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Mar 6, 2021 - 8:03:03 AM
33 posts since 2/14/2021

I'm wondering who sang the bad boy songs and where and when? I'm talking about pre recording, radio and rural electrification? Songs like: Bully of the Town, Hold the Woodpile Down, Pretty Polly, Roll'im Boys Roll'im, The Cuckoo, Red Rocking Chair, Boozefighters. I assume guys sang them not girls and they didn't sing them in church or around children. One obvious place is in the taverns and sporting houses but where else? They had to be very popular to have been recorded in the early days of the recording industry. I'll bet the singers and musicians were not professionals for the most part. There must have been many long lonesome nights sitting around a bottle of booze with some buddies or sitting around in a bunkhouse after timbering trees for twelve hours in the winter. Are these the songs they played and sang or maybe not so much? My father was a hobo in his younger days riding the rails from Chicago to San Francisco and elsewhere. I asked him if he heard a lot of train songs as he rambled. He said "No! Can you imagine trying to jump on a freight car with a guitar hanging off your back?" Any comments or stories?

Mar 6, 2021 - 8:31:20 AM
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DC5

USA

18167 posts since 6/30/2015
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The president of the Community College I attended was a hobo in his youth. He suggested I try it for a summer, and gave me some tips on riding the rails. Riding the rails is not hopping a freight car, it is actually riding under the cars just above the tracks. I did not take his advice. Britt, Iowa still holds a Hobo Convention every year. Contrary to popular belief, hobos were not bums or tramps. They were migrant workers who traveled from place to place looking for work.

EDIT: Woody Guthrie was able to jump on freight trains with a guitar. 

Edited by - DC5 on 03/06/2021 08:33:17

Mar 6, 2021 - 9:12:02 AM

33 posts since 2/14/2021

Interesting comment. My Dad told me many stories of his travels. Technically, he was a tramp not a hobo but that's a distinction he never made. He rode the rails literally from Sacramento to Salt Lake City, he told me, and it almost killed him from all the dust boiling up around him. Yes, it's possible to carry an instrument with you like Guthrie, Seeger and B.U. Phillips among others. My point was that in my Pop's experience, he did not notice any music being played. It may not have been as common as I like to think among the "Kings of the Road". But it was popular somewhere or we wouldn't have so many traditional bad boy tunes.

Mar 6, 2021 - 11:00:55 AM

4073 posts since 10/13/2005

I guess "bad boy" needs to have booze with maybe a murder or two thrown in for good measure. Banks of the Ohio, Old time Tom Dooley (Dwight Diller), Buffalo Skinner's and Hills Of Mexico, etc. Where and when sang? Anywhere anytime you can get away with it... banjered

Mar 6, 2021 - 3:02:16 PM

1680 posts since 7/4/2009
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Those are all pretty disparate songs. Clarence Ashley referred to "Cuckoo Bird" as a “‘lassy-makin’” tune, or a song associated with making of molasses. “Bully of the Town” has roots in minstrelsy and early vaudeville as a song called “The Bully.” Lily Mae Ledford mentioned “Pretty Polly” as one of the songs her mother approved of, which I think is significant as she (her mother) disapproved of much of the repertoire she learned from her father as “old drunkard’s songs” and unladylike. So Ma Ledford, at least, didn’t consider it a bad boy song. I know little about the history of “Hold the Woodpile Down” but always considered it more of a tune than a song.

Edited by - UncleClawhammer on 03/06/2021 15:05:17

Mar 6, 2021 - 6:45:36 PM

KCJones

USA

1454 posts since 8/30/2012

It's called "riding the rods", not riding the rails.

If they ride, let 'em ride the rods.

Put their trust in the hand of God. 

This is becuase under the box cars there are diagonal tensioning rods to add rigidity to the frame. They would lay right on the rods. This isn't done much anymore, partly because a lot of railcars don't have rods but mostly because the hopper cars are more common than box cars nowadays and they have much more comfortable sitting areas on the ends. 

I gave quite a few rides to tramps in my travels up and down the track. Mostly back and forth between Dalhart and El Paso, and over to Tucson. It was hard to get out of El Paso on the track because the trains would go through border checkpoints a couple hours out of the city in each direction, and travelers can't really get through them easily. But on the road they just wave you by, especially since they saw my truck every day twice a day. I don't think hobos really exist much anymore, the modern labor economy doesn't really support that. Nobody hires drifters. Tramps is accurate, but a lot of the younger ones would just call themselves travelers. Usually nice people, although there is a certain smell about them.

Harmonicas seemed to be their instrument of choice, much more than anything. I think I only saw one or two guitars in the 5 years I was there, and never once saw a banjo or fiddle.

Edited by - KCJones on 03/06/2021 18:50:47

Mar 7, 2021 - 3:38:41 AM

33 posts since 2/14/2021

Thanks for the post, KC, you have updated the subject of train hopping for me. It makes sense to play harmonicas instead of any other instrument. I always have one in my truck to play when going any distance. And I'm sure 'travelers' all over the country would find it the musical instrument of choice.

