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Jun 18, 2021 - 7:36:45 AM
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6679 posts since 6/27/2009

When I first heard Hollow Poplar, it gave me a happy, nostalgic feeling. It’s an old tune that can be played fast or slow and still appeal.  I heard the slow, pretty banjo version and decided to investigate.  The first recording appears to be Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith.  He plays it at a fast tempo.  But listen to Hilarie Burhans’ video lesson at a slower tempo and hear what a pretty tune it can be.

 

Hollow Poplar has been recorded from Georgia to Missouri, from Washington state to Kentucky.  Arthur Smith was from Tennessee and played it since the 1920’s, but didn’t record it until the 1950’s with the McGee brothers.  It was said by his grandson, Earnest Smith, (see the Traditional Tune Archive that the tune was the very first one Smith played on the Grand Old Opry in 1928 and that it remained his favorite.

 

The life story of Arthur Smith is well told in Charles Wolfe’s book The Devil’s Box, Masters of Southern Fiddling.  Born in 1898 and raised on a farm, his father died when he was very young and working on the farm kept him from attaining an education beyond fifth grade.  He got his first fiddle as a child when his mother sold enough chickens to buy him a Sears fiddle for $6.50 from a neighbor who claimed he had been offered $500 for the fiddle. Arthur was skillful and his style eventually influenced many, with its longbow, clear noting style. He married young and raised children, getting work on a railroad line.  Through his work he knew Harry Stone, eventually the manager of the Grand Old Opry, where Arthur got regular work –  solo fiddling first, then with his cousin Homer Smith, later with the Delmore Brothers and Kirk and Sam McGee and finally had his own band, the Dixieliners (named for the railroad line).

 

Back in 2009 Hollow Poplar was covered as a TOTW in 2009 and had a neat photo, now missing, of a huge hollow poplar.  I found one that suffices, but not nearly as large as I read it can be.  The photo was taken on the Boogerman Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, located in Tennessee and North Carolina, the states where Arthur Smith was first born and later resided in. I learned that the cottonwood is one of the trees in the poplar family.  We have a voluntary one that has become the tallest tree in our front yard.  Poplar is fast-growing and useful in various ways.  Read more here:  Poplar facts and anecdotes, including the fact that President Thomas Jefferson grew tulip poplars which grew so large they framed his house.

 

I recorded this over a year ago, thinking it would make a good re-visit for a TOTW.  Yesterday I re-recorded it and found that I still play it much the same way, with just a bit of differences.  Hollow Poplar should go on my short list of tunes played over and over again, as per advice Dwight Diller once gave -- to play just a few tunes (perhaps twenty as opposed to hundreds), over and over again, to more internalize them and make them our own.  Actually, I'm still working on achieving that level of familiarity and competency for Hollow Poplar.  One thing I play differently now is the open G chord in the first measure.  In the tab there's a hammer-on and sometimes I avoid it and just begin on a G chord using the third fret, second string.  It goes to show that tab is a guideline and doesn't need strict adherence.  Tab is an important memory aid for some of us, as well as a learning tool.

 

Enjoy these recordings by some well-known old-time musicians.

 

Arthur Smith on the Slippery Hill site

 

Steve Jones with guitar accompaniment on BHO

 

Paul David Smith

 

Lee Sexton and Marion Sumner

 

Norman and Nancy Blake

 

Rhys Jones and Joel Wennerstrom

 

Pat Lyons

 

Tater Joe tab

Courtesy of tripadvisor.com


Edited by - JanetB on 06/18/2021 07:40:04

Jun 18, 2021 - 9:38:04 AM
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bjcole

USA

132 posts since 10/21/2007

Here’s what happened to one of Jefferson’s tulip poplars: virginialiving.com/culture/reg...ic-sound/

Jun 18, 2021 - 1:53:48 PM
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469 posts since 2/6/2011

Another great tune choice, Janet. I love playing this one.
Thanks for posting!

Jun 18, 2021 - 10:09:03 PM
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Hay-on-Wye

Wales

250 posts since 6/29/2015

This is a lovely tune and sounds lovely on that banjo you recorded outside.   Has a warm wholesome feel to it like sitting in a warm cottage in front of a log fire in winter

Edited by - Hay-on-Wye on 06/18/2021 22:12:38

Jun 19, 2021 - 11:28:33 AM
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177 posts since 4/10/2010

Janet,

Great tune that is a regular at my local jam.

I too am amazed at how my playing evolves over time. Tabs I wrote 20 years ago are nothing like I play the tune now. When I do a workshop I have to be careful with the tab I distribute because someone always calls me out on it. I find this happens even with tunes I tab out only a month before a workshop. Like you, I always stress that my tabs are a memory aid rather than the "right way" to play a tune and students should develop their own version. I get a kick out of it when they come back next year and show me what they've done with the tune.

Jun 19, 2021 - 11:54:33 AM

6679 posts since 6/27/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Mtngoat


 Like you, I always stress that my tabs are a memory aid rather than the "right way" to play a tune and students should develop their own version. I get a kick out of it when they come back next year and show me what they've done with the tune.


When I first learned in the 70s, a lot of it was done through tablature, as there was nobody around playing clawhammer. I have generally used those basic tab lessons over the years for my playing of certain tunes, for instance Old Mother Flanagan and Frosty Morning, which I play just about the way I first learned them.  Some people are not as precise in remembering a tab and they end up with something more unique and therefore original. But it ends up actually as a strength that the tab was merely an aid and they are ultimately going to find their own way to play it.  That's nice, Mtngoat, that you enjoy hearing students' new creation. It's something we appreciate about this genre -- the realization that there are many great ways to play any tune. 

