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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Wow, Dan, you've just explained a significant lyric fact that I was completely unaware of.  All these years I was ignorant of what I was actually singing.  'Course, there is probably a lot more where that came from, certainly in my case...

 

(My buddy was old-tyme and I was bluegrass--so we'd split the difference and play each others tunes.  And we ended up playing "minstrel" tunes!)

 

This recording and the subsequent mis-interpretation illustrates the folly of confusing "folklore" with documented history.  The music is always changing in countless ways, for disparate  reasons.

 

Which isn't to say that the exclusive use of documented sources yields perfect results-- just that folklore is as much myth based as anything else. 

Dan Gellert said:

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.... 

For further discussion, of varying degrees of enlightenment -- this song (Haul, hold, or roll the woodpile down) was about picked to pieces on the Mudcat Cafe, three years ago:

 

http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=16739

AHA!  Here's a post from that thread, and if I'm not mistaken, it's pretty much identical to what Asbury sang (much of which I had found not quite intelligible):

 

 

Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Hold the Woodpile Down
From: Goose Gander 
Date: 19 Jun 07 - 12:03 PM 

Here's the earliest text I have (1890 according to the Roud Index, though I can find no date on the songster). The first stanza suggests that "haul the wood-pile down" refers to fueling a steam engine. Though minstrelsy obviously is the direct source, perhaps it was derived from an earlier work song (or maybe the work song came from the minstrel song?).

(Apologies in advance for some of the lyrical content).

HAUL THE WOOD-PILE DOWN

De red cow brushing de old blue fly
Away down in Florida
De white man laugh when de coon go by
Now haul de wood-pile down
De steamboat ready to burn dat pine
Away down in Florida
De grape am ripe on de old black vine
Now haul de wood-pile down.

Den traveling, den traveling
As long as de moon am round
Dat black girl mine on de Georgia line
Now haul de wood-pile down.

De muskrat hide in de old burnt log
Away down in Florida
De chipmunk laugh at de old house dog
Now haul de wood-pile down
Dars Captain Jim of de old Bob Lee
Away down in Florida
He drinks more rum den he does hot tea
Now haul de wood-pile down

De old roof leaks and de rain comes thro'
Away down in Florida
De nig done die if he touch hoodoo
Now haul de wood-pile down
When I grow wear den I lay down
Away down in Florida
De wench looks sweet in a new clean gown
Now haul de wood-pile down.

"Published by permission of Wm. A. Pond & Co., owners of the copyright."

Source:
Merchant's Gargling Oil Songster (Buffalo, NY: G. H. Dunston, Lith., n.d.), p. 23.

 

 

 

razyn said:

For further discussion, of varying degrees of enlightenment -- this song (Haul, hold, or roll the woodpile down) was about picked to pieces on the Mudcat Cafe, three years ago:

 

http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=16739

 

 

In that context -- with which I have to agree -- I Googled around, and found a clear photo of a steamboat's woodpile.  (One pile on each side, probably for balance -- although it was a two-boiler steamboat.)  This link worked for me -- but just in case it expires (or does something to justify the recurring word "bad" in the url), it's a photo of the steam towboat Albert Hanson, out of Franklin, LA.  The photo is from the online steamboat photo collection of the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse.

http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/WebZ/FETCH?sessionid=01-41955-1073...

I don't know whether hauling it down referred to loading the ship, or stoking the boiler(s).  But either activity would make more sense than "hold the woodpile down."


Dan Gellert said:

 

(quoting the aforementioned Mudcat thread)

The first stanza suggests that "haul the wood-pile down" refers to fueling a steam engine.

De steamboat ready to burn dat pine

"Dar's Captain Jim of de ol Bob Lee" appears like it could be another steamboat reference. Florida had its own 'golden age' of steamboats...from the 1850's on. Rivers like the St. Johns had hundreds...wouldn't surprise me if we found one named the "Robert E. Lee" (even though the famous one was a Mississippi River denizen). Both Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant took steamboat "farewell" tours of the St. Johns. They were famous enough to be obvious namesakes.

 

Yeah, it's a stretch. It would take some research (deeper than my Google search) to find a Captain Jim associated with a Florida riverboat named "Bob Lee". 

I see that the steamboat photo link I posted is, in fact, bad about ten hours later.  It was good when I posted it...  Anyway, since one can't readily edit old Ning posts, here's the collection:

http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/LaCrosseSteamboat/

Search on "woodpile," you should get that photo of the Albert Hanson.  It has a heck of a big woodpile.  [You can also search on "banjo."  I just mention it.]

I didn't search on "Bob Lee."  By the way, "Stacker Lee" was also a steamboat, named for S. Stacker Lee of the Lee Line, out of Memphis.  (Not that there wasn't, or mightn't have been, a black gambler named Stagolee who shot Billy Galions, etc.  But that steamboat was named for a white guy.)  For all I know, he had a brother Bob, with another steamboat named for him.  In that case, the late Confederate general is not necessarily the referent in our song.  But he's surely the most likely.

Hey folks,

 

Sorry I've been a bit scarce here lately. I've been off redefining the term "overextended."

 

This is an interesting recording. Thanks for posting it. Interesting discussion too.

 

I'm going to transcribe the whole thing when I have the chance but figured I'd take a few moments and do at least the intro and post it here.

 

Yes, it is in stroke/thimble style.  It works beautifully with one of Joel's thimbles. Pretty effective when you get the hang of it, though it may take some slow practice to get the 32nd notes to flow smoothly.

Attachments:
Can't wait to see your full transcription!
I would like it if someone were to demonstrate this technique (Marc, Jim,  or Joel) at any tempo, thimble or not, as I don't quite grasp the feel of this yet. Thanks.
LOL! If you don't "quite grasp" this...I suspect the rest of us might as well start bouzouki lessons. ;-) I've still got my jaw hanging open from those buzzsaw thimble-rolls.

Tim Twiss said:
I would like it if someone were to demonstrate this technique (Marc, Jim,  or Joel) at any tempo, thimble or not, as I don't quite grasp the feel of this yet. Thanks.
I would not rule out fingerstyle just yet.
I had suspected you were hinting at that. It certainly is a possiblility...but my leaning is still towards thimble-style. It will be very interesting to see Jim D's full score when he's done. I had thought about slowing it down to count out the strikes, etc.

Tim Twiss said:
I would not rule out fingerstyle just yet.

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