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Feb 26, 2021 - 12:11 AM
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375 posts since 4/20/2015

Greetings from sunny Copenhagen, Denmark! The TOTW for this week is Biddy. I learned of this tune from Adam Hurt, who recorded it for his most recent album of music on the gourd banjo, "Back to the Earth". The whole album is excellent but to me this is the standout track. Maybe it's because my "main" instrument is the double bass and Paul Kowert's melodic arco lines are really satisfying to hear under Adam's characteristically articulate and beautiful banjo playing.

The tune itself comes from the fiddling of Eden Hammons in West Virginia. As usual, Slippery Hill is the best place to start, with a recording of Eden Hammons from a field recording made in 1947:

Eden plays it in A and it's modal, so banjo folks probably want to stick with aEADE, although I'm sure other variations are possible (for instance, @sesaylor uses gEADE in his recording here:

Here are a couple of more versions of Biddy to get you started. First off, here are some links to Adam's playing:

From "Back to the Earth"

From "Get up in the Cool" with Cameron playing along:

By my ear, these versions are centered around B, due to the low-tuning of the gourd.

Adam was inspired to learn the tune after hearing his friend Stephanie Coleman fiddle it. I can't remember if he told me that in a lesson or whether it's in the liner notes, or both (my copy of the CD is 4000 miles away at the moment).

She played it for the Clifftop finals back in 2013:

Here's a video of Walt Koken and Clare Milliner playing it:

The comments for that video suggest that "biddy" refers to an old hen.

Lastly, here's the Foghorn Stringband:

Eden Hammons has been discussed here at length and I don't think I can add much to that, but you can find some colorful details here:

I like this tune because it's nicely haunting but isn't terribly complicated. I hope you all enjoy!

Feb 26, 2021 - 12:36 PM
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227 posts since 6/29/2015

All adams tunes sound amazing on that gourd banjo. It reminds me a lot of John Riley the shepherd also recorded on his earlier album earth tones.

Feb 26, 2021 - 2:03:31 PM
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6625 posts since 6/27/2009

Thanks for coming through, Mark, all the way from Denmark.  Listening to all the links will be enjoyable.  I like these evocative West Virginia sawmill tunes and anything Adam Hurt records on a CD with his David Hyatt bottleneck gourd banjo has been excellent.  The new CD, "Back to the Earth," is different from "Earth Tones" in the addition of talented accompanying musicians.

Five years ago Adam taught me Sandy Boys from Edden Hammons and during the same lesson gave me one of his bonus homework treats.  I was to arrange Biddy and present it to him at the next lesson.  The video is the result of my effort. I made two changes today in my version to include a neat slide he does in the third measure and also to eliminate a challenging triplet used to emulate Edden's fiddle.  While playing along with Adam's recording on my very short scale Doc's Banjo (18 1/2" scale) in dBEAB tuning (sawmill tuned down), the tone sounded decent, so this tuning is what you hear on the mp3. 

Regarding the title, Mark, an old biddy hen can be an old biddy woman, too, and an annoying one at that -- a trait I'm trying to avoid.

The David Hyatt gourd banjo played by Adam

Doc's Banjo -- 18 1/2" short scale (10" head) with minstrel nulgut strings which accomodate multiple tunings at various pitches

Feb 26, 2021 - 2:11:13 PM
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227 posts since 6/29/2015

Janet lovely version, and sounds good on that banjo.

In Liverpool, England, scouse slang is to refer to a pensioner as an auld biddy.

Edited by - Hay-on-Wye on 02/26/2021 14:12:11

Feb 27, 2021 - 12:26:14 AM
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743 posts since 7/4/2017

Auld/Old biddy is used in my area of Scotland for an old person as in 'That auld biddy who lives up the street' type of thing. I come from Southern Scotland so it might be Scottish or Northern English.

I've certainly never heard of it being used as a name for a hen in Scotland.   But I think Tommy Jarrell uses the word 'Biddy' in Cluck Old Hen so maybe it evolved a bit.

Edited by - AndyW on 02/27/2021 00:29:04

Feb 27, 2021 - 12:31:31 AM
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41004 posts since 3/7/2006

When I started to play it I found that a possible tuning is aEABE (gDGAD capo 2). That is also one of the modal tunings and it is a little easier fingering.

Edited by - janolov on 02/27/2021 00:33:56

Feb 27, 2021 - 1:46:11 AM



227 posts since 6/29/2015

Feb 28, 2021 - 5:57:58 AM
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46 posts since 1/7/2014

Thanks Mark for the nice tune.

I posted my quick ditty biddy.

I tried to write out Edden Hammons' melody line and I figured out chords that fit Hammons' notes better than the guitar accompaniment. Then I tried to translate it all to banjo, losing some melody notes and adding some banjoisms.

Then I compared it to Stephanie Coleman's version and recorded it "as is".

Edited by - JeroenJ on 02/28/2021 05:59:07

Feb 28, 2021 - 8:32:56 AM
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227 posts since 6/29/2015

Jereon that sounds pretty neat

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