View Full Version : What is OLD TIME?

May-04-2005, 8:25pm
Greetings, just wondering if someone could give some insight into a definition of "old time." Is it like Yank Rechelle? Mountain folk music? What defines it? Thanks

John Flynn
May-04-2005, 9:26pm
Here is a quote I got off the web:

Old-time music is the hand-made and homemade music of the southern Appalachians and rural pioneer America. Growing out of Anglo-Scots-Irish traditions with some African-American elements thrown in, it was commercialized in the 1920s and 30s as hillbilly music. String bands usually include a fiddle, banjo, guitar, and string bass, but mandolins, dulcimers, and other instruments are also used. Old-time vocals include gospel, ballads, and lyric songs.
Attached is a point paper I did some time ago about the difference between Bluegrass and Old-time. You can also find out a lot on the Old-time Music at the link below:

Yank Rachell is more blues than old-time. The term "mountain folk music" is pretty close though.

John Flynn
May-04-2005, 9:27pm
The attachment didn't work the first time.

John Ritchhart
May-05-2005, 2:08am
See the film "Songcatcher", then listen to Garcia on Shady Grove, then get a CD of the Crooked Jades. It's in there somewhere.

May-05-2005, 7:34am
Maybe I should add, it's mostly in the key of D, G, or A (depending on how the ban)o's tuned) - ha.


John Flynn
May-05-2005, 8:08am
I really enjoy the Garcia/Grisman "Shady Grove" CD and I also like the Crooked Jades. However, being heavily involved in old-time music in an area that has a significant old-time scene, I have to say that most old-time music people would not consider those to be old-time at all. I think they would say they are popular music with an old-time flavor.

Michael H Geimer
May-05-2005, 9:49am
Is it even possible to make new Old-Timey music today? It seems a somewhat 'frozen' style in many ways.

I'm personally side-stepping that whole issue by describing my group's music as 'Revisionist History'. That way there is no need to mask out our individual influences (Rock, Electric Blues, Folk-Scare stuff). Instead we bring our whole musical lives to the circle and simply try to behave like they did in the past, without specifically recreating what happened long ago.

We play by ear. We learn songs by playing them for each other (no TAB, or charts). We always play acoustic, and in community areas like pubs and coffee houses, and pretty much just inside our neighborhood.

To my thinking those are some critical non-musical elements of how music behaved 'back in the day'. I'll take the Old-Timey approach, without worrying too much about which notes I choose, or whether I swap out for a minor chord here and there.

Are there any modern songs that are played in Old-Timey circles, or has it pretty much been locked down since the 30's?

- Benig

May-05-2005, 10:07am
I'm new to this, but i always assumed "old time" is pre-bluegrass, or the stuff that evolved into bluegrass.

May-05-2005, 10:18am
Oldtime "IS NOT A CRIME"!

Ha, I love that! #And I love oldtime music!


Jim M.
May-05-2005, 10:42am
Is it even possible to make new Old-Timey music today? It seems a somewhat 'frozen' style in many ways.
Isn't any style older than yesterday "frozen in time" to some extent? If bluegrass (or jazz or blues or classical, for that matter) can evolve (and there are certainly those who say it shouldn't), why can't old time?

Listen to Tim O's and Darrel Scott's new album "Real Time". Almost all are original compositions in an old-time style. Also, Reeltime Travelers play some original compositions that fooled me when I heard them. I didn't know they weren't traditional songs until I read the liner notes.

And then there's a group like Crooked Still, which plays old time stuff with a lot of jazzy, new acoustic influence. Maybe that's more like your "Revisionist" style, but it still sounds old time to me. VIVE LA EVOLUCION! #


John Flynn
May-05-2005, 11:13am
Are there any modern songs that are played in Old-Timey circles, or has it pretty much been locked down since the 30's?
Yes, there are several modern tunes that are played by traditional old-time bands. Examples include, "Nail That Catfish to a Tree," "Snake River Reel," both written and recorded fairly recently by composers still living and playing. Also, you have people like Bruce Ling who is dong some great new old-time tunes on mando, yet to be recorded, like "Crawdad Shuffle" and "Incident on Abrigador Trail." What these tunes have in common is that they are true to the old-time tradition. They weren't written before 1930, but they could have been.

