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Oct 14, 2022 - 6:00:20 AM
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7715 posts since 11/4/2005

Swing yore partners up an’ down the middle!
Sashay now—oh, listen to that fiddle!
Flapjacks flippin’ on a red-hot griddle,
An’ hell broke loose,
Hell broke loose,
Fire on the mountains snakes in the grass.
Satan’s here a-bilin’—oh, Lordy, let him pass!
Go down Moses, set my people free,
Pop goes the weasel thu’ the old Red Sea!
Jonah sittin’ on a hickory-bough,
Up jumps a whale—an’ where’s yore prophet now?
Rabbit in the pea-patch, possum in the pot,
Try an’ stop my fiddle, now my fiddle’s gettin’ hot!
Whippoorwill, singin’ thu’ the mountain hush,
Whippoorwill, shoutin’ from the burnin’ bush,
Whippoorwill, cryin’ in the stable-door,
Sing to-night as yuh never sang before!
Hell’s broke loose like a stompin’ mountain-shoat,
Sing till yuh bust the gold in yore throat!
Hell’s broke loose for forty miles aroun’
Bound to stop yore music if yuh don’t sing it down.
Sing on the mountains, little whippoorwill,
Sing to the valleys, an’ slap ’em with a hill,
For I’m struttin’ high as an eagle’s quill,
An’ Hell’s broke loose,
Hell’s broke loose,
Hell’s broke loose in Georgia!

From “The Mountain Whippoorwill” by Stephen Vincent Benet

The first Georgia Old Time Fiddlers Convention was held in Atlanta Georgia in 1913, and had already been going on for eleven years when the dean of the genre, fifty-six year old Fiddlin’ John Carson, mounted the stage in the old Atlanta Municipal Auditorium to compete in the Saturday night contest that was always the final event of the convention.  Carson had already won the contest twice, in 1914 and 1923, and was likely the favorite to win again.  But when a young fiddler, Lowe Stokes, a twenty-six year old from Ellijay, in Gilmer County in the north central part of the state, took the stage, he played a tune called Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia in his smooth, long bow style, and bested the old master and took first prize.  The story of the dramatic upset was carried in the Literary Digest, the Time magazine of its time, and among those to read about it was the poet Stephen Vincent Benet, who published the following year what would become one of his most famous works, The Mountain Whippoorwhill, memorializing for all time the dramatic event.  The above lines are an excerpt, but you can read the whole poem here, if you are of a notion.

Also in 1925, John Carson would go on to record a tune he called Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia for Vocalion records, and the old 78RPM record has been posted on YouTube, but the hiss and scratches are so severe it’s hard to hear his playing.  I used an audio editing program to clean up the sound as best I could.  You can hear the filtered John Carson recording here.  To my ear, it is not quite the same tune as the one recorded by Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers a few years later, on October 29, 1929, one year after Lowe Stokes had joined the band, on the same day as the stock market crash that began the Great Depression.  It is the Skillet Lickers four-part version of the tune with Lowe Stokes that you most often hear today at old time jam sessions.  Here is a link to that recording:

The Skillet Lickers play Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia

Five months after the Skillet Lickers recorded, a rival Atlanta group, Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles, recorded a tune they called Streak O’ Lean, Streak O’ Fat, which has parts identical to Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia.  Led by a tall man named John Dilleshaw on guitar, the fiddling is done by A.A. Gray, the only man who won the Georgia Old Time Fiddlers Convention contest more times than Fiddlin’ John Carson.

The Dill Pickles play Streak O’ Lean, Streak O’ Fat

Lowe Stokes appears to have been something of a rounder, it seems he was no stranger to the occasional bar brawl or similar fuss.  Indeed, in 1930, by most accounts, in a fight outside of a bar in Atlanta, he got most of his right hand shot off.  His family disputes the sensational details.  He was afraid that the injury would put an end to his fiddling, but Skillet Lickers partner Clayton McMichen, who had experience as a mechanic, fashioned a metal claw that would allow him to still hold the end of the bow, and within a few months, he was back fiddling again.  He eventually moved to Chattanooga, and then finally in his later years to Missouri, where he was tracked down in 1982 by the organizers of the Brandywine Mountain Music Festival.  So at 84 years old, Stokes would become the featured performer at the festival, topping a bill that also included Mike Seeger, The Hot Mud Family, Mac Benford, Ola Belle Reed, and Bob Carlin.   One of the tunes he played was the old Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia, which would later be issued on an album by the Field Recorders’ Collective, called Lowe Stokes, Georgia Fiddler.  Stokes passed away the following year.

