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Sep 20, 2019 - 10:29:11 AM
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Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

Wade Ward's "Johnson Boys" appears on County Records' Clawhammer Banjo, v. 3 (CO-2718-CD), and I suspect that's where it first caught my ear. But, it's Jont Blevins' version, published on The Field Recorders' Collective (FRC117), that inspired this Tune of the Week choice. I'm very fond of his playing.

The Traditional Tune Archive entry labels the tune as an old-time reel in D but mentions that it's also played as a song with lyrics that tell tales of the Johnson Boys' exploits. For more information, check out the background information. Tab from Jack Beuthin is also available here.

Here's an early example of the tune played as a song in a recording done by The Hillbillies in 1927.

And, here's an example verse: "Johnson boys went a-courtin', The reason why they did not stay, The reason why they did not stay; They had no money for to pay their way, Had no money for to pay their way, They had no money for to pay their way."

Another example, of particular interest to me, is a video of the tune as played by Albert Hash, Emily Spencer, Thornton Spencer. According to the Field Recorders' notes, Jont Blevins learned from Albert Hash's great uncle and it was the Spencers who made the recordings of Jont Blevins. Lots of connections there!

And then, here are two more examples for good measure. The first one is Frank Proffitt, Jr. and it features dulcimer and feet. (This takes my fancy because I'm fond of both as accompaniment when I play the fiddle.)

The second is a more modern interpretation by Brittany Haas and Paul Koweert.

The thing I love about this tune is that the skeletal melody is simple enough that it's easy to pick it up quickly so it can just be enjoyed on the porch. But, a recording like the one Jont Blevins made is complex enough to catch my ear and keep me wondering, "What is he really doing there?"

I don't have a polished personal recording but I'll attach a quick, one-time-through, unpolished, un-arranged, work-in-progress, recorded with a computer mic to give you an idea of where I'm going with it.

Be sure to check out the BHO media archive, though. There are quite a few example recordings there. And, please post your own versions to fill out this thread.

And, how about a bit of fun? Consider tapping into your inner lyricist to write a new verse to the song and let us see/hear what you create!


Edited by - Cyndy on 09/20/2019 11:24:33

Sep 20, 2019 - 11:26:45 AM
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Players Union Member

ndlxs

USA

347 posts since 9/26/2006

I've always liked David Lindley's version, recorded in the Great Folk Scare of the early 1960s before he was David Lindley. It is pretty non-canonical of a version, and seeing as how the second part goes up to a high D you aren't likely to find many fiddlers to play this version with you. But it is fun to play. youtube.com/watch?v=UTR0IPSde2I

Sep 20, 2019 - 11:32:09 AM

Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

ndlxs Nice addition to the thread. It follows the melody, but offers a completely different take on the tune!

I've noticed that introduction that moves down the scale in a number of versions on YouTube. Anyone know where that feature originated? Just curious.

Sep 20, 2019 - 3:43:29 PM
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hoodoo

Canada

519 posts since 10/6/2017

Thanks for choosing this tune as the TOTW

Here is my quick take on an inexpensive, yet very fun to play fretless Don Gardner banjo


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

Sep 20, 2019 - 4:19:02 PM

Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

hoodoo I like the sound of the brushes as the tune picks up and I love the part that sounds like 5-T-5-T-5-T. It gives it a whole different feel and it really fits with the sound of that banjo. Thanks!

Sep 20, 2019 - 5:10:05 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22303 posts since 6/25/2005

One of the few tunes I play in double-C/D. Just doesn’t sound right in standard C.

Sep 20, 2019 - 5:22:43 PM

Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

Bill Rogers Now I'm genuinely curious. What's standard C tuning? And what are the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between playing it in one tuning or the other? I have to admit--on this one, I haven't given the tuning any thought.

Sep 20, 2019 - 6:02:28 PM
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dfwest

USA

543 posts since 7/24/2006

great tune. I often play it in open G, starting with a hammer on to 2d string, 3d fret. Go on from there.