I feel caught in between here, because I am always taking the "evolutionary" side with the purists and then taking the "traditional" side with progressives. I feel I am not in either camp and can see both sides. As a wise person said on a previous dicussion about this, "You can't have a strong tree without deep roots. But if you keep cutting off all the branches, all you will have is an old stump." But I think it's important to preserve distinctions. If we as musicians don't make good distinctions about music, who will keep it all from becoming one big mish-mosh of popular music, which is already happening way too much?

So I say play what you want, it's all good, but call it what it is, or don't call it anything at all. The original poster seemed to honestly want to understand the old-time distinction and I wouldn't want him someday walking into a hard-core OT jam and calling a tune by the Jades without understanding the situation.

Michael H Geimer
May-05-2005, 12:55pm
Just for the sake of discussion (since they're both excellent groups), why would The Reeltime Travellers merit the descriptor Old-Timey, while The Crooked Jades get the broader label of Popular Music?

(Cynically, I wonder if geography isn't a factor)

Rick Schmidlin
May-05-2005, 1:31pm
Doc Watson is old time music mostly.The Monroe brothers I feel are old timey. Anything from Ma Rainy to Doc Watson can be old timey and that's a lot of ground in between.

My favorite old timy recording in Mississippi John Hurts AVALON from 1928.

For a great overview get THE ANTHOLGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC put out on by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings edited by Harry Smith, This is the real stuff. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

John Flynn
May-05-2005, 3:00pm
The Reeltime Travellers merit the descriptor Old-Timey, while The Crooked Jades get the broader label of Popular Music
Let me make it clear that I like both of these groups. A lot. But in answer to the question:

Test #1: Would you want the Travelers being the dance band at a good-old-fashioned country barn dance? I would. It would be a blast. The Jades? I don't think so. Most of the tunes wouldn't even work for a dance. Like it or not, barn dances are a major root and purpose of old-time.

Test #2: Could you get away with calling Traveler tunes at a hard-core old-time jam? Most of them, not all. The Jades? Not the jams I go to.

Test #3: Play three cuts at random from each group's CDs for the people attending either event above and ask which one is old-time. No contest.

Test #4: Who would you bet your own money on in a traditional American Flat-foot dancing contest between Heidi Andrade of the Travelers and anyone in the Jades. Oh, puleese!

Test #5: Compare photos of the two groups on thier websites. 'Nuf said.

I could go on and on. You get the idea. But that's OK. "Old-time" is not some badge of honor, it's just a category. The Jades are great. Just not old-time.

May-05-2005, 3:28pm
The best example of " Old Time' music I can think of is Tim O' Brien's CD - " Songs From The Mountain "

Michael H Geimer
May-05-2005, 3:40pm
Right on, Johnny!

I totally agree. Those were my same thoughts on posting the question.

I'll add the the Jades also seem more 'contrived' in their arrangements (e.g. polyrhythms) while The Travellers are somehow more 'organic'.

RE: Geography. Heidi is actually from the 'wrong' coast, so clearly I was just being flippant.

BTW ... did you know that my favorite Jade is no longer with them? Poly-banjoist Tom Lucas is playing with The Donner Mountain String Band these days. (I heard Lisa moved on as well)

- Benig

May-05-2005, 3:52pm
Hi folks,

This is my very first post to the Mandolin Cafe, so I'll start with a brief introduction.

I'm primarily a clawhammer banjo player, but recently was grabbed by the mandolin bug (November of 2004) and I'm really enjoying myself. I play old time music in and around the Boston area and probably met several of you at Mandolin Camp a few weeks ago.

