Old-Time Music: It's Better Than It Sounds





Me and the wife and the baby drove down to Shelbyville to check out the monthly Old Time Fiddlers jam session. Unlike bluegrass (which developed in the late 1940s), this older stuff is mainly fiddle-driven, with no improvised instrumental solos --- just variations on the tune.

So the fiddlers took turns, and there was a large rhythm section --- four or five guitars, bass, two banjos, and a couple of dulcimers --- backing them up. After a few tunes, I got the guitar out of the truck, tuned up, and played a lot of slop.

Nice bunch of folks, mostly older guys, including a ninety year old playing a nice old F-hole archtop. I was the only lefty, and about a half-dozen guys came over and joked that I was playing that thing upside down.

The default guitar style for this kind of music is alternating bass-strum ... boom - CHICK - boom - CHICK. With that many guitars, it sounded pretty muddy, and I started just hitting the "CHICK" on the 2 and the 4 as crisply as possible . . . that's the job of a mandolin in a bluegrass band, it which context it's called the "chop".

I'm eyeing a tenor guitar, which would be a nice option for hitting that "chop". It's a small-bodied four-stringed instrument that's been out of style since the 1930s or so, but it's still used for backup in certain styles of Texas/Oklahoma fiddle playing. Seems like it would be a nice addition to these sort of jams --- something that can punch things up rhythmically without sticking out too much. Anyway, I always kinda like to be the oddball. I also think I have a good shot at being the best left-handed tenor guitar player in the tri-county area...

So, I'm gonna go back next month, if the good Lord's willing and the crick don't rise.

3 comments:

PLee said...

That tenor guitar is gonna run $409 shipped and should be available around June 1st.

The danger, of course, is that once I get a tenor guitar, it's only a matter of time before I get a tenor banjo and a straw hat and start up a Dixieland band.

Jeeg said...

So who are these guys? Any professional musicians in there?

And even though its bluegrass, I'd be remiss if I didn't get in a plug for the Greenup Hootenany. The Dave, Big Dan Greenup, and I keep threatening to go, just to take in the spectacle.

PLee said...

Probably not any professionals, although a few have enough chops that I suspect they've played some paying gigs. Some folks, this is just what they do instead of bowling or poker night or getting a motorcycle.

Oh, sign me up for the hootenany, man.

Got another contended for the tenor guitar --- there's one up on Ebay, and it's a wood body with a metal resonator, probably circa 1934ish. Very very cool.

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