Shady Grove

Shady Grove is a tune that has had a lot of play over the years. I always associate this one with Doc Watson. I learned to play a version of this tune when I started learning clawhammer, but stopped playing it for no real reason and it drifted out of my memory. I’ve recently started playing it again, so I’ve been listening to various versions. The following video featuring Doc with the Kruger Brothers is a great example of his signature approach to the tune, and it features Jens Krugers wonderful banjo picking.

Bruce Molsky is one of my favourite old time musicians. If you’re just getting into this kind of music and you’re thinking of adding some old time tunes to your collection, you can’t go wrong with Molsky, whose recorded output is excellent. He plays banjo, fiddle and guitar – but here he is on banjo playing Shady Grove.

We usually think of Shady Grove as a “modal” tune (Dorian mode), but it has been done as a major tune as well. Kilby Snow, the autoharp player, recorded a great version of this. You can hear a sample of that here. Also, enjoy Zepp’s major version on banjo….

Homework: check out a tune called The Death of Sis Draper by Guy Clark. I couldn’t find it on YouTube. It’s on his recent (tremendously good) recording, My Favorite Picture of You. The Death of Sis Draper is done to the tune of Shady Grove. It is a followup to his much earlier tune Sis Draper. Not only does it use the melody from Shady Grove, it also references Shady Grove in the lyrics. We love this whole album around 27th Street – you will too.

Missouri Borderlands

Here’s Joe Newberry performing his song, Missouri Borderlands.

I had a chance to meet Joe Newberry in June of 2014 at the Midwest Banjo Camp. I took a class from him about a clawhammer banjo figure known as the “Galax Lick”. Let me say that I like Joe’s music a lot, and I like Joe too.

Here is Mr. Newberry singing unaccompanied, performing Piney Mountain – great performance of a great song.

West Fork Gals

Here’s a bunch of guys playing West Fork Gals on somebody’s front porch. This tune has one of the prettiest melodies. I sometimes wonder where that particular West Fork might be….

Sandy River Belle

Sandy River Belle is a well-known fiddle tune, but it also has a special distinction. There is a particular banjo tuning – The Sandy River Belle tuning – named after it. I should say tunings with an s because there are variations on the Sandy River Belle tuning. I’ve been learning one of those – the one that’s also called “Old G” tuning (gDGDE). Among other things, this tuning is well suited for the tune, Sandy River Belle. Curiously enough, this tune is also played in good old G tuning by a lot of players. I’ve been learning the tune on clawhammer in Old G, and one of these days I’ll try recording myself playing it on video – but for now, here are a couple excellent versions.

Let’s start with April Verch, a fantastic Canadian fiddler from the Ottawa Valley. There are not many April Verch videos around that do not show her playing fiddle. In some she plays fiddle and dances, but in this one she dances and the music is driven by her banjo player.

Next, I stumbled into a version of the tune featuring squeezebox. Here is Sharon Shannon…very nice.

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….

Why traditional music #617 (Rake & Rambling Boy)

This performance by Emily and Thornton Spencer sends chills down my back.

Here are the same pair, as part of the Whitetop Mountain Band from 1990…

Emily Spencer with Martha Spencer doing the Carter family tune, Distant Land to Roam…


Not exactly a carol, but….

I know of just one tune in Old Time music that mentions Christmas, and that’s an old fiddle tune called Breaking up Christmas. This song is usually associated with the Round Peak style (this refers to the particular way old time music is played in the Mount Airy NC area) , so let’s listen to Tommy Jarrell do it up right…



Forked Deer

It’s pronounced Fork-id Deer or sometimes Forky Deer, and it’s one of my fave fiddle tunes. It’s one of the tunes I attempt to play on clawhammer banjo. Here are a couple nice performances of the tune. First up is the Berline, Crary and Hickman…

And now, here’s Tony Trischka and Barbara Lamb…



Fortune from Friday evening's fortune cookie
Fortune from Friday evening’s fortune cookie


Here are Craver, Hicks, Watson and Newberry performing Fortune at the Cook Shack (from YouTube)