Thursday, July 09, 2009

'Coleman's March' - some YouTube clips worth studying

An old fiddle tune in D with a lot of history ... and a one with a perfect tempo and lilt to try out Don Pedi's idea "it's all in the bowin' (his way of describing the interplay of fretting and strumming)." It's also one of those songs with a story about a fiddler who was about to be hanged (see below for a couple of accounts, one of which Don picked up from Bruce Greene). I've also been told that in past years on the last day of classes at schools in the Virginia highlands, the children would march in a procession around the schoolyard, often to a tune played by a local fiddler, as part of their commencement exercises. "Coleman's March" would have been one of those tunes.

I first heard it as played in North Carolina, at the Swannanoa Gathering in 2001 or 2002 by a performer, whose name I don't recall, who had learned a lot (although probably not this tune) from Dorsey Williams ... and then an awesome version at slower tempo with a lot more ornamentation on a CD by Ben and Becky Seymour. I fell in love with it, and found downloadable DAD tab (no longer available) on the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association I used to teach it to the first Thursday dulcimer group in Springfield.

"Coleman's March," as the name suggests, is a march and not a dance tune. It needs a strong march rhythm (IMHO), or else it's unbearably schamaltzy. Play it at bluegrass tempo and it dies. Play it without a pretty strong lilt and it dies a second death. May be two ways of saying the same thing, but I think it's important.

Andrew Kuntz in the Fiddler's Companion has two separate entries. I think they're variants in the same family of tunes, but a lot of the time these tune families are in the eye (ear?) of the beholder.

COLEMAN'S MARCH [1]. AKA - "Joe Coleman's March." AKA and see "Chapel Hill March," "Green Willis [1]," "Jackson's March," "Joe Dobbins," "The New Rigged Ship [1]," "Old Hickory," "The Raw Recruit." Old-Time, March (cut time). USA, south-central Kentucky. D Major. DDad tuning. AA'BB. D. K. Wilgus, in his article "The Hanged Fiddler Legend in Anglo-American Tradition," has extensively researched this tune and legend, a variant of the hanged-fiddler legend of "MacPherson's Farewell." Joe Coleman, a shoemaker, was accused of stabbing his wife to death near the town of Slate Fork, Adair County, Kentucky, as recorded in the Burkesville Herald Almanac for 1899. Convicted on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of his sister-in-law who was living with them at the time, Coleman was tried in nearby Cumberland County and sentenced to death. While being driven to the place of execution in a two-wheeled ox cart, Coleman sat on his coffin and played a tune that has come down as "Coleman's March." Coleman protested his innocence to the last, and there several stories exist of a man confessing, or of "an old lady confessing on her death-bed she had killed Coleman's wife." One account (in the Burkesville Almanac) gives that Coleman's relatives quickly recovered the body, somehow managed to revive him and put him on a steamboat down the Cumberland River to Nashville, from which point he disappeared into the West. Also attached to the tune is the legend that before Coleman was hanged he offered his fiddle to anyone who could play the tune as well as he, and at least one source identified a Kentucky fiddler named Franz Prewitt as the recipient. Prewitt's descendants remembered him as having been indeed a fine fiddler, although they did not remember any tales connected with his receiving a fiddle. Bruce Greene introduced the tune to old-time “revival” fiddlers in the 1970’s, according to Seattle old-time music expert Kerry Blech who gives that Greene had the tune from an old Kentucky fiddler by the name of Gene Conner, who was recorded in January 1962 in Bowling Green, KY, probably by Lynwood Montell and Wilgus. Connor and played the tune in standard tuning, although Greene and Vermont fiddler Pete Sutherland play it in cross tuning (DDad). Sutherland’s version has been particularly influential in popularizing the tune in modern times. Greene told Blech the tune was played both ways in western Kentucky. Source for notated version: poularized by Pete Sutherland (Vt.) [Phillips]. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 2, 1995; pg. 32. BGR 1003, Don Pedi – “Mountain Magic: Fiddle Favorites for (Mountain) Dulcimer” (1990). Mary Custy & Eoin O'Neill - "With a lot of help from their friends." Marimac 9031, Pete Sutherland – “Eight Miles from Town.”
In addition to his own abc, Kuntz links to a transcription by John Lamancusa at that is basically a version of what I learned in North Carolina with different ornamentation. The second version listed in Fiddler's Companion looks to me like a variant of the same tune.

COLEMAN'S MARCH [2]. AKA and see "The Bonnie Blue Flag," "The Jaunting Car." Old-Time, March (6/8 time). USA, Kentucky. The melody was played by fiddler Pat Kingery (1912-1976), born in Glasgow, Warren County, Kentucky, a remote region, and was also in the repertoire of Sammy Walker; it was recorded by Red Belcher (on Page Records, c. 1947). D.K. Wilgus and Jim Nelson state it was pretty a common fiddle tune in Warren, Metcalfe, and Monroe Counties in south-central Kentucky. The melody is cognate with the Confederate anthem “The Bonny Blue Flag,” especially as played by Hoyt Ming (see Homestead 103, “New Hot Times”). Wilgus stated that “Bonny Blue Flag” was derived from an Irish song in 6/8 time called “The Jaunting Car,” but many fail to see the connection. The original linking of “Jaunting Car” and “Bonnie Blue Flag” may have come from Sigmund Spaeth’s History of Popular Music in America.
Some YouTube renditions worth listening to:

As performed by Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, on the CD "BANJO TALKIN." An interesting take on the tune by two clawhammer banjo players at a relaxed tempo. Some nice slides that would lend themselves to a lap dulcimer. Definitely worth studying.

Erich Schroeder has a very nice clawhammer version on the website that he learned from one of Cathy Fink and Marci Marxer's recordings.

On the YoppyKyabetsu YouTube site, Yopp vs Yopp Duet No. 3, aAnother banjo duet. A little faster, but still measured enough to work in most of the ornamentation. Worth a listen.

Gold Tone Instruments of Titusville, Fla. "Coleman's March" featuring Wayne Rogers and Bob Carlin on banjo and Robyn Rogers, guitar. Very nice arrangement. Same march tempo. Sounds like they cranked the bass a little too much on the recording, which isn't high tech to begin with, but lots of texture (even without the phone ringing at the end of the take) and nice interplay of the instruments in different registers. And lots of really nice little riffs throughout. Definitely worth studying!

No comments: