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Folk-Songs of America: The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, 1922-1932

Band A5

Nowhere is Gordon's breadth of interest in folk music traditions more evident than in his recording of fiddle music. His twenty-seven tunes from six fiddlers in North Carolina represent one of the earliest field recordings of traditional fiddling. Although he wrote about fiddle songs he did not discuss fiddle music itself except to refer to its use as traditional dance music. John W. Dillon provided him with the largest number of tunes, twelve, and the three selected here demonstrate his ability.

"Isaac Meddler" is a tune which has appeared under a number of different titles. See Jabbour (pp. 21-22) for a history of the tune, known to the Hammons family of West Virginia as "Camp Chase". As a strathspey, it appears in Scots tradition under the name "Marquis of Huntley's Farewell." It has been recorded a number of times in the south as "George Booker" (Krassen, p.84). Perhaps Dillon's title, like that of the Hammons family, had a local name legend attached to it.

ISAAC MEDDLER [MP3 file]
Gordon cyl. A48, Item NC77
John W. Dillon
Asheville, North Carolina
October 22, 1925

Spoken: That was "Isaac Meddler."

Dillon's second tune, "Mississippi Sawyer," is widely known in both the United States and Canada under that title. An early version appeared in Knauff (1839), a publication with Virginia associations, under the title "Love From the Heart." Modern sets with the standard title have been published by Ford (p. 32), Thede (p. 117), Christeson (p.63) and Messer (p.10). Ford prints a tradition which ties the name to a fiddling sawmill owner who lived near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers (p. 183), but Durfee and Jabbour suggest a more likely origin in the early use of the term "Mississippi sawyer" to describe an uprooted tree, which, pushed underwater by the current of the Mississippi river, was a hazard to shipping. Christeson mentions that one fiddler he collected the tune from thought it "descended from ‘The Downfall of Paris,'" printed as early as 1830 in Boston. It was recorded under this title by Pegram and Parham. Other recordings include those of Tanner, Messer, Summers, and Smith.

MISSISSIPPI SAWYER [MP3 file]
Gordon cyl. A48, Item NC78
John W. Dillon
Asheville, North Carolina
October 22, 1925

Spoken:
"Mississippi Sawyer" played by John W. Dillon, Asheville, October twenty-second, Nineteen twenty-five.

"Sally Goodin" is one of the best-known southern fiddle tunes. Over fifty versions of it are listed in the Archive of Folk Song's indexes. One of Frank C. Brown's informants said that it was "played by fifers in the Confederate Army" (III, pp. 350-51), which might explain it's wide distribution from Virginia to Texas as well as it's rarity (until recently) elsewhere in North America. In a chapter on "Fiddle Songs," Gordon discusses the non-narrative floating verses which accompanied dance songs. "Sally Goodin" is one such song. Ford prints a dance call (p. 209) and a number of verses (pp. 419-20). Brown and Randolph (III, pp.350-51) indicate that the song was used for play parties.

Ford gives a version of the tune in regular tuning (p.64) and another in "discord" (p. 129), an EAEA tuning used here by Dillon. Thede gives a number of tune versions as well as words (pp. 32-33). Other published versions include those of Lowinger (p. 13), Maloy (p. 6), Cambiaire (p. 98), Bush (p.18), and Jameson (p. 15).

The tune has been widely recorded, and the earliest and probably most significant recording is Robertson's 1923 version. Other important recordings include those of Grayson and Whitter, McMichen, Monroe, Puckett, Riley, Smith (who uses a tuning similar to Dillon's) and Stoneman. The tune is also known as a banjo tune in North Carolina, where the recording of Earl Scruggs has been influential.

SALLY GOODIN [MP3 file]
Gordon cyl. A49, Item NC79
John W. Dillon
Asheville, North Carolina
October 22, 1925

Spoken:
That was "Sally Goodin."

 

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