                   Lowe Stokes at Brandywine, 1982

The FRC Recording of Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia

 If you go to YouTube and search Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia, you will find a lot of wonderful versions by numerous musicians, but my favorite is by the Freight Hoppers, from their 1998 Rounder album, Waiting On The Gravy Train.  The band included David Bass on fiddle, Frank Lee on banjo, Cary Fridley on guitar, and James O'Keefe on bass.  This was their last album.

The Freight Hoppers play Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia

There are a number of really great versions O Hell Broke Loose in Georgia here on the BHO.  Nick Hornbuckle has posted no less than three in his wonderful two finger up-picking style!  Here are the links:

YouTube Videos
Nick Hornbuckle (1)

Nick Hornbuckle (2)
Nick Hornbuckle (3)

blockader, The Ale Raisers, (Justin Manglitz,fiddle, Joe Willey, banjo, and Dave Dowless, guitar.  One of them is blockader, but I won’t tell.)
Rhonda Faust (oldthymedragon)
Tom Mackenzie (tommac)


MP3s
Janet Burton
Tor Hougen (torhougen)
David Ball (ballbanjos)
Jim Peterson (Jimbeaux)

I heard this tune myself for the first time years back, but I didn’t actually sit down and work it out until about six or eight years ago, when some friends of mine and I began a concerted effort to learn fiddle tunes in the key of C, an unusual key for Appalachian fiddle (we’re now up to about 65 C tunes).  It’s one of the tunes my fiddling friend John Maguire and I have been playing since we started busking as a duo four years ago.  You can hear our rendition here:

Don and John playing Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia
 

                        Busking in the Boston Public Garden

When a bunch of us went on down to the Clifftop festival in 2019, we held our C tune jam at my campsite, Banjo Hell, up on Geezer Hill, instead of in my back yard.  One of the tunes we played, of course, was Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia.  Here is the video I made of us playing the hell out of it.  The fiddler is John Reddick, the clawhammer picker is Tim Rowell, both close friends from the Boston area, and the guitar player is my long time BHO pal, Don Couchie, from Ontario, Canada.  I am doing the three finger picking, on my semi-fretless 1928 Tubaphone.

While we were playing through our C tunes, we all were surprised by an unexpected visitor at the edge of our camp, a rattlesnake, and not a baby one, either.   We all jumped up from our chairs and beat a retreat, and somebody went and got Floyd Ramsey, the West Virginia Division of Arts and Culture’s senior problem solver, from his perch at the entrance just up the road opposite the Great Chestnut Lodge.  Floyd came down with another camp staff member, and together they made a quick capture of the slithery reptile, who by that time had already started to head back into the woods.  It was probably frightened out of its wits by the sounds of banjos and fiddles everywhere.  Tim made a video of the capture, which he posted on Facebook.  Here is the link, though if you are not a Facebook member, it might not work for you.

                                       Floyd Ramsey, Snake Handler

Below is a tab of how I play Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia in three finger style, along with my best effort to transcribe how Tim is playing it in clawhammer style on the video.  Separate PDFs of each transcription are also attached.  You can download and open the Tabledit file here.  You will note that while the tune is basically in C, the third part shifts to A minor before resolving back to C.  My three finger setting presents a few challenges worth mentioning.  At the end of the A part, and throughout the B part, the right hand middle finger often picks the 2nd string.  I’m making the right hand a little more difficult, in order to greatly simplify the movement of the left hand.  The final phrase of the C and D parts requires some single string work that leads off with the index finger, also a little tricky.  In his arrangement, to my eyes and ears, Tim is using a variation of the old Galax Lick, in measures 14, 18, 20 and 24, which I am calling a "ghost pull-off" (GP), where he plucks the open 3rd string with the left hand, rather than with the right.  He also could be crossing with the right hand thumb, but I don't think that's what he is doing.

