Pig in a Pen

18 Dec

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

This one comes from Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith (1898-1971) from Bold Springs, TN. Smith was an extremely charismatic and entertaining fiddler whose enigmatic style has influenced each generation since his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1927. It can be argued that Smith (perhaps along with fiddler Clayton McMichen) is the seminal “transitional” figure between “Old Time” and bluegrass style fiddling. But maybe that’s a conversation for the “experts”. Suffice it to say, Fiddlin’ Arthur was a monster of a musician who wrote more than a few enduring pieces which continue to be interpreted by both OT and Blugrass musicians alike.

“Pig in a Pen” was recorded (as “Pig at Home in the Pen”) in February, 1937, in Charlotte, North Carolina, by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith accompanied by Alton & Rabon Delmore (recording as “The Arthur Smith Trio”). HERE’S A LINK to this version.

HERE’S A VERSION from the 1970s Bluegrass supergroup Old and In the Way.

Flatt and Scruggs did a GREAT VERSION on the Grand Ole Opry. Man I love Paul Warren’s fiddling!

There are many, many more versions floating around out there; most of them are Bluegrass but that’s OK. Earl Scruggs was an Old Time banjo picker after all 😉



Two from B.F. Shelton

31 Oct

Here you go, folks. Two from the quintessential 2ftl picker, B.F. Shelton. Not much is known about the man other than that he was from Clay County, Kentucky (1902-1968) and that he was also a barber. He recorded 10 sides at the historic Bristol Sessions in July of 1927 – only four of which survive today. For many people, his version of Darlin’ Cora is the best one out there. Enjoy!

Pretty Polly

[gDGCD tuning]



Darlin’ Cora

[eCGCC tuning]



Links to these recordings can be found halfway down the “About the Style” page.

Bright Sunny South

20 Oct

(click here for tab)

[gDGCD tuning]

Also known as Sweet Sunny South, this one was first collected from a “Mrs. Lucy Cannady at Endicott, VA. Aug 23 1918” by Cecil Sharp – although there have been accounts that this one goes back even before the Civil War (1850s). The first recordings of it were done in 1927 by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers, DaCosta Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters, and a certain Jackson Young, which is apparently a pseudonym for fiddler Ben Jarrell. Since then, dozens of people have recorded it in various settings, with different regional/individual characteristics – some major sounding & some in a minor key. I personally enjoy the minor ones so the above tab is based on the lonesome sounds of Jake Owen (son of the late Blanton Owen) and his banjo. Also worth noting is the version done by Dock Boggs in the 1960s. Dang good. Do a quick Youtube search for more.

For a great discussion about lyrics and origins, check out the threads on Mudcat Cafe: I & II

The Dying Californian

8 Oct

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

This is arranged from the outstanding fiddling/singing of Tim Eriksen. Like much of the music he plays, this piece is found in the Sacred Harp repertoire. The term “Sacred Harp” refers to the human voice, thus the music associated with the tradition is a capella and is called shape-note singing. The Sacred Harp collection was originally published way back in 1844 by a couple of guys from the state of Georgia – B.F. White & E.J. King. To this day many groups scattered throughout North America (and Europe) continue to gather for annual or local “singings” which might last anywhere from a couple hours to a few days. In my limited experience on this planet, there are few things which compare to the experience of standing in the middle of a bunch of harmonized shape-note singers. Highly recommended.

Anyway (!)…The Dying Californian is on the top of p.410 of the Sacred Harp book and features, according to the book, “words by Kate Harris of Pascoag, R.I. in the New England Diadem and Rhode Island Temperance Pledge, 9 Feb. 1850, ‘Suggested on hearing read an extract of a letter from Captain Chase, containing the dying words of Brown Owen, who recently died on his passage to California.”‘ Here it is done ‘by the book’ (full lyrics). And for good measure, here it is as performed way down in the Arkansas Ozarks.


Buffalo Gals

17 Jul

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

Even though most people growing up in the United States learn this as a children’s song, this is another one that goes wayyyy back. According to a thread at Mudcat.org, this song was published in 1844 by a fella named John Hodges who performer under the monicker “Cool White.” The Lomaxes believed that Cool White “borrowed” it from traditional sources, and a similar tune called “Midnight Serenade” in Knauff’s Virginia Reels [pub. 1839] gives weight to this claim. It has also been suggested that the tune itself is based upon a German dance piece known as Im Grunewald ist Holzauktion, and while there are certainly close similarities between the two, the earliest date I have been able to track down for the German piece is 1872. Who knows. I defer to the previously mentioned discussion at the Mudcat Cafe for more information.

