View Full Version : More on oldtime mando tunes

Oct-16-2004, 6:20pm
I was happy to see the earlier post on old-time tunelists for mandolin players interested in old-time - enough to start a fresh post now that the old one's trail is cool.

Thanks for the download link, Mando Johnny, and I'd like to see more conversations about old-time and how mandolin seems to fit in.

Old-time fiddle and stringband groups and associations are sometimes hard to find without some word-of-mouth help. Try doing web searches for old time groups and societies in your area though, and you may come up with something, or asking around at other jams.

Another tip, if you are looking for old-time musicians to play with, is try to find any local or regional contradance organizations. The musicians who participate with and play for the dance groups often are part of the old time stringband clubs or enthusiasts. I moved here to Nashville a couple years ago, and even though I searched before and after getting here, I didn't come across the oldtime musician gatherings until I asked for directions among the contradance society. But some societies have websites including tunelists and simple chordcharts for the popular tunes, as well as information about local jams.

The musical archives, recordings, tunes, and knowledge in the oldtime fiddle genre(s) is simply vast, and only a tiny corner of it pokes its way into bluegrass and other styles. Your head will spin, but it is exciting. My eyes have really been opened by some of the fiddlers I now play with, to the abundance of young and old musicians and recordings of countless fiddle tunes, among which are the familar standards, but the material is almost endless. As others mentioned earlier, bluegrass is often a dirty word among older old-time musicians - sometimes in jest, and sometimes for real. Our local old-time association has a number of mandolinists, many are multiinstrumentalists, and the mandolin picking style basically copies, or tries to, the fiddle melody. It is, as doanepoole says, a fiddle-centric style, though the oldtime banjo is the other pillar. Many of the tune "versions" I knew tend to be a lot notier and busier than what many fiddlers play in a group, so you have to adjust. "Different" versions are not always regarded with interest!

Many times a mando player will learn a solo and a variation, and then they're ready to move on to another tune. Oldtime playing is all about merging, not about standing out, and of course there are no "breaks" in a "real" oldtime jam - everyone plays together, sometimes for many, many repetitions of a tune. This can sometimes become boring, or sometimes the groove captures you and you wish it wouldn't end. But it is a great setting to learn both familiar and many new melodies, and really let a tune sink in.

"Old time music - It's better than it sounds!"

John Flynn
Oct-16-2004, 7:30pm
Thanks for your perspective, Jeff. I agree with every point.

I think the mandolin has a lot of potential in old-time because of its versatility. It can move from rhythm to melody and back again seamlessly. It can even do both at the same time. It can be percussive like a banjo or, with tremelo, smooth like a fiddle. Event though it is a relative newcomer to old-time, and not all that common in the genre, I think it may be the ultimate old-time instrument.

I don't like the concept of "who's the best" so I won't go there. I will say that Curtis Buckhannon is my all-time favorite old-time mando player. I think he expands the horizon of what old-time can contribute to the wide world of music and what a mando can contribute to old-time.

Oct-16-2004, 10:18pm
Mando Johnny,

Your summary on the differences between bluegrass and oldtime has surely been echoed in many a jam-etiquette handout sheet and old-time group newsletter. It has here; there are of course a number of players who enjoy both styles and work to keep an amicable peace, just as there are staunch old-time players who think that a "G" chord in "Old Joe Clark" is reason to stop a jam, or that "St Anne's Reel" is a not too bad - for a Celtic tune.

I agree about the mandolin's versatility and potential to add to the standard old-time formula. This is in part because the fiddle and banjo roles are traditional, well-defined and seldom varied. Most OT fiddlers work on melody renditions and are don't use backing and accompanying techniques. You see this all the time; really fine fiddlers who don't play at all if they don't "know" a tune. Fiddle tune playing on mando is great fun and great practice, but at the same time, playing something through 10 times exactly the same way is not always very interesting. Although the list of tunes I've memorized is modest, it is not too difficult to quickly get the gist of, and find ways to accompany and color tunes by either mixing melody and rhythm, finding a harmony, or some other less formulaic thing. I have to do this even on tunes I "know" just for variation.

It is an interesting thing that because it is not a "principle" instrument, the mando seems better suited and more permitted to do such things, and if it done with the group and complements the tune, often gets a complimentary reaction. What I wish is that there was more natural mixing and overlap between the two playing approaches - meaning OT and "bluegrass", rote playing vs. improvising, playing all together vs. trading off. Because it seems perfectly natural to me.

