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Tunes That Travel

Like the old backboards above, on display at the Appalachian Mountain Club's lake In The Clouds hut, tunes have travelled far and wide themselves. Musicians who have been around for a long time know this, as the same melody will pop up all over the planet, all with different names. For giggles and kicks, I thought it would be fun to take a quick journey as to how the tune Mrs. MacLeod of Ramsay, or Miss Mcloud's Reel, or Have You Ever Seen The Devil Uncle Joe has morphed through the centuries. Here are a sequence of the ubiquitous Youtube videos, showing the path of the tune. Feel free to just catch a snip of each one; I certainly don't want to drive you crazy with the same tune for extended periods of time...

Let's start with the upper crust of Scotland, which is where the tune mostly likely originated. Fiddler Kevin Henderson, Scotsman from the Shetland Islands, once told my fiddle group during a workshop that the nature of Scots fiddling could be roughly designated as the eastern side of Scotland being more refined and classical in nature, while the west and the islands was rougher and more percussive and pub-sounding. Here's a recreation (I hasn't been around that long, has it?) of a Scots dance from the more proper eastern side, and probably where the tune originated from.

From there, the tune migrates to Ireland, and here are two settings of the tune. One is by a traditional Irish pub style band with button boxes and small pipes, the other by brilliant Irish fiddler Kevin Burke. The first is by The Fitzgeralds, and never mind the fact they're in Australia, it was the best representation I could find...

Kevin Burke's video is an instructional one, and that's actually really helpful. The Irish fiddling style is very much in evidence here. Whereas Scots is either very classical or percussive, the cousin of Cape Breton rock and roll fiddling, Irish has a softer entry to the phrases. It's like there's a microscopic increase in volume as a note is begun, and an ever-so-slight roll up into the proper pitch of the first note, kind of a vibrato-caught-at-the-end thing. It doesn't take long to start to hear it clearly, and it's truly an aural complement to the lush green rolling countryside. In western Scots fiddling, you can hear the waves against the rocks, in Irish you can see the rolling fields. (A the end of this, I'm adding a video of Cape Breton fiddler Andrea Beaton, who is a perfect representative of that style. Punk rock fiddling)

Now we head over to America, where it gets spread far and wide as Have You Ever Seen The Devil Uncle Joe, and also Hop High. You can find innumerable versions, But I've chosen two, one from an old recording by legendary Fiddling Doc Roberts, and one contemporary one by David Greer. Doc Roberts was a persistent fiddle contest winner, and a favorite of the south, traveling around and performing. Obviously the recording here is less than ideal, but the stylistic differences are clear, especially in the instrumentation with guitar and bass backup. Now it's the typical old-time string band that remains firmly in place in this country today. Very clear rhythmic timing, no soft entries or dance-like rise-and-fall of the phrasing.

David Greer is a contemporary flat-picker guitarist of huge skill and sensibility. I can't find a version of just this tune, but only of an entire album whit the tune in the middle. The album is exceptional, by the way, so hopefully you end up enjoying the whole thing. The tune appears at the 29:57 mark, and is worth a listen. Much cleaner playing, much more a vehicle for showcasing the skills of all the players. It takes its final form, at least to date, as a showpiece, a sit-down-and-listen concert tune.

There you have it, from the earliest parlors of upper-crust Scotland to the concert halls of America, one tune, three hundred plus years.

As a dessert, I include Andrea here. The tune doesn't appear in this set, nor can I find any Cape Breton player who recorded it. But I would love to hear it taken on by someone like Andrea, with the most party-on edge one could hope for. If you don't have a lot of time, just scroll up to the 7:30 mark and watch the last two and a half minutes.


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