The earliest recording (as “Alabama Gal”) comes from Fiddlin’ John Carson [OKeh 40204, 1924], for those keeping track. For a particularly strange, yet hugely popular version check out the late Malcolm McLaren’s 1983 recording.


Wild Bill Jones

1 Jul

(click here for tab)

[fDGCD tuning]

Wild Bill Jones was first recorded by Eva Davis back in 1924 and since then has become one of the most popular songs in the Bluegrass and traditional Old Time repertoire. The earliest occurrence of the song is way back in 1916 at which time it was collected from a woman named Miss Viney Norton (Big Laurel, NC). From what I can tell, the prevailing version among pickers these days is based on the version played by the Stanley Brothers. I much prefer the different versions done by Granville Bowlin, Virgil Anderson, and Dock Boggs. The tab for this post is based on the playing of Dock Boggs – although he played it in open G tuning (gDGBD).

Check the .mp3 section for more material. Enjoy!

Whiskey Before Breakfast

20 May

(click here for tab)

[aDADE tuning]

Here is another one sent to me by Clay Black. Clay has this to say about his arrangement (and I totally agree):

Whiskey Before Breakfast is a good workshop tune becasuse most clawhammer players are familiar with it and this simple arrangement permits them to concentrate on the mechanics of thumb picking without worrying so much about the melody.

The origins of the tune itself are disputed, but it seems the conventional opinion is that (Manitoba) Canadian fiddler Andy de Jarlis composed it in the mid-twentieth century. Youtube has a “video” of the recording. There are, however, reports that de Jarlis learned it from an elderly Métis fiddler at an all-night drinking & fiddling session during which it was the last tune they played before passing out. This is usually how I learn fiddle tunes as well, so I’ll go with the latter theory. Regardless, it is a fantastic tune which was enthusiastically adopted into the canon of Old Time fiddle tunes in the US (and abroad). Perhaps the most famous version of the tune is from guitarist Norman Blake. Check it out.

Thanks for another good one, Clay.


23 Apr

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

From what I can tell, this one comes to us from Tommy Jarrell of Surrey County, North Carolina. Tommy was, hands down, the most influential old time musician for scores of “young fogies” in the 1970s & 80s seeking a link to the traditional music styles of the Southern Mountains. His hospitality was legendary and his bowing style impenetrable. The song Policeman can be heard on the album “Stay All Night…And Don’t Go Home” by Oscar Jenkins, Fred Cockerham, and Tommy Jarrell. It seems to have become a staple among the new crop of Old Time string bands who usually perform it at rip-roaring tempos (Foghorn String Band, The Morgantown Rounders, and Dirk Powell to name a few). Perhaps the most interesting version (to me anyways) comes from Dan Gellert and can be heard on his album “Waitin’ on the Break of Day.” Google the lyrics…they make the song!

Lastly, if anybody out there is unfamiliar with the music of Tommy Jarrell, go HERE for a nice collection of free field recordings (including Policeman) of him fiddling, singing, and picking the banjo. Enjoy!

Sourwood Mountain

14 Apr

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

Sourwood Mountain is another one of those old songs that stretch back to an unknown source and was one of the earliest song/dance pieces collected in the beginning of the last century. The location of the Sourwood Mountain in the song is disputed, but there appear to be a peak in Jefferson County, TN and a ridge in Russel County, VA of the same name. Most people who keep track of this stuff note that it’s possible that the tune (and attached song) come from Sourwood Mountain, Massachusetts. Either way, the earliest recording comes from Tennessee fiddler Uncle Am Stuart (1853-1927), who at the age of 71 put it down for Vocalion Records during their frantic attempts to get a slice of the hillbilly pie after the huge success of Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recordings for Okeh a year earlier. The tune was also recorded by Dave Macon, The Skillet Lickers, The Hill Billies, Wade Mainer, Melvin Wine, Tommy Jarrell and a few dozen other notable characters from the Ozarks to the Blue Ridge.

From the Bluegrass Picker’s Songbook: “The tune was mentioned by William Byrne who described a chance encounter with West Virginia fiddler ‘Old Sol’ Nelson during a fishing trip on the Elk River. The year was around 1880, and Sol, whom Byrne said was famous for his playing ‘throughout the Eld Valley from Clay Courthouse to Sutton as…the Fiddler of the Wilderness,’ had brought out his fiddle after supper to entertain.”

