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Tunes Appropriate for a Historically Accurate Middle Tennessee Square Dance

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Aug 9, 2017 - 10:35:59 PM
340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

I see and hear numerous people who appear to dislike Middle Tennessee's influence on Old-Time Music. Here's a perspective from the other side of the fence. I've heard people who got into Old-Time Music post-Folk Revival playing dance tunes that I'm skeptical were played in this region when traditional Southern square dancing was popular. Has anyone else been curious about this topic? One of the old folks who used to square dance and call told me that the most popular tunes were "Lost Indian" and "Sally Goodin". "Back Up and Push" and "Down Yonder" were popular, too. I've mentioned this region before when talking about making a book of tunes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_Tennessee 

Edited by - soppinthegravy on 08/09/2017 22:38:31

Aug 10, 2017 - 5:30:54 AM

3180 posts
Joined Sep 26, 2008

When in history are you thinking about? Pre/post civil war, turn of the century, early 20th century? That will influence what tunes and how accurate you are. 

Aug 10, 2017 - 10:17:42 AM
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gapbob

USA

425 posts
Joined Apr 20, 2008

"I see and hear numerous people who appear to dislike Middle Tennessee's influence on Old-Time Music."

huh?

Aug 10, 2017 - 11:09:37 AM

340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

Post-Civil-War, pre-1960. I'm primarily interested in 1940s-1950s, but earlier stuff is OK.


quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

When in history are you thinking about? Pre/post civil war, turn of the century, early 20th century? That will influence what tunes and how accurate you are. 




Aug 10, 2017 - 11:22:36 AM

340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

For example, people into "mainstream" Old-Time have started to bash Fiddlin' Arthur Smith and Tommy Jackson, and, pretty much, anybody who played regularly on the Grand Ole Opry, or was influenced by these players. It seems as if Middle Tennessee has become regarded the red-headed stepchild of the Old-Time Fiddle scene, with its only saving graces being Uncle Bunt Stephens and John Lusk.
quote:
Originally posted by gapbob

"I see and hear numerous people who appear to dislike Middle Tennessee's influence on Old-Time Music."



huh?




Aug 10, 2017 - 1:45:07 PM

3180 posts
Joined Sep 26, 2008

Well, to me, by the time the 40s rolled around, radio is a big influence and 'old time' has been forever diluted by modern music. My preferences are for fiddlers born before the turn of the century who maintained a style considered archaic by the time they were recorded. Emmett Lundy, Stephen Tucker, both have distinct style, while Ed Haley (who I like) was beginning to influence the standards of old time towards something more modern. Paul Warren has a distinct older flavor compared to his contemporaries, but then many of those original bluegrass players had their own take on things. Some of where my bias my come from is a lack of exposure to recordings from them that don't show 'modern' country influences. That said, those skillet licker fiddlers were good at it but also helped usher in the modern country era.
Aug 10, 2017 - 2:26:19 PM

340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

I guess I don't like the pre-20th-century sound as much.
quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

Well, to me, by the time the 40s rolled around, radio is a big influence and 'old time' has been forever diluted by modern music. My preferences are for fiddlers born before the turn of the century who maintained a style considered archaic by the time they were recorded. Emmett Lundy, Stephen Tucker, both have distinct style, while Ed Haley (who I like) was beginning to influence the standards of old time towards something more modern. Paul Warren has a distinct older flavor compared to his contemporaries, but then many of those original bluegrass players had their own take on things. Some of where my bias my come from is a lack of exposure to recordings from them that don't show 'modern' country influences. That said, those skillet licker fiddlers were good at it but also helped usher in the modern country era.

Edited by - soppinthegravy on 08/10/2017 14:45:53

Aug 10, 2017 - 4:29:05 PM
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See? So much fiddling out there; something for everybody.

For what it's worth, the phrase 'old time' was coined as a marketing term that the record companies adopted. And you must admit that the Grand Ole Opry was the beginning of country music which clearly isn't old time. It was also the place where bluegrass was introduced to the country (radio influences regional styles), which is neither old time or country. Arthur Smith may have started out as an old time player, but he crossed into country, and for some that was too much. 

