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May 20, 2022 - 2:23:35 AM
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41631 posts since 3/7/2006

I have chosen W.A. Hinton’s old version of Leather Breeches to this week’s TOTW ( ).

Hinton's version of Leather Breeches is both a little weird version and a little fascinating. It can be discussed if this is a version of the old British fiddle tune Leather Breeches or Leather Britches, or if it is an own tune.  Hinton’s banjo tune seems to be a little based on the old fiddle tune, but I think the differences are more than the similarities. I think this version shall be regarded as an own tune, and not as a variation of the well-known British fiddle tune “Leather Breeches” or “Leather Britches” which is a nice banjo tune and has an interesting history back in the British Isles.

I first heard Leather Breeches on an LP in the 1970’s Early Rural String Band RCA Victor – LPV-552, which contained a lot of other good music.


Leather Breeches by W.A. Hinton was recorded on 31 January 1931, in Texas Hotel, San Antonio, Texas. It seems to have been the same date and same place as Jimmie Rogers recorded T.B. Blues, Travellin' Blues and Jimmie the Kid (source). The producer was Ralph Peer a well-known talent scout, recording engineer, record producer and music publisher in the 1920’s and 1930’s and discovered Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers and a lot of other early Old-Time or Country Music performers..

Hinton seemed to have recorded four tunes that day, besides Leather Breeches it was Little Brown Jug, Downfall of Paris, and Shortenin' Bread (source). All four tunes were labelled as “banjo instrumental”. Only Leather Breeches seems to have been issued and the other three tunes were and remained unissued (source).  It would have been interesting to listen to his versions of these tunes!

Very little is known about this W.A. Hinton. I have found no biographical data at all (more than there was an Afro American M.D. named William Augustus Hinton who lived 1883 – 1959 and was known to have developed a syphilis test).

The tune is a little weird. It has not the common melody structure with, for example, a typical A part and a typical B part (and perhaps C part). Instead, the tune is built up by a number of short phrases. There are a several crooked measures, and the repetition of parts or phrases are sometimes a little arbitrary. Just to get some structure in the tune I have identified the following essential parts (see also my tab below):

  • An A part which are built up by two different phrases A1 and A2. A1 is repeated three times and ended by A2 which is a crooked measure with an extra beat. In the first round the A part is played twice (A A), but in repetitions later he plays it three times (A A A). The first part of A seems to be derived from the fiddle tune Leather Breeches.
  • A bridge part, in two variations, each are two measures long: B1 and B2. B1 is only played once, the first time after the A part been played twice. B2 seems to be played more often between the A, C and D parts, or as an end part of A, C and D. Sometimes B2 is crooked and contains an extra beat (in the tab I named it B2’), usually just before the D part.
  • A high part, C part which has two measures and is played twice, and ended by the bridge B2.
  • Another high part, D, which is a kind of up the neck variation of the A part, built up by two phrases D1 and D2. I play this on the 7th – 9th frets, but it may also be played on the 12th – 14th fret. 

The different parts seem to come in this order on Hinton’s recording: A A B1 B2 C C B2' D D B2 C C B2 A A A B2 C C B2' D D B2 C C B2 A A A B2 C C B2 A A A B2 C C B2' D D B2 C C B2 A.   

The original recording seems is in the key of Bb, and it seems to be in G tuning. I guess he tuned it up to about A (aEAC#E), and then there were recording issues that raised the pitch to Bb. I don’t think he used capo because capos were not common around 1930. I also doubt that he tuned up to Bb (BbFBbDF) because I doubt the strings were of enough good quality to be raised to Bb. (Actually, in my first attempts to play the tune I tried C tuning tuned down to steps).

I have made the tab in G tuning and prefers to play it in G, but if anyone wants to play along with Hinton’s recording you can put a capo on 3rd fret.

Beside the original recording by W.A. Hinton it has been recorded by Mike Seeger in the late 1960’s: or (go to 21:44)

Mike Seeger plays Leather Breeches a little more regularly than Hinton: the crooked measures are there but he seems to repeat the different parts in a regular pattern A A A B2 C C B2’ D D B2 and repeat the same order from the beginning. He ends with the parts B1 and B2. He also seems to play some harmonics at the 12th fret in the D part.             

Also Pete Seeger recorded it in the 1950’s but used it in medleys. (begins at ca 1:25) or


There are also two modern videos that are worth to study:

J.D. Wilkes:

Pat Conte:

If anyone want to learn this tune I would recommend to not follow Hinton’s complex structure. Make it more logical and easier to remember. I think Mike Seeger’s version has a good structure (see above). The tab below is based on Hinton’s recording and the order he played the different parts. When I play it I tend to play it more structured, for example: A A B2 C C B2 D D B2 C C B2 and so on) (where I treat the D part as an alternative A part), or play as Mike Seeger (see above).