Cripple Creek (v2.0)

27 Feb

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

Here’s another, easier arrangement of Cripple Creek that I threw together for a friend of mine a little while back. As it stands, I don’t have an .mp3 version to share, but I’ll get on it as soon as I’m able. Check the .pdf section for a printable tab.

For the heck of it, here’s a link to the “original” post of Cripple Creek from March, 2010 in case you missed it.

Jack Wilson

27 Feb

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

Here’s another guest contribution to the site; this time from a fella by the name of Clay Black. I like his arrangement quite a bit and I think folks looking to get into the 2ftl style will find this one to be very friendly. I have say it’s thanks to generous folks like Clay and our previous contributors that this site is able to stay afloat when I get bogged down with my graduate studies (one more month!). Once again, I’ll let the arranger do the talking (thanks again, Clay):


I did some thumb picking workshops at the Florida Folk Festival a while back.   Here is one of the tabs I passed out.   Jack Wilson is a Kentucky tune normally played in D with the banjo tuned aDADE but it just sort of falls into place in thumb picking as an open G (gDGBD) or A (aEAC#E) piece.  Nothing fancy here but beginners can learn this version in about 5 minutes so it’s great workshop material.  It’s easy enough on the fiddle in these keys too.

This tune is usually credited to fiddler John Salyer and banjoist Claude Helton based on their 1941 home recording but it appears to have been relatively common in the Magoffin County, Kentucky area.  J.M. Mullins recorded a banjo tune of the same name for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in 1937, four years before the Salyer/Helton recording, and I’ve heard that early recording artist Buell Kazee, also a Magoffin County native, played it on banjo and sang verses. ”

Red Rocking Chair [Sugar Babe]

24 Jan

(click here for tab)

[eEABD tuning]

It can hardly get more “traditional” than this one folks, and trying to ascribe authorship to any one person is a lost cause. The earliest known mention of anything related to the song is found in volume 28 (April-June, 1915) of the Journal of American Folklore in an article entitled Songs From the South written by University of Louisville professor E.C. Perrow.  Perrow includes lyrics for a certain song he calls Done All I Can Do (p.189) which he collected “From negroes; Mississippi; Ms. of W.G. Pitts; 1909.”  Outside of that reference, folklorists seems to agree that the song has a close lyrical connection with an old Child ballad known as The Lass of Roch-Royal [#76] (youtube example). As for recorded examples, Dock Boggs recorded a variation of the tune under the title “Sugar Baby” [Brunswick 118] back in 1927 and numerous others have recorded it under names like Red Apple Juice, Honey Baby, and I Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now over the years.

Here’r a couple pages to check out if you’d like more info: Bluegrass Messengers & Mudcat.org

I’ve arranged this in a pretty odd tuning, but I think it does the trick. Hope you enjoy playing it as much as I do.

More videos!

19 Jan

Frankie Revell playing & singing When it’s Time for the Whippoorwill to Sing:


Brian Scott playing Lost Gander (aka Wild Goose Chase):


Marc Nerenberg’s funky, syncopated take on My Creole Belle:


Delia’s Gone:


That’s Where My Money Goes

6 Jan

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

Here’s another guest-post from Sam Rubera (thanks, Sam!). For the strict thumb-lead player, you’ll notice that there are a few instances in Sam’s arrangement when the index finger picks melody notes on the 3rd string. Great exercise, in my opinion. I’ll let Sam do the rest of the talking:

Here’s one for you:

The song is “That’s Where My Money Goes”, stolen from the Supremest of the Supreme Beings (or “pretty top shit”, as we say in Australia), Uncle Dave Macon (Who once described himself [likely due to the influence of George Hay] as “banjoist and songster, liking religion and meeting, farming and thanking God for all the bountiful gifts he has bestowed upon us.”), from the 1951 recordings entitled “Uncle Dave: At Home”. This song was also recorded by Earl Johnson, Frank Stokes, Mississippi John Hurt, and John Jackson.

The tune is rather straight forward, it uses a different arrangement of the scale Boggs uses for his “Wild Bill Jones”. My arrangement is also rather straightforward, as usual, ask if’n you’ve got any questions.