I think "old time" is a broad term that can refer to lots of music from the 20's and 30's. Rag time, country blues, early jazz etc. When I think of old time music however, I think of string band music from the 20's and 30's that adheres to the definition above: Scotch-Irish fiddle music with African and African American influences. If you listen to the old recordings, the musicians themselves refer to it as "old time", so it's not a new term that we've imposed onto an older tradition.

In terms of making "new" old time music today: I think it's possible, but difficult. The reason that these tunes have stood the test of time is that they're really good. As we all know, it's hard to write a good tune or song that is passed down through generations of people. Another problem with writing "new" old time tunes is that they inevitably end up with copywrites stamped all over them. That means that they're hard or expensive for folks to record themselves.

To me the point of old time music isn't to generate lots of new material. There are thousands and thousands of tunes to learn. More than anyone could learn in a lifetime. I think the emphasis in old time music is different: play what's out there already. It's like a language. We rarely come up with new words that really stick. We try to be as creative as we can with the words that we've been handed down.

You listen to the recordings from the 20's and you see a snapshot of an American culture that simply doesn't exist anymore. The musicianship is incredible and untouchable. The sound simply cannot be duplicated, but it can be approached. When I piece out a fiddle tune on a banjo or mandolin I feel like I can hear a time in America when playing music was more a part of everyday life. Sounds corny and nostalgic to some, I'm sure. And don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that America was a perfect and beautiful place, because it wasn't. But, we have lost that raw, honest and vibrant musical sensibility and playing old time music, for me at least, let's me connect with that other time.

The Crooked Jades, Reeltime Travelers, Crooked Still etc. are interesting, but I don't look to them as models of old time music. In terms of modern old time musicians, I like Brad Leftwich a whole bunch. He comes the closest to that old time sound. Check out the albums he's done with Tom Sauber and Alice Gerrard in a band called Tom, Brad and Alice. It's great stuff (with the occasional mandolin too).

The older stuff is where it's at though. This site is wonderful:


"The Roots of American Fiddle Music Vol. 1 and 2" are highly recommended. You can get them through the site above. Usual disclaimers: I don't have any financial interest in the site.

If you listen to the early recordings, there aren't a whole lot of examples of mandolin playing. Ed Haley is accompanied by some nice mandolin playing (Mike Compton must have listened to the old Ed Haley recordings.) I think this is kind of cool. Mandolin is a legitimate old time instrument, but the field is wide open due to the few recordings of it in that context. To me that means that we are very much in the midst of a live tradition (and it's one of the main things that drew me to the mandolin). We have lots of possibilities in front of us to expand the role of the mandolin in old time music.

And I think that's where old time musicians get to satisfy their creative urges. We don't write many tunes because we realize that most of the good ones have already been written. They're just waiting to be rediscovered. The creativity comes in making variations on the fly with the melody, or backing up the fiddler in an interesting way.

That's why old time music feels so alive to me even though its golden age has already passed. And who's to say another golden age of traditional string band music isn't just around the corner?


Michael H Geimer
May-05-2005, 4:01pm
Great points. Welcome to the cafe!

I like your thoughts about why new Old-Time is difficult to write (and even a little off topic for that genre).

I believe the modern pressure for each musician to be 'original' and to write original matieral is probably a result of the recording industry (and copyright law by association), and is certainly a point of view that separates the modern player from those of the past.

Hence, my personal emphasis on trying to behave like an Old-Time player, without so much concern about replicating the acutal sound of the genre.

Do not follow the Master. Follow the path the Master has followed.

- Benig

May-05-2005, 4:13pm
Lisa and Stephanie are now part of the Stairwell Sisters. With Edie Lavin on banjo they're more like the Reeltime Travelers than the Jades - more of that old-time energy.
But when I saw the new Crooked Jades at the Palms (they opened for the Wilders) I liked them alot.

I'm not totally sure I agree with the barn dance litmus test. It ignores the role of church music and mountain ballads. I agree with Kbone about "Songs From the Mountain."

The fiddle/banjo "old-timey" dance music is only a part of what I think "old time" music is. There was a lot of variety in pre-bluegrass mountain music and I think something like "Shady Grove" catches that.