There are also a lot of possibilities to play simple variations:

  • For the A part I have experienced with different similar phrases.
  • The D part can also be played at 12th fret (the same as A part but one octave higher). Mike Seeger managed to play some harmonics at the 12th fret
  • You can skip the crooked measures and play all measures in 4/4 – just skip the last beat in those measures (I think Pete Seeger play it straight)

Good luck with the tune!


Edited by - janolov on 05/20/2022 02:45:56

May 20, 2022 - 6:39:03 AM
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3111 posts since 9/5/2006

Great tune, W.A. Hinton doesn't play it exactly like the fiddlers do but he made it a great banjo tune. It explores similar melodic territory without being what the fiddlers play but a different, yet still recognizable as Leather Britches or Breeches. Even the names have differences in them.

May 20, 2022 - 11:11:36 AM
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210 posts since 4/10/2010

I've always liked the Hinton recording. Good choice for TOTW.

Here's a TFIL tab from the late Bill Dillof.


May 21, 2022 - 5:47:26 AM
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477 posts since 9/26/2006

A really excellent choice for TOTW; a great thumpy banjo-y source recording. 

May 21, 2022 - 11:24:48 AM
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6851 posts since 6/27/2009

Leather Britches has always been a nemesis for me to get "right."  I tried several years ago, based on Francis O'Neill's Music of Ireland notation.  So hard!  For this week's "weird and fascinating" tune you've chosen, Jan, I arranged the one from Mike Seeger's recording and combined it with my older effort.  

I hear in W.A. Hinton's Okeh recording what I think of as Leather Britches/Breeches, but simplified.  I appreciate his more when I hear in my head (as he plays) the one I consider more as the "original."  With that said, I'd be glad to hear anyone else's version of this tune however you play it.  On my iTunes I have several traditional players and in my ear each one is related to the other -- Brad Leftwich, Dan Gellert, Israel Welch, Lee Sexton, Stephen Wade, Earl Collins, and John Hatcher.  The one by W.A. is distinct, as you say, but it's part of the happy family of Leather Breeches/Britches.  

Funny, but I always associate the tune with its namesake, also called lederhosen, as I used to hear in the backpacking store where one was able to buy them.

Edited by - JanetB on 05/21/2022 11:26:07

May 21, 2022 - 3:12:44 PM
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31 posts since 4/4/2021

I seem to have an awful lot of versions of this in my own collection as well.  Besides being covered in some of the instruction books/collections and their accompanying sound files (Perlman, Levenson), I found these among my recordings:

  • “Leather Breeches” by W.A. Hinton on Old Time Mountain Banjo (County Records)
  • “Leather Britches” by Ralph Blizard & The New Southern Ramblers from Brandywine 1990 (Slippery Hill,
  •  “Leather Britches” by the Highwood Stringband from 1974 Brandywine Stringband Workshop (Slippery Hill,
  • “Leather Britches” by the Run Of the Mill String Band from Newark, DE 1994-11-11 (Delaware Gap Music Festival)
  • “Leather Britches” by Sunny Miller from 1966 Galax Deneumousteir Collection – Fiddle
  • “Leather Britches” by Clark Kessinger from The Legend of Clark Kessinger (County Records)
  • “Red Fox/Leather Britches” by Alan Jabbour & Stephen Wade from Americana Concert: Alan Jabbour & Stephen Wade at the Library of Congress (Folkways)
  • “Leather Britches “ by John Hartford on Aero-Plain (Rhino/Warner Records)
  • “Leather Britches” by Walt Koken on Banjonique (Rounder)
  • “Leather Britches” by John Hatcher on Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930s (Document)
  • “Leather Britches” by Hardy C. Sharp on Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930s (Document)
  • “Leather Britches” by Stephan B. Tucker on Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930s (Document)
  • And for you other mando-monsters out there, “Leather Britches” by Sam Bush on Late as Usual (Rounder)

Thanks to all for the usual great tabs and context.  They've been fun to play around with on this insanely hot Maryland afternoon.  Perfect day to soak up the AC and pck banjo.

Edited by - mandobanjolibrarian on 05/21/2022 15:13:44

May 23, 2022 - 10:58:08 PM
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41631 posts since 3/7/2006

Thanks everybody for your comments, and thanks Janet for a good recording. Hinton's version seems to be rather rare, so I am glad for anyone who tries it.

I think the ordinary Leather Britches is a good tune, so perhaps I (or someone else?) will try to make a TOTW of it some day. It seems to have history from Scotland. The original tune seems to be Lord MacDonald's Reel from the end of the 1700's.

May 24, 2022 - 6:22:39 AM
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2379 posts since 12/16/2007

Originally posted by janolovI think the ordinary Leather Britches is a good tune, so perhaps I (or someone else?) will try to make a TOTW of it some day. It seems to have history from Scotland. The original tune seems to be Lord MacDonald's Reel from the end of the 1700's.

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