Updated: Feb 24
There's only so much you can do at banjo workshops, right? Assess where students are, then give them what you can to help them get to the next level.
New tunes, new songs, new tunings. A new technique.
But Frank & I have recently added a new component to to our multi-day banjo workshops: the "Listening Party". The part where we dig up (and share!) our favorite recordings.
The best part? The pieces we choose are different every time, inspired by the setting, the folks, and what we're into at the moment.
Here are the 12 recordings we shared at the Listening Party during our most recent clawhammer workshop in Mountain View, Arkansas - the Folk Music Capital of the World.
Out of the ocean of artists and tunes in the old time cannon, these artists and tunes were chosen not necessarily for their clawhammer playing (you won't even hear clawhammer style on most of these).
We chose them because it's stuff we've been digging lately, and also because they were new to our students.
And plus, we think they all rock in their own special ways.
Please note that we do not own the rights to any of these recordings. We are sharing them with you for educational/edification-al purposes. We encourage you to support these artists and their families by purchasing their recordings if you're able!
1. Roan Mountain Hilltoppers - "Brown's Dream"
The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers from Tennessee are famous for playing everything upside down and backwards. Literally. Just look at the Bill, guitar player in this picture.
"Brown's Dream" reminds you of the famous "John Brown's Dream" in its structure and groove but has differences in the melody and the timing.
2. Roan Mountain Hilltoppers - "Rattletrap"
Here's one that the Hilltoppers wrote about their old van, which was named Rattletrap. We hear this in jams more often than you might guess. Going up to the sharped 4 chord is fun and "outside the box".
3. Joe Birchfield - "Cacklin' HeN"
Here's Joe - who was playing fiddle on those first two tracks - playing banjo in a 2-finger style. This video was uploaded to YouTube by our friend Ivy Sheppard (The South Carolina Broadcasters band, Born in the Mountain radio show), who spent some years of her early adulthood living with the Birchfield family. "Cacklin' Hen" is one of Frank's favorite tunes.
4. Joe Birchfield & Harold Hausenfluck - "Sourwood Mountain"
The Birchfields and their band were/are very influential to a slice of the old time music world. One disciple of theirs is Harold Hausenfluck. Harold is blind and played guitar, banjo, and fiddle. He studied the Birchfields' style to the nth degree. Here he is playing banjo while Joe Birchfield plays fiddle on a tune we love to play and teach, "Sourwood Mountain". This video was recorded by Guy Ward at Galax Old Fiddlers' Convention in 1991.
5. Harold Hausenfluck - Sugar Babe
Having studied the Hilltoppers so carefully, Harold released a tape in which he overdubbed himself playing all the instruments as much in their style as he could. It's his "Tribute to the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers". It's amazing and we love it - not only the tunes but also all his commentary. Unfortunately, the tape has not been digitized for sale or mass-produced.
This piece, alternately called "Red Rocking Chair," "Sugar Babe," "Sugar Honey Babe," or "I've Got No Sugar Baby Now," is one that we have multiple arrangements of. Click here to listen to Harold's version of the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers' "Sugar Babe".
6. Harold Hausenfluck - "Sally Gooden"
We can't get enough of Harold's fiddle playing. "Sally Gooden" is the first one on a (somewhat) instructional fiddle VHS tape that was filmed by Guy Ward at Guy's house. This tape is a treasure. We have uploaded it to our YouTube channel as an unlisted link. I called Guy ask permission to use it here, and he gave his blessing, saying "The more people who know about Harold, the better." In this tape, Harold plays each tune slowly and then up to speed.
Bonus feature before we leave Harold - when I spoke to Guy, I learned that Harold living in an assisted living home in Virginia. He had a stroke 20 years ago that caused his left side to become paralyzed. Although he can't play banjo or fiddle anymore, he has adapted - now he's a killer harmonica player. The nursing home holds monthly "Harold Jams". Here he is leading the jam on harmonica. Subscribe to Harold's YouTube channel!
Update: A friend of Harold's sent him this blog post. He emailed me that Harold was very pleased to read it. Made my day!
7. Morgan Sexton - "It's A Beautiful Doll"
Morgan Sexton plays possibly the most beautiful and haunting sounding banjo you will ever hear. If you're someone who thinks that the banjo is a happy-sounding instrument, these next three tunes will change your perspective a bit.
We tear up when we listen to him.
8. Morgan Sexton - "East Virginia Blues"
Then we wanted to share Morgan's singing with our students and thought how Morgan presents this well-known piece was inspiring. It sounds nothing like any other "East Virginia Blues" you've ever heard.
9. Morgan Sexton - "Little Frankie"
We shared "Little Frankie" of Morgan's also because we've been performing an arrangement of it based on Dykes' Magic City Trio lately. True to form, Morgan's version of this classic murder ballad is much different, and more emotive. I've now borrowed a bit of Morgan's melody when I sing it.
10. Oscar Wright - "Elkhorn Ridge"
By this point in our Listening Party, our clawhammer students were starting to wonder if we were going to share any clawhammer recordings! Of course we were saving the best for last.
If you've been a fan of The Freight Hoppers for a while, you've probably heard our version of "Elkhorn Ridge." Frank & I also present a double clawhammer arrangement of it when we perform as a duo. It's a fun song with verses that have the same melody as the chorus. Our source for it is Oscar Wright on Clawhammer Banjo Volume 2.
11. Wade Ward - "HollyDing"
Hollyding is one in double C tuning that Frank often teaches in workshops. His version is inspired by this one, found on the third Clawhammer Banjo compilation album released by County Records.
12. Glen Smith - "Sourwood Mountain"
Coming back around to good old "Sourwood Mountain," this solo clawhammer version is from Glen Smith on Country Records' Clawhammer Banjo Volume 2. It really cooks!
That was the end of our Listening Party at our clawhammer banjo workshop in Mountain View, Arkansas. The next Listening Party is sure to feature different pieces!
Here are (some) or our Banjo Gathering students at our final jam on the famous Mountain View Courthouse Square.
It's a lot of fun for us to share these recordings and listen to them with others in the same room. Since you couldn't be there, we thought we'd share it with you digitally. Not quite the same, but hopefully you enjoyed it.
Share this post with a friend to have your own virtual, inspirational Old Time Music Listening Party, no matter what instrument you play!
If you were hosting a one-hour Listening Party for folks who might not be familiar with the recordings you love, which recordings would you choose? Let us know in the comments!