You should probably play it loudly and quickly with lots of of strumming and yelping:

“That’s where my money goes
To buy silk camisoles
Nobody’s business
But my own

My girl, she’s nearly four
She works in a grocery store
Nobody’s business
But my own

She runs a weenie stand
Way down in No Man’s Land
Nobody’s business
But my own

We are the Jubilee
We drink good whiskey
Nobody’s business
But my own

It’s nobody’s business
Nobody’s business
Nobody’s business
If I do

Sometimes I ramble
Get drunk and gamble
Nobody’s business
But mine

One of these mornings, I’ll wake up crazy
Kill my wife and eat my baby
Nobody’s business
If I do

Morphine’s gonna run me crazy
Cocaine’s gonna kill my baby
Pretty girls gonna cause me to
Lose my mind”

– et cetera

“The Baker’s Dozen Christmas Songbook (Merry Christmas!)”

17 Dec

It is my pleasure to turn your attention to an excellent collection of traditional Christmas songs arranged by Nathan A. Wendte for 2 finger thumb lead banjo! Nathan has been doing some very creative things with the 2ftl style, and this collection is nothing short of fantastic. Check out his Youtube account for a handful of videos of Nathan playing arrangements from the book. Here’s a message Nathan posted to the Banjo Hangout which includes a link to the file:


Hello friends,

My present to all of you! 13 TABs for two finger thumb-lead banjo arrangements of popular holiday tunes and carols available for download at the site below:


I’m always humbled by the kindness I see from members in these forums. I hope this small contribution may help some of you in the same way that your many and varied contributions have helped me.

Merry Christmas!


P.S. I’ve also attached the file itself for your convenience.

The Baker’s Dozen Christmas Songbook

Get Along Home, Cindy

14 Dec

(click here for tab)

[gDGAE tuning]

Ain’t I a Goin’

Cindy, like Liza Jane, is a staple in the world of traditional N. American play party songs, ballads, and breakdowns. The earliest reference to “Get Along Home, Cindy” and its variations that I can dig up comes from vol. 28 of The Journal of American Folklore (1915). It shows up as a play party song collected under the title “Ain’t I a Goin’?” and is identified as having been “brought from Arkansas to Western Nebraska, 1882” and some have connected the melody with the old minstrel piece “Lucy Long” (1842). As it has journeyed across the delta and over the southern mountains, the song has taken on regional flavors and variations , resulting in great tunes like “Rockingham Cindy“, “Cindy in the Summertime“, “Step-Back, Cindy” (aka Holly Ding), “Old Time Cinda“, and “J’etais au Bal“. It was first recorded in 1925, by Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters (aka The Hillbillies) for Okeh records (40294). Since then it has been recorded in nearly every Western musical genre, from Bob Wills to Ricky Nelson and Jo Stafford to Robert Plant. To me, it will always be one of the quintessential Old Timey songs and breakdowns – and it makes a good kids song too!

Here’r a few links you might enjoy:

These folks do all the research, I just steal it: http://tinyurl.com/29h5xwq

A great page with links to many of the recordings I mentioned above: http://tinyurl.com/347ydeh

Here’s the Cajun Cindy (“J’etais au Bal“): http://tinyurl.com/32qrrw6

Last, but not least, is the great Tim Twiss playing that old minstrel stage favorite,  “Lucy Long: http://tinyurl.com/2auneko

Poor Ellen Smith

30 Nov

(click here for tab)

[gDGAE tuning]

Poor Ellen Smith is a murder ballad based around actual events that occurred in Mt. Airy, North Carolina back in the year 1894.  A fella by the name of Peter DeGraff was fooling around with a young woman by the name of Ellen Smith until she eventually got pregnant. In perfect murder ballad fashion, DeGraff tried to ditch poor Ellen, who had no idea why she was getting the cold shoulder (some reports describe her as being developmentally challenged – in the parlance of our times). The baby died at birth which led Ellen to latch on tighter to DeGraff, until he led her to a secluded spot and shot her in the chest and left her to die. DeGraff supposedly wrote this song while waiting for his execution (by hanging). Here is an excellent web page devoted to this tragic story: Poor Ellen Smith.

There are two versions of this song – Ellen Smith and Poor Ellen Smith – which are different enough to be different. This post is Poor Ellen Smith. As per usual, there are plenty of good old-timey recordings (Tommy Jarrell, Rufus Crisp, Theophilus G. Hoskins) to check out, as well as some classic (gasp!) Bluegrass recordings (The Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Wilma Lee Cooper). Folkies also jumped on board (The Kossoy Sisters, The Kingston Trio). In addition, some “non-traditional” artists like Neko Case have recorded it and the song was apparently a favorite of Jerry Garcia.

