Thursday, April 04, 2013

"Walking in the Parlor" - clawhammer banjo version of a southern Appalachian fiddle tune at just the right tempo

A really cool southern Appalachian fiddle tune in D ...

Like so many old-time string band tunes, it's often played at breakneck speed. But clawhammer banjo player Christopher Olson has a relaxed solo version, based ultimately on the "measured and tranquil" style of a noted West Virginia fiddle-playing family, on YouTube at ...

Olson's version is a cover of Scott Ainslie's recording on "Banjo Gathering." Ainslie posted this comment to YouTube: "This is deeply beautiful to me on a couple of scores: one, your playing and care are lovely, and two, a way of touching the banjo brought to us out of the 19th Century and early years of the 20th by Lee Hammons has successfully moved from his hands, to mine, and now to yours. Thanks. A lot." Certainly Olson's playing here brings out the old modal feel of southern Appalachian fiddle music, especially in the low course. User JanetB on the Banjo Hangout thread 09/10/2012 at 08:41:38, says most versions she knows are "very upbeat and lively. But if you listen to [author, folklorist and banjo artist] Stephen Wade's rendition on his CD Dancing in the Parlor, it's quite different -- he calls it measured and tranquil and says he based it on Lee Hammons' playing."

Lee Hammons was part of the Hammons family of West Virginia that Alan Jabbour interviewed and recorded in 1973 for the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture. According to the Encyclopedia of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University, "For two centuries, the Hammons family of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, has maintained a distinctive style of traditional Appalachian music. ... Unlike the string-band and ensemble traditions of near- by Kentucky and Virginia, the music the Hammons family played was part of a larger West Virginia tradition of solo performance, presumably due to the relative isolation that lingered within certain sections of West Virginia well into the twentieth century."

Maybe they just made time to relax and feel the music. At any rate, it's a relief from the supercharged tempos that clog dancers so often prefer.

The tune is a good one, at any tempo.

Banjo Hangout has background, discussion and links to sound files dating back to the 1920s, at Andrew Kuntz says in Fiddler's Companion:

WALKING IN THE PARLOR [1]. See related tune "Trude Evans." Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas. D Major. Standard tuning. AB (Silberberg): ABB (Brody): ABA'A'B'B' (Krassen). A melody with minstrel-era origins, although some hear distinct echoes of the English morris dance melody “Shepherd’s Hey.” The tune was mentioned in an account as having been played at a LaFollette, northeast Tennessee fiddlers' contest in 1931. The title (as "Walk in the Parlor") appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountian fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Wilson Douglas (Ivydale, W.Va.) remarks it was noted W.Va. fiddler French Carpenter's favorite tune, and says of its origins with his mentor:


A lady composed that. She was a fiddler and a top square
dancer. She lived during Carpenter's time, but she was old.
French said she played that tune and nobody could beat her.
That's where he learned it. Her name was Trod Evans. She
was a lady fiddler.


Indeed, the tune is sometimes called “Trude Evans.” It took five years, according to Douglas, for him to learn the tune with "the proper time at the proper time, or the proper rock, or the proper swing, or the proper shuffle." Despite its minstrel beginnings Gerald Milnes found a version with topical references regarding the nature of John D. Rockefeller (Milnes, Play of a Fiddle, 1999). Sources for notated versions: Highwoods String Band (New York) [Brody, Phillips]; John Hilt (Tazewell County, Virginia) [Krassen]; Wilson Douglas (W.Va.) [Phillips]; Charlie Acuff [Phillips]; Oscar ‘Red’ Wilson [Silberberg]. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; pg. 284. Krassen (Masters of Old Time Fiddling), 1983; pg. 114‑115. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 1, 1994; pg. 252 (two versions). Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 164. Spandaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; pg. 6. Anachronistic 001, John Hilt (Va.) ‑ "Swope's Knobs." Document 8039, “The Hill Billies/Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters: Compoete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 1” (reissue). Paramount 33153 (78 RPM), Dr. D. Dix Hollis (Ala., 1861‑1927), 1924. Rounder 0047, Wilson Douglas (W.Va.) ‑ "The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek" (1975). Lee Hammons ‑ "Shaking Down the Acorns." Rounder 0023, Highwoods String Band ‑ "Fire on the Mountain." Rounder 0089, Oscar and Eugene Wright ‑ "Old Time Fiddle and Guitar Music from West Virginia." Rounder C‑11565, Eugene Wright ‑ "Rounder Fiddle" (1990). In the repertoire of Luther Davis, Galax, Va.

Available at (scroll down directory).

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