Thursday, June 05, 2014

Clayville jam postponed -- and a couple of video clips that show different artists filling in the notes and swinging (syncopating) the melody of "Shortnin' Bread"

Last night I heard back from Clayville, and we're able to postpone our first-of-the-month Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music jam session, originally scheduled this week, till Saturday, June 14, from 10 a.m. till noon. in the barn at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125 at Pleasant Plains. We polled the group Tuesday night in Springfield, and that's the best time for the most people.

After Tuesday's session, I got on YouTube and found some arrangements of "Shortnin' Bread" that I think will give us some ideas on how to "swing" the tune -- in other words, to syncopate it so we're not just plodding along in quarter notes. Here they are:

History of "Shortnin' Bread" - 4 versions (Paul Chaplain +)

Posted by YouTube user GeoSilverAway, who has a lengthy explanation:

Originated in the Old South USA. First generally popularized by Lawrence Tibbett in the early 20th century. Then sung by Nelson Eddy in 1937/38. In 1938 it was a big charted hit for The Andrews Sisters. Then done by many others like Fats Waller (1941) and Paul Robeson.

In the 1950s, rock and roll singers started picking it up - The Collins Kids, Tony Crombie ... The reason it attracts so much attention now is the hard rock recording by Paul Chaplain and his Emeralds in 1960. It wasn't a big hit but has now rightfully become a legend. The Bellnotes also released a rock version that year. Meanwhile back in England it achieved better hit status sung by the vocal trio The Viscounts. (They can be seen on YouTube singing Let's Twist Again) I have also found a definitive rock instrumental recording by The Fabulous Playboys, who appear to be a US surf group.

Selections in the video:

  1. Andrews Sisters
  2. The Viscounts, UK #16
  3. Paul Chaplain and his Emeralds. US Billboard #82 and Cashbox #55.
  4. The Fabulous Playboys instrumental

"If some of the words aren't clear," adds GeoSilverAway, "it involves the 'lid' on the skillet, and one of the children is 'most dead, meaning almost."

A really cool North Carolina string band jamming at a festival

Says YouTube user Dean Barber, "Asheville, N.C.-based Chicken Train was performing at Clifftop 2012 last week over a box of their CDs. Sales were brisk because their music making was topnotch. That's John Hermann on banjo and John Engle on fiddle. Meredith McIntosh is on guitar. Not sure who was on bass, but she was solid. ..."

Song history

Like everyone else, I thought "Shortnin' Bread" was from the old blackface minstrel shows. But it wasn't. Instead, it was written around 1900 by popular Indiana newspaper poet James Whitcomb Riley, who was considered an unofficial poet laureate in the late 1800s but is now known for regional poems like "When the Frost in on the Punkin" (pumpkin). Wikipedia notes that "Shortnin' Bread" has been covered by artists ranging from the Beach Boys to Mississippi John Hurt and Donald Duck (in a 1948 animated cartoon).

Dulcimer tab

Both have been posted to the internet, so we're free to make copies for personal use. The Prairie Dulcimer Club's version is written pretty much in quarter notes, while the version on Everything Dulcimer tries to show a little bit of the syncopation by writing the same phrases in quarter notes and eighth notes. Whichever one you follow, you'll want to "swing" it a little by accenting the first and third beats, so it sounds almost like it's in 2/4 time, and put in some extra strums of your own as you get more comfortable with the tune.

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