When I was researching some of the details for this TOTW, I ran across a few old-time pundits who thought that Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia was also inspired by Lowe Stokes’ 1924 win in Atlanta.  Now, the theme of Satan meeting an aspiring musician at the crossroads, and offering him mastery of his instrument in return for his soul is an old one, especially among blues musicians.  And most church going people back in the day considered the fiddle (and the banjo, too) to be the Devil's instrument.  But it doesn’t seem to me that the young Lowe Stokes needed any help from the Prince of Darkness when he beat Fiddlin’ John Carson in 1924, and again in 1925.  So I am a little bit skeptical.  Daniels played the fiddle well, so perhaps he was referring to his own deal with the Devil when he released his talking blues.  Daniels passed away two years ago, so if I meet him after I cross over, I'll know the story is true.

 

The devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin' for a soul to steal.

He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind,

And he was willin' to make a deal.

When he came across this young man sawin' on a fiddle and playin' it hot,

And the devil jumped up on a hickory stump,

And said, "boy, let me tell you what."

"I guess you didn't know it but I'm a fiddle player too,

And if you'd care to take a dare, I'll make a bet with you.

Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy,

But give the devil his due.

I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul,

'Cause I think I'm better than you."

The boy said, "my name's Johnny and it might be a sin,

But I'll take your bet, you're gonna regret,

'Cause I'm the best there's ever been."

Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard,

'Cause Hell's broke loose in Georgia, and the devil deals the cards.

And if you win, you get this shiny fiddle made of gold,

But if you lose, the devil gets your soul.

 

From The Devil Went Down to Georgia, by Charlie Daniels


 

 


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 10/20/2022 08:40:36

Oct 14, 2022 - 7:27:22 AM

RG

USA

3198 posts since 8/7/2008

Just a flat out great tune Don!!!! Your and John's playing of it is so reminiscent of those Scruggs/Fiddlin' Arthur Smith home recordings, HOT DAWG that's good stuff you two are playing, on my third listening now!!!!!

Oct 14, 2022 - 1:05:40 PM

1019 posts since 3/23/2006

Mighty nice contribution, Don, both the story and the music. I think all my C-tunes (a lot fewer than yours) are from Lowe Stokes. Thanks!

Edited by - hweinberg on 10/14/2022 13:06:09

Oct 15, 2022 - 7:10:40 AM

8434 posts since 3/17/2005

What a great post Don. How are you tuned?

Oct 15, 2022 - 10:16:11 AM
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6196 posts since 3/11/2006

Great stuff, Don.

Fabulous that you did the TOTW and posted a three-finger tab.  No shortage of CH- some youngsters need to learn from you and keep your great style going.  Guys like you and Chip are priceless.

The story about Lowe Stokes losing his hand reminds me of two fiddlers I met in the Ozarks:  One had no left hand, and the other had no right arm!  And we complain about a broken nail!

Oct 15, 2022 - 12:10:18 PM
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6946 posts since 6/27/2009

You fellows sure make it sound fun to play! The tune can be your Clifftop anthem. :) Providing both picked and clawed versions is generous, Don, and your extensive research and examples are really appreciated.

I worked something out this morning from Lowe Stokes and hope you enjoy.


Oct 20, 2022 - 8:06:32 AM
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7715 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by RG

Just a flat out great tune Don!!!! Your and John's playing of it is so reminiscent of those Scruggs/Fiddlin' Arthur Smith home recordings, HOT DAWG that's good stuff you two are playing, on my third listening now!!!!!


Thanks, RG, John and I both appreciate the kind remarks.  I can't ever remember being compared with Earl before, except once in awhile when some old timey purist whispers a bit loud to somebody else, "He sounds too much like Scruggs." wink

Oct 20, 2022 - 8:11:43 AM

7715 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by hweinberg

Mighty nice contribution, Don, both the story and the music. I think all my C-tunes (a lot fewer than yours) are from Lowe Stokes. Thanks!


Thank you, Howard.  I just checked, and there are nine tunes on our C list that come from Stokes or McMichen, with some iteration of the Skillet Lickers.  Here is a link to our C tune list.