Dave

Sep 20, 2019 - 6:28:38 PM

Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

dfwest Just tried it in G. Always fun to experiment! The B part doesn't feel all that different but the A part has a much more open ring to it. I'm wondering if it would be easier to sing it there? (I'm SO not a singer.)

Sep 20, 2019 - 6:31:20 PM
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6301 posts since 8/30/2004

Hi Cindy,
Standard C tuning is just dropped C, meaning the 4th string is tuned down one note from D to C...Jack  p.s. I must admit I've never heard it called Standard C tuning, just dropped C...

Originally posted by Cyndy

Bill Rogers Now I'm genuinely curious. What's standard C tuning? And what are the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between playing it in one tuning or the other? I have to admit--on this one, I haven't given the tuning any thought.


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/20/2019 18:41:35

Sep 20, 2019 - 6:36:26 PM
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Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

Jack Baker Very helpful. I just tried playing it in standard C and I agree with Bill. I end up needing to fret the C on the second string which doesn't give me the flexibility to slide up to the 5th-fret G when I want to. It's really fascinating to look at a familiar tune from different angles. :)

Sep 20, 2019 - 6:37:52 PM
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dfwest

USA

543 posts since 7/24/2006

"dfwest Just tried it in G. Always fun to experiment! The B part doesn't feel all that different but the A part has a much more open ring to it. I'm wondering if it would be easier to sing it there? (I'm SO not a singer.)"

Cyndy,

I heard myself sing once and I promised myself never to do that again!

I play it in both double C and open G. The open G version can be made to sound kind of raggy, if you syncopate it a bit. I have come to prefer it for that reason.

Dave

Sep 20, 2019 - 7:35:55 PM
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RG

USA

2922 posts since 8/7/2008

Real nice Cyndy!!! Loved your rendition!

ndlxs-David Lindley was famed luthier (RIP) Larry Brown's roommate at UCLA and hung out with Tom Sauber, so he was exposed to some masters with OT chops...

Sep 20, 2019 - 7:45:22 PM
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Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

@RG I always appreciate your support for my banjo endeavors. Thanks! And thanks for the added information. The "genealogical" connections in old-time music are fascinating. I'm thinking Tom Sauber must be my -- oh, I don't know -- grand-fiddle-bowing-uncle or the like? :)

Sep 20, 2019 - 8:44:46 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22303 posts since 6/25/2005

“Drop C” or “Dropped C” are, IMO, recent and unnecessary terms. I started playing in 1961. Common tunings were “C tuning”—gCGBD, “G tuning”—gDGBD, “G modal”—gDGCD, C modal—gCGCD, G minor—gDGBbD, Open D—f#/aDF#AD. Then “Double-C replaced “C modal.” Some became confused by “C tuning,” and began calling it Standard C,” because it had been the standard for 100+ years. I first heard “Drop C” about 8 or so years ago. It apparently started with G-tuning bluegrass players who didn’t know that C-tuning was the long-established standard tuning for 5-string, because their normal was G tuning.  So the world turns. Plectrum banjos are normally played in C tuning, and without a capo. Same goes for “classic-style” 5-string. 

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/20/2019 20:53:40

Sep 20, 2019 - 8:51:13 PM

Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

Bill Rogers That makes sense. I didn't have a name for it but I think of "standard C" as a classic banjo tuning, which fits with the 100+ years. And, yes. I agree. Definitely not great for this tune. :)

Sep 20, 2019 - 8:57:25 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22303 posts since 6/25/2005

Side note—Walt Koken, as good a clawhammer player as there is, normally uses C tuning for his C and D tunes.

Sep 20, 2019 - 9:09:09 PM

Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

That's fascinating. I just tried Soldier's Joy in standard-C and what seems to happen is that I have different chord options than I have in double-C when I want to hit more than one string (or add another single string as a filler to create interest). It's good to change things up now and again--if only as an experiment. Keeps things interesting! :)

Sep 20, 2019 - 9:22:23 PM

6301 posts since 8/30/2004

Bill,
I hear ya but there are an awful lot of newbies coming in who don't even know what G tuning is...laugh You and I are about the same age so imagine me have to tell student after student what G tuning is much less that it's the key in many bgrass tunes....

