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Jul 12, 2020 - 7:38:11 AM
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276 posts since 7/31/2018

This week's tune is Old Paint, from the playing of Oklahoma fiddler James Samuel "J. S." Price (14 October 1876--22 July 1962). He was the son of Joseph "Joe" Syrus Price (1855-1891) and Elizabeth A. Yeager (1854-1901). Price and both his parents were born in Mississippi. They moved to Texas in 1883, and J. S. moved to Oklahoma by 1900. The Price family can be traced to Bedford, TN, through Andrew Bailey Price, who was born there in 1816 and died in Delhi, OK, in 1900. Price's paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Hooper, was born in South Carolina in 1825. Price married Hester Winifred Stringer (1883-1964) on 5 May 1912 in Delhi, OK (source for above, Ancestry)

Price is not a fiddler who is well known today, though he contributed many fine and unusual tunes to Marion Thede's The Fiddle Book, some of which appear to be unique. See past episodes of Old-Time TOTW for other tunes from J.S. Price, such as #36: Tulsey Waltz,#68: Tom and Jerry, #73: Custer's Last Charge, and #103: Bonaparte's Retreat.

Thede noted more details about Price than many of the other fiddlers she featured. Though Thede gave no words for Old Paint, she remarked:

"Old Paint was sung by western Oklahoma and Texas cowboys, and is still a favorite song of people of all ages. This cow-country melody as played by an old cowboy fiddler is presented in his 'cross keying', and is a freakish version of a well-known song."

According to Wikipedia, the song was first collected by songwriter N. Howard "Jack" Thorp in his 1921 book Songs of the Cowboys. Thorp wrote:

"Heard this sung by a puncher who had been on a spree in Pecos City. He had taken a job temporarily as a sheep-rustler for an outfit in Independence Draw, down the river, and was ashamed of the job. I won't mention his name."

Alan Lomax recorded Jess Morris singing and fiddling "Goodbye Old Paint" in May 1942. This appears to be the tune from which Price's version came. In 1928, an Amarillo, TX, newspaper credited Morris with composing the song. Morris never claimed to have written the song. According to, Morris was quick to clarify that he learned the song in 1885 (when seven years old) from Charley Willis. gives more detail:

"African American cowboy Charley Willis was recognized as a singing cowboy who authored the popular trail song, 'Goodbye Old Paint.' Willis was a skilled cowhand who not only sang songs from the trail but who contributed to preserving authentic cowboy music from the era."

According to the 1870 Census, Charley Willis (c. 1847-1930) was born in Louisiana, but the 1880 Census gives his birthplace as Texas. It is not uncommon to find discrepancies in early U.S. Census reports. He was the son of Ben Willis (b. 1805 in Florida), and Margaret Willis (maiden name unknown; born in 1820 in Florida). Charley Willis married Laura Davis (1854-?) sometime after June 1870, and likely prior to 1871. (source for above: Ancestry) mentions that "Good-bye Old Paint" was Willis' favorite song, and family tradition claims that he did have a horse named Old Paint, who was a trusted companion on the trail.

1942 recording of Jess Morris singing and playing Goodbye Old Paint:

Dom Flemons performing Goodbye Old Paint on DittyTV:

Some note a similarity of Old Paint to "Midnight on the Water" (Thomasson family). Though both are played in DDAD tuning, the latter is much more elaborate with more chord changes.

A paint is a breed of horse that combines both the characteristics of a western stock horse with a pinto spotting pattern of white and dark coat colors. (Wikipedia)

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Jul 12, 2020 - 10:36:38 AM

11038 posts since 9/23/2009

Wow, that one is really beautiful and sounds like it was made for viola. How are you tuned? If I play my viola, if I play something in D sometimes I tune to DADA, I think so at least but not sure...because I rarely have ever played anything in D on my viola as of yet. How are you tuned?

Edited by - groundhogpeggy on 07/12/2020 10:37:09

Jul 12, 2020 - 10:41:46 AM
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11038 posts since 9/23/2009

Oops...I just noticed the second time through on the video you had DDAD written on there...I think it flew by me, thinking it meant the fiddle tune was done in DDAD tuning...was your viola tuned DDAD?

Jul 12, 2020 - 2:14:56 PM
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276 posts since 7/31/2018

Hi Peggy, yep, I'm tuned DDAD here, an octave below fiddle. Not many violas can handle such low tuning. I think it's a combination between its large size (nearly 16 3/4) and high quality strings (Obligatos). This is how it came to me, but I tuned it down, of course smiley

Edited by - FiddlerPaul71 on 07/12/2020 14:15:14

Jul 13, 2020 - 4:17:13 AM

11038 posts since 9/23/2009

Oh cool...I got Sounded really mellow and nice.

Jul 13, 2020 - 12:59:21 PM
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276 posts since 7/31/2018

Thanks, Peggy...and no worries! Glad you liked it :)

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