I'll make a point to look up the players and CDs you mentioned:

[""Little River Stomp" by the Buckhannon Brothers
"Laugh and Grow Fat" by the Ill-Mo Boys
"Good Old Time Mandolin Music" by Clyde Curley and the Oxymorons
Kenny Hall and Sweets Mill String Band"].

In addition to Norman Blake, Tim O'Brien, Peter Ostrouchko and other "modern" players who play old-time tunes, I have recently been turned on to a couple of fiddle players I particularly like as role-models to listen to and work on new tunes. A couple of favorites:

Rayna Gellert ("Ways of the World")
Rhys Jones, Jeff Miller & Jim Nelson (All I've Got's Done Gone).

Oct-16-2004, 10:29pm
If you like Rayna Gellert's stuff, check out her Dad's material at DanGellert.com. (http://dangellert.com). Dan's phenomenal on fiddle and banjo. Yes, banjo. Makes that thing sing like nothing else. Lots of good stuff on his CD. Absolutely no mando content, but lots of inspiring material.



Oct-17-2004, 7:09am
Just to add to the chorus, I think the ryhtmic possibilities are really open for mandolin in the Old Time genre. Here are some ideas, certainly not original, that I have had fun with:

1 - If you know a good OT fiddle player, dump the melody and make your mandolin play the role of a rythm guitar. I learned alot about escaping the BG "chop-chop" pattern by emulating good OT-style rthym guitar bass-runs on the mando.

2 - When playing rythm, throw in some crosspicking. It fits right in with the melody and the clawhammer groove, even if your just cross-picking over chords, so long as your timing is good.

3 - If your going to harmonize, and your playing with an old timer, age wise, its probably best to ask first. Some of the old timers don't like "new stuff". But I like the sound of fiddle/mando harmonies in OT.

4 - I know I kiss Norman Blake's behind alot on this board, but listen to his rythm playing. There is a wealth of ideas there. Those rythm on those mando duets in "Meeting on Southern Soil" is a great example of what I'm talking about.

John Flynn
Oct-17-2004, 7:46am
Rhys Jones, Jeff Miller & Jim Nelson

Glad to hear you mention them. You may be interested to know that trio has a new CD, "Mississippi Square Dance," which is more of the same great stuff. Even though Jeff Miller just plays banjo on the first CD, he is also a fine mando player and teacher and plays it some on the new CD. If you like that kind of OT music, check out all the stuff at http://www.vigortonerecords.com, (http://www.vigortonerecords.com) including the link at the bottom right on the homepage entitled "Other great music." That site has some of the best CDs from the Missouri/Southern Illinois music scene.

Oct-17-2004, 1:02pm
This discussion got me enthused enough to log on to CountySales.com last night an order a bunch of CDs I've been wanting! Including the Foghorn Stringband, Reeltime Travelers, Dirk Powell, and Freight Hoppers. None of which is mandocentric at all, but for listening and getting inspired to learn some more tunes. Thanks for the vigortone link - I had never heard of that one. The neverending discovery continues. I know and play with a couple fiddlers here who concentrate on tunes from the Appalachian style and heritage, but one of them also gave me the Rhys Jones recording (from the Chicago scene?). I like the 3-man ensembles on the CDs I mentioned - Rayna Gellert and Rhys Jones, where you can really hear what the single guitar and banjo are doing, too, as well as the solo fiddle. I'll have to wait for the next purchase to pick up some of the other CDs people have suggested.

Re: blending with and complementing the fiddle(s), I really gravitate to the smaller splinter jams with maybe one fiddler, one guitar, and one banjo, where you can listen and hear the others better, as well as yourself. The suggestions for rhythmic variation and addition, as well as courtesy are well-made, and I can get behind the Norman's-behind bandwagon as a good example. I'm still looking for anyone around here (Middle TN) who has ever played or heard of that tune "Muddy Creek" that he and Ostrouchko do on "Southern Soil". I immediately learned it, but still have no one to play it with. Not to change the thread, but have you heard the quote he apparently made a workshop segment he taught; several other fast and fiery pickers taught earlier segments. When Blake began, he started by saying to the participants, "I'm here to teach you how to play slow". I'm listening, Norman.

"Listen louder, play softer"

Oct-17-2004, 6:20pm
I'm just back home from Old Time Music Camp North and the mando is alive and well in OT around here. There's plenty of fiddlers, planty of banjo players and a shortage of OT mando pickers, so plenty of opportunity to play. Skip Gorman was there- did a lot of Bill Monroe- Pre-bluegrass stuff, not a chop chord to be found- also Mike Seeger, Carl Jones, and John Rossbach all played mighty fine OT style stuff in jams on all nights. It was oval hole heaven, and lots of fun.