Another tidbit, Arthur Smith was a featured performer at the '64 (or '65, not certain which or if both) Newport Folk Festival, during a time when those dreaded revivalists were starting the revival. They must have thought he was something worth seeing. He was very old but played the heck out of his fiddle, including his signature tune, "Blackberry Blossom."  He did it solo, without accompaniment. 

Edited by - ChickenMan on 08/10/2017 16:33:38

Aug 10, 2017 - 4:32:08 PM
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Point me to some middle Tennessee fiddling, the earlier the better because the outside influences increase exponentially as the recording date does. I genuinely want to know what it is; regional styles are always intriguing to me. 

Aug 10, 2017 - 5:24:09 PM
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The oldest recorded player was Uncle Jimmy Thompson, born in the 1840s. He was born and died in Tennessee, and he learned to play before the Civil War, but he moved to Texas as a young adult.
quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

Point me to some middle Tennessee fiddling, the earlier the better because the outside influences increase exponentially as the recording date does. I genuinely want to know what it is; regional styles are always intriguing to me. 




Aug 10, 2017 - 7:44:29 PM

5374 posts
Joined Aug 7, 2009

quote:
Originally posted by soppinthegravy

The oldest recorded player was Uncle Jimmy Thompson, born in the 1840s. He was born and died in Tennessee, and he learned to play before the Civil War, but he moved to Texas as a young adult.
quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan
 

Point me to some middle Tennessee fiddling, the earlier the better because the outside influences increase exponentially as the recording date does. I genuinely want to know what it is; regional styles are always intriguing to me. 

 

 


...and for me, that sort of thing raises a lot of questions that I'm not sure we can really answer. (For the sake of discussion)

Did he learn to play a traditional regional style found only in Tennessee before he moved to Texas? And - when he moved to Texas as a young adult, did he stay true to his cultural roots, or did he adapt himself and his playing style to the local tunes and styles? I probably would have performed some of what I brought with me, but more likely I would have adapted a lot of what I played in order to "fit in" with my new peers. And when he came back to Tennessee before he died, did he attempt to show off any of that Texas stuff he learned?  I probably would have. No doubt - he had to have been influenced while playing in Texas. And if he was a well regarded fiddler in Tennessee, after he moved back, there is a good chance his hybrid style influenced others - what they played and how they played.  

So, we might ask - was he playing a regional style or his own style?  And what did he pass on?

In principle I agree that regional players are important - what they played and even how they played. But I'm not so confident that we can every truly identify a pure style from most areas. (I've had this conversation with Joyce Cauthen concerning Alabama fiddle styles)  More often, the better known players in any area will have added their own imprint on the way they played tunes - something that made it unique to them and made their playing more popular. Is that then a regional style, or a characteristic of a particular player? We might find a few things that are common in all of the players from an area - but if it is also somewhat common in other areas - how unique is it?  What makes it truly regional?

Then again, I do understand (share a bit of it - to a degree) the passion a person might have for wanting to keep a certain history of a region alive. But when we say a certain fiddler and his repertoire is a good example of a traditional style within a regional area - is it just because he was the best known player / most accomplished?  ...was everyone in that area playing like him?  ...or better yet, did the fiddler credit his style of playing to others within the region? If not, then what does he really represent?

I have a difficult time believing that the old timers were concerned with playing a faithful reproduction of a certain regional style. I can imagine them saying - I want folks to notice how good I am - I want to do something a little different that will catch their attention. That might mean playing something they learned while they were in Texas. The ones that were successful at doing that - are the ones we hold in high regard (imo). I don't think there was as much romantic cultural attachment to regional styles and traditions back then - not as much as we might like to think. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Its late, Sorry for rambling. Interesting subject.  

Edited by - tonyelder on 08/10/2017 19:47:14

Aug 10, 2017 - 9:02:51 PM
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Joined Jul 26, 2015

It depends on what kind of Country Music you are talking about. Regarding the earliest commercial Country, It's not "clearly not old-time", but "not clearly old-time". I don't think it can be defined conclusively, because, in this early period,
there is a lot of overlap.
quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

See? So much fiddling out there; something for everybody.



