“The dark-haired girl,” Bob Walters
Key of G, standard tuning, as played by Bob Walters. Here’s the recording I learned it from, on Larry Warren’s Slippery Hill site (used with his permission). And here’s a slowed-down and pitch-corrected version I made of that same recording. It starts off very quiet, but the volume comes up quickly:
I strongly associate this tune with festival season, and as I was packing for Weiser a couple of weeks ago, it was constantly running through my head. It’s one of those that’s easy and hard at the same time: most fiddlers will be able to come up with a satisfying version pretty quickly, but once you start trying to get all the details right, it can seem more and more elusive. The video below is my best shot at it, with backup by my wife, Martha. There are four parts, and the links will take you directly to whichever ones you’re interested in:
- once through with backup
- broken into short phrases, with some pointers
- once through, slow
- guided tour through the source recording
“The Dark-Haired Girl” is a sweet G tune that becomes even sweeter when you add the right Missouri-style chords at the end of each part, which force a I-IV-V progression onto the simple, repetitive melody. Probably a lot of you are familiar with the chord progression already. R.P. Christeson describes it in his books and in the wonderful spoken notes to his field recordings; the great modern Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden calls it “Missouri harmony” and explains it very precisely in “What Is Missouri Fiddling?”; and a lot of folks out west here call it the “Missouri turnaround.” In the recording of Bob Walters, above, you can hear the organ doing it—played by Christeson himself, I’m guessing. I sometimes ask friends in the Northwest to do it, too, and they often give me a look of disbelief at first, as if to say, “Really? You want a C chord there?” Once you get used to it, though, you’re hooked. It’s like stepping through the looking-glass.
I have to give two people credit for introducing me to the tune. At the very end of last year’s Weiser, Sophie Vitells ran up to me and said she’d just heard our pal Ron Kane playing the greatest tune ever, called “The Dark-Haired Girl,” and it was from Bob Walters. I didn’t know the tune, but I eventually found it on Slippery Hill and shared it with some fiddler friends. When Fiddletunes came around the next week, I seemed to be hearing it everywhere. And at this year’s Weiser, just last week, I heard quite a few nice renditions. It seems to be spreading.
One tiny gripe, though: when I hear people playing the tune lately, I mostly don’t hear it being backed up with the Missouri turnaround, as it is on the Bob Walters recording. It’s a shame, because it’s so much prettier that way. Fiddlers, I know it can be a little awkward to request specific chords—it’s always a good idea to respect your guitar player’s judgment and not boss him/her around too much, right? But before you start this tune, it is really worth politely asking your guitar player to try the “MTA” (as we abbreviate it out here). I swear, it’ll double the impact.
Have fun with the tune. I like it best for just playing and listening. I probably wouldn’t use it for a dance. But Walters’ tempo on the recording is pretty brisk, so who knows, it just might work.
I’ve tried a few new things in this post, and I’d love to hear what you like, or don’t, or if you have any ideas for how I could make the next one more useful for you.