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Aug 27, 2021 - 7:54:01 AM
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janolov

Sweden

41258 posts since 3/7/2006
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I have chosen John Hardy as this week’s TOTW. It is a good tune and a good song, based on an interesting story, and from the beginning it seems to have been a popular tune on the banjo. And according to the history it was a fight about 75 cents that gave rise to this good tune/song.

John Hardy was TOTW 1/21/11 presented by Bill Eickmeier (https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/197241) . I think it was a lot of good information in that thread. What got me to revisit John Hardy was that there are several interesting recordings that has become available on Internet today. There are also some interesting music theories to discuss, and I also will focus on the minor version, played in G minor tuning.

 

John Hardy – historical notes

"John Hardy" is a traditional American folk song based on the life of a railroad worker living in McDowell County, West Virginia in the Spring of 1893. The historical John Hardy is believed to have gotten into a drunken dispute during a craps game held near Keystone, and subsequently killed a man named Thomas Drews. It seems to have been a dispute about 75 cents! Hardy was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and was hanged on January 19, 1894, with 3,000 people allegedly in attendance. Hardy is believed to have made peace with the Lord the morning before his death by being baptized in a river.

Early folk historians confused the ballads of John Hardy and John Henry. This has led to a mixing of stories related to Hardy and Henry. In fact, the historical John Henry was a steel driver, not a railroad worker. John Harrington Cox, in an early (1919) article in The Journal of American Folklore attempts to disentangle the history of the two songs and their main characters, and provides a detailed discussion of five versions of "John Hardy."

Interestingly, most later versions of the song open with the lyric, "John Hardy was a desperate little man." But all contemporary accounts of the real John Hardy describe him as about six feet tall and strongly built. Alternate early lyrics describe him as a "brave little man" or a "brave and desperate man."

Alan Lomax, in Folk Songs of North America (1960), records:

  • "His white captors protected him from a lynch mob that came to take him out of jail and hang him. When the lynch fever subsided, Hardy was tried during the July term of the McDowell County Criminal Court, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. While awaiting execution in jail, he is said to have composed this ballad, which he later sang on the scaffold. He also confessed his sins to a minister, became very religious, and advised all young men, as he stood beneath the gallows, to shun liquor, gambling and bad company. The order for his execution shows that he was hanged near the courthouse in McDowell County, January 19, 1894. His ballad appears to have been based upon certain formulae stanzas from the Anglo-Saxon ballad stock."

More interesting historical notes can be found here: http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/john-hardy-by-john-harrington-cox.aspx . It is an old article in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 32, No. 126 (Oct. - Dec., 1919), pp. 505-520. The confusion between John Hardy and John Henry was shown already then (in 1919).

 

Early recordings

There seems to be several early banjo versions of John Hardy. The song has been performed by numerous artists from the 1920s through the present. The earliest recordings known (by me) are:

Eva Davis 1924. It has been discussed if it is Samantha Baumgarner that accompanies on the banjo or if it is Eva Davis herself playing the banjo..

Ernest Stoneman 1925

Buell Kazee 1927 and later recording  

Carter Family 1928

Clarence Ashley 1930 

 

Other recordings

John Hardy have been recorded by a lot of different artists throughout the years. Here are some that I like to listen to:

Dock Boggs

Frank Fairfield

Mike Seeger,   and here 

Enoch Rutherford  (recorded by Brad Leftwich)

Wade Ward and Fields Ward:

Roscoe Holcomb (on guitar) 

Ruth Lyons

Glen Smith (from County Clawhammer Volume 3) 

Pete Seeger 

Leadbelly

Leadbelly (on accordion!)

Frank Proffitt 

Ola Belle Read 

Tommy Jarrell 

Oscar Jenkins, Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell 

Dink Roberts 

Joshua Grant  and here (on gourd banjo):

Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson 

Annie & Mac 

Chris Coole (six string banjo) 

Josh Turknett

 

Music theory – Major, Mixolydian or else?

John Hardy seems to most often be played in standard G major tuning (played in G major or Mixolydian mode), or A tuning (G tuning capo 2).

The most common (?) versions seem to play the first part in Mixolydian mode (first string played on third fret = F), and the second part in major (fourth string played on fourth fret = F#), for example  Miles Krassen’s book “Clawhammer Banjo” presents that version. On the other hand, some players seem to play  also the second part in Mixolydian (fourth string on third fret = F).

Wade Ward (on the Library of Congress recording) seems to do both. In the second part he sometimes plays fourth string fourth fret, and sometimes fourth string third fret, see the tab book Wade Ward Clawhammer Banjo Master by Bob Carlin and Dan Levenson.

