Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I heisted this link from Dan Gellert's posting on the Banjohangout...very cool recording. Y'all think it might be stroke/thimble style?

 

cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/mp3...8103d.mp3

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This song also has a whole other life  as a sea chantey. (I know we're getting away from banjars - but there's still one in the lyrics!) Here's what it sounds like in that mutation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGNvSxzoXso

It's a great number in either incarnation. Doc Watson did a nice version too.

 

 

Oddly enough, I've played this tune for years with and old-timey friend of mine.  "The back-yard shine on the Georgia line..."  This is a moon-shinin' song.
Further proof that:  "They ain't good because they're old - they're old because they're good".

Here's an interesting reference to both "Woodpile" and the other song you mention. It gives a publishing date for "Woodpile" in the 1880s. I wonder how long it took for the minstrel song to get morphed into the chantey?

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/Gordon/sideAbandA1.html

 

Dan'l said:

Ian -

 

This is an interesting thread with ear candy.  Goes to the extended life some of these minstrel-era songs have. I also like "Roll The Old Chariot Along" which has similar cadence to "Woodpile."

(btw in the living history community some spurn the chanty / spirituals material if it can't be documented to a early period publish date, despite the often obvious lyrics that date them to tall ships / antebellum eras!  I play them on banjo while reenacting anyway because I feel they are authentic to the period despite lack of antebellum publish date. It's realistic to consider folk source on a par with documented source, I feel).

 

Or it could have gone the other way - (New York songwriter walks by docks and hears southern sailors singing catchy chantey while unloading a cargo and tides it up into a commercial song.)  But  I guess unless we have the opportunity talk to Mr. Harriganwe'll never know.

Ian Bell said:

Here's an interesting reference to both "Woodpile" and the other song you mention. It gives a publishing date for "Woodpile" in the 1880s. I wonder how long it took for the minstrel song to get morphed into the chantey?

http://www.loc.gov/folklife/Gordon/sideAbandA1.html

 

Dan'l said:

Ian -

 

This is an interesting thread with ear candy.  Goes to the extended life some of these minstrel-era songs have. I also like "Roll The Old Chariot Along" which has similar cadence to "Woodpile."

(btw in the living history community some spurn the chanty / spirituals material if it can't be documented to a early period publish date, despite the often obvious lyrics that date them to tall ships / antebellum eras!  I play them on banjo while reenacting anyway because I feel they are authentic to the period despite lack of antebellum publish date. It's realistic to consider folk source on a par with documented source, I feel).

 

Apropos of nothing in particular, so far there have been 18 replies to this one thread in the past two days.  You can sure tell people are off for the holidays.  I hope this keeps up.  I'm learning all kinds of new stuff.

Yes, after giving this some serious ear time, it is clearly stroke style. 

 

Several things really caught my attention.  First is what was often referred to in late 19th century publications is the "buzz saw" or "buzzing" effect.  This contradicts the early banjo effects (from the tutors) as it is just a rapid arpeggio effect for the sake of noise and does not really add to the melody, at least in this case.  (See Converse 17:55 for tasteful use, incidentally he uses the term "roll," I think we should take it back).  

 

His playing is really consistent with what was being taught and discussed in the late 19th century- lots of use of the thimble, little thumb; or so it seems to me when I try to imitate his playing.  Swaim Stewart wrote on the advantages of using a short narrow bridge for thimble playing, narrower than his standard 1 5/8" (get a rule and compare that size to the the modern three footed wire string bridges in use, buzzing indeed).  This is also consistent with Frank Converse's description of Horace Weston's performance.

 

Another element that grabbed my ear is his counterpoint accompaniment with a thimble.  We've been doing this but it has been only (AFAIK) put in print for guitar style.  But here it is plain as day.

 

After Dave Macon was mentioned I spent some time on Youtube.  He uses the buzzing often.  I'd think the old time pedigree isolationists would not want this recording floating around.  This Charles Asbury of New York City is more Horace Weston than grandpa so and so who taught cousin whatever in the hills.

 

I'll post a duplicate reply on the BHO and let the hate mail pour in.

http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?query=minstrel+music&a...

Here's where that treasure came from, and there's a bunch along with it.  No others by this performer, but a lot of other folks , some from before the turn of the century.This link is from searching the index for "Minstrel Music," but there are several other categories if you start at the home page and click search. Amazing what the internet can do to keep people like me away from the honey-do list.

I'll bet it was a chantey first.  

Uncle Dave Macon was quoted somewhere as saying he'd learned songs from "colored steamboat crews". His singing "the black gals shine on the Georgia line" in the chorus of this song was at some point mis-heard (by the NLCR I believe) as "the back-yard shine...." and a lot of us sang it that way for years.   

 

Doc Watson heard it correctly and deliberately altered it to "the pretty gals shine..."

 

I also think Uncle Dave & co. were singing "haul" rather than "hold".  The titles of songs on record labels have very often been twisted far more than that one was.... 

another rendition of the song (sans banjo) shows up at the end of this Golden & Hughes sketch:

http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/mp3s/0000/0233/cusb-cyl0233d.mp3

 

As for stroke style recordings, the only other ones I'm familiar with are by James Marlowe , in his sketches with the same Billy Golden.  About 20 years later than the Asbury cylinder, and not nearly as musically impressive, but some of it's definitely stroke style.

 

http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?query=Marlowe&quer...

 

 

I've been struck by the fact that this New York guy (Asbury) and his black friend from New Jersey performed as a "Virginia" duo.  Weston, who was from Connecticut, had a long career as a "Georgia" Minstrel.  There seem actually to have been a few southern banjoists on the New York scene, occasionally -- but they were exceptions to the basic reality.  Which was at odds with the publicity -- not that that is unusual, in show biz.

 


Being from Tennessee and all, I'm still pretty comfortable with my grandpa and cudd'n, who didn't learn their music and style from recordings or print, and (like Uncle Dave Macon) wouldn't know Horace Weston from Adam's off ox.  The fact that they played certain riffs in the same or very similar ways doesn't make one the pupil of the other.  There's probably a sort of "extended family" link, but that ain't it.

 

deuceswilde said:

This Charles Asbury of New York City is more Horace Weston than grandpa so and so who taught cousin whatever in the hills.

Another favorite from the UCSB cylinder archive-- It may not be stroke style, but here's Vess Ossman sounding a lot more minstrel/old-time than he usually did:

 

http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/mp3s/2000/2801/cusb-cyl2801d.mp3

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