Wait Till You Hear This One

Old-time fiddle tunes and sources

Bob Walters’ “Jump Fingers,” Gut Strings

In my last post I mentioned how I was hating the sound of my fiddle, and joked that maybe I needed yet another new kind of strings. Well, it turns out I did! My wife will laugh to read this, because it never lasts, but I’m now officially in love with  Pirastro Wondertone gut strings. In this video I play Bob Walters’ “Jump Fingers” on my gut-strung fiddle, once at moderate speed and then once slow with some comments about style. At the beginning I show what the strings look like and say a little about how they’re different. Here’s a nice speedy version of Bob playing it with piano backup from R.P. Christesen, on Slippery Hill. And here’s his more stately version from The Champion, slowed-down and pitch corrected.

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Tune diary: “Turkey in the Straw,” Bob Walters

Hi gang, I’m back. I thought I’d try something different and post a tune I just learned, while it’s still at the exciting stage, even though I’m still working on it. “Turkey in the Straw” is a common, fairly simple tune, but Bob Walters’ version in A really grabbed me when I was listening to the The Champion the other day. If you don’t have the CD, you should get it. But you can hear a rough version of the same recording at the 5-minute mark in this audio-only video, part of the Gordon McCann series at Missouri State University Library. And here’s a slowed-down version, with the pitch corrected.

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David Bragger teaches “Cripple Creek”

I was impressed by the clarity of David’s teaching in this recent free lesson he posted on Facebook, and I thought some of you might like it, too. I want to take a cue from him and get better at calling out bow directions as I play and generally keeping things moving along quickly in my videos. But who can compete with his home decor and fashion sense? Not me. Anyway, if you’re not familiar with David and his endeavors, check out Old-Time Tiki Parlor.

I’m hoping to have a new post of my own soon. Thinking of doing Bob Walters’, “The Beaux.” But it’s gardening season in Oregon, and all my free time lately seems to be spent out in the yard. Plus, I’m in the middle of one of those dreaded crises, where I can barely stand to hear myself play, and the I unfairly blame it on my fiddle. In this kind of mood, anyone’s fiddle seems preferable to mine. Do any of you go through that? It’s horrible. Maybe I should do a special post on it. I’m hoping it’ll pass, just as soon as I find the right strings . . .

Back to my Roots: Tommy Jarrell’s “Susanna Gal”

I freely admit, my roots are in Southern California, and I never met Tommy Jarrell. But this is one of the first tunes that made me want to play the fiddle, so it does take me back to my roots in that sense. I made two videos this time, one of me playing the tune, and one of me analyzing a video of Tommy playing it. Tuning in both is ADAE. Here’s the entire video of Tommy. Thanks to James Stiltner for permission to use it. (See below for a less shaky version of the video, created by friend of the blog, Josh L.)

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Manco Sneed’s “Old-Time Grey Eagle”: polishing up a hidden gem

“Old-Time Grey Eagle” is a fun C tune with a crooked, but glorious, third part that always gets people’s attention. I’ve probably been asked about it at sessions more often than any other tune I play. Here’s how I played it in 2005 with my old band Uncle Wiggily, featuring Bill Martin on cello, Martha Thompson on guitar, Maggie Lind on banjo, and Charlie Hartness on ukelele (from An Old-Time Portland Potluck, now out of print). I’m really fond of this recording, because it reminds me of all the fun I had with those wonderful people. But my version there isn’t really very accurate. So if you want to learn it “right,” use the video.

The problem with the tune is that the source recording is very poor quality, so until now I’ve always felt like my version was just a shot in the dark. Joseph Decosimo puts it perfectly in the video I link to below: he says it requires “reconstructive surgery.” That’s what this post is about. I’ll start with this strange little video where I try to interpret the source. It’s a first attempt at something I’ve been puzzling over how to do ever since I started the blog—to actually show the process of working with a source recording. Hope you like it!

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Playing fast: Bob Holt’s “Tomahawk” & the 2-point bow hold

So I admit, I got a little bit carried away with the post below. It’s about how to play fast for dances, and in the process of writing it I made a discovery that really helped me play up to dance speed in a more relaxed way. But it was so exciting I couldn’t stop writing about it!

In the video, I use Bob Holt’s “Tomahawk” as an example. It’s a fun, simple tune, and a great one for practicing playing fast, or for learning to play in standard-tuned A, if you’re more used to playing in cross-A. I don’t have a public-domain recording of the source I used, so I’ll link you to the preview on amazon and encourage you to buy the track or, better, the whole album. The video starts with me and my wife Martha playing the tune through twice fast, with the Missouri turnaround chord progression, then I demonstrate the two-point bow hold and play it through once slowly, stopping for a few pointers. Enjoy! And read on if you want to know more, and you have some time on your hands… 🙂

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“Joseph Won the Coated Fiddle,” Cyril Stinnett

Here’s a link to the version I learned this tune from, played by the great Cyril Stinnett with, I think, Bob Christeson playing backup on field organ. More info below. Enjoy!

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Bob Walters and Dwight Lamb CDs now available!

I’m cranking up the rusty blog-posting machine again, finally, and the first thing I want to do is pass on some recent news items from Bill Peterson. You can get any or all of the stuff below by writing him at missourivalleymusic@sio.midco.net. I don’t have exact prices, but I can promise that they’re incredibly reasonable.  Read more…

String theories: what are the best strings for old-time fiddle?


I have a string problem. This is a picture of my fiddle string graveyard—all the strings I’ve bought, and tried, and re-tried over the years. I cycle back through them periodically, trying to get my fiddle to sound a little warmer, or smoother, or brighter, or louder, or quieter. I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned, and maybe, armed with this knowledge, you can find your perfect strings without wasting as much time and money as I did.

I’ve learned that when I first put on a new brand of strings, I almost always think they sound better. But it’s just the novelty effect. After 24 hours, all their problems come to the fore.  It’s a running joke around our house that whatever extravagant claims I make for the new brand I’m trying, I’ll do an about-face and hate them within a few days. Read more…

Reviving the blog: now shorter and more spontaneous!

Gerard van Honthorst, "The Merry Fiddler," 1623

“The Merry Fiddler”: this perfectly expresses my new happy-go-lucky attitude towards blogging.

Well, the entire summer passed with only one post from Wait Till You Hear This One. And yet the world kept spinning on its axis, amazingly. The post below is about how I’m going to try to write shorter and more frequent posts, be more spontaneous, and just write about whatever fiddle stuff I happen to be interested in at the time, rather than trying to write some sort of detailed fiddle instruction manual. Hope those of you who’ve been kind enough to Like it still like it. Let me know.

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