On this video from 1969 Buell Kazee is demonstrating the banjo with the first 5 – 6 frets filed down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbWD8H7IMN0 . John Hardy is played at about at about 8:32; and there you can both see and hear that he frets the first string somewhere between 3rd and 4th fret in the first part, and the same in part 2 on the fourth string. The video also contains a discussion about  filing frets down at 11:04, where he tells that people used to file down the frets because they wanted other tones outside the ordinary diatonic scale and play microtones that are between the ordinary fret positions. That seems to be a common effect used on fretless banjo and fiddle and other fretless string instruments. Those microtones, or “in-between” tones are outside the ordinary 12 step diatonic scale, but usually they are related to tonic and belong to the harmonic or overtone series of the tonic (it is only one of the notes that are called blue notes, but the use of these tones are not limited to Blues only!).

Brad Leftwich presents in his book and CD Round Peak Style – Clawhammer Banjo based on Tommy Jarrell’s playing. In the second part the fourth string is indicated by 3+ meaning that the string is being “fretted” above where the 3rd fret would be.

Sometimes people also use chokes or bends to get those raised tones on fretted instruments.

My theory is that the original song were based on those microtones or “in-between” tones, but when people began to play John Hardy on fretted instruments say were bound to choose either 3rd or 4th fret.

 

Minor version

There are some versions in G minor tuning (gDGBbD). It is not true minor, rather Dorian mode, because the chords are Gm, C and Dm.

Mike Seeger has recorded a cool version in Gm tuning (but he seems to be a half step lower the G so actually he is in F#m tuning). He based his version of J.W. Russell recorded 1936. Since Joe Russell’s text was inaudible over the driving banjo frailing , Mike adapted the text from Carter Family’s version:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRKrYlXL3vI  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZM9PjhQTfU

I have also seen this minor version in two songbooks, and my first version of John Hardy played in "Seeger style up-picking" around 1970 was based on the minor version.

Tabs

As I already have mentioned there are tab in several well-known tab books, for example

 

I have made some tabs that I put in the BHO tab archive:

 

 

 

 

 


Edited by - janolov on 08/27/2021 07:59:22

Aug 27, 2021 - 10:09:59 AM
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1821 posts since 7/4/2009

One of the classic banjo songs. (And a West Virginia song, to boot!)

Here's a 9-yr-old video of me picking the tune in regular G tuning, during a time in my life when I was inordinately fond of wearing stupid hats. I don't know why I didn't sing it.

Edit: I remember now. The key of G was too high.

Edited by - UncleClawhammer on 08/27/2021 10:13:41

Aug 27, 2021 - 3:06:09 PM
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189 posts since 4/10/2010

janolov,

I got home from work, took care of the dog, then spent the next hour and a half playing and replaying and comparing the tunes you linked. Thanks for a great TOTW!

Aug 27, 2021 - 4:52:36 PM
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7292 posts since 11/4/2005

A very nice, thorough TOTW presentation, Jan. Matthew, that was a great job of picking, back when you were still a youngster! I just drove through Morgantown a few weeks ago; if i had put two and two together I could have stopped and said hi, and maybe picked a few tunes. I did stop and pick up a few bottles from the Forks of Cheat Winery.

I haven't posted a TOTW entry in awhile, but I did have a John Hardy video from June, 2017, busking in Harvard Square with my pals Ed Britt and John Maguire. As many of you know, Ed passed away from Alzheimers last January, and I sure miss his beautiful clawhammer picking. My three finger version here is a little bluegrassier than usual, it's kind of hard to get out from under the influence of Earl's beautiful rendition with Doc recorded back in December of 1966. A lot of people hate Charlie McCoy's harmonica work on that album, but I loved it.

Tomorrow, John Maguire and I are going out busking in the morning in the Boston Public Garden, before it gets too hot. He'll be putting his fiddle down and playing harmonica on a few numbers.

 

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 08/27/2021 16:54:38

Aug 27, 2021 - 7:35:54 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25395 posts since 6/25/2005
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I’ve always gravitated toward the “minor” “Seeger” version, which I first learned from Pete’s playing, then Mike’s. Peggy also sets hers in “minor.” I heard a young player named Joe Head play a wonderful melodic “minor” version at the Cornell Folk Song Club’s banjo contest in, I think, 1965. What became of him, I have no idea.

I also play the major version—especially when I played a lot of bluegrass. I’’ve never heard the “minor” version from anyone who had no connection to the Seegers (except of course the original LOC version.

Aug 28, 2021 - 12:12:48 PM
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janolov

Sweden

41258 posts since 3/7/2006
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quote:
Originally posted by UncleClawhammer

One of the classic banjo songs. (And a West Virginia song, to boot!)

