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Buddy Won't You Roll On Down the Line

Posted by rrode on Sunday, March 17, 2013

Somehow through the last 52 years of my life I never came across the Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music until just last month.  And I've been making up for lost time since getting a copy.  What a great and strange collection of music.  It is wild to consider that these were all commercial recordings.

One of the recordings that just grabbed me is Uncle Dave Macon's Oh Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line.  Others have chronicled the background on the session -- i.e. http://theanthologyofamericanfolkmusic.blogspot.com/2010/07/buddy-wont-you-roll-down-line-uncle.html -- so I won't go into details here.  The short story is this deals with the Tennessee Coal Creek rebellion in 1891.  The miners went on strike and the mine owners paid the state to 'lease' convict labor.  Which news was poorly received by the striking miners -- riots ensued.  And a number of classic tunes have come out of the events. 

Research on YouTube reveals no quality versions of the song, nor did I find any banjo tab for it.  On the recording Macon plays a clawhammer part up at the 12th fret accompanied by a banjo guitar.  So I decided to put together my own tab arrangement of the song as well as a passable recorded version.  It took me a lot of careful listening to wrap my head around what was going on with the recording.  The banjo guitar coupled with Macon's playing up the octave makes it tough to figure out what is really going on.  Finally I decided to start with my own version that felt close, and then tweaked it through repeated listening.  I'm pretty happy with the results, and hopefully this version will make it more accessible to other players. 

I'd really love to do this with someone playing bluegrass banjo.  In my mind they'd comp through the verse, play lightly through the chorus and then really open up through the instrumental breaks.  Any players in the area?  Come on buddy, won't you drop me a line?

On my solo recording I'm playing down a whole step in F on the BC-350.  On the original recording Macon sounds like he's playing closer to F#. 

Check the tab archive for my arrangement and recording.  Enjoy!



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