I have chosen Home Sweet Home to this week’s TOTW. It is an old tune and have been played on banjo for at least 154 years and I really hope that it will be played for many more years in the future.
The "original" version
"Home, Sweet Home" is a song adapted from American actor and dramatist John Howard Payne's 1823 opera “Clari, or the Maid of Milan”. The song's melody was composed by Sir Henry Bishop with lyrics by Payne. Bishop had earlier published a more elaborate version of this melody, naming it "A Sicilian Air", but he later confessed to having written himself.
This is probably what Payne and Bishop had expected the song to sound: Or this is another nice version:
Early banjo versions
Frank B. Converse is one of the early banjo pioneers who made a lot of efforts to develop the banjo playing and bring it as a musical instrument to both the public and to other musicians. He published several banjo tutors (still available at Joel Hook’s site: and at the Classic banjo “ning site”: ).
Home Sweet Home is presented already in Converse's New and Complete Method for the Banjo With or Without a Master from 1865 (often called “Converse Green”): . This is how Tim Twiss (a.k.a. banjosnapper at BHO) interprets it: . Another version by tony z can be seen here:
Home Sweet Home occurs several times in later tutors by Converse, for example in The Banjoist from 1871 ( ) where he presents a very elaborated version with a lot of virtuoso variations. Here is an example of Bill Evans playing the variations from the 1871 The Banjoist: played on a steel stringed S.S. Stewart banjo.
Home Sweet Home also occurs in later tutors, for example in 1886 where there are two versions ( ), first a tremolo version, and then the variations. These also occurs in his The Banjo Made Easy from 1893:
Recordings of Home Sweet Home from the 1920’s and 30’s
I don’t know what happened between 1893 and 1927 with the tune. The interest in banjo seems to have changed focus, from what we today call “classic banjo” to more popular and traditional style, sometimes referred to as folk music, and today we call it Old-Time Music (but in 1920's "Old Time Music was probably something quit different). The radio was developed and commercialized during the 1920, and so was the gramophone, and during the latter half of the 1920’s there were a lot of both field recordings and studio recordings of popular “folk music”. The banjo in these new recordings differed a lot from the old “classic banjo” that Frank B. Converse and others had disseminated and a lot of different down-picking (today called clawhammer) and 2 and 3 finger up-picking styles could be heard.
I have found three different recordings of Home Sweet Home from this period:
Mack Woolbright plays mostly a backward roll. Some examples are shown in this Figure (see also the full tab below)
Roll 1 is a kind of basic backward roll. Roll 2 is similar but on the first beat he make a pinch to get a melody note. Roll 3 is a little more advanced roll which adds a little syncopation. If the notes in the roll are numbered 1 to 8 (as 1/8 notes) in a measure you can see:
I have just started to explore and analyze Fred Jenkins version. I have made a first try to tab it out (see below). He seems to use a forward roll a lot, and I think his version sounds like an intermediate Bluegrass version of today (and it was recorded about 20 years before there was Bluegrass music!).
There are a lot of Bluegrass versions out there, but I will only mention two, but most Bluegrass version seems to be based on those two:
Earl Scruggs’ version is based on the Mack Woolbright version, mentioned above. In his book “Earl Scruggs and the 5-string banjo” (1968) Earl tells: “There were several three-finger banjo pickers I admired who lived near our Flint Hill community. There was Mack Woolbright, a blind banjo picker who recorded with Charlie Parker on the Columbia label in the late 20’s. I remember him from a visit he made to my Uncle Sidney Ruppe’s home; rocking in a rocking chair and picking “Home Sweet Home” in the in the key of C. The G7 chord he played in this number was one of the most thrilling sounds I had ever heard. I was about six years old (1930) and I wondered how a blind person could play so beautifully.”
Here is a live version of Earl playing: . It is in drop C tuning. His version has a lot of similarities with Mack Woolbright, but there are also a lot of differences.
I put attached a tab where Mack Woolbrigt's version and Earl Scruggs' version can be compared measure by measure.
Don Reno have another great version: or . He plays in open D tuning, and the bends that can be heard is done by bending the strings up on the peg head above the nut (later Scruggs tuners and Keith tuners were developed to do the same). On the recording he played the back-up instruments himself, and also sang the harmony parts. I don’t know from where Reno picked up his version. It seems to have no relation to the older classic banjo versions, and no other similarities to other early versions.
Contemporary Old-Time versions
When googling on Home Sweet Home the result is a lot of Bluegrass version. However, I have managed to find some good Old-Time versions:
From Clifftop 2012: Paula Bradley and Bill Dillof play a good version OT three-finger version of The Man Who Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was A Married Man:
Lukas Pool plays an enchanting clawhammer version:
Here is a nice clawhammer and three-finger duet:
Don Rusnak plays a nice clawhammer and Oldtime 3 finger version:
Tom Berghan plays a wonderful version on a minstrel banjo model Sweeney:
Tenor banjo and jazz
There also some tenor banjo recordings:
Eddie Davis (BHO member greenmeat):
A jazzy banjo and fiddle version:
The Man Who Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was A Married Man
I have tried to put Mack Woolbright in focus in this TOTW. He used Home Sweet Home as break in “The Man Who Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was A Married Man”, when he and Charlie Parker recorded it in 1927 (92 years ago) for Columbia (Columbia 15236D) in Atlanta.
This song was first written and published in 1908 by Fleta Jan Brown under the title “The Party That Wrote Home Sweet Home Never was a Married Man”. Charlie Parker & Mack Woolbright recorded it in 1927. It is also another early recording of “The Party Who …”by Eddie Morton in 1910: https://archive.org/details/EddieMorton/EddieMorton-ThePartythatWroteHomeSweetHomeNeverwasaMarriedMan.mp3# . These versions are not very fancy, and are to a large part recitative, and they do not present the Home Sweet Home (and there is no banjo!).
The lyrics The Man Who Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was A Married Man can be found here: http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/RTOS-ManHomeSweet.html and sheet music here: http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/ManHomeSweet.pdf .
Lyrics and melody is also presented in Old-Time String Band Song Book (New Lost City Ramblers’ version): https://books.google.se/books?id=V5HIDgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=sv&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Bart Veerman: (two CH versions in open D and drop C tuning, and one threefinger in open D)
Jim Tates: (clawhammer in G tuning)
Mack Woolbright’s break in The Man Who Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was A Married Man (tabbed out by me): https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=23627 (TablEdit, pdf and midi)
Fred Jenkins, first variation only (tabbed out by me): https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=23628 (TablEdit, pdf and midi)
Clawhammer by me (includes a straight clawhammer version and a “CH backward roll” arrangement): https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=23629 (TablEdit, pdf and midi) (Link edited03/16)
Edited by - janolov on 03/15/2019 23:52:40
This is quite a thorough TOTW. Excellent pick and excellent presentation.
If that isn’t a proper analysis of a song...
Very, very well done and informative.
I like that you took the tune down through history and included examples as available with a bit of back ground and info on the bands and player themselves. A lot of good music there.
Thank you for the time you took with this. I am sure it’s going to help and inform a lot of players out there, no matter what their playing level.
Always have Loved the Frank Jenkins version
Your research is superlative, Jan: A+++! Your tabs are accurate and interesting, but I'm feeling too lazy to learn them well enough to record. My experience with Earl Scrugg's version was to learn it by heart a long while back via Bill Keith's tab and marvel at the beauty of his backward roll in portraying the song. Now it's revealed that he had others before him for inspiration.
I went back to the Scrugg's version and tried to adapt it in a simple way to my clawhammer style without working very hard. I used partial chords on the first two strings. There's no tab yet for my version here, but would tab it if anyone is interested.
