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Thread: Fiddle Tunes with History?

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    Registered User Miltown's Avatar
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    Default Fiddle Tunes with History?

    I was playing "Eighth of January" the other day (probably on Jan. 8), and it got me thinking: what other fiddle tunes were borne from a very clear historical context, like "Eighth of January" was from the end of the War of 1812?

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Valley Forge, The 28th of January, Year of Jubilo, Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine, Santa Anna's retreat, John Brown's March, Booth Shot Lincoln to name a few.
    Last edited by Charles E.; Jan-25-2019 at 3:29pm.
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    It is my understanding that Soldiers Joy was in reference to morphine from the Civil War. Although fairly recent Jay Unger wrote Ashokan Farwell when he and his wife were closing the Ashokan camp at the end of the summer. I think he found it a little sad when they were closing the camp.

    It would be great if there was a small book or website that went into that topic. I would find it very interesting. Most of the old songs had a meaning unlike a lot of popular music for the past few decades.

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Interesting story behind "Santa Anna's Retreat".......


    Charley

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    Spencer Sorenson Spencer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Quote Originally Posted by Northwest Steve View Post
    It is my understanding that Soldiers Joy was in reference to morphine from the Civil War.
    According to Wikipedia, the tune has been played in Scotland for over 200 years, and they name a reference in the US from 1760, so it is apparently older than the US Civil War. I have heard somewhere, that it was also named "Kings Head" and had something to do with coins and soldier's pay (joy?). In 1977, I played it for a relative here in Denmark, who said "oh, that's a Danish tune". Who knows?? But I still love to play it.

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Charley, thanks for that video on Santa Ana's Retreat. I know Norman plays it--I always wondered about the title.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Here is another little known fact about Santa Anna, he brought modern chewing gum to America......

    https://historybecauseitshere.weebly...ewing-gum.html

    perhaps being responsible for this popular Charlie Poole song, "Sweet Sixteen"......

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByHMyKiUKWE
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    There are tons in the Irish/Scottish trad repertoire, as you'd expect. Many of them very old, and many originally with lyrics. Of the ones I've played, off the top of my head:

    After the Battle of Aughrim
    Skye Boat Song (escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie)
    Brian Boru’s March (King of Ireland)
    Hector the Hero (tribute to Major-General Hector MacDonald, post suicide)

    Probably more that I'm forgetting, and many many more that I've never run across. It's a deep well of "fiddle" tunes with historical references.
    Last edited by foldedpath; Jan-25-2019 at 11:47pm.

  16. #9

    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    To match Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine there is Bonaparte's Retreat.
    And though there is some question about it, some people say Cold frosty Morning is in memory of the Battle of Culloden Moor in Scotland.

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    We have a very talented Fiddle player at our local jam who has been playing Scottish folk music and fiddle tunes for a very very long time and he also likes to talk about the history of many of them that go back beyond account. One particular group of songs he refers to who's origins are unknown are frequently attributed to being written by goblins... I'm sorry I can't remember any of the specifics, but it was very interesting stuff.
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    As a folklorist (PhD), I have to say, be skeptical of stories of origin of tunes, sayings, and other oral lore. These stories are often told authoritatively, then passed on by others who also tell them authoritatively, becoming their own form of folklore, i.e., "legends of origins". There is often no proof whatsoever of these tales. As my brother, a professional musician said: many of these stories are "stage patter" to musicians, used to entertain audiences while re-tuning or getting a rest between tunes. Few musicians are researchers who've made a serious search for the truth of these tales. All of us have passed on legends (stories told as true), such as what Soldier's Joy refers to, or the origins of Ring Around The Rosie (sorry folks, that one's just speculation) without really having any idea.

    One other comment: it's often best to think of a great many traditional songs and tunes as being "made" not written or composed, as a great many musicians were musically illiterate, and perhaps illiterate as well. This includes the goblins and such (see post 10 above), who weren't blessed with human arts, such as writing (see my education wasn't wasted).

    Many tunes have clearly historical titles though. Many are named after nobles or famous people, including a whole series named after prime ministers of Canada, as well as President Garfield's Hornpipe. Allowing for the fact that many of these tunes may have differing titles, here's a few historical names -- and I'm just scratching the surface after browsing two of my many tune books:

