View Full Version : "Must Know" Old Time Tunes

John Flynn
May-18-2004, 10:54am
There are so many tunes in OT, it's impossible to know them all. I sometimes jam with a great fiddler who has a reputation of knowing "more tunes than anyone." He says he stopped keeping a list at 1,000. But I still sometimes call a tune he doesn't know and I am a relative beginner compared to him. On the other hand, there are tunes that seem to come up time and time again in jams, tunes that good players are kind of expected to know. My goal for the Summer is to make sure my OT tune list (Which just broke 100, but who's counting? LOL!) has all the "must know" tunes on it. These are the tunes that if they get called at an OT jam, anywhere, most people are going to know them.

My nominations are:
Soldier's Joy
Arkansas Traveler
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Cluck Old Hen
Shortnin' Bread
June Apple
Old Joe Clark
Stay All Night (aka "Waterbound")
Angeline the Baker
Eighth of January
Julianne Johnson
Old Molly Hare
Shady Grove

Please post with recommended "must know" additions to the list. Also, if you think something on my list is not a universal "must know" tune, I'd be interested in that also.

Michael H Geimer
May-18-2004, 11:04am
I'm very interested in watching how this list grows, as I really need to pull from it, rather than add to it. But, I think I see one possible addition.

Cripple Creek

- Benig

May-18-2004, 11:06am
Dick Staber did a nice record years ago called "Pickin' Round The Cookstove", all OT classics, I'll check tonight and post the titles, one I remember is "Bunch of Keys".

May-18-2004, 7:22pm
Here's the list of essential OT tunes from the co-mando website:

Soldier's Joy D
Liberty D
Forked Deer D
Angeline the Baker D
Arkansas Traveler D
Bile the Cabbage Down A
Cripple Creek A
Dusty Miller A
Leather Britches G
Bill Cheatham A
Wildwood Flower C
Will the Circle Be Unbroken G
Wayfaring Stranger Am

The old time clawhammer banjo website has an extensive list of recommended tunes broken down by key:


May-19-2004, 1:04am
Sally goodin' would count I think

May-19-2004, 9:27am
I think alot of "must know" tunes are a matter of the regional repetoire, but a couplde more I find to be universal (even BGers pick em) are:

Forked Deer
Kitchen Girl
June Apple
Fire on the Mountain
Cotton Eyed Joe

May-19-2004, 9:27am
oh yeah, and Sally Ann...but I hate that tune.

May-19-2004, 9:32am

Over the Waterfall
Cuckoo's Nest
The Cuckoo
John Brown's Dream
Barlowe Knife

Barlowe Knife has got to be one of my favorite tunes to play.

May-19-2004, 9:33am
Sorry...they keep poppin in my head.

The Boatsman is another one of my favorites, maybe not as widely known, thought. It's got a cool 4-1, 4-1 B part that puts the shivers down my spine every time.

John Flynn
May-19-2004, 3:38pm
oh yeah, and Sally Ann...but I hate that tune.
Just out of curiousity, are you talking about the one in A, with some minor chords in it, or the one in D that has all major chords and has little transitional part between the A and B parts? For reference, they are both on AllTabs, the first one being attributed to Mark O'Connor and the second being listed just as "Trad."

I agree with you on the first one. My band does a rendition of the second version, though, that really rocks. I wonder which one is more in the "must know" category?

May-19-2004, 4:02pm
I'm talkin about the D one with the lyrics "I'm goin home with Sally Ann, I'm goin home with Sally Ann".

EVERYONE around here plays that one and I am burned out on it. I can remember liking it but repetition has turned me off to this tune.

Never heard the Mark O'Connor tune. I respect his amazing talent, but I've never been a big fan.

John Flynn
May-19-2004, 4:18pm
I didn't even know Sally Ann had lyrics! LOL! Seriously, I figure most OT tunes at least used to have lyrics, but we don't use them on Sally Ann. An observation I have made is that there a lot of great OT tunes with really bad lyrics. Another example, and another tune that should be added to the "must know" list, is "Cumberland Gap." Clyde Curley and the Oxymorons do a great instrumental version of it, but the lyrics drive me nuts:

"Lay down, boys take a little nap,
Lay down, boys take a little nap,
Lay down, boys take a little nap,
Fourteen miles to the Cumberland Gap."

Arghhhhhhhh! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mad.gif

May-19-2004, 6:34pm

A quick search of the internet revealed that there are many songs called Sally Ann (10,000 Maniacs and Rufus Wainwright gave the most returns).