Shout Little Lula

29 Nov

(click here for tab)

[eCGCD tuning]

This one was first recorded back in 1927 by the seminal duo of G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter. It’s part of what is known today as the “Hook and Line” family of tunes which actually descend from an old minstrel song by the name of “Old Dad” (Dan Emmet, 1844). Specifically a banjo piece, it was once very popular among pickers in the Appalachian region and I have recordings of (just to name a few) Rufus Crisp, Pete Steele, and Roscoe Holcomb playing it. Ralph Stanley has been quoted as saying that “Shout Lulu” was one of the first tunes he learned as a boy from is mother. A Google search will get you plenty of good lyrics and links to recorded versions.

*My arrangement was inspired by Paul Brown’s playing on banjo builder Kevin Enoch’s website. Enjoy!

You can find an .mp3 in the (you guessed it) “.mp3” section of this site.

More on the way…

24 Nov

Hey there folks. After another long hiatus, I’ll finally be posting more songs in the next few days – hopefully this weekend. Until then, here are a few videos of 2ftl banjo playing that I yanked off of youtube [without permission, of course]. In my estimation, 2 finger thumb-lead banjo is alive and well. Enjoy!!!

Me and My Wife Had A Falling Out (from lastfirstface)


Uncle Eph Got a Coon (from Bayrum78)


Buffoon in the Bosom (from stigandr5)


Sweet Sunny South (from r810s)

Careless Love

25 Sep

(click here for tab)

[gDGBD tuning]

This song goes wayyyy back, and while not specifically an “Old Time” song it has appeared on recordings by musicians from New Orleans, Chicago, and even the mountains of Kentucky. Oftentimes the lyrics get changed around, swapped, added, or just completely left out. Another example of that “folk process” people like to talk about. Once again, a simple internet search will get you plenty of lyrics.

This arrangement is from the playing of Harry and Jeanie West. The recording I’m referring to is from the now out of print Banjo Songs of the Southern Mountains (which is downloadable HERE.) The Wests have been recording since the late 40’s and currently own and operate an acoustic instrument shop in downtown Statesville, North Carolina.

Don’t forget to check the .mp3 section of this site for audio!

I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground

24 Sep

(click here for tab)

[gCGCD tuning]

This song was first recorded in April of 1924 by the Minstrel of the Appalachians, Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882-1973, Mars Hill, NC). Lunsford had this to say about the origins of the song: “The title of this mountain banjo song is ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground.’ I’ve known it since 1901 when I heard Fred Moody, then a high school boy, sing it down in Burke County.” The melody has been performed under many titles, including “My Last Old Dollar is Gone,” Tempy,” “Kimbie”…the list is long – but not as long as the list of verses! Do a Google search and you’ll have your work cut out for you. It hardly gets any more old-timey than this one, folks.

About the Tab: This arrangement was made for a two finger thumb-lead banjo class I have recently started teaching at the Folk-School of St. Louis, MO. I’ve stripped it down to what I consider a very basic form, and it seems to be pretty easy for folks with little experience with the 2ftl style to pick up. Enjoy!

Cumberland Gap

16 Sep

(click here for tab)

[f#BEAD tuning; aka Cumberland Gap tuning]

So it’s been a loooonnnnnnnngggg time since I posted anything up here.  My apologies.  Grown-up responsibilities have really been getting in the way of my fun lately. C’est lavie.

Now that that’s out of the way…

This post is based upon an interesting version of Cumberland Gap as played by the late Stella Kimble of Carroll County, Virginia.  Mrs. Kimble , along with her husband Taylor (whom she married when they were in their 60’s) and their children, played music well into old age. They made two tapes for the now defunct Marimac Recordings label that are full of great music. They can also be heard on a CD pressed in 2006 by the Field Recorders’ Collective (FRC106). I highly recommend it.

Check the .mp3 and .pdf sections of this site for my interpretation. Enjoy!

Omie Wise

26 Jul

(click here for tab)

[f#DGAD tuning]

I gotta admit: I have a bit of a soft spot for good, old-fashioned murder ballads, and Omie Wise stands at the top of my list. Once again, folklorists and enthusiasts have uncovered a great deal about the history of the characters in the song and it’s origins. If you’re interested in this type of stuff (like I am), check out Lyle Lofgrens’ page, this article at wikipedia (it’s actually not too bad), and this excellent page which comes from an early account of the murder written in the early 1800’s.

For the best sampling of the various versions floating around out there, go to the bottom of this page at The Old, Weird America.

Finally, go here to find MORE information and a stirring recording of the song done by Doc Watson.

