Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Commonly found as an instrumental in the Briggs' banjo Instructor of 1855. It's main popularity was it's presence in the early Minstrel shows. My interludes are directly from the Briggs' book.

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Comment by Dan Gibson on January 15, 2012 at 8:21pm


Enjoyed your version very much.

I've been playing around with Alabama Joe (musically, that is) for some time, now, and have been trying to track down the tune's origin. Unless my ears deceive me, I think I found it. I followed some internet links and discovered that the original is Cornish. 

Link #1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alabama_Joe

Link #2 and a quote from it: http://www.brycchancarey.com/places/cornwall/songs.htm

"Trelawny: The correct title of this song is: 'The Song of the Western Men'. Most of it was written in 1825 by R.S. Hawker (1804-1875), the celebrated 'Vicar of Morwenstow'. He extrapolated the song from the well-known Cornish proverb:

And shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

The Trelawny in question was Sir Jonathan Trelawny, Bishop of Bristol, one of seven bishops imprisoned in the Tower of London by James II in 1687. The Cornish, staunchly Catholic at the time of the Reformation, had now turned staunchly Protestant and were vocal in his defence - although the threatened rebellion failed to materialise. Many people have erroneously supposed the song to be ancient, among them, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Macaulay, and Charles Dickens.

Link #3: The Original lyrics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Western_Men#Lyrics

Link #4: The original song itself: www.rogerj.co.uk/audio/trelaw.ram

Does anyone have more information beyond what I've found?

Comment by Dan Gibson on January 15, 2012 at 9:38pm

RE: Alabama Joe

Here's another Youtube video  of the original of what became Alabama Joe on the the minstrel stage.


Comment by Bell Banjos on January 15, 2012 at 10:15pm

Pretty neat, Dan.

The singer's guitar backup sounds like my son's concertina backup notes - my son plays guitar too. I can imagine this song on a cello and violin. Well....now Alabama Joe is Majestic Joe.

Comment by Tim Twiss on January 15, 2012 at 10:15pm

What a great find...thanks! So linked to Europe much of the time.

Comment by Bell Banjos on January 15, 2012 at 10:18pm

....which makes me think of what Mrs. Twiss was telling me...that minor chords USED to sound majestic, not meant to be sorrowful.

Comment by Bell Banjos on January 15, 2012 at 10:18pm

Wow Tim, we almost banged heads in cyberspace. That was close.

Comment by Tim Twiss on January 15, 2012 at 10:35pm

It seems that SO much of the time, there is a European root to most of the early Minstrel melodies...if one can dig deep enough. This one and Ethiopian Cracovienne have been especially delightful to uncover.

Comment by Bell Banjos on January 15, 2012 at 10:44pm

In banjo and modern "folk" music, when I hear (or hear, through the melody, the implied) G to Em, or C to Am chord change, I always think of the Brits. When I hear the A major to G major change I think of bagpipes, Old Joe Clark, Celtic and Appalachian. In minstrel banjo music, there's not much of the latter is there?

Comment by Ian Bell on January 15, 2012 at 10:58pm

That's pretty amazing, Dan.

Comment by Dan Gibson on January 16, 2012 at 12:33am


What was your source for the Alabama Joe lyrics in your video?


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