    King George IV;
    George V's Army;
    Swaggering Boney (Napoleon);
    Madame Bonaparte (Mrs. Nap);
    Bonaparte Crossing The Alps;
    Turpin Hero (Dick Turpin, English highwayman & outlaw-hero);
    Johnny Cope (Scots satirical song on English general, who never made it to the battle)
    Stool of Repentance (place of public punishment in Scottish kirk);
    Cam' Ye Ower frae France (Jacobite song, satirizing George V);
    The Burning of The Piper's Hut (vengance by Loyalist armies in Scotland after failure of 1746 rebellion);
    Jennie's Welcome to Charlie ("Bonnie Prince Charlie", 1746 rebellion)
    Waterloo Hornpipe (Battle of Waterloo);
    The Rights of Man (English political tract by Thomas Paine, important to American Revolution);
    Off To California (Irish emigration)
    Casey Jones (song about a real train accident)
    Constitution Breakdown (Lee Cremo's tongue-in cheek reference to troubles creating the Canadian Constitution);
    The Miramachi Fire (song about fire in New Brunswick, Canada);
    Marching Through Georgia (US Civil War);
    The 12th of July (Battle of The Boyne);
    and a number of tunes related to American slavery days, with offensive titles that I won't repeat here.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Ranald, does that mean that Napoleon Bonaparte never crossed the Rocky Mts?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLuf0Qv50EQ
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    I have nothing to add. I mainly play fiddle tunes and have found this subject very interesting. Hopefully it will continue. Thanks to all.
    Thanks

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    I can't remember where I heard it on a recording (but I know I did!) when an Old Timer was interviewed about the origins of "Bonaparte Crossing the Rockies." When pressed with the information that Bonaparte never crossed the Rockies, he replied "Some historians differ!"
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    To tell the truth, Charlie, I'm not sure that he even crossed the Alps. He did cross the Rhine though!

    Love the old timer's comment (post 14): "Some historians differ!"
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Well, if those stories about them tunes ain't true facts, they ought to be. So there.

    I enjoy digging into the story behind the tunes I like to play. And I also plead guilty to perpetuating legends with little or no research backing me up. Everybody knows Joe Clark did indeed exist. It's just a matter of identifying which one.

    Those who quote me as an authority do so at their own risk.

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Leaving aside fiddle tunes, let me recommend the recent book Hear My Sad Story by Cornell prof Richard Polenberg (NYTimes review]. It gives the historical background of a variety of folk songs, from Tom Dooley to Frankie & Johnnie, Railroad Bill, Poor Ellen Smith etc.

    Interesting to learn that there really was a "Railroad Bill," plus lots of other little tidbits and insights.
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    I think it is safe to say that almost every fiddle tune has a story or some history attached to it. Some tunes like Durang's Hornpipe or Fisher's Hornpipe were commissioned by dancers bearing those names. Fiddler Magazine did a survey of fiddle tunes and Soldiers Joy was the most played around the world. There lots of lyrics attached to that tune as well.

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    To tell the truth, Charlie, I'm not sure that he even crossed the Alps. He did cross the Rhine though!

    Love the old timer's comment (post 14): "Some historians differ!"
    In the spring of 1800, Napoleon's forces trekked through the Alps by way of the Great St. Bernard Pass for a surprise attack on Austrian armies in what is now northern Italy.

    Napoleon did not actually lead his men across the Alps. He followed a few days after, and not on a galloping horse, but on a mule better suited to the narrow path cut by his troops.
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    The stories and legends themselves are subjects of interest, to those who are entertained by them and to those who study them in some depth (like folklorists and historians). This is true, regardless of any historical accuracy. But the most interesting of all to me, are the tales that can be traced to historical events (like the ballad(s) that memorialize the Tom Dula love triangle and murder of Ann Melton). Court records and newspaper accounts of the Tom Dula affair are interesting, but no more interesting than the folk tales and sometimes questionable oral histories of the affair.

    So may performers continue to recite (and sometimes embellish) the tales behind the tunes. It's who we are.
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    A wonderful example (though not a "fiddle tune") is The Maid Freed From The Gallows https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ma...om_the_Gallows

    A fun time can be had by digesting that wikipedia article, followed by searching out the lyrics of the many, many different versions.
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Some interesting traditional Irish tune history revealed in this clip from the one and only Arty:



    https://youtu.be/9dX3HvRHHXI

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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Quote Originally Posted by Miltown View Post
    I was playing "Eighth of January" the other day (probably on Jan. 8), and it got me thinking: what other fiddle tunes were borne from a very clear historical context, like "Eighth of January" was from the end of the War of 1812?
    I'm partial to that tune because Jan 8 was my Dad's birthday. Also Elvis'

    Long before I knew that as a fiddle tune I knew the tune since it was used in the popular song The Battle Of New Orleans which took place on January 8

    How about John Brown's Body?

    Garryowen is a great tune that was used as a marching tune by General Custer's army.
    It's also the name of a terrific Irish pub in Gettysburg Pa.A great open Irish session is held there the first Sunday of each month.No financial interest, I just love the pub and the session.
    Last edited by Paul Busman; Jan-27-2019 at 10:11am. Reason: Thought of more tunes
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    Default Re: Fiddle Tunes with History?

    Jimmy Driftwood was a history teacher in Timbo Arkansas when he put words to "The Eighth of January" as a lesson for his students.
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