Week #438 ~ Black Eyed Susie

  1. Barbara Shultz
    Barbara Shultz
    We had quite a bit of interest this week in the poll, it was a three way tie until just recently, so I'm declaring the winner to be Black Eyed Susie, which was submitted as an Old Time tune in the key of D. It appears to also be a Bluegrass tune, and is also played in other keys! I am not certain that all the links I am finding are for the same tune! Apparently, there is an endless variation of lyrics! It appears to have it's roots in the British Isles.

    This appears to be the fiddle TAB for the same tune that I found the video for.

    This, too, seems to be the same tune... Mandolin Tab and standard notation, but for the key of G it seems

    Here's an archived discussion in fiddlehangout, with a video, of a slightly different Black Eyed Susie in A, played on a fiddle...

    Here's a link to a page on Old Time Frederick, with links and a couple of videos, and some lyrics.

    Here's a link to notation in D, with some lyrics

    Here's a link to some notation on Traditional Tune Archive

    I also found this at that site:

    Back to Black Eyed Susie (1)

    BLACK EYED SUSIE [1]. AKA and see variant "Hop Up Kitty Puss (1)" (northeast Ky.), "Kitty Puss," "Possum Up a Simmon Tree (1)," "Puncheon Camp," "Puncheon Camps." Old-Time, Breakdown. USA; southwestern Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska, Kentucky. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Christeson, Krassen/1983, Silberberg): AABB (Brody, Krassen /1973): AA'BB' (Phillips). "One of the most popular breakdown tunes," note the New Lost City Ramblers (1964), widespread throughout the South and Southwest.

    Bayard (1981) traces the history of the tune, beginning in the British Isles with a melody called "Rosasolis," set by Giles Farnaby (c. 1560c.1600), which appears in the the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Another version of the melody is called "Morris Off" and appears in Jehan Tabourot's Orchesographie (1588); it is still used for English morris dances and has been called the earliest recorded morris tune. Still another version appears as a Welsh harp tune, "Alawon Fy Ngwlad." Later developments of the tune were popular in England and Scotland from the early 17th century through the 18th, under the title "Three Jolly Sheep Skins (1);" while in Ireland a variation became known as "Aillilliu mo Mhailin" (Alas My Little Bag) {a humorous lament for a stolen bag of sundries}.

    Transported to the United States from various overseas sources the melody developed into an old-time standard, "Black Eyed Susie," well-known throughout the South and Midwest. It was mentioned in reports from 192631 of the De Kalb County, northeast Alabama, Annual (Fiddler's) Convention, and at a 1929 Grove Hill, southwest Alabama, contest (Cauthen, 1990). It appears in the lists of tunes played at the 1924 Berea, Kentucky, fiddle contest, and in tune lists dating from 1915 from Berea fiddlers. Musicologist Vance Randolph collected and recorded the breakdown in the early 1940's for the Library of Congress from Ozark Mountains fiddlers, and it was similarly waxed in 1939 from the playing of Tishomingo County, Mississippi, fiddler John Hatcher for the same institution.

    If you have a copy of Brody's Fiddler's Fakebook, it's in there.

    same band, but on stage instead of the bathroom!

    Oh my goodness, Ricky Skaggs (and his whole band!) can play fast!

    Girl power!

  2. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Here's a really fine old time version from the New Lost City Ramblers.

  3. Kay Kirkpatrick
    Kay Kirkpatrick
    I was not familiar with this song, like it, voted for it, and am disappointed no one has posted yet. Of course I didn't post, either. Maybe because it is more often performed with singing and folks here are shy? I know Michael Pastucha can sing... Michael, are you going to work this up?
  4. JL277z
    Kay Kirkpatrick wrote: "I was not familiar with this song, like it, voted for it, and am disappointed no one has posted yet. Of course I didn't post, either. Maybe because it is more often performed with singing and folks here are shy? ..."

    Ok you've nudged me into giving this tune a try. Give me a couple days to see what I can do with it. My version won't be as good as Michael's but hey I gotta work with what I have. Lol.

    Will have to re-learn it from scratch, when I was a kid I played it on banjo but that was like back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I'd forgotten the tune even existed until seeing it here.

    And no I won't sing. You do not want to hear me sing solo, it might break the entire internet!

    So... I second Kay's gentle nudges to all of us to try this tune... looking forward to hearing everyone else's versions as well.
  5. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Hello, Kay. Yes, I am working on it as I don't actually know this one. Will post it as soon as it's presentable...
  6. JL277z
    Here's my try, key of D. Unplugged - no effects - both instruments recorded with Zoom H2n recorder. Mandolin is playing a very basic stripped-down version of the melody, maybe about half the usual notes (it's the only way I can keep up with the banjo). Mandolin is tuned ADAE - bass string raised up 2 frets to A instead of the usual G. One predictable side effect of using a microphone instead of a pickup, is that the recording captured our fridge running, dishes being washed nearby, the furnace running (yeah we got a furnace now, woohoo! the only wood heat now is out in the shop), etc. Anyway, here's the video:

    (or direct link)


    Banjo: "R.W. Jameson" entry-level model, still on loan to me from a kind soul who apparently thinks I should be playing more banjo. It originally had a resonator, but the owner removed the resonator to use it as an open-back banjo. Paper towels stuffed inside the rim to take the edge off the tone a little. The Zoom H2n and its built-in mic was placed so that it was getting sound mostly from the side and open back area of the banjo, instead of the front, I thought maybe there would be less hand-thumps and string noise that way.