Mar 7, 2021 - 6:23:09 AM

1680 posts since 7/4/2009
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"Bully of the Town," under the title of "The Bully," was one of the first nationally popular ragtime songs, though in those days it was thought of by most people as a "coon" or minstrel show song. It was a monster hit for a Scots-Canadian singer named May Irwin, who had performed it in a stage play called Widow Jones. She specialized in (genuine or ersatz) Afro-American "bad man" ballads, generally in exaggerated "darky" dialect, although, unlike most performers of the same material, she did not wear blackface makeup.

The song is older, though. “Kansas City girls can’t play anything on pianos except ‘rags’ and the worst ‘rags’ at that. ‘The Bully’ and ‘Forty Drops’ are their favorites.” Leavenworth Herald, 1894. WC Handy also mentioned hearing it in the 1890s.

Mar 7, 2021 - 7:42:12 AM
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1440 posts since 2/9/2007

Haul the Woodpile Down (the title on Uncle Dave's record was was a misprint or mis-heard!) surely started out being sung by steamboat crews to coordinate the stated task. Like Bully of the Town (IMO likely another riverboat chantey), it was appropriated and published in the late 19th c., becoming another popular "coon song".

Mar 7, 2021 - 8:40:29 AM

33 posts since 2/14/2021

Thanks Dan for the information and thanks to you Uncle Clawhammer. I'm a long time resident of Elkins, West Virginia and attended graduate school at WVU when I was teaching at Davis & Elkins College.

I've just become aware in the last few years how much of Old Time Music (Mountain Music or whatever) both vocal and instrumental is of African-American origin. Haul (Hold) the Woodpile Down is an example of this and perhaps Bully of the Town started out that way. Uncle Clawhammer's interesting post stresses that view. Here is a recording of Haul the Woodpile Down recorded in 1894 that features a banjo style reminiscent of Uncle Dave. To tell the truth I can't tell if it is finger picked or flat picked but I'd go with the fingers (Many thanks to Youtube).
Charles Asbury - Haul the Woodpile Down
youtu.be/sqc4jI2I52I

Mar 7, 2021 - 8:55:19 AM

1680 posts since 7/4/2009
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The banjo style on that recording is the finger style that is now known as "classic banjo" - I don't know what terms were widely used before the foundation of the American Banjo Fraternity, but "guitar style" was one. Uncle Dave played a similar style on many of his recordings, characterized by his extremely fast triplet playing.

Cool to meet (so to speak) another WVian on here.

Edited by - UncleClawhammer on 03/07/2021 09:00:47

Mar 7, 2021 - 10:07:16 AM
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33 posts since 2/14/2021

Speaking of other WVians - I'm reminded of Jimmy Costa who as you know made a career out of Uncle Dave's music and banjo style. I've known him for years and taught a class with him at the Augusta Workshop sort of. It was a class of German summer students and since I spoke German Margo asked me to assist him. Well, as you'd expect he was the whole show and the German students were delighted but perplexed. One asked me if he was just acting and I told her "No, that's the real Jimmy." Here is his cut at Hold the Woodpile Down with a patented Jimmy Costa introduction.
youtu.be/tw0sB_LgU-8

Mar 7, 2021 - 7:24:04 PM

1440 posts since 2/9/2007

quote:
Originally posted by UncleClawhammer

The banjo style on that recording is the finger style that is now known as "classic banjo" - I don't know what terms were widely used before the foundation of the American Banjo Fraternity, but "guitar style" was one. Uncle Dave played a similar style on many of his recordings, characterized by his extremely fast triplet playing.

Cool to meet (so to speak) another WVian on here.


Actually, Asbury is playing stroke style on that cylinder!  The riffs that sound so much like Uncle Dave's 3-finger triplets are done with what is nowadays called the "Galax lick" (the index dragging across 2 or 3 strings, followed by the thumb on the 5th string).  Asbury does fit that lick into the rhythm in a way that's a little different from how any traditional mountain picker I've heard would do it, though.

Mar 7, 2021 - 8:20:43 PM

1680 posts since 7/4/2009
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Thanks for clearing that up, Dan. I never would've guessed.

Mar 8, 2021 - 5:00:57 AM

33 posts since 2/14/2021

Asbury seems to be playing in the key of G but the low fourth string sounds too low for concert D. I've not tried to replicate the tuning but I was wondering if he is in Drop C and playing in G? Drop C was very popular among banjoist at that time (I've read) as was the classic style. It sounds like Asbury is using some kind of up picking style rather than the classic style or the stroke style. Now I hear the "Galax Lick" you noted, Dan. That reminds me of a lick common to the minstrel stroke style which sounds like arpeggio done with the fingers but isn't.

Mar 9, 2021 - 2:04:29 PM

1440 posts since 2/9/2007

He's in standard (C) tuning, a fourth below standard pitch (dGDF#D)-- another throwback to an earlier era.

That's exactly how my Hartel banjo is most usually tuned.

And remember Asbury would almost certainly be using a thimble when playing stroke style.

Edited by - Dan Gellert on 03/09/2021 14:06:36

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