John Flynn
May-05-2005, 4:18pm
Do not follow the Master. Follow the path the Master has followed.
OK B-man, what would the Master say?

"Always in motion is the future."

"You must unlearn what you have learned."

"Try not. Do or do not, there is no try...."

"Already know you that which you need..."

("I canít believe it.") "That is why you fail."

http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

May-05-2005, 4:44pm
I've posted this many times before, but if you have not heard them, check out the Foghorn Stringband (Portland, OR). #


There is no doubt these guys are oldtime, top-to-bottom. #In terms of oldtime musicianship, it doesn't get much better. #They just plain kick-butt! #They have been doin' a little tourin' with Dirk and Riley. #

Yup, if it's a dance tune, it's pretty much oldtime!

May-05-2005, 4:50pm
Hey mando johnny, just got a live recording of the Reeltime Travelers in Indiana. #It is great! #Do you have any of the live stuff?

ps--saw them a couple of times at our little acoustic venue here in Flagstaff. #Great shows! #On par with the best I've ever seen.

Michael H Geimer
May-05-2005, 5:31pm
I have a live recording of The reeltime Travellers at Strawberry Festival here in CA. They grabbed me from the first note, and I caught every show I could that weekend (3 sets!). I said "Hi!" to them everytime I passed them around camp.

On the last day of the festival, another camper handed me a disc of their main stage set ... just because he knew they were the weekend's highlight for me.

They call that generosity The Strawberry Way. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

The recording is great. You can really hear their enthusiasm about being up in the Sierras, camping playing music ... loving life!

- Benig

MJ ... you crack me up! Of course you forgot to remind me that banjo really *is* the path to The Dark Side.

May-06-2005, 8:23am
I saw the Foghorn Stringband a few months ago with Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus. They are a fine band indeed. The highlight of the show for me was the mandolin player. He's a very talented musician.

My one gripe with the Foghorn Stringband was the bass. I'm not a fan of bass in old time music because I feel like it squares off the tunes too much. I like the fiddle to drive the tune with bow pulses. It makes a tune feel a little more ragged and on the edge (to my ears anyway).

If you want to get some sampling of the old recordings, check out this site:


Compare the recordings on the old 78s to the modern stuff and see what you think.

May-06-2005, 12:33pm
Hey Tom, interesting comment about "squaring off" the tune too much. #Do you mean that the bass is making the beats or measures too "even" for your tastes?

I've played that bass a little bit before--Brian has an old, beat-up American Standard (maybe 40's vintage, or earlier). #It is the loudest, boomiest bass I have ever touched.

Do you think that contributed to your feeling about it at all, or just bass in general? #

Did Caleb (mandolin player) sing at the show? #He has got one heck of a strong voice to go with awesome chops.


May-06-2005, 1:39pm
Hi Z,

The bass makes me more aware of the ends of measures and phrases than I normally would be, and it ends up taking rhythmic focus off of the fiddle. At least for me. I'm sure there are lots of folks who would disagree with me.

It also makes all the tunes sound very similar. By the end of the evening the "boom boom boom" of the bass was driving me a little nuts. He's a fine bass player and I don't think the mix was bass-heavy or that the bass in question was super loud.

I like my old time music heavy on the fiddle. The bow pulses and syncopation with the banjo create a unique feel that gets lost when huge quarter notes are present on every down beat. Guitar playing can do this too, but if you have a good guitarist s/he can add some snap and a run or two that can shake a tune from those "oompa, oompa" moorings (I'm thinking Riley Puckett from the Skillet Lickers here).

Some fantastic modern old time bands have employed upright bassists. The Freight Hoppers and the Highwoods String Band come to mind. Out of the ones I've heard I think that the Highwoods did bass the best simply because they had two fiddlers that could overcome that low end sound. Would I prefer them without bass though? You bet.