Oct 20, 2022 - 8:18:38 AM

7715 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by chip arnold

What a great post Don. How are you tuned?


Thanks, Chip!  I'm in Double C.  I prefer that tuning for a number of reasons, the most important is that since I'm almost always playing a semi-fretless banjo now, it's important to have that open C note on the 2nd string, so that tonic note always rings clear.  Secondarily, when I am playing up the neck, which I do a lot, I like to use that open 2nd string as a drone.

Oct 20, 2022 - 8:33:20 AM
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7715 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by R.D. Lunceford

Great stuff, Don.

Fabulous that you did the TOTW and posted a three-finger tab.  No shortage of CH- some youngsters need to learn from you and keep your great style going.  Guys like you and Chip are priceless.

The story about Lowe Stokes losing his hand reminds me of two fiddlers I met in the Ozarks:  One had no left hand, and the other had no right arm!  And we complain about a broken nail!


I appreciate your encouragement, RD.  Someday, when I get through with my other "bucket list" projects, I am going to put together an instruction book that presents how I would teach old-time three finger style, if i were still teaching. 

Back in the late sixties and early seventies, before I got married, I went to Union Grove, Galax, and a whole bunch of other old time and bluegrass festivals.  At one of those, I remember seeing a band with a fiddler who had a clamp instead of a right hand.  It didn't seem to slow him down any.  I remember the band leader mentioning that the guy lost his hand in a sawmill accident, so it was not likely to have been Stokes.  I put a really nasty gash in my right index finger a couple of weeks ago, when a piece of wood I was cutting on my tablesaw kicked back hard on me.  A reminder that I have to keep my mind on what I am doing.  They don't make a clamp for playing three finger style banjo.

Oct 20, 2022 - 8:38:10 AM
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7715 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by JanetB

You fellows sure make it sound fun to play! The tune can be your Clifftop anthem. :) Providing both picked and clawed versions is generous, Don, and your extensive research and examples are really appreciated.

I worked something out this morning from Lowe Stokes and hope you enjoy.


Thank you Janet, for the nice compliment and your hard work keeping the Old Time TOTW going.  Your rendition was very beautiful.  You always have very thoughtful note choices that highlight the melody of the tune while still putting your unique, personal stamp on it.  Just like the old-timers like Lowe Stokes did.  It's ever a pleasure to listen to you play.

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 10/20/2022 08:39:53

Oct 20, 2022 - 9:01:47 AM
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Players Union Member

banjo bill-e

Tuvalu

12707 posts since 2/22/2007

That's a hell of post, Don. Great job.

Oct 20, 2022 - 12:55:46 PM
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RG

USA

3198 posts since 8/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Don Borchelt
quote:
Originally posted by RG

Just a flat out great tune Don!!!! Your and John's playing of it is so reminiscent of those Scruggs/Fiddlin' Arthur Smith home recordings, HOT DAWG that's good stuff you two are playing, on my third listening now!!!!!


Thanks, RG, John and I both appreciate the kind remarks.  I can't ever remember being compared with Earl before, except once in awhile when some old timey purist whispers a bit loud to somebody else, "He sounds too much like Scruggs." wink


Hahaha-well Don, that ain't a bad thing in my opinion! Those Scruggs/Smith recordings are about as OT as you get, and you and John got it!

Oct 21, 2022 - 12:29:32 PM

8311 posts since 8/30/2004

Really complete and informative post Don....this is really fun to read and learn from and I get to hear some really great music--yerself included...Jack
 
Originally posted by Don Borchelt

Swing yore partners up an’ down the middle!
 

Edited by - Jack Baker on 10/21/2022 12:30:29

Nov 8, 2022 - 12:32:42 PM

4789 posts since 2/24/2004

Good job Don -really enjoyed your history & explaination of these tune :)

maryzcox.com


Nov 8, 2022 - 3:20:53 PM
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7715 posts since 11/4/2005

quote:
Originally posted by maryzcox

Good job Don -really enjoyed your history & explaination of these tune :)

maryzcox.com


Thank you, Mary, and Jack, too, I appreciate the encouragement.

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