Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Two of my favorites from Knauff's Virginia Reels put together as a medley. That B part on Old Dominion always wants to speed out of control!

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Comment by Timothy Twiss on February 22, 2016 at 6:44pm

Oh man, I have access to the Hawkins stuff. You think it is in there?

Comment by Mark Weems on February 22, 2016 at 9:19pm

John, where did you read that Knauff wrote some of these? It is not in any of the articles I have read on the collection.

Comment by John Masciale on February 23, 2016 at 10:09am

Mark, Look under the titles. Most say nothing, some say arranged by George P Knauff, some say varied by George P Knauff,  and some say by George P Knauff.  Look for instance at Indian Whoop. There are some that say "Baltimore, published by F.D. Benteen." Since the Virginia Reels were published by George Willig Jr. it means that Kauff got them from a different publisher and put them into this collection.

Comment by John Masciale on February 23, 2016 at 10:18am

Tim, you have access to the Hawkins stuff?  We have to talk! It is entirely possible that some of these might be in there. As I stated above, some of the tunes in this collection were clearly taken from other sources.

Comment by John Masciale on February 23, 2016 at 10:21am

Tim, you can't go by the titles, you must look at the basic melody lines. They had a bad habit of changing a title and shifting a couple of notes to get around copyright laws, or to sell a new piece of sheet music. It makes the job of chasing down the sources for tunes much more difficult.

Comment by Mark Weems on February 23, 2016 at 12:38pm

John, have you read Alan Jabbour's article on the Collection? It speaks of where and how he collected these tunes.

Comment by John Masciale on February 23, 2016 at 12:56pm

Mark, I've seen it before, but thanks for the reference, I've downloaded it.

Comment by Strumelia on February 23, 2016 at 1:39pm

When dealing with such early material and so many sources, even if one were able to track down the earliest published version of a tune or song, with the person claiming authorship... we still can't be sure it was a truly original composition and not one taken from 'regular folk' musicians of the time.  

Much the same as how John Jacob Niles published and claimed authorship of some of the mountain ballads he collected. When pressed about his inspiration for a ballad, he would describe having heard it from some illiterate mountain singer as a 'crude snippet' ...which he then 'composed with pretty chords and improved' in his 'concert stage' (as he liked to call it) arrangements...and in the process he occasionally simply named himself as the composer in his songbooks...as with "I Wonder as I Wander" and other ballads he collected from the rural uneducated musicians/sources he energetically sought out.

We do the best we can, but the further back in time we go the harder it is to confirm actual authorship.  Some of these real old songs and fiddle tunes will inevitably have come from and been passed around by unidentified musicians long before any sheet music/tunebook publishing musicians got hold of them.  That's how music evolves over time, after all.  It makes it tricky to discuss authors and composers from that early period in America with absolute certainty.

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 23, 2016 at 2:55pm

There are no definitive versions of any of these songs or tunes.  For instance "Tom Dooley" put Frank Proffitt on the map and allowed his children to have shoes in the summertime and new clothes for school, but there are other versions of the same song, some earlier and therefore, arguably, more  more "authentic."  But that interpretation misses the point.  This is folk music, not to be confused with copyrights, publishing houses, or commercial performances or endeavors.  Having said all that, it is fascinating to see and hear and play early versions of this music, regardless of the titles given. Last winter I took the trouble to learn several of the Knauff tunes on the guitar, such as a wonderful version of "Buffalo Gals," called "Midnight Serenade."  Much as I love to improvise, I don't think I could ever come up with anything as pretty as Knauff's version.  Regardless of whether this version came from a fiddler or Knauff himself, it is great to have access to it.  I'm grateful to anyone who puts in the effort to make these versions available for us mere banjo players.

Comment by Paul Draper on February 23, 2016 at 5:23pm
Jabbour's essay which can be found at http://www.alanjabbour.com/Fiddle_Tunes_of_the_Old_Frontier_Schick.pdf
is most interesting. Thanks for bringing it up.

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