I can't think of any string bands from the 20's that had an upright bassist that played a pizzicato style (though I've heard some bowed bass in the early recordings before). Some of them had organs or pianos that served a similar purpose, but I really think that the addition of pizzicato upright bass in old time music is a modern (post-bluegrass) phenomenon (though maybe someone here can cite a 20's stringband recording that proves me wrong).

And yes, Caleb sang. Fantastic voice especially on "Lazy John". I was inspired. He's an old time musician to watch, for sure. Honestly, I thought he was the best musician on stage that night (and he was up there with Dirk and Riley Baugus).

May-06-2005, 1:59pm
And let me just say real quick that I think the Foghorn Stringband is excellent.

This is all old time music we're talking about, and to nit pick like I'm doing is kind of obnoxious.

May-06-2005, 2:12pm
Hey, thanks Tom, really enjoy "reading into oldtime" a little bit here. #

I've been playing upright for about 8 years or so, and have been into oldtime for almost as long. #I echo your sentiments in that the fiddle and clawhammer (and mando since this is the cafe!) is often plenty for me. #

Many times I've been at my weekly gig with my band and have suggested that the fiddle, clawhammer, and mando players play some tunes without me--and they look at me like I'm nuts. #

Don't get me wrong, I love thumping away on a rockin' dance tune, even playing runs that echo some of the chord/melody progression. #But sometimes the stuff just doesn't need the bass.


May-06-2005, 3:43pm
With a handle like Mingus I should have put two and two together. Hopefully I didn't offend you!

I will say that what a bass does do in old time is that it provides a great back beat for square dancing. Nothing like a bass to get your toes tapping. One of the problems with old time today (geez, here I go again!) is that we've removed the social/community aspect by stuffing it into a modern audience versus musician context. I'm not talking about jams here because they're obviously social. I'm talking about concerts.

Honestly, "concert" and "old time music" are kind of contrary if you think about it.

I bet if I were dancing to Foghorn and not passively sitting and watching them, I would have a slightly different opinion of the bass.

Z, have you ever bowed your bass in the context of old time music?

May-06-2005, 5:16pm
Wow...a TON of great info people...thanks, and uh, carry on y'all :-)

May-06-2005, 7:21pm
Old time music has been my compass for over thirty years whether playing in bands, with friends or just listening to it.Playing alone on the porch with mandolin or fiddle is a balm that soothes. The specific definitions are well laid out but it is a broad brushstroke of great music handed down aurally over 100 years with roots and branches that reach here and there. The sum is greater than the parts, solos really don't really add much and getting in a zen state when the "groove is on" says it all. The Old Time Herald is the finest champion of the old time community and it deserves to be read (and subscribed to) by all those who need old time all the time. Doug in Vermont

May-06-2005, 9:22pm
Old Time is a genre name, invented by the black and white thinkers. It fits in there on the record racks with "Bluegrass" and "Rock" and "Country" and blah blah blah.

Stringband music, frozen in time at the dawn of the invention of recording technology, that's Old Time Music. A museum piece, dead and dusty, attracting those who lack imagination and the talent to do something new with it all.

But, of course, before the advent of recording technology, people just played. What's a genre name when your out on your back porch and the sun is setting, and you've got a jug and a fiddle and a harmonica and friends and time to kill.

I ignore rules. I play "old-time" music, fiddle tunes that are probably hundreds if not thousands of years old. I know an awful lot of them.

I play them on the mandolin. I've listened to a lot of African Drumming, and I incorporate all of those African Polyrhythms into my mandolin rhythm playing. Why? Because that's all I've got.

When my "old-time" stringband plays a contradance, the dancers don't ask if we're purists. We make their butts twitch and they beg for more. That hasn't changed for millenia. We play all of them old tunes. But we just ignore the rules, and everyone's happy.

Without recording technology, Bill Monroe would have still been Bill Monroe. He was just a stringband musician playing songs that had been around for a long time.

Old Time Music? Ignore the rule makers and play it.

jflynnstl, I always enjoy your posts. But I couldn't disagree with you more about pretty much everything related to the mandolin, and to playing "Old Time Music".

