Sunday, June 01, 2014

Clayville and Prairieland Strings tune for June -- "Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase"

Editor's note -- Pictures at left and below show members of the Prairieland Strings/Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music playing in front of the Broadwell Tavern May 18 at Clayville's spring festival. Courtesy of Fred Crawford.

We're back to holding our "first Tuesday" and "third Thursday" meetings of the Prairieland Strings at Atonement Lutheran Church -- thanks to all for putting up with the inconvenience while I was recuperating from pneumonia last month.

Our new tune for June is "Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase."

Our schedule for June is as follows:

  • Prairieland, "first Tuesday": 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 3, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Springfield.

  • Clayville Academy jam session: 10 a.m. to noon, June 7, in the barn at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125 at Pleasant Plains.

  • Prairieland, "third Thursday": 7 to 9 p.m., June 19, at Atonement.

"Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase" -- also known as "Cumberland Mountain Deer Race" and/or "Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase" -- is a lively up-tempo tune that sounds like it might be an old, old fiddle tune. But it isn't. It's a novelty song that Uncle Dave Macon, one of the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry, made popular in the 1930s and 40s. Folk singer and banjo virtuoso Pete Seeger covered it in several albums later, and it has gone back into oral tradition as a high-octane banjo tune.

According to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Macon, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., got his start in life "as a farmer and teamster (hauling goods with a mule and cart)," and broke into show biz in vaudeville and medicine shows. He started cutting records in the 1920s, and joined the Opry almost as soon as it went on the air in 1926. He was a fine musician, but he's best known today for novelty numbers.

Wayne Erbsen of Native Ground Music in Asheville, N.C., has lyrics for "Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase" in his instruction book Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus, and he's posted lyrics to his website at

Away, away we’re bound for the mountain
Bound for the mountain, bound for the mountain
Over the mountain, the hills and the fountain
Away to the chase away.

Rover, Rover, see him, see him
Rover, Rover, catch him, catch him
Over the mountain, the hills and the fountain
Away to the chase away.

Now we’re getting right for the race
The hounds and the horses all in the pace
Over the mountain, the hills and the fountain
Away to the chase away.

All night long till the break of dawn
Merrily the chase goes on
Over the mountain, the hills and the fountain
Away to the chase away.

Uncle Dave Macon sang the parts about the hounds really fast, then slowed down for a verse about the deer -- who's panting and getting winded by this time -- and picked up again as he returned to the hounds and horses. (It isn't in Erbsen's version.) As you listen to him in the YouTube clip below, see if you're not reminded of "English Country Garden," an English morris dance tune collected by Cecil Sharp and arranged for piano in 1918 by Percy Grainger.

1 comment:

vrteach said...

A few years back Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase was a Tune of the Week (TOTW) on the Banjo Hangout. The interesting thing was that it was posted by Mirek Patek, a banjo player from the Czech Republic. He noted that the melody is VERY close to a Czech children folk song Holka modrooka (translates as Blue Eyed Girl).

The Banjo Hangout topic has some more links: