Shortenin’ Bread

Shortenin’ Bread is a tune from the turn of the century – the 19th to the 20th that is. I grew up thinking of it as a children’s song but I’m rethinking that.

Check out this excellent performance by Chicken Train, filmed by a banjo picker named Dean Barber at Clifftop 2012.

That is some top-rate Old Time music in my books!

Here are some buskers called the Water Tower Bucket Boys playing it in Seattle back in 2009…check out the dancers!

Finally, just for the fun of it, here are the Collins Kids on Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party…


Red Prairie Dawn

Since I started learning to play clawhammer banjo, YouTube has been an incredibly handy tool. When I want to learn a tune, I like to listen to different versions of it, and fortunately there is a ton of Old Time music available.  It’s hard to imagine a time when the only way to learn this music was from other local players. I suppose the exchange is that regional identity gets washed into the mix.

I learned about the late Garry Harrison at the Midwest Banjo Camp in June. Not only was he a gatherer of great Old Time music from Illinois, he also wrote some excellent tunes. I’ve been playing one of them quite a bit lately – a tune called Dull Chisel, and now I want to learn another of his tunes, Red Prairie Dawn. So tonight I checked out some performances online.

Here are Mike Witcher – Dobro and  Grant Gordy – Guitar…

And here’s a really fast version by the Foghorn Stringband…

And one more, with John Jewell and Andrew Lovejoy…


Old Time on a Sunday morning

Fly Around my Pretty Little Miss (aka Western Country aka Susananah Gal). This is from the whitetopmusic channel on YouTube. It’s the Whitetop Mountain Band back in 1990.

Salt Creek

Here’s your Daily Dose of Old Time music. I came across this video surfing around on YouTube tonight. It’s Spencer Branch playing Salt Creek. I love the driving clawhammer on this one.

This group shows that a trio is plenty big enough to put out a lot of sound. It really inspires me to try to put together a little old time outfit sometime down the road. I suppose the first step in that direction is to find a fiddle player. Any fiddle players out there in the Toronto area, looking for a clawhammer player? Meanwhile, I’ve been playing a lot, trying to build some chops and learn a bunch of the old time standards.


Why traditional music #1468

I stumbled across this wonderful video of Harvey “Pappy” Taylor playing Devil in the Haystack at age 90. Is it true to play the fiddle you have to make a pact with the devil?


I’ve known the tune Shady Grove for a long time. It’s well known, and has been recorded a zillion times. On the banjo, this is usually played in Sawmill tuning, or “mountain modal” tuning as it is also called. Here’s a fairly typical approach to the tune (and a beautiful one too!), played by Doc Watson and the Kruger Brothers.

More recently I’ve learned about another version of Shady Grove – played in a major rather than minor scale. This version is apparenty based on a version played by the late great NC autoharp player, Kilby Snow. Here is a performance of the major scale version posted by tripharmonica on YouTube.

I’ve recently learned a similar version on clawhammer banjo. It’s a lot of fun to play.

Sunday morning story and song…

I was thinking about the old cowboy song, Diamond Joe so I searched around YouTube and found this performance by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, in which he talks about how he learned it from a cowboy at a rodeo in Brussels of all places. Jack struggles with a malfunctioning capo during this performance but nevertheless still manages to do a fine job on it. Jack Elliott has a way of squeezing all the goodness from a song.

We live in a world in which our popular music is dominated by corporations presenting young adults in their teens or twenties. They have to look the right way and dress the right way and the producers make them sound the right way to hit that mass-market demographic. One of the reasons I’m always listening to folk traditions and music that is perhaps less popular to mass audiences is that there is room for performers who don’t fit that cookie cutter, performers who aren’t so attractive, performers who are older, performers who play music that isn’t the same as most of the material you hear on the radio.

The performance I’m linking to is from 2012, back when Jack Elliott was about 80. He’s been playing music for a very very long time, mostly traveling around playing solo, telling the stories of his adventures along the way.

Here’s Diamond Joe

This tune has been around the block a few times. Here’s a bluegrass-infused version by Sam Bush.

Curiously, it isn’t the only tune called Diamond Joe. There is also an Old Time tune with the same title. Here’s Marc Nerenberg..

It’s not out of reach for a pop performer either. Bob Dylan took a stab at it in his terrible movie Masked and Anonymous…

Banjo Practice

This is me, practicing an Old Time standard known as Lost Indian. There are lots of different versions of this one, and even some very different tunes that use the same title.

I’m playing my Bart Reiter Standard banjo in open G tuning, with a capo on the second fret – playing in the key of A.