Uncle Dave Macon, "Grey Cat On A Tennessee Farm" [but link here for the best version!]
It's Labor Day weekend, there's a touch of fall in the air, the cats are snoozing in a patch of sunlight in the master bedroom they consider their own, and I'm in a perfect mood to slow down and enjoy life. Besides, I've been thinking about an email message I got the other day about one of the songs on our Clayville-Prairieland jam session playlist.
"[Another group plays] the 'Nutfactory' song," it said. "They play it way too fast."
I agree. But it's not just one group that plays way too fast, IMO, and it's not just "Nutfactory Shuffle." It's not just mountain dulcimer players, either. Sometimes clog dancers need a fast tune, so they can show off their skills, and bluegrass is always fast. But a lot of the time, I feel like oldtime musicians, especially up north, play fast to show they can -- and they lose the feel of the music.
So at our next session Tuesday I'd like to take a couple of favorite dulcimer jam tunes, "Nutfactory" and "Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm," ease up on the tempo a little and see what they sound like. I think we'll find they have a nice, bouncy lilt to them that doesn't come across when everybody's in a race to the end of the tab.
Our next Clayville-Prairieland show jam and tune learning circle session is from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at Peace Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Springfield. ALSO COMING UP: Clayville Fall Festival, Saturday, Sept. 17, and Sunday, Sept. 18. We will have people playing informally on the grounds both afternoons.
Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm
An Uncle Dave Macon song from the early days of the Grand Ole Opry that was covered by the New Lost City Ramblers in the 1960s and taken up en masse by the mountain dulcimer revival of the 1970s onward. Uncle Dave, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and his Fruit Jar Drinkers were a hugely successful novelty act on the Opry. He got his start playing medicine shows in the early 1900s, and his arrangements hark back to the earliest recoverable days of old-time Appalachian string band music. In other words, he sounds exactly like the earliest fiddle players we have any record of.
But the best arrangement of all is in a sound file by Nick Kroes, a businessman of Muskegon, Mich. Go to http://www.mostlymuskegon.com/gray-cat-on-a-tennessee-farm/ and click on Download "Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm." As far as I know, Kroes has never recorded it commercially. But since I first heard his "Gray Cat" on line about 10 years ago, it completely changed the way I think of the tune.
Kroes makes a song out of it, IMO, not a fiddle tune with shouted lyrics, and the lyrics carry the song.
Dulcimer tab with chords and lyrics, is available on the Dogwood Dulcimer Association Music Site of Pensacola, Fla. It's not 100% the way Uncle Dave sang it, but it's close enough. A more accurate transcription, with information about personnel of the Fruit Jar Drinkers, is on the WeenieCampbell.com country blues website at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=7397.0.
A staple in recent years at mountain dulcimer jams by Gil Anderson. Listen to Dustin and Marc Mathieu playing it at Western Carolina Univeristy in the YouTube clip below. There's just the hint of a lilt to it, the way I most enjoyed hearing the mountain dulcimer played in the southern Appalachians. Give it a listen.
The Connecticut Mountain Dulcimer Gathering in Colchester, Conn., has dulcimer tab with notation and guitar chords linked to the Music List on its website, and I have tab that a member of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings got permission to copy for our group several years ago that may be a little easier to follow.
Anderson, who was active on the dulcimer festival circuit during the 1970s, wrote it one day when he was on a gig. Sue Carpenter told the story in the Dulcimer Association of Albany (N.Y.) newsletter (as quoted in an EverythingDulcimer.com discussion forum):
This bouncy tune is not only a lot of fun to play, but has a story behind it as well. Some years ago, Gil Anderson was showing his instruments at a craft fair in one of the malls. Few people paid him much attention, being more concerned with designer labels than with traditional instruments, so he took out his dulcimer, and as he played, he came up with this piece. Not sure just what to call it, he had a stroke of genius as he watched people shuffling out of the "Nut Factory" across the way, popping peanuts and cashews in their mouths: he decided to dedicate it to all those shoppers who rush about their business with no heed for the pleasures of dulcimer music. The tune was recorded by Tom and Geri White on their album, Working Days.
Play it too fast, and you lose the bounce.