For most of you, the word “sawyer” likely calls to mind an image of a rugged individiual cutting through some raw timber. And, if I told you that it also referred to a fallen tree tethered on one end to the bottom of a river, threatening to ruin the day of unsuspecting navigators of rivergoing watercraft, you might question my veracity. And if I also told you that a tune named after said fallen tree was one of the greatest pieces of hominid-composed music ever written, you might reasonably think me to be a purveyor of tall tales.
But you’d be wrong.
That’s right, in this installment of the Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, we’ll be learning one of the foot stompingest tunes known to the old time pantheon: Mississippi Sawyer.
Science has also concluded unequivocally that, by a wide margin, it’s the best song ever written about a log.
Here's what our final version sounds like:
Note: If you'd like to get a free, downloadable ebook of Core Repertoire lessons 1 thru 7, and be sent the next book (lessons 8-14) when it's ready, just click here.
First things first, let’s get this melody embedded in your neural crevices, buried deep enough to avoid clandestine eradication. Fortunately, many of our sawing brethren over at the fiddle hangout appear equally fond of this tune, and have provided a bevy of sonic samplings from which to choose from. Here are a few:
Listen enough times till you can whistle or hum the basic melodical structure, and then you're ready to search for them notes on your banjer. Before you go note hunting, get your instrument in double D (aDADE) tuning, this being a D tune and all.
So here’s what I hear as the distilled essence of this tune:
And here it is in tab:
Next up, after we add in some ditty strokes after the melody notes that fall on the downbeat (the ones in bold in the above tab), we’ve already got a nice version to take to our next jam. Here’s what that looks like in tab:
And it sounds as follows:
If we pair this arrangement up with a fiddle, we find we've already got something that would make our sawstroking comrades perfectly happy.
If you’d like to take things a step further and make this tune your own, now’s the time to go to town. Dress up your log anyway you choose. Throw in some more of those melody notes you hear from the fiddle with some drop thumbs or left hand pyrotechnics, or keep things simple and rhythmical. You can hear my fancified version in the video above. And here’s that version in tablature representation:
Okay, folks. Time to hit the woodshed. As always, backup tracks for every tune in our core repertoire series are available as part of the “top 20” playlist at www.oldtimejam.com. So head on over and get jammin'!
Monday, August 18, 2014 @7:42:41 PM
Really, really nice. Smooth as a "minners lip". You've got the family touch my friend.
Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @4:10:20 AM
Thanks! Always helps to have a great tune to play.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @7:01:10 AM
Very nicely done, with just enough ornamentation to keep it interesting but not so much that it starts sounding flashy.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @3:53:04 PM
thanks again Josh for providing such a well structured and interesting tutorial...oh and great banjo playing to boot...
Raul Cabezali Says:
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 @1:14:47 AM
Great lesson - and great tune! I always thought "Mississippi Sawyer" had to do with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn cruising down the Mississippi... Thank you!
Josh Turknett Says:
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 @7:02:11 AM
Thanks, folks - appreciate the feedback. Raulin - that's what the tune first called to mind for me, too.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 @7:15:50 AM
I've always heard that a "Sawyer" was a person who worked or owned a sawmill. That's what I thought of years ago when I first heard the fiddle tune. I'm glad it's still around. Of course ten to one the song is from the Celtic world and was called something like "Maggie O'Grady" or about some battle. Many of our fiddle tunes started out in the Celtic world as jigs and reels with different titles.
Thursday, August 21, 2014 @3:55:41 PM
Monday, September 1, 2014 @7:35:20 PM
Fantastic Josh, you are helping banjo players world wide, such a well thought out lesson, wish I had found you sooner !!
Many thanks, from Scotland UK
Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, September 2, 2014 @3:33:45 AM
Monday, June 12, 2017 @7:18:13 PM
arkred, after having played a lot of Celtic tunes on tenor banjo and octave mandolin, I can't think of any Celtic tune that has the same form as "Mississippi Sawyer."
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