Old Time Jam

August 15, 2018

There's a new old-time music jam session in town, sponsored by the Kansas Bluegrass Association. It will be held once a month at the Donut Whole (1720 East Douglas) in Wichita. The jam will meet on the last Tuesday of every month from 7-9pm. Since many of the tunes on the GPDA playlist come from the old time music tradition, this would be a great jam for our members to plug into. This article will provide some information and resources about the genre.

 

When we say "Old Time," for the most part we are referring to a style of mountain music native to the southern Appalachians. It is a style similar to bluegrass, but older and closer to its European (usually Scotch-Irish) and African roots. Generally, old time music can be traced back to at least the 1930's - and often hundreds of years before that - long before "bluegrass" and "country" music were born. Common sources for tunes and songs include Library of Congress source recordings; the Lomax collections; and, of course, YouTube. :)


At the monthly Old Time Jams, you can expect a big emphasis on fiddle tunes. The tunes are usually centered around a strong melody, rather than solos (called breaks). Usually in an open jam setting, the melody players all play at once, and play off of each other, rather than taking turns soloing. The banjo is traditionally picked old time claw-hammer style rather than with finger picks. You also see more fun stuff like flatfoot dancing, Jew's harp, mountain dulcimers, bones, etc. The rhythm section is held down by guitar and bass (a relatively 'modern' addition), plus dancing; and most of the chord progressions are very simple. This was the music of barn dances and hoe downs.


Singing is also an important part of the old time tradition. Lots of songs have rather whimsical lyrics, and every 'holler' may have had its own set of verses. Murder ballads and lost love ballads like "Shady Grove" are part of the tradition too. Old time lyrics tend to be happy, unless they are killing someone. Singers will be welcome to call a song that they lead, or to simply sing a verse or two in the midst of the playing.


We are requesting that sheet music not be brought to the jam. While sheet music can be useful to help us learn tunes, this has always been primarily an aural tradition. For this reason, we ask you to try to play along "by ear." You can expect each tune to be played many times through, so you'll have ample time to pick out at least part of the melody – perfection isn't the aim, but listening closely to one another is. If a tune is called that only one or two people know, it may be decided that it can't be played at this particular jam, or the circle may be enthusiastic about trying to learn a new piece.

 

Included is a list of a few common old time tunes (and keys they are often played in). Keep in mind that no list will ever be comprehensive. All tunes/songs are welcome, especially if you know something about their
history. Let's all keep on open mind, come with an attitude of learning, and enjoy making music together!

 


Angeline the Baker - D

Arkansas Traveler - D

​​​Barlow Knife - G

Brushy Fork of John's Creek - A

Cherokee Shuffle - A or D

Cold Frosty Morning - Am

Cripple Creek - G or A
Devil in the Strawstack - Am
Did'ya Ever See the Devil
(Miss McLeod's Reel) - G
Flop Eared Mule - D/A
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss - D
Forked Deer - D
Julianne Johnson - D

June Apple - A
Liberty - D
Liza Jane - D or A
Mississippi Sawyer - D
Old Yeller Dog - G
Ragtime Annie - D/G
Redwing - G
Sally Anne - A
Sandy Boys - A
Soldier's Joy - D
Squirrel Hunters - A
Texas (Newcastle) - A
Waterbound - D

 

Bring on the bones, flat-footers, dulcimers, fiddles, banjos, singers, and pickers! Let's make music together!

Contributed by Erin Mae Lewis and Jeremy Blaes

 

Check out the "Kansas Old Time Music Lovers and Players" group on Facebook for more about the local old-
time music scene. Questions about the jam, contact Erin Mae.

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