Originally posted by Bill Rogers

“Drop C” or “Dropped C” are, IMO, recent and unnecessary terms. I started playing in 1961. Common tunings were “C tuning”—gCGBD, “G tuning”—gDGBD, “G modal”—gDGCD, C modal—gCGCD, G minor—gDGBbD, Open D—f#/aDF#AD. Then “Double-C replaced “C modal.” Some became confused by “C tuning,” and began calling it Standard C,” because it had been the standard for 100+ years. I first heard “Drop C” about 8 or so years ago. It apparently started with G-tuning bluegrass players who didn’t know that C-tuning was the long-established standard tuning for 5-string, because their normal was G tuning.  So the world turns. Plectrum banjos are normally played in C tuning, and without a capo. Same goes for “classic-style” 5-string. 


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/20/2019 21:23:39

Sep 20, 2019 - 11:38:20 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22303 posts since 6/25/2005

Right on that, Jack. Kinda scary.

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 09/20/2019 23:40:53

Sep 21, 2019 - 4:50:51 AM

5242 posts since 10/13/2007

Did Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ

Ken

Sep 21, 2019 - 5:06:16 AM
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carlb

USA

2004 posts since 12/16/2007
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by Cyndy
Another example, of particular interest to me, is a video of the tune as played by Albert Hash, Emily Spencer, Thornton Spencer. According to the Field Recorders' notes, Jont Blevins learned from Albert Hash's great uncle and it was the Spencers who made the recordings of Jont Blevins. Lots of connections there!

I noted that Emily Spencer doesn't move her left hand position at all but yet gets just a perfect setting for what Albert Hash is playing. She uses the Galax lick (double 5th string stroke) and drop thumb just in the appropriate places. As you can tell, I really like what she's doing.

Sep 21, 2019 - 7:47:17 AM
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Cyndy

USA

615 posts since 3/2/2010

carlb I agree. I just watch/listened carefully and it IS the "perfect setting"--just enough and not too much. I can't tell you how many times I've thought to myself how much I'd like to hear the Spencer's take on how Jont Blevins played. I've been fiddling more than banjoing recently, but taking on a bit of TOTW responsibility has pulled me back toward it. :)

Sep 21, 2019 - 8:11:40 AM

6301 posts since 8/30/2004

Yes, it's on the "Pastures of Plenty" LP way back. Earl just plays some great backup banjo on this song....Jack

Originally posted by From Greylock to Bean Blossom

Did Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ

Ken


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/21/2019 08:12:31

Sep 21, 2019 - 10:38:36 AM

6301 posts since 8/30/2004

Oops! Wrong LP...it was "Folk Songs Of Our Land"...

Originally posted by Jack Baker
Yes, it's on the "Pastures of Plenty" LP way back. Earl just plays some great backup banjo on this song....Jack

Originally posted by From Greylock to Bean Blossom

Did Flatt and Scruggs remake that song into this song?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRCdzgkrfOQ

Ken


 


Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/21/2019 10:39:16

Sep 21, 2019 - 5:13:41 PM
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6312 posts since 6/27/2009

I think you've presented a golden nugget tune, Cyndy, and you listen so carefully to each version and comment so thoughtfully.  Since I'm interested in Albert Hash, that was my go-to link for a clawhammer arrangement from his fiddle playing.  In 2016 I presented the tune Nancy Blevins and there's some interesting musical history about Albert and his family in that thread:  TOTW, 2/26/16, Nancy Blevins.

One of my favorites is Paul Roberts' melodic clawhammer version learned from studying John Burke's Book of Old Time Fiddle Tunes for Banjo.  

 

I can happily listen over and over to Dan Gellert and Brad Leftwich playing twin fiddles from their A Moment in Time recordings.


Edited by - JanetB on 09/21/2019 17:21:31

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