For what it's worth, the phrase 'old time' was coined as a marketing term that the record companies adopted. And you must admit that the Grand Ole Opry was the beginning of country music which clearly isn't old time. It was also the place where bluegrass was introduced to the country (radio influences regional styles), which is neither old time or country. Arthur Smith may have started out as an old time player, but he crossed into country, and for some that was too much. 



Another tidbit, Arthur Smith was a featured performer at the '64 (or '65, not certain which or if both) Newport Folk Festival, during a time when those dreaded revivalists were starting the revival. They must have thought he was something worth seeing. He was very old but played the heck out of his fiddle, including his signature tune, "Blackberry Blossom."  He did it solo, without accompaniment. 



 




Aug 11, 2017 - 4:08:38 AM
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gapbob

USA

425 posts
Joined Apr 20, 2008

There are idiots everywhere.  There was a fellow named Doug, I think, who lived in Saint Louis for a while, who was adamant that the only 'old-time' music was that played around Round Peak.  SMH

"For example, people into "mainstream" Old-Time have started to bash Fiddlin' Arthur Smith and Tommy Jackson, and, pretty much, anybody who played regularly on the Grand Ole Opry, or was influenced by these players. It seems as if Middle Tennessee has become regarded the red-headed stepchild of the Old-Time Fiddle scene, with its only saving graces being Uncle Bunt Stephens and John Lusk."

Aug 11, 2017 - 5:05:15 AM
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3180 posts
Joined Sep 26, 2008

I like Uncle Jimmy Thompson, but he sounds a lot like the fiddler who played for the Texas band Smith's Garage Fiddle Band, especially those snappy triplets he does. But that snappy triplet can be heard in those old fiddlers who played in the archaic ways and his playing seems older than that of the Skillet Lickers (for example). I agree  "not clearly old time" IS a better way to say that.  Old time banjo is much easier to identify, heck, Stringbean never switched over to that new fangled three finger style and was always identified as playing that old time banjo. 

I agree with Tony, it's hard to say someone wasn't influenced by outside sources without a record of their playing over some time.  But regional styles weren't necessarily preserved intentionally, isolation from the greater world helped with that. As soon as the radio was widespread, regional styles were doomed. You can see a similar thing over the recorded history of Irish music. In the late 80s early 90s, fiddling from county Donegal was something of a novelty. Now it is becoming part of the homogenized pool of "celtic" players. If one wants to preserve a style, one might have to focus on that style exclusively in order to keep outside influences at bay. For most, that is a neat impossible task. 

Aug 11, 2017 - 6:05:20 AM
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DougD

USA

8312 posts
Joined Dec 2, 2007

"Down Yonder" is a popular song (with quite racist lyrics) from the early 1920's.  https://youtu.be/LQgH3_5cyCQ



This is just not the kind of tune most contemporary "old time" musicians (almost all descendants of the "old time revival" of the 1970's, whether they realize it or not) are interested in playing. Modern weekly jams and events like Clifftop are relatively new and are part of a quite different strain of American musical and social history than the commercial country music you seem to prefer. Nothing wrong with that - its not some "evil empire" as you seem to imply. Just play what you want and let others do the same. I could go on but I'm tired if finger typing.


Aug 11, 2017 - 7:58:17 AM
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Joined Oct 22, 2007

this is the 3rd or 4th Old Time revival. A.P. Carter went down through the hill country steeling, er'ah, learning tunes from the people that settled in the hills and hollows.

There's very few examples of isolated players, uninfluenced by the outside world. Cyril Stinnett comes to mind. While he learned tunes from his Father and others, he had an uncompromising way about him. You can listen and hear this. The interesting part is he was well aware of the world around him, and could play OBS in many different ways. When asked, "how do you play it?" He replied, "I don't."
Contemporaries like Dwight Lamb try hard to keep the tunes as they were. This only means, how Bob Walters played it. What was Bob Walters way? We know only from a few recordings, and from what/how Dwight Lamb plays.

Although I respect and admire them, I am not a preservationist. There isn't twenty people on this side of the state that can play, period. I'd be pretty lonely if I just played one thing.

Aug 11, 2017 - 9:30:55 AM
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quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones


Although I respect and admire them, I am not a preservationist. There isn't twenty people on this side of the state that can play, period. I'd be pretty lonely if I just played one thing.



And that is the thing for me too. There is only a very small group of old time players where I am at. They are good musicians and know a lot of tunes that I am still trying to learn (and visa-versa). And even though I've been playing with them for about 3 years now - I know - I'm still the new guy (coming from an Alaskan OT music scene with my outside influences). 

If I were to insist that we play any tune - they way I think they should be played - that very small group of friends would probably shrink down to one (me) - fairly quick.

There are still a lot of tunes that I want to share - that they don't play. I do enjoy introducing new tunes and even variations of common tunes done by well know fiddlers (like Snake Chapman's version of Johnny Don't get Drunk). And I do feel comfortable offering them - when it's my turn to "kick one off". And they do enjoy the idea of hearing and maybe learning new tunes. They would never try to disuade me from focusing on anything that appeals to me individually, but would resist any attempt from me to get them to go along (if they didn't want to).

So, I will always yield when I sense they are not interested. And I would never challenge that collective opinion with statements about right and wrong / good or bad / traditional and contemporary as a justification for needing to play a certain way or in a certain style. I think the consensus is: As a group, we play what we enjoy playing together - as a group. So, we let our collective "music making" make those determinations for us. And to that degree, I feel that I have "earned" my place - and am no longer just a new guy.

lol... that's our regional style.  clown  And that is more to the point - and probably more common - everywhere.

But none of that stops me from learning tunes I like - even when I know they won't become a part of the group.

Aug 11, 2017 - 9:34:03 AM

boxbow Players Union Member

USA

2158 posts
Joined Feb 3, 2011

quote:
Originally posted by farmerjones

Although I respect and admire them, I am not a preservationist. There isn't twenty people on this side of the state that can play, period. I'd be pretty lonely if I just played one thing.

I am in total agreement.  For this privilege, I'm more indebted than ever to those who are preservationists, so I can make like the grasshopper and fiddle away the summertime.

Aug 11, 2017 - 9:35:46 AM

DougD

USA

8312 posts
Joined Dec 2, 2007

I would not call the Carter Family part of any "revival," but I don't particularly want to argue the point. It is true that he combed the country looking for material (often with the African American musician Leslie Riddle) but what he found were not often very ancient, or original to the people he learned them from. There's an interesting listing of the songs and their sources here:  http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/original-carter-family-songs--alphabetical-order.aspx



Many are popular or Gospel songs from a generation or two earlier. Lots of the Carter's style and repertoire derive from the singing schools of the early 20th century. I have a recording of A.P.'s teacher, who was his uncle, although almost the same age. It sounds like the Carter Family, but with more instrumentation.



Although they may not have created much truly new material, the Carters were great arrangers.


Aug 11, 2017 - 12:29:25 PM

340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

Down Yonder was played for many a square dance years ago.
I think most people picked it up from the Skillet Kicker.
quote:
Originally posted by DougD

"Down Yonder" is a popular song (with quite racist lyrics) from the early 1920's.  https://youtu.be/LQgH3_5cyCQ



This is just not the kind of tune most contemporary "old time" musicians (almost all descendants of the "old time revival" of the 1970's, whether they realize it or not) are interested in playing. Modern weekly jams and events like Clifftop are relatively new and are part of a quite different strain of American musical and social history than the commercial country music you seem to prefer. Nothing wrong with that - its not some "evil empire" as you seem to imply. Just play what you want and let others do the same. I could go on but I'm tired if finger typing.




Aug 11, 2017 - 12:48:35 PM
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DougD

USA

8312 posts
Joined Dec 2, 2007

I know that. In 1974 we were part of a State Department tour of Latin America, along with, among others, a family of clog dancers from Virginia. We opened every show with "Down Yonder" (their choice) for them to dance. 52 shows, not counting rehearsals. You're welcome to that tune - I've played it enough.



You're missing my point though. That's a jazz age pop tune, with kind of "raggy" chords. Most people who play what they think of as "old time" music at jams and sessions today just aren't interested in tunes like that. They're not playing for dancers, but for their own enjoyment, a similar setting to fiddlers playing in their living rooms or porches years ago. They're looking for something a little different, preferably with a longer history.  I know the Skillet Lickers recorded it, but I doubt many fiddlers, playing in the evening for their own enjoyment, were playing "Down Yonder."


