratives, and collected folklore of all sorts, but especially folk music. This set contains the complete fiddle and banjo field recordings collected by Herbert Halpert for his 1939 field trip in Mississippi. Then working with the New York chapter of the Federal Theatre project, Halpert was drafted by the Federal Music Project to produce the recordings. An army ambulance was donated and renovated with WPA labor. The Library of Congress loaned recording equipment. The Presto 78 disc cutter, then the state of the art for portable recording equipment, was installed in the ambulance, which was later nicknamed the “Soundwagon.” The expedition was one of the very last collecting efforts fielded by the WPA arts projects before being defunded by the anti-New Deal opposition. The quality of the documentation, photos, and recordings make it one of the most impressive of the WPA’s collecting efforts. After the trip, the recordings were deposited and have largely remained unheard in the Library of Congress archives. A few tracks have been released by the Library of Congress on several of its LP recordings. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History produced an LP in 1987 with many fine tracks but this is the first time all one hundred and forty recordings have been made available. This 3 CD set is released in conjunction with the book ‘Mississippi Fiddle Tunes And Songs From The 1930s’ by Harry Bolick and Stephen T. Austin, published by University Press of Mississippi." 



Field Recordings 3 CD-set





Courtesy The Documents Record Store



 

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