While I had big plans to record another track from my album (here) this week, I kinda got sidetracked and recorded a fiddle tune called "Been to the east, been to the west" (or some variation of that) instead. I've basically been humming this tune on and off since I first heard it at Clifftop this past summer - story below:
As I've mentioned before, Old Time music is particularly amazing because, unlike most forms of music, the professional players are so accessible. For that reason, one of the best things to do late night at Clifftop is to simply walk around and listen to jams - while I wouldnt recommend trying to butt into a jam without being invited, most people are just fine with you lurking outside the circle and listening, and you may see some of your favorite players cutting loose with their friends. Its really fun for me to know which tunes performers like to play just for fun.
One night this past Clifftop (maybe thursday?) I came across a pretty amazing jam at Rachel Eddy's tent: Rachel and Adam Hurt were on fiddle (I've gushed over Adam's fiddle playing previously here), Brad Kolodner was on banjo, Beth Hartness was on guitar, and Mark Hellenberg was on banjo uke. There was also a bass player and a low-tuned tenor banjo player (!) who's names I never caught. The grooves coming out of that tent were just incredible and, rather than continuing to wander the swamp, I planted myself there for just about an album's worth of tunes. Incidentally, there was someone there recording that jam with a fancy microphone....what ever happens to recordings like that??
There were a TON of great tunes that night, most of which I wasn't all that familiar with. But, for whatever reason, the one that really drilled itself into my head had a pretty simple melody that I've been humming ever since. Mystery fiddle tunes can be a bit tough to track down - I hoped that I'd run across it again in the wild again one day (kinda like my Brian Slattery story here). However, I did have a breadcrumb to track the tune down with: Rachel Eddy actually sang little snippets of lyrics over top of the tune and I was pretty sure she said "I've been to the east, I've been to the west" at some point. This weekend, I finally sat down to youtube and found her playing a tune called "Been to the East, Been to the west." That was such a simple search that I can't believe it took me this long to do it!. After hearing the tune again again, I just had to learn to play it!
Whenever I find a tune I really like I tend to listen to a lot of recordings to sample the breadth of ways that people play it - after hearing a few different takes on the tune (and visiting Slippery Hill) I found one strange thing about how Rachel Eddy plays it: while its typically played in G, she's shifted it to D. This presented a bit of a conundrum: I really really like Rachel's version and the tune seemed to fall pretty easily in double D (aDADE), but its a lot more useful from a jam perspective to learn tunes in their common keys. I decided to bite the bullet and learn the tune both ways: I therefore spent a bit of time this weekend figuring out both a G version (gDGDE) and D version (aDADE) of "Been to the East, Been to the West" inspired largely by the 2 youtube videos I found of Rachel Eddy playing it. Here's a recording of the G version:
"Been to the East, Been to the West" played on my Buckeye in Old G (gDGDE) tuning. Guitar accompaniment on a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard tuning sans capo.
Something about Rachel Eddy's playing seems to suggest that I should hold a minor chord (in this case E minor, though in the D version it would be a B minor) about halfway through the B part - most of the other versions I've heard don't really have that quality (which is probably why I like her playing on this tune so much!). The chord's I came up with (and played above) are as follows:
Do I hold the E minor one beat too long? I can't decide...
Again, I learned a D version as well and initially I thought I'd re-record the whole thing in that key....then I had a different idea: rather than playing in true D, I thought I'd tune a banjo down to double G (dGDGA - basically double D tuned down 3.5 steps) and record the low-tuned banjo alongside my G tuned Buckeye creating a unison banjo/cello banjo effect. Nifty, right? I had the perfect candidate banjo: the Buckbee that I bought this past summer (here) - since it never gets played with anyone else, that banjo spends a lot of its time tuned pretty low (and sounds quite good!)...surely it can handle double G, right? Well - I guess technically it did handle that tuning okay, but the result wasn't that pretty to my ears - I'll let you judge for yourself:
"Been to the East, Been to the West" played on my Buckeye in Old G (gDGDE) tuning and my Buckbee in double G (dGDGA - double D tuning tuned 3.5 steps low). Guitar accompaniment on a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard tuning sans capo.
I have the medium nylgut strings on the Buckbee banjo and I'll definitely need to switch over to the thicker aquila minstrel set if I want to try tuning it that low again. The current strings were SUPER floppy in double G. They also tried as hard as they could to go out of tune every time I played the banjo (I think the screws on the friction pegs need a bit of tightening too). All in all, I still think this was a pretty good idea - just not great execution : )
I really may get minstrel strings on that banjo for that cool low sound (that banjo really loses something when tuned up to standard) and maybe even do some more "double banjo" recording?....we shall see.
Until next week!
About this blog
I have lots of ideas about banjo playing and music in general - this blog allows me to get them all out of my head and see what you think.