Of course, I'm also a Libertarian and an Anarchist.

John Flynn
May-06-2005, 9:50pm
jflynnstl, I always enjoy your posts. But I couldn't disagree with you more about pretty much everything related to the mandolin, and to playing "Old Time Music".
Interesting and ironic. I agree with pretty much everthing in your post and that is very close to the way I approach my old-time mando playing. Also, I consider myself a Liberterian and I get accused of being an Anarchist all the time, although I don't like that title. I am always at odds with the old-time purists in my area for espousing very similar ideas to yours. I'm not sure why you think we are that far apart, not that it would bother me if we were. I do like to get people to see both sides. Perhaps sometimes that makes it seem to you like I am taking the purist side. Anyhow, I like a good debate, so I'm happy!

May-06-2005, 10:32pm
Happy here too, Johnny. And thanks for the discussion!

John Ritchhart
May-07-2005, 3:55pm
Sorry for starting the uproar. Old time to me doesn't have such a narrow definition but then I'm not a musicologist. The child ballads and popular tunes of the American Civil war are not Old Time by this definition. This is a small, select group I see. But then, "I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member." - G. Marx

A.N. Orange
May-08-2005, 10:58pm
I'm a youngster so I write with a bit of naivete but Oldtime seems to have become a more restrictive term. Rather than being an inclusive term, I see traditional stringbands (composed of a group with a fiddle playing fiddle tunes) being labeled "oldtime" more often than other styles. This seems to be a trend as I don't think the New Lost City Ramblers were ever deemed oldtime back in their day, though I might be wrong.
And I LOVE Foghorn.

May-09-2005, 10:26am
Hey Tom, no offense taken at all. #I love good bass playing, but still see plenty of situations when the bass is not necessary. #I have only done a little bowing (probably should work on it more) on a few slow (mostly waltz time) tunes/songs. #Do you know examples of up-tempo songs recorded with bowed bass? #That would be a trip.

Do you have the 1st Foghorn cd? #I was telling Brian (bass player) I really liked the bass sound on there and he was saying the studio room was so hot that he was just barely hitting it.

Anyway, let's here more about old time!

How 'bout this:

"oldtime music, better than it sounds!"


May-09-2005, 11:32am
re: "old-time" - I can love, respect and appreciate the genre :- the historical, cultural, social..., etc. aspects - I even sometimes like to jam with/on it ; BUT, 10 fiddlers playing - note-for-note - "Sally Good'n"... for 20 minutes! - naaa..., I can't handle THAT! - of course IMHO only. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

May-09-2005, 12:35pm
Stringband music, frozen in time at the dawn of the invention of recording technology, that's Old Time Music. A museum piece, dead and dusty, attracting those who lack imagination and the talent to do something new with it all.
I have no idea where a comment like this comes from or what use it's supposed to serve in this discussion.

Anyway, I think "old time" is a term just like any other: it's useful up to a point. I guess I'm one of those "purists" who defines old time in a pretty specific way, but I understand that it really is a term that can refer to an extraordinarily diverse number of musical styles.

May-09-2005, 12:38pm
Do you know examples of up-tempo songs recorded with bowed bass?
Hey Z,

Let me dig around a bit and see what I can find. I seem to remember some tracks on the Echoes of the Ozarks CDs having bowed bass...

May-09-2005, 4:51pm
I am not sure if its old-time, okay I'm pretty sure its not, but Edgar Meyer does a ton of very fats bass work with a bow. He and David Grisman do a mando/bass duet Mando Bass Boogie (fittingly). Meyer recorded one or two albums with Bela Fleck, so up tempo stuff there as well. Then again, Edgar and Yo-Yo Ma recorded an album with someone else (don't know who)that was sort of classical meets third stream meets old-time.

