Two great covers

Time for a daily dose of country & western.

Let’s start with Iris DeMent covering Merle Haggard. I could listen to this tune about 100 times in a row.  Funny how some music does that to you, grabs you where it counts and won’t let go. Iris DeMent just hammers this one home, backed up by Marty Stuart and his very well-dressed band. The single snare drum is a beautiful touch.

Although Iris DeMent is not a prolific songwriter, I usually think about her as much as a songwriter as a performer, because she has written some great ones. However, as I listened to the last tune, I thought about this one, written by Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock – God May Forgive you (but I won’t).


Iris DeMent Tonight!

Iris DeMent is playing Hugh’s Room tonight! We’re meeting my sister Susan and her husband Peter there for dinner and the show. Can’t wait! In case there is anybody out there who doesn’t know Ms. DeMent’s music, here’s a taste…

Forked Deer

A fiddle tune is like a cool drink of ice water – always welcome here at 27th Street. Here’s Spencer Branch playing the Forky Deer. Check out the way Kelley Breiding attacks the tune on clawhammer. Wow!

Spencer Branch do songs too, not just tunes. Here’s Black Widow Lady

Martha Spencer appears in this trio as well as in the Whitetop Mountaineers and in The Whitetop Mountain Band. Picking is a family business for the Spencers.

Tuning Tangle

Old Time banjo players use a number of different tunings as a matter of course, compared to bluegrass pickers who typically use one standard tuning and do all their work within that.

First you have your basic G tuning, and if you capo up to the 2nd fret and tune or spike your 5th string up to A from G, you have A tuning.

There is Double C tuning, which is handy for quite a lot of fiddle tunes. If you capo up in that tuning, you get to Double C capo 2 or Double D tuning.

Then there is Sawmill tuning, used for modal tunes. It is also called G modal or with the capo on 2, A modal. Sometimes it’s called mountain modal, just because.

Most clawhammer players familiarize themselves with the tunings I mentioned above and so they learn three sets of fingering (if you use a capo, the fingering stays the same).

Last year at banjo camp I learned a couple tunes in Standard C tuning. That looks like G tuning except you tune the 4th string down a full step.  Again with the capo, you have Standard D tuning. I’ve been learning Arkansas Traveler in Standard D.

Beyond this it starts getting both confusing and interesting because there are in fact dozens of old time banjo tunings that have been used in this musical tradition. Some of them are named after certain tunes such as Sandy River Belle tuning and Cumberland Gap tuning. Of course there are multiple tunings that go by the same names just to be confusing. One player’s Cumberland Gap tuning is another player’s Sandy River Belle tuning.

Here is what is likely a partial list of old time banjo tunings. This is from the Zepp website. There are a staggering number of possibilities. I wonder if there is anyone out there who can play something in all of them?


Cold Sunday morning – let’s warm up with some music from Texas. Here’s Butch Hancock

And here’s Texas Tornadoes performing Mr. Hancock’s best known tune, She Never Spoke Spanish to Me.

Button accordion for a Saturday morning

Since I immersed myself in clawhammer banjo music I haven’t listened to nearly so much button accordion music as I used to, and haven’t played my squeezeboxes so much either. That doesn’t mean I love those musical traditions any less. Let’s listen to a taste of Quebec button accordion. This is Éric Gagné. There are a couple videos on Youtube featuring him performing. M. Gagné is about as good a player as I’ve heard. Check out how his whole body is involved with the music.

Off to play Go…

I’m off to play some Go this evening so I’ll leave you with a little something to listen to. Here’s Kilby Snow playing autoharp and singing Troubles….

Delia was a gamblin’ girl…

Time for an old folk song. Here’s David Bromberg playing the old murder ballad, Delia. It’s a true story…

This tune has been around the block a few times. There are many versions of of it around, and curiously enough, most of them are excellent. Check out what Bob Dylan did with it on World Gone Wrong…

Georgia Crawl

Some visitors might be saying, hey this blog is getting very music-heavy lately don’t you think? Well, all I have to say to that is, c’mon, let’s do the Georgia Crawl. Here’s Meredith Axelrod with Jim Kweskin.

Train that carried my girl from town….

Last night at the Banjo Special, we enjoyed several combinations of performers but I think my favourite was the duo of Chris Coole and Ivan Rosenberg. These guys sound fantastic together. I’ve also been listening to their recording, Return to Trion, in the car – it’s got some great tunes.

Here’s a performance of one of the tunes on the album…

When I think about old time music I usually think about American musicians from places like North Carolina or Virginia or West Virginia or Kentucky, but we we have some great players like these guys based right here in the Toronto area.