Saturday, April 04, 2015

"Groundhog" -- an old southern Appalachian children's song for Clayville-Prairieland jam sessions

Since the first of April fell on a Wednesday, our schedule of slow jams is a little cockeyed this month. Plus we have the "Fake It Till You Make It" workshop coming up at Clayville Historic Stagecoach Stop. So I'll post our schedule here for the rest of the month.

  • Tuesday, April 7, 7-9 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Springfield. Our "first Tuesday" Prairieland Strings jam. That's only three days from now. Yikes!

  • Thursday, April 16, 7-9 p.m. at Atonement. The "third Thursday" jam. It's only a little more than a week later, since the first was on a Wednesday.

  • Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the barn at Clayville. "Fake It Till You Make It" workshop. FREE OF CHARGE! Basic jamming skills. Beginner-friendly but focused on developing skills for playing in a group with other instruments. I'll introduce a couple of new ideas, but I hope we can all share tips on how we learned -- what worked for us.

Here's a tune that's a lot of fun, and one that's easy for newbies to master. It's called "Groundhog." It was one of the very first tunes I learned on a mountain dulcimer back in the day in East Tennessee. Since it's a song instead of a dance tune, people just play it straight through. (Instead of AABB it's more like AAAA till you run out of verses.) It's commonly played in G or A, but we'll play it in D.

A lead sheet with notation, chords and dulcimer tab for "Groundhog" is in Steve Seifert's "Join the Jam." And Sr. Margaret Mary, a music teacher has a slightly different version with notation, chords and dulcimer tab on the website at Link below for a set of lyrics.

NOTE: The printed music for Steve's version and Sr. Margaret Mary's are a little different, but I can practically guarantee they'll sound just fine together after we've played through them a couple of times.

Here are some YouTube clips:

Ground Hog - Peter Feldmann. Uploaded Feb. 2, 2013. Played on a "catskin" banjo (well, that's what they call them -- but see below) made by a master craftsman in North Carolina.

Feldman, who has recorded children's songs and other folk music, adds:

I learnt this song from Frank Proffitt, of Reese, NC, back in 1962. Franks was a fine singer, banjo and guitar picker, as well as a maker of fretless banjos and mountain dulcimers. I got a banjo from Frank in 1963. Its head is ground hog skin, so it could not be more appropriate to use for this fine old folk song. We spent four days together in Chicago when Frank came up for a visit. He told me the best banjo head skin was cat skin, but that his wife frowned on his shooting them ... groundhog was his fall-back position.

It probably should be added here that mountain people, no doubt including Frank Proffitt, have a dry sense of humor.

If the song is known to at all, it's in this version sung by Doc Watson and family in a 1990 recording for Smithsonian Folkways:

Lyrics as Doc Watson recorded them are available on line at

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