Aug 11, 2017 - 12:52:45 PM
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Joined Jul 26, 2015

John Rice Irwin referred to Uncle Jimmy as a Tennessee-born Texas fiddler. Joe Mangrum and Henry Bandy, often labeled Kentuckians, grew up in Tennessee. Uncle Joe (I get so tired of folks calling him Blind Joe, when he was known locally as Uncle Joe) was from West Tennessee. I think Henry Bandy was from Middle Tennessee.
quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

I like Uncle Jimmy Thompson, but he sounds a lot like the fiddler who played for the Texas band Smith's Garage Fiddle Band, especially those snappy triplets he does. But that snappy triplet can be heard in those old fiddlers who played in the archaic ways and his playing seems older than that of the Skillet Lickers (for example). I agree  "not clearly old time" IS a better way to say that.  Old time banjo is much easier to identify, heck, Stringbean never switched over to that new fangled three finger style and was always identified as playing that old time banjo. 



I agree with Tony, it's hard to say someone wasn't influenced by outside sources without a record of their playing over some time.  But regional styles weren't necessarily preserved intentionally, isolation from the greater world helped with that. As soon as the radio was widespread, regional styles were doomed. You can see a similar thing over the recorded history of Irish music. In the late 80s early 90s, fiddling from county Donegal was something of a novelty. Now it is becoming part of the homogenized pool of "celtic" players. If one wants to preserve a style, one might have to focus on that style exclusively in order to keep outside influences at bay. For most, that is a neat impossible task. 




Aug 11, 2017 - 12:56:52 PM
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DougD

USA

8312 posts
Joined Dec 2, 2007

And I don't think many people today are listening to the Skillet Lickers or Uncle Dave either, although I have. I remember in the 1960's and 70's when you could go to Galax and people remembered them, and Charlie Poole too - maybe had even seen them play. And you might meet up with amore modern fiddler and still get together on some Arthur Smith numbers. Those days are gone now.



I don't perform much these days, but when I do we often play "Just Because" just because I remember people around here playing it 35 years ago, and I know nobody else will probably do it. People usually kove it.


Aug 11, 2017 - 2:44:28 PM

1059 posts
Joined Dec 11, 2008

Great thread guys!  It gives real insight into Old Time and its er...evolution and development.  And I mean this in the nicest way...  No kidding, either.

Edited by - Lonesome Fiddler on 08/11/2017 14:45:04

Aug 11, 2017 - 10:41:24 PM

340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

I know they aren't interested in playing dance music, but I am.
quote:
Originally posted by DougD

I know that. In 1974 we were part of a State Department tour of Latin America, along with, among others, a family of clog dancers from Virginia. We opened every show with "Down Yonder" (their choice) for them to dance. 52 shows, not counting rehearsals. You're welcome to that tune - I've played it enough.



You're missing my point though. That's a jazz age pop tune, with kind of "raggy" chords. Most people who play what they think of as "old time" music at jams and sessions today just aren't interested in tunes like that. They're not playing for dancers, but for their own enjoyment, a similar setting to fiddlers playing in their living rooms or porches years ago. They're looking for something a little different, preferably with a longer history.  I know the Skillet Lickers recorded it, but I doubt many fiddlers, playing in the evening for their own enjoyment, were playing "Down Yonder."




Aug 11, 2017 - 11:14:24 PM
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340 posts
Joined Jul 26, 2015

To my knowledge, Frank Patterson and Mazy Todd were both from Rutherford County around 1882. Other recorded fiddlers from Middle Tennessee born before 1900 include Kirk McGee, Arthur Smith, Bunt Stephens, John Lusk, Sid Harkreader, Charlie Arrington, and Oscar Stone (who composed "Stone'so Rag"). I'm sure I left some names out.
quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

Point me to some middle Tennessee fiddling, the earlier the better because the outside influences increase exponentially as the recording date does. I genuinely want to know what it is; regional styles are always intriguing to me. 




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