TOTW remains a wonderful challenge to look forward to every week. I hope readers here will volunteer and see how rewarding it is to post a tune. It can be very simple and would be just as welcome as Jan's incredible presentation here.
Edited by - JanetB on 03/16/2019 11:02:22
Wow Jan! Great TOTW!!
Jan, what a wonderful, carefully researched totw. Thanks for all the work.
and fine playing--as always---Janet
Many thanks for a great essay that happened to be about a Tune of the Week.
Edited by - hweinberg on 03/17/2019 05:57:05
This is an excellent post!
HSH with variations became a showpiece for banjoists and they would often close a show with it. It was very popular and versions were still being published as late as 1918
It was also the very first number published by S. S. Stewart, being E. M. Hall's variations.
Dozens and dozens of versions were published for banjo (in the US and England), every professional and teacher having their own arrangement.
There were a couple of people who claimed to "invent" the variation using "tremolo." This is where the first finger of the right hand rapidly plays the melody on the first string while the thumb plays the harmony accompaniment on the rest of the strings. E. M. Hall being one of them (this variation was included in the SSS publication.
HSH with variations was not just specific to the banjo. There are arrangements for pretty much any instrument you can think of including the Hawaiian Guitar (which is where I believe bluegrass got it).
Here is Olly Oakley playing a pretty typical set of variations in 1913...
The last variation he plays is with tremolo. Oakley played a zither banjo with fingernails so three of those strings are steel, one is gut and one is wound over silk.
Thanks for the great post!
Great TOTW post. Couple notes:
They Happy Hayseeds were originally a duo of two brothers who relocated to California from Oregon, Ivan and Fred Laam. They cut a few 78s including the spectacularly weird and interesting "Tail of Haley's Comet," but were better known for playing in various incarnations of the Hayseeds on the radio for 30+ years. Well known fiddler and mandolin player Kenny Hall learned a large amount of material as a young man from listening to the Laam's on the radio and ended up being the lone source for a lot of their unrecorded material. I've seen people on this site claim before that its a tenor banjo on the Hayseed's recordings, but Kenny set the record straight in a book of his tunes and said that it was always a picked five-string banjo, played in more or less the "classic style." I feel like Fred's playing on "Home Sweet Home" makes this clear, and its really an amazing showpiece of fiddle and banjo techniques.
Earl Scruggs said he saw Mack Woolbright playing 3 finger banjo doing "Home Sweet Home" when he was a kid, but by all other accounts Charlie Parker was the banjo player in the duo. That was the info in the Columbia ledgers and the one solo banjo record they cut titled "Rabbit Chase" (clawhammer, interestingly) was credited just to Parker on the label.
Great post - really interesting history. Thanks
Here's another lovely take on Converse's classic banjo version from Bill Evans who is better known as a bluegrass picker. It's about 7:30 min/sec into this video, with the discussion of classical starting about 5:30 min/sec. The video itself is a nice summary of banjo history from Africa to recent times in 14 minutes.
Edited by - Lew H on 03/18/2019 13:35:52
I am glad that you appreciated ny choice of tune. Actually, I started the research for this fifty years ago. I had just got Earl's book (1968) and trying to understand what he was doing I compared with a notation in a song book at the public library, and I found that Earl's melody was not identic to the notation (which was based on Bishop's original version).
Joel Hooks, thanks for your link to Olly Oakely. Even if it is classic banjo, I can hear some kind of "rolls", that can have influenced other players later.
BobTheGambler, thanks for the information about the Happy Hayseeds. There are some other recording that are worth listen to.
Lew H, thanks for the link. Bill Evans is great. Earlier I have just thought of him as a Bluegrass player, but when I discovered his HSH variations I have totally changed my mind about him. Itr seems that he is the only contemporary banjo player that really plays the variations.
And JanetB, it was a lovely version (as always)!
'Don Bryant' 21 min
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