Jun 19, 2021 - 1:51 PM

7000 posts since 8/30/2004

quote:
Originally posted by JanetB

When I first heard Hollow Poplar, it gave me a happy, nostalgic feeling. It’s an old tune that can be played fast or slow and still appeal.  I heard the slow, pretty banjo version and decided to investigate.  The first recording appears to be Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith.  He plays it at a fast tempo.  But listen to Hilarie Burhans’ video lesson at a slower tempo and hear what a pretty tune it can be.

 

Hollow Poplar has been recorded from Georgia to Missouri, from Washington state to Kentucky.  Arthur Smith was from Tennessee and played it since the 1920’s, but didn’t record it until the 1950’s with the McGee brothers.  It was said by his grandson, Earnest Smith, (see the Traditional Tune Archive that the tune was the very first one Smith played on the Grand Old Opry in 1928 and that it remained his favorite.

 

The life story of Arthur Smith is well told in Charles Wolfe’s book The Devil’s Box, Masters of Southern Fiddling.  Born in 1898 and raised on a farm, his father died when he was very young and working on the farm kept him from attaining an education beyond fifth grade.  He got his first fiddle as a child when his mother sold enough chickens to buy him a Sears fiddle for $6.50 from a neighbor who claimed he had been offered $500 for the fiddle. Arthur was skillful and his style eventually influenced many, with its longbow, clear noting style. He married young and raised children, getting work on a railroad line.  Through his work he knew Harry Stone, eventually the manager of the Grand Old Opry, where Arthur got regular work –  solo fiddling first, then with his cousin Homer Smith, later with the Delmore Brothers and Kirk and Sam McGee and finally had his own band, the Dixieliners (named for the railroad line).

 

Back in 2009 Hollow Poplar was covered as a TOTW in 2009 and had a neat photo, now missing, of a huge hollow poplar.  I found one that suffices, but not nearly as large as I read it can be.  The photo was taken on the Boogerman Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, located in Tennessee and North Carolina, the states where Arthur Smith was first born and later resided in. I learned that the cottonwood is one of the trees in the poplar family.  We have a voluntary one that has become the tallest tree in our front yard.  Poplar is fast-growing and useful in various ways.  Read more here:  Poplar facts and anecdotes, including the fact that President Thomas Jefferson grew tulip poplars which grew so large they framed his house.

 

I recorded this over a year ago, thinking it would make a good re-visit for a TOTW.  Yesterday I re-recorded it and found that I still play it much the same way, with just a bit of differences.  Hollow Poplar should go on my short list of tunes played over and over again, as per advice Dwight Diller once gave -- to play just a few tunes (perhaps twenty as opposed to hundreds), over and over again, to more internalize them and make them our own.  Actually, I'm still working on achieving that level of familiarity and competency for Hollow Poplar.  One thing I play differently now is the open G chord in the first measure.  In the tab there's a hammer-on and sometimes I avoid it and just begin on a G chord using the third fret, second string.  It goes to show that tab is a guideline and doesn't need strict adherence.  Tab is an important memory aid for some of us, as well as a learning tool.

 

Enjoy these recordings by some well-known old-time musicians.

 

Arthur Smith on the Slippery Hill site

 

Steve Jones with guitar accompaniment on BHO

 

Paul David Smith

 

Lee Sexton and Marion Sumner

 

Norman and Nancy Blake

 

Rhys Jones and Joel Wennerstrom

 

Pat Lyons

 

Tater Joe tab

Courtesy of tripadvisor.com


Jun 19, 2021 - 1:54:11 PM
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7000 posts since 8/30/2004

Great tab janet...jack

Jun 20, 2021 - 10:13:18 AM
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Players Union Member

dbrooks

USA

4048 posts since 3/11/2004

Lovely tune and played very well.

David

Jun 25, 2021 - 6:17:58 PM

6679 posts since 6/27/2009

Here is some info including a video by the Pressley girls — Blind Pig and the Acorn :) Hollow Poplar. And from a favorite fiddler, Rhys Jones: Hollow Poplar at Clifftop.  

Jun 30, 2021 - 9:27:53 AM
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131 posts since 8/30/2015

Thanks so much for this. I was doodling around on banjo a few weeks ago and started playing this. I couldn't remember even what it was since I figured it out years ago and never really played it with anyone. At the last jam I was at I asked if anyone recognized it, but nobody did. Now I have the title thanks to you. Your TOTW post is so thorough Janet. Love it!

Jun 30, 2021 - 9:36:59 AM
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6679 posts since 6/27/2009

quote:
Originally posted by Stephen Rapp

 I was doodling around on banjo a few weeks ago and started playing this. I couldn't remember even what it was since I figured it out years ago and never really played it with anyone. At the last jam I was at I asked if anyone recognized it, but nobody did. Now I have the title thanks to you.  


Perhaps you will be able to pass this tune around. You and Paul are so good about discovering and unlocking the enchantment of so many tunes. 

I sure know the feeling of knowing a tune, but not remembering its title. Sometimes I go through my MP3s of hundreds of tunes until I can find the one that tells me the title of a tune I already know.  And hopefully I'll remember the title next time!

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