May-10-2005, 1:23am
Group hug anyone? Just kidding! For listening, I'd recommend a recording by the Poplin Family from Smithsonian. Incredible stuff from S.C. Also, what about Leroy Troy? Would he be considered old-time? He's a must to see live. We hung out w/ him by the campfire all night at the Thomas Point Festival a few years ago. Great guy and he knows a ton of music. He also does a version of "Rose of Alabama" from the film, "Outlaw Josey Wales"...I gotta learn that one.

Dagger Gordon
May-10-2005, 4:04am
I've got an old record by the Fuzzy Mountain String Band called 'Summer Oaks and Porch'. The band looked like youngish people who were into old-time music; whether they were genuine traditional mountain people I wouldn't know.
Anyway, I liked (and still like) the album a lot.
What happened to them? Are any of them still active?

John Flynn
May-10-2005, 4:35am
Re: Fuzzy Mountain String Band

From what I can tell, FMSB was one of the key groups that lauched what you could call the "modern era" for old-time, back in the early 70's. This modern era was characterized by OT groups that were not necessarily "traditional mountain people," but just folks who wanted to play the music. BTW, Rounder has a CD of them in print, which is a compilation of thier first and second albums. It is excellent and in my area, it is used as THE reference for nearly every tune title on the track list.

May-10-2005, 6:37am
What happened to them? Are any of them still active?

To fill in after Johnny's comments, you can find out more at this link. (http://redclayramblers.tripod.com/fmsb.htm)

Another major influence I haven't seen anyone mention is the Highwoods String Band. One of the founders, Mac Benford, now leads the Woodshed Allstars. Got to see them a few years back and loved 'em. Here's a link (http://www.funkyside.com/macbenford/) for more info.

Also, check out the Volo Bogtrotters (http://members.tripod.com/~NailThatCatfish/volo.html).

I've had the good fortune of living near Dan Gellert (http://orphonon.utopiandesign.com/) and getting the chance to learn a bit when he plays for our dances. Take a listen to the cuts avaiable through the website. He's got incredible rhythm. Dan's take on mandolin rhythm playing is to emphasize the downbeat (ex: ONE and two and THREE and four and ONE and two and THREE and four and).

RE: New Old-Time music. Uncle Earl (http://www.uncleearl.net/) - Let their music speak to you.

Modern Tunes I love to play: Waiting for Nancy and Sadie at the Back Door.

Dagger Gordon
May-10-2005, 7:50am
Thanks for that info about the Fuzzies, guys. I really enjoyed reading their account of the bands history - indeed I found it quite moving for some reason . Must be getting old.

I must listen to it again. We had a cassette of it we used to play in the car. Tremendous driving music!


May-10-2005, 11:35am
Speaking of oldtime, or is it old-time...

Caught "The American Experience" program last night on PBS tv on The Carter Family. #It was a fun show with some great old photos (and footage) of The Carters, interviews with family members, and of course the obligatory comments from modern historians, etc. #As the show was going, one after the other I found myself saying "i do that song"..."i love that song"..."i used to play that song" etc. for almost the entire hour!

Interestingly, they had Gillian Welch (who I really like) talking about and demonstrating Maybelle's guitar playing style. #Saying how she combined chord and melody playing in what some refer to as the "Carter scratch". #But, she was playing the parts with a flatpick, and in the footage of Maybelle playing it was pretty clear that she had a thumbpick. #It seems she was getting a lot of that bass "chunk" (timing and tone) from that thumbpick that you wouldn't really get from a flatpick.

So, the show never called attention to something that might be a most important aspect in trying to describe someone's style. #Maybe since I've been tortured trying to learn to crosspick the mando lately that I am too sensitive about these things!

Anyway, check the show out if you get a chance! #I'm going to try to see it again.


May-10-2005, 2:43pm
Check out the late John Hartford's 'Hamilton Iron Works" CD.
Compton is playing the mando on most of the tracks I think, great "old-time'' fiddle tunes.

Michael H Geimer
May-10-2005, 5:41pm
I understand that thing about The Carter Scratch. I used to play with a thumbpick, and pretty much played Maybelle's way for a long long time.