*About my arrangement: I’ve been listening to a lot of Dock Boggs lately, and although Mr. Boggs played it, his version was done in standard (gDGBD) tuning. I couldn’t resist trying to work it up in the tuning he used most – f#DGAD – and I like the results. Hopefully you do too. Enjoy!

Going Across the Sea

23 Jun

(click here for tab)

[gCGCD tuning]

In this post, Thumb-Lead Banjer once again features a tab from guest contributor Glenn Patterson.  This time around, Glenn has sent me a tab of Going Across the Sea based on the picking of multi-instrumentalist Tracy Schwarz (most well known as the fiddler for the New Lost City Ramblers between 1962-1972).  An excellent version of Mr. Schwarz playing this tune can be heard at the Digital Library of Appalachia, a site well worth your attention if you’ve never seen it.  I haven’t been able to dig up very much about the origins of the piece, but from what I can tell Uncle Dave Macon is credited with the first recording of it pressed way back in 1924.  Whatever its history, Going Across the Sea continues to be a popular song/tune among fiddlers and banjo pickers alike.  Thanks again Glenn.


Shady Grove

7 Jun

This post features tabs from two guest contributors: Glenn Patterson and Sam Rubera.  Amazingly enough, both of them have arranged tabs based upon Lee Sexton’s (Letcher County, KY) two-finger version of Shady Grove in fDGCD tuning.  When compared to what seems to be a relatively homogenized interpretation found in many of versions out there Mr. Sexton’s version is particularly striking and lots of fun to play.

Here’r the tabs:

Glenn Patterson’s tab

Sam Rubera’s tab

Finally, here is a recording of Lee Sexton playing Shady Grove at home on 5/16/95 made by a fella I know only as “broos”.

Thanks to Glenn and Sam for their contributions!

Handsome Molly

14 May

(click here for tab)

[gDGDBD tuning]

First recorded on October 18, 1927 by G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter in Atlanta, GA, this song has grown to be one of the most popular pieces in the Bluegrass world.  Outside of that, the song has maintained a presence in the traditional music (aka Old Time) canon for decades.  I’ll let you decided where Mick Jagger’s version fits.

Pretty Polly

14 May

(click here for tab)

[gDGBbD tuning; aka “G minor” tuning]

This famous  murder ballad has its roots in a popular (during the 1700’s that is) British ballad called “The Gosport Tragedy” in which a young man murders his girlfriend to avoid marrying her when he discovers she is pregnant.  He tries to escape on a ship, but the winds won’t blow and he is torn apart by the ghosts of the victims who rise from the silent waters.  In the North American version, poor Polly gets no retribution having only “the wild birds to mourn’ her violent death.  Damn.

This song was first recorded  in 1925 by John Hammond Sr. (father of delta blues guitarist John Hammond Jr.) and was followed shortly after by B.F. Shelton (1927) and a seriously spooky 3-finger version by Dock Boggs (1928).  Perhaps the most famous recording was done by the Stanley Brothers in 1951.  This version is so popular that many mistakenly credit the brothers Stanley with the authorship of the ancient ballad.

The arrangement in the tablature is one I’ve been fooling around with for a while in the clawhammer style, but it seems to sit very well in the 2ftl style. Give it a shot!

(P.S. I’ll be posting a tab of B.F. Shelton’s Pretty Polly sometime in the near future.)

Sorry for the delay…

28 Apr

As a few of you might know, I’m currently a graduate student. This whole project came together one day while I was avoiding my studies and has proven to be a great learning experience (and a heckuva lot of fun!)  Well, I can’t avoid the inevitable any longer; it is now the end of the semester and final examinations are right around the corner.  I won’t be able to post any new tabs for a couple weeks, but when I do,  expect some good’ns.  Thanks for your patience and for all of the positive feedback and suggestions.

Stay tuned.

– Sean

Reuben’s Train

23 Apr

(click here for tab)

[f#DF#AD tuning]

(aka “Open-D”, “Graveyard”, or “Reuben” tuning)

As with most Old Time songs/tunes, this one has many names.  It was first recorded in 1924 by Fiddlin’ John Carson as “I’m Nine Hundred Miles From Home”, and then again in 1927 by G.B Grayson and Henry Whitter as “Train 45”.  Since then, this classic number has been recorded by folks such Woody Guthrie, Wade Mainer, the Dillards, Martin Simpson, and Doc Watson.

As the story goes, Reuben was the first tune young Tommy Jarrell learned from a hired-hand on his father’s farm named Cockerham, who showed it to him on the banjo. Any and all versions from the Galax/Mt. Airy/Round Peak areas of N. Carolina seem to be the best known versions floating around today.