    Mandolin: Rogue RM-100A. The $50 price of the thing is more noticeable when recorded with a mic, the treble is quite thin. The lower octave is more tolerable though. I like it a lot better when using my usual pickup and amplifier, but I thought I'd give the acoustic-only thing another go here for a little while.
  7. Michael Pastucha
    Michael Pastucha
    Very nicely played JL277z. Love the banjo especially the drop thumbs that you put in! (I never mastered that technique, instead I use pulloffs or hammers to get the same notes.) Your mandolin does a great job of playing the melody along with the banjo. Sometimes less is more. Just noticed the banjo tuning, I was trying to figure out which banjo tuning to use last night and I think I'll try the one you used.

    I liked the background noises in your video. If you listen closely to mine you'll often hear the birds outside my window fighting over the birdseed in the bird feeder. Thanks!
  8. Bertram Henze
    Bertram Henze
    Wha... What? Where am I? Oh - it's the Cafe. Just awoke from hypnotic stasis after JL277z's rendition suddenly and unexpectedly ended. And I am sure this is just another version of "I'll Tell Me Ma", at least I heard it all the time lurking between my ears - am I really the only one who hears that? I am quite sure it was not a household appliance singing it.
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Very nice, JL277z!
  10. JL277z
    Michael, thanks! You probably already know, the trick to drop-thumb banjo is to have your thumb land on the string and sit there for a bit *before* the string is actually plucked when the hand moves back up. There isn't enough time between notes to make a regular guitar-style pluck without getting tangled up in the strings. I had a real hard time learning that at first, years ago, in fact my teacher (my dad) could barely do drop thumb at all (his style was maybe a little more like frailing with more brush strokes, rather than single-note clawhammer) but he understood how the technique was supposed to work even though he couldn't apply it very well. If it hadn't been for him, I probably would not have kept at it long enough to figure it out. But once one gets the hang of it, it's kinda like riding a bicycle lol. I like it for the syncopation (or whatever the term is) rhythmic effect. But as you said, hammers and pulls can be used instead of drop thumb. And the tuning, yeah, it's one of my favorites, just regular ol' "2C tuning" capo'd up two frets to D.

    Bertram, lol yeah oldtime fiddle tunes can be almost trance-inducing in their repetitiveness, I like to just zone out on them, time flies. Interesting also about the "I'll Tell Me Ma" connection, I wasn't familiar with that tune but I looked it up on YouTube and the high part *does* sound similar to this tune. When I first started on this tune I kept having to resist temptation to stray off into another tune that has a somewhat similar A-G-F# thing in the high part (Molly Put The Kettle On), at first it was hard to stay on the right tune!

    Mark, thanks!
  11. Kay Kirkpatrick
    Kay Kirkpatrick
    Nice one, JL277; along with the fine picking I really enjoyed the visual of your mando in the video while you played banjo. Just kind of cool. I also enjoyed the short audio of your dad playing along, you are fortunate to have that.

    I'm looking forward to yours, Michael P.
  12. JL277z
    Thanks, Kay!

    Kay wrote: "... enjoyed the visual of your mando in the video while you played banjo. ... "

    Ah it finally dawned on me that you meant the mandolin in upper right background behind the banjo neck. Yeah lately the mando usually sits on the table behind me as shown in the video, on a sort of makeshift perch of misc stuff that I probably should sort through someday. I like to have instruments within arms' reach, otherwise I'd procrastinate and not play them often enough to remember anything. The other three instruments (banjo, "half-size" classical guitar, and electric guitar) ordinarily sit to the side of my computer chair.

    "... I also enjoyed the short audio of your dad playing along, you are fortunate to have that. ..."

    That "Johnson Boys" clip with mandola and banjo, is one of the few clips of our playing that I have left. Used to have numerous reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, but most were destroyed in a storm, along with some fine instruments.

    "... I'm looking forward to yours, Michael P."

    Same here.

    And everyone else's versions as well.

    I always enjoy hearing different interpretations that people bring to their music, depending on their own backgrounds and such. My interpretation was banjo-centric because that used to be one of my best instruments for a while decades ago, but it would be good to hear some other types of arrangements.

    Doesn't matter if versions are trad or fusion or rock-n-roll or what, always good to hear different takes on things.
  13. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    Wow, JL277z - that rocked!
  14. JL277z
    Thanks, Jill!
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