Here's a 9-yr-old video of me picking the tune in regular G tuning, during a time in my life when I was inordinately fond of wearing stupid hats. I don't know why I didn't sing it.

Edit: I remember now. The key of G was too high.


Thanks for sharing us your version. I like it!

Aug 28, 2021 - 12:15:18 PM
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janolov

Sweden

41258 posts since 3/7/2006
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quote:
Originally posted by Mtngoat

janolov,

I got home from work, took care of the dog, then spent the next hour and a half playing and replaying and comparing the tunes you linked. Thanks for a great TOTW!


Thanks for your appreciation!. I spend several days listening to, and trying to understand, different versions. But I think it was worth the effort.

Aug 28, 2021 - 12:23:17 PM
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janolov

Sweden

41258 posts since 3/7/2006
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quote:
Originally posted by Don Borchelt

A very nice, thorough TOTW presentation, Jan. Matthew, that was a great job of picking, back when you were still a youngster! I just drove through Morgantown a few weeks ago; if i had put two and two together I could have stopped and said hi, and maybe picked a few tunes. I did stop and pick up a few bottles from the Forks of Cheat Winery.

I haven't posted a TOTW entry in awhile, but I did have a John Hardy video from June, 2017, busking in Harvard Square with my pals Ed Britt and John Maguire. As many of you know, Ed passed away from Alzheimers last January, and I sure miss his beautiful clawhammer picking. My three finger version here is a little bluegrassier than usual, it's kind of hard to get out from under the influence of Earl's beautiful rendition with Doc recorded back in December of 1966. A lot of people hate Charlie McCoy's harmonica work on that album, but I loved it.

Tomorrow, John Maguire and I are going out busking in the morning in the Boston Public Garden, before it gets too hot. He'll be putting his fiddle down and playing harmonica on a few numbers.

 


That was a nice version.

I think you should contribute more to the TOTW. You may play a strange three-finger style smiley, but you play Old-Time music, and there are a lot of BHO OT members that love your playing. I really enjoy all your recordings with Ed. He was a a real good clawhammer player, and the combination of your three-finger and his clawhammer really get the music to new dimensions!   

Aug 28, 2021 - 12:40:43 PM
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janolov

Sweden

41258 posts since 3/7/2006
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quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

I’ve always gravitated toward the “minor” “Seeger” version, which I first learned from Pete’s playing, then Mike’s. Peggy also sets hers in “minor.” I heard a young player named Joe Head play a wonderful melodic “minor” version at the Cornell Folk Song Club’s banjo contest in, I think, 1965. What became of him, I have no idea.

I also play the major version—especially when I played a lot of bluegrass. I’’ve never heard the “minor” version from anyone who had no connection to the Seegers (except of course the original LOC version.


I can agree on the Seeger connection.

I first heard the minor version from several different Pete Seeger recordings, both 12 string guitar and banjo. I also managed to get a version by Peggy Seeger  rather early. And it took a rather long time before I get aware about the major version - I think it was the Scruggs version that first showed me that there was also a major version.

I first learned the minor version of John Hardy from some song books. One was Folk Song U.S.A by Alan Lomax and with Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger as music editors. The other was  Stolls & Morris Choice Folk Songs For 5-String Banjo, where the repertoire and playing style was typically based on Pete Seeger - they also claimed they included "Scruggs style" but the examples in the book is just some "folky" three-finger  forward rolls style. The third version in print that I studied was in Peggy Seeger's banjo book, and it is also in minor, but with some phrases taken from the major version.

Aug 28, 2021 - 3:08:03 PM
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ndlxs

USA

433 posts since 9/26/2006

I have been playing around with John Hardy in D, in the aDADE tuning for a while; just noodling around, and it works pretty well in this key.  I spent a few hours putting it together more, but this is definitely a rush job. 

It is also a better key to sing it in, too: I have a low tenor voice, but D is a bit low for me, but G is pretty high.  I spent more time on the lyrics: there are some many versions, and I don't care for and don't believe in the many versions where John Hardy gets religion on the gallows, so I slanted my version to this version.  Some of these versions came from Dwight Diller's version, but I switched around some lines so that the 2nd and 4th lines rhyme to the extent possible. I also screwed up the poker verse, see the description. 
My version on Youtube: unlisted, click here:
John Hardy in D

I also have some silly lyrics, too: Woody Guthrie of course used this melody for his ballad version of the Grapes of Wrath, "Tom Joad".  One place we used to play insisted we only play public domain music; one band member kept on trying to sing Woody's song, which is copyrighted, so I changed the lyrics to be "John Toad", about a cute little green frog who is quite a media star.  So, let Woody's lawyers fight with Kermit's lawyers over the big pile of money they would get. 