For more information, I’ll once again refer you to the Bluegrass Messengers pages dedicated to this great ol’ song (click here).

For the heckuvit, here are the earliest lyrics to appear in print:

Sugar Hill

14 Apr

(click here for tab)

[gCGCE tuning]

According to Andrew Kuntz’ Fiddler’s Companion website, “this song has African-American roots and the phrase ‘Sugar hill’ is said to signify the ‘wild part of town’, the red-light district.” Tom Paley, one of the founding members of the New Lost City Ramblers, says that getting one’s “eye knocked out” is a euphemism for sex.  Either way this number has a ton of rowdy lyrics which certainly make this a fun one to holler.

The first recorded version was done by Crockett Ward & His Boys (OKeh 45179, 1928) and subsequent versions are too numerous to recount here.  Check out the Bluegrass Messengers pages dedicated to Sugar Hill for tons of excellent information regarding the song’s history and the artists who have recorded it. If you’re into that kind of stuff that is…

Playing tips: The tuning is known as “Open-C” and was a favorite among players like Uncle Dave Macon and Frank Proffitt. There are a couple chord shapes included in the tab which will hopefully help out – especially in the B part. Just remember to keep your finger on the 1st string/3rd fret throughout the 9th-11th measures (until the pull-off) and you’ll be just fine.

Little Sadie

14 Apr

(click here for tab)

[gDGCD tuning]

This classic “murder ballad” goes by many names: Bad Lee Brown, Penitentiary Blues, Bad Man Blues, Out Last Night, and Chain Gang Blues to name but a few. A fella by the name of Lyle Lofgren has written more than I could even begin to on his site, so I’ll dispense with the formalities and get to it.

My arrangement is taken directly from the playing of the late, great Gaither Carlton (1901-1972) as recorded by John Cohen and included on his High Atmosphere album (one of the best ever). Mr. Carlton was Doc Watson’s father-in-law and a long-time friend and band mate of Clarence “Tom” Ashley. Mr. Carlton’s playing of Little Sadie was done 3-finger style, but I’ve found it works in the 2-finger style just as well. Enjoy!

Cluck Old Hen

12 Apr

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[gDGCD tuning]

This classic chicken song was first recorded in 1925 by Fiddlin’ Powers and Family (hear it is). Since then it has been recorded countless times and has countless verses (here’r lots of ’em).

As for its origins, the earliest occurrence of anything remotely related to what we know as Cluck Old Hen in print can be found in Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise and Otherwise (pp. 50-1, last verse) compiled by Thomas W. Talley and published in 1922. The song was discussed in-depth on the Banjo Hangout in February of 2010.  Click here in case you missed it or need a refresher.

My arrangement is pretty straight-forward.  Hope you like it.


Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy

8 Apr

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[gDGBD tuning]

This song was first recorded by master entertainer and banjo picker Uncle Dave Macon in 1924 for Vocalion Records. I haven’t been able to track down much history about the song itself but I think we can assume Macon picked it up from one of the many vaudevillian musicians who passed through the hotel his family ran in the late 1800’s.

The tablature for this song comes straight from the playing of Doc Watson on the Folkways album he recorded with Clarence Ashley [SFW40029].  In the liner notes to the album, Doc says that he learned this song from Uncle Dave’s recording. Doc has plenty of other pieces worked up in the old two finger thumb-lead style that I’ll tab out and post in the near future.

Click here for some lyrics and a slow track of vocals & guitar.

The Coo-Coo Bird

29 Mar

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[gDGCD tuning; aka “Sawmill” or “Mountain Minor” tuning]

This popular banjo song was first recorded in 1929 by Tom Clarence Ashley for Columbia Records, and remained his signature song until his death in 1967. It was his 1929 recording which was included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (Vol. 5, track 1), thus insuring its place as the “seminal” version known to folk and Old-Time enthusiasts everywhere.

Other stand-out versions of the song are from multi-instrumentalist Hobart Smith (recorded for Alan Lomax in 1942), banjo players John Snipes, Dink Roberts, and Rufus Kasey (on the must-have Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia album), and Dan Gellert on his out-of-print cassette Forked Deer [Marimac Recordings, 1986] .

My arrangement is the result of having all of these mixed around in my head for years…probably closer to Hobart Smith and Dan Gellert than Clarence Ashley.


