MUSIC HISTORY

Bring Me Little Water Sylvie                                                                                                                                                        Blues musician, Lead Belly, wrote bring me Little Water Sylvie about his Uncle Bob and Aunt Sylvie. On hot days, when Bob was ploughing at the bottom of the field a long way from the house, he used to holler to Sylvie to bring the water bucket. 

 Music folklorist, Alan Lomax, stumbled across Lead Belly in the 1930's and encouraged Lead Belly to travel and share his music with the world. When Lead Belly performed outside of the South, he often taught the audience about the background and culture embedded in his songs. The version of this song that we play  was arranged by contemporary musician and composer, Moira Smiley.

Cluck Old Hen                                                                                                                                                                                 Cluck Old Hen is a well-known tune through the Appalachian South. It's apparent how the strutting movements of chickens inspired this song. The A modal tuning on the banjo, also known as Sawmill tuning in the Round Peak area of Surry County, North Carolina, gives the song a gritty minor feel.  There are many variations of this song. The verses in our rendition of Cluck Hold Hen have been cobbled together from many different versions. Fred Cockerham was born in Surry County, NC  in 1905 and is one of the more well known Old Time musicians that played banjo in Round Peak style. 

Cousin Sally Brown                                                                                                                                                                              In the middle of our version of Say Darlin Say, we transition into a tune called Cousin Sally Brown. I learned this version of Cousin Sally Brown from Brad Leftwhich, who learned it from a variety of different sources rooted in the Galax Virginia area. Brad is a purveyor of traditional Old Time music and has kept the tradition alive by seeking out and learning from musicians in the Appalachian region such as Old Time fiddler and banjo player, Tommy Jarrell.  

The Cuckoo                                                                                                                                                                                         The cuckoo is an old English folksong that traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. According to Alan Lomax, a field collector of folk music, "no creature is more common in southern English love songs than the cuckoo, the herald of spring and bearer of good omens to lovers. From ancient times, the bird has been a sexual symbol and, because it leaves its eggs in the nest of other birds for them to hatch, has acquired the reputation of an adulterer; thus, men with unfaithful wives were called cuckolds. The American songs mentioning the cuckoo suggest the importance of this 'messenger of spring; in the lore of the West." (Lomax, Alan. Folk Songs of North America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company INC, 1960), 201. 

This version we play of the Cuckoo is based on Clarence Ashley's banjo version. Ashley was from the Southern Appalachians and traveled as a performing musician in the early and mid 1900's. In this song, Ashley uses and sweeping brush stroke on the "three-and" in one of the measures as a way of mimicking the bird call which creates a subtle shift in the 4/4 meter of the song. ("Banjology:The Coo Coo Bird by Clarence Ashley," Duke University. 2015. http://sites.duke.edu/banjology/transcriptions/coo-coo-a-study/the-coo-coo-bird-by-clarence-ashley/.)

O Watch the Stars                                                                                                                                                                                  O Watch the Stars is a song from St. Helena Island, South Carolina. N. G. J. Ballanta-Taylor, author of "St. Helena Island Spirituals", notes that "because of their isolate from main arteries of communication, the islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina have long supported sparse populations of Negroes inheriting some of the oldest tradition of plantain life, including a distinctive repertory of folk or and song."

Ruth Crawford Seeger published this song in "American Folk Songs for Christmas." I learned the the first verse from the recording the Seeger sisters made on the American Folk Songs for Christmas Folkways Album and learned the second and third verses from Terry Sorelle (http://songs.2quakers.net/watch-the-stars).

Rueben's Train                                                                                                                                                                                Many versions of Reuben's Train exist. In  "Folk Songs of North America", Alan Lomax suggests that the original words of the song were born during the period of reconstruction post Civil War. After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed black slaves, they began finding jobs in mostly white dominated workplaces. However,  for thirty years after the war,  racist white railroad workers tried to drive out blacks and ultimately blacks were banned from all railroad work except the fireman positions, in which they shoveled coal by hand into a steam engine. The words used in this version were collected by Sandy Paton from Frank Proffitt in Reese, North Carolina in 1961. The instrumental banjo part was arranged by Jason Dilge who was inspired by Old Time fiddler, Tommy Jerrell.  (Thomas, Tony. "11780 Reuben and John Henry." Black Banjo Then and Now.)