Here's a few lyrics:  just remember where you got these from and who wrote them...
 

John Toad hopped out of McAlister Pond,
Just him and a couple other guys,
After 2 long months swimming around without legs,
He said, boys, let’s eat us up some flies, (2x)

John Toad he sat on a big lily pad,
a-strummin’ on his old banjo
when up stepped an talent scout who says to him,
John Toad, you should have a TV show, son(2x)

John Toad got a ride with a truck driving man
They stopped and they had a coupla smokes,
and there was a bear with a pork pie hat,
and he was telling awful jokes, boys, and he was telling awful jokes.

They picked up a pig who was walking down the road
She was dressed like a lady so fine
She looked at him, and he looked at her;
And now they call them Toad and Swine, boys, now they call them Toad and Swine.

John Toad said I think it’s one big circle of life,
It sure seems that way to me
on every TV, cell phone, or movie screen,
That’s where I’m a gonna be, boys, that’s where I’m a gonna be.

Edited by - ndlxs on 08/28/2021 15:10:06

Aug 28, 2021 - 5:15:21 PM

227 posts since 10/26/2018

You say G is too high to sing but in the video you announced you were tuned down to F. Maybe intended to sing? smiley

Aug 28, 2021 - 10:16:58 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25395 posts since 6/25/2005
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Back when I was in high school, thw two guys I played music with and I would go to folk song clubs and play the Gm version when we didn’t want the hootenanny crowd to play along. Things were pretty musically primitive on the SF peninsula around 1960 and by the time folks figured out what to do with their guitars (Em capo 3), we were done.

Aug 29, 2021 - 4:55:23 AM
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ndlxs

USA

433 posts since 9/26/2006

quote:
Originally posted by WVDreamin

You say G is too high to sing but in the video you announced you were tuned down to F. Maybe intended to sing? smiley


I stated it badly; my version is in D, which feels a bit low for me.  Really, I should capo up to the fifth fret to sing it in F with the same tuning.  I could also tune down from G tuning, too, but I like the up the neck version that I play. 

D would be a good key for a bass voice, though. 

Aug 29, 2021 - 4:56:48 AM
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ndlxs

USA

433 posts since 9/26/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Back when I was in high school, thw two guys I played music with and I would go to folk song clubs and play the Gm version when we didn’t want the hootenanny crowd to play along. Things were pretty musically primitive on the SF peninsula around 1960 and by the time folks figured out what to do with their guitars (Em capo 3), we were done.


Reminds me of a group that used to play around here in the 1980s that you'd remember, Bill, Hawks and Eagles: Jimmy used to throw in extra beats to tunes that he didn't want others to play along with....

Aug 29, 2021 - 10:15:54 AM

227 posts since 10/26/2018

quote:
Originally posted by ndlxs
quote:
Originally posted by WVDreamin

You say G is too high to sing but in the video you announced you were tuned down to F. Maybe intended to sing? smiley


I stated it badly.... 


Nah, I did. I was referring to Uncle Clawhammer and didn't bother to quote him. You stated it clearly enough. 

Aug 29, 2021 - 2:32:13 PM
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189 posts since 4/10/2010

Here's a snippet of John Hardy on a homemade gourd banjo recorded this afternoon. I didn't realize until I started this post that I ran out of recording space the second time through, but you get the gist.


Aug 29, 2021 - 5:50:09 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25395 posts since 6/25/2005
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Finally listened to Andy’s recording. Interesting and distinct—both in lyrics and music.

Sep 1, 2021 - 10:27:48 AM
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6742 posts since 6/27/2009

That was an amazing presentation, Jan! So glad to see and hear all the contributors. I really wanted to study the Carter Family version, but just plain ran out of time. This week has rolled by fast, so here's a quick and dirty John Hardy for the road, though the fellow himself never got back on the road and spent his time crying in his cell. Here's how Plinky & Plunky used to play it at jams, probably not this fast, and minus Plunky for today's recording.


Sep 1, 2021 - 11:28:29 PM
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janolov

Sweden

41258 posts since 3/7/2006
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Nice version, Janet! It shows that you don't have to make it complicated to sound good.

Oct 17, 2021 - 11:25:34 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

25395 posts since 6/25/2005
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Late to the dance, but...

I just ran across this while flitting about YouTube. A video of a young Mike Seeger playing the minor version of John Hardy; a few nice closeups of his left and right hands. Mike was, of course, a superb banjo player.    Starts at about 5:30 into the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFhtf93ZmbI

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 10/17/2021 23:26:39

Oct 18, 2021 - 6:02:32 AM
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ndlxs

USA

433 posts since 9/26/2006

That is a great find, Bill. It is exquisite.

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