Lazy John

23 Mar

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[gDGBD tuning]

Pretty good chance most folks interested in Old Time music have heard this one before. My arrangement is based mostly in the fiddling of Clyde Davenport (Jamestown, TN).  Fun “mountain” tune with plenty of good lyrics.  Here’r Mr. Davenport’s:

I got a gal, she lives by the road
Her eyes is crooked and her legs are bowed
But she sure is a lot of fun
Why don’t you go away lazy John

Lazy John, lazy John
Why don’t you get your day’s work all done
I’m in the shade, You’re in the sun
Why don’t you go away lazy John

I’m gonna dance Saturday night
We’re gonna dance til the broad daylight
[I’m a-gonna bring my little baby home
Why don’t you go away lazy John]


Willie Moore

23 Mar

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[gDGAD tuning; aka “Willie Moore tuning”]

Although a tragic tale of heartbreak and suicide not unlike the traditional “murder ballads” of the British Isles, Willie Moore reportedly has its origins in the US.  The seminal recorded version comes from Burnett & Rutherford (Anthology of American Folk Music Vol. 1: Ballads, Folkways FA2951, track 10; Burnett & Rutherford “1926-1930”, Document Docd-8025, track 11) who claim to have learned it from sheet music in Arkansas. The liner notes in Harry Smith’s Anthology identify a fella from Farmington, KY by the name of Paul Wilson who met a Rev. William Moore who claimed to be the inspiration for the song…I guess we’ll never know the real story.

Either way, it’s another classic song which has been performed by musicians as diverse as Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Greg Graffin (front-man for punk band Bad Religion) and the Foghorn Stringband.  Definitely one for rainy days.

For more info go HERE.

Cowhide Boots

20 Mar

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[gDGBD tuning]

This is a tune I learned from a recording of the late/great Lyman Enloe, a fiddler from the central part Missouri. If you’ve never heard his album “Fiddle Tunes I Recall“, then shame on you!!! While you wait for his CD to arrive in the mail, go HERE to learn more about the the man. As for the tune, a few other folks have recorded it as well (Lynn “Chirps” Smith, Carthy Sisco, Carol Gaskins), but for the most part it’s relatively obscure.

About the tab:

Beings that it is a fiddle tune from Missouri, it’s pretty notey.  I tried to simplify it in my arrangement, but it still involves plenty of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and a couple picking patterns that may pose a bit of a challenge on the first go.  All that said, I think it’s a fun tune once it’s in the fingers.

Cripple Creek

19 Mar

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[gDGBD tuning]

Oftentimes the first number a budding old-time or bluegrass musician learns, this is perhaps the quintessential American fiddle/banjo tune.  It has been recorded countless times, by countless groups, has dozens of verses and almost as many names (eg. “Shootin’ Creek”, “Hipple Creek”, “Goin’ Up Brushy Fork”).  Not one of my favorites, but I include it here since it seems to work well in the 2FTL setting.

Cripple Creek trivia:

The first issued recording was made August 20, 1924 by a fella named Sam Jones, a one-man band who called himself Stove Pipe No. 1.

For a thorough history of the tune, go HERE.

Chased Old Satan (aka Starry Crown)

19 Mar

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[gDBGD tuning]

From the playing of the Woodie Brothers.

Here’s the story:

In the spring of 1931, Lawton Woodie heard that Victor was holding sessions in Charlotte, NorthCarolina, and wrote the company to arrange a recording date. On May 29th, the Woodie Brothers (Lawton & Ephraim) arrived in Charlotte with two songs they had written especially for the occasion. Likes Likker Better than Me, the lament of a whiskey drinker’s wife,featured Ephraim’s mountain tenor complemented by his brother’s rich bass harmonies. Their second selection was called Chased Old Satan Through the Door, a composite that borrowed motifs from several songs, including Satan’s A Liar and Shortnin’ Bread. Like most musicians from the ‘Lost Provinces’, the Woodies never made music a full time pursuit.


Bald Headed End Of the Broom

15 Mar

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[gDGBD tuning]

From the singing of Olen Suits, collected by D.S. McIntosh in Elizabethtown, IL in 1950.

This traditional song has a performance history stretching from the Ozarks to the British Isles and has been recorded by artists such as Charlie Poole (Legend of Charlie Poole, County 516), Mike Seeger (Old Time Country Music, Folkways FA 2325), and perhaps most famously: Grandpa Jones (24 Great Country Songs, King 967).

The version upon which the above tablature is based comes a field recording of a fella by the name of Olen Suits from Elizabethtown, IL. His version is an unaccompanied vocal performance. It is included in the Dear Old Illinois collection (song #14).