I switched over to flatpicking once I took up the mandolin. But, I still play with the same Carter Scratch 'feel' ... somehwere in between a Boom-Chuck and a single-note melody.

Arrrgh! I wish I could see this thing! My local PBS station (KQED) chose not to broadcast the show last night. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Anyway, I agree that it would be nice (and accurate) if they had portrayed Maybelle using a thumbpick, but almost no one who emulates her style really uses a thumbpick. (I knew that even when I was using them myself)

May-14-2005, 5:35pm
So O.K. I'm new to this mandolin stuff compared to lots of people thou not completly ignorant of music as I played classical violin as a boy.Can someone tell me about the basic mechanics of Old Time verses Bluegrass in regard to the actual playing of the tunes?I have heard that in Old Time all the instruments play the tune at the same time together,as opposed to taking breaks as in Bluegrass,I think I would rather play Old Time if this is true as I dont personally care to stand arround and chop chords.Is Old Time music basically intrumental or are there vocals?Sorry if these are dumb questions and you guys have answered them before,I'm just trying to figuer things out.

John Flynn
May-14-2005, 6:27pm

Most old-time tunes are fiddle tunes, with an "A" part and a "B" part that each repeat twice in a pattern of AABB, over and over again. There are many exceptions, but that is the basic pattern. In old time, everyone plays together, there are no "solo breaks," as in bluegrass. The fiddle generally carries the tune. The guitar generally carries the rhythm. The mando can have a great time, because it is generally free to play melody, harmony, counter-melody, rhythm, counter-ryhthm, percussion, etc, depending on the group and the talent of the mando player. Chop chords are only used as occasional "special effects. When mandos play rhythm, they more commonly play open chords, emphasizing the bass notes. There is singing in old-time, but not on every tune, and not all the way through even the tunes that there is singing on. There is more emphasis on communal singing, rather than intricate harmonies like there is in bluegrass. MHO of the key difference in the two genres, is that old-time is more of a "communal" experience of musicians relating to each other, whereas bluegrass is more of a "performance," even at a jam.

Because the mando isn't "locked in" to any role in old-time, it is a very "welcoming" genre for a newcomer, because you make whatever contribution to the music you can make, but no one is depending on you for a critical role. But at the advanced end, you have all those options I mentioned to experiment with to "spice up" the tune. Bluegrass is fine, but old-time mando is my passion.

May-15-2005, 9:20am
Thanks very much for that description Mando Johnny,it was just what I was looking for,does the banjo have any specific tasks or are they pretty much free to do what the mando does?I have a friend who plays banjo who says he hates Old Time music but when he describes how he and his banjo picking friends play it sounds like the format you described for Old Time.....he says its Bluegrass.Just wondering.Thanks again for your help.

John Flynn
May-15-2005, 9:36am

There is no question that the lines get blurred sometimes and it actually varies in different parts of the country. I don't want to get a debate started here, but my observation is that in some places, the bluegrass people are the purists, and everything that does not fit thier rules is either "old-time" on the conservative side, or "country" on the progresssive side. Other places, the old-time folks tend to be the purists, and any deviation from thier rules is "bluegrass" or just "wrong." I try to stay out of that and just have fun playing, no matter what you call it.

As to the banjo, in my area, which has a verey active old-time scene, banjos are all open-back and played clawhammer style. The best players do not use picks of any kind. It is OK for a beginner to use one plastic guitar fingerpick that has been filed down, worn backwards on the middle finger, until that beginner can start to get good volume using only the top of the middle fingerenail. The top banjo players play what I can only describe as a "bare bones version of the melody, played in a very rhythmic fashsion." Clawhammer instructors correct students when they try to play embellishments of the melody at the expense of the percussive rhythm. Players may even intentionally leave melody notes out if it facilitates better percussive rhythm. It is not OK to do full strums. Fingerpicking rolls are generally only acceptable in a waltz.

May-17-2005, 10:46am
Oldtime music is...


Ha, that one is silly.