This page suggests this is one of those OT tunes with a million verses, like Old Joe Clark: http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=13719

Here is a link to a CD that has the lyrics, in case you're dying to hear them. Unfortunately, Sally Ann isn't one of the sample tracks, but its on the CD paired with Quince Dillions High D in medley (which is probably another "must know" old time tune, at least around these parts): http://www.fiddletunes.com/pages/cd5.htm

No financial interest, only providing this in case you wanted to hear the lyrics in context...but it is a good OT CD.

May-19-2004, 6:39pm
Definitely folks around here sing the Cumberland Gap...I've also been surprised to hear lyrics to Red-Haired Boy (actually as Little Beggerman), Devil's Dream, June Apple (those are cool lyrics...I first heard John Holt sing them while playing the tune with Doc Watson), Fire on the Mountain, Barlowe Knife (again, cool lyrics IMO), and Angeline the Baker.

Anyhow those are some tunes I learned as fiddle tunes then later found out had lyrics. Hard to tell if some of these lyrics were made up somewhere along the way, or whatever.

May-20-2004, 11:34am
Some other widely-known and widely-played old time tunes include:

Dry and Dusty
Little Rabbit
Give The Fiddler A Dram
Nancy Rowland
Betsy Likens
Mississippi Sawyer
Wild Horse At Stony Point (Also known as The Pigtown Fling)
Double File
Growling Old Man, Growling Old Woman
Too Young To Marry (Also known as Lead Out, and Soapsuds Over The Picket Fence)
Sail Away, Ladies

Sail Away, Ladies is also sometimes known as Sally Ann. #Fiddler Bruce Molsky plays an interesting fingerpick guitar version of Sail Away, Ladies on his record, Lost Boy, and sings the words along with it. #The Fuzzy Mountain String Band recorded a nice version of Sally Ann on one of their two albums, and it can still be found on their CD compilation. #You can also hear echoes of Sally Ann in Dylan's early 60s "Sally Gal" from The Kindest Cut, his "Blind Boy Grunt" recording. #

A few fine Midwestern string band/fiddle tunes, from R.P. Christeson's Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory, include:

Lantern In The Ditch
The Spotted Pony
The Hollow Poplar
Jimmy In The Swamp
Bull Run Picnic
Steamboat Round The Bend
The Missouri Mud
The Oyster Girl

The "bad lyrics" you refer to, I believe, were never intended as anything more than "nonsense" lyrics, and came out of the "play-party" dance tradition.

Bobbie Dier
May-20-2004, 12:35pm
Camp Chase
Shelvin Rock
Sugar Hill
Rocky Pallet
East Tenn. Fox Chase
Devil Chased Me Around a Stump
Turkey in the straw (haw haw haw)
Sandy Boys
Cowboys Dream
Little Billy Wilson

My friend has a T shirt with a bunch of tunes printed on it. When we run out of tunes we just look at his shirt. I was thinking about painting a metal picking fold up chair with a bunch ot tune names too. (his shirt may get funky after a few days at a festival)

Bobbie Dier
May-20-2004, 12:44pm
More for the chair

John Brown's Dream
Rock That Cradle Joe
Waiting on Nancy
Hangmans Reel

May-20-2004, 7:05pm
Fuzzy mountain string band does that one:
"Wild Hog in the Woods" one of my favorites to play.
Honorable mention (not yet listed)
who broke the lock on the hen house door
pretty little miss
way down the old plank road
Drowsy Maggie
John Henry

a million more but that's all that coming to mind...

John Flynn
May-24-2004, 2:19pm
I took all the tunes nominated, including the ones from lists linked to on the web. I eliminated the duplicates and put them all in alphabetical order in a word file, which is attached, in case anyone finds it useful. I think it is interesting that the list contains 116 tunes! I hope we are not implying that one "must know" that many to particpate in and OT jam, or I am in big trouble!

This list was very useful for me, though, so thanks everyone. I winnowed the list down to tunes that I have heard actually called at jams and combined it with my home-grown list of local "must know" tunes. Then I eliminated the ones I already knew and wound up with a list of tunes I need to get to work on. I hope others find the list useful in a similar way.

May-24-2004, 9:56pm
thanks for the list, you don't need to know all of them, or most of them for that matter. First of all they are usually real easy, and second, you can always chop along.

Pretty Little Dog.
I love that song, blast to play. Modual (SP?) tunings are awesome on oldtime. real creepy sounding.

Jun-12-2004, 11:00am
I've been away for awhile, so I'm MUCH too late to add to the list, but I'm surprised that "St. Anne's Reel" didn't get nominated.