Come Back Boys & Feed the Horses: Fiddling on the Frontier - P.2
Of the twenty one fiddle tunes here, nine of them are fiddle/banjo duets. Considering our pre-1840 time frame, how often were fiddle and banjo played together? Research is continual and more accounts are being uncovered. One such account comes from 1825 near the small settlement of Bloomington in Indiana Territory. On a deer hunting trip Christmas Eve, one Bayard Rush Hall (1798-1863) encountered a small hut occupied by several African Americans dancing to the music of a "cornstalk fiddle and calabash banjo." (Hall: 164) Even if this and other accounts are true, there are still very few pre-1840 sources that mention these instruments being played together before the minstrel stage made its way into the south during the 1840s. (Carlin: 89) We believe there was interaction between the two, but it seems the pairing of the banjo and fiddle was not as common as it was in the later 19th century. In fact many of the tunes in the repertories of source fiddlers are idiosyncratic, crooked and not given to accompaniment.
One aspect of archaic fiddling we encounter frequently with the senior source fiddlers is their use of tunings well below today's standard A-440 pitch. We and others speculate that to some degree during the late 1700/early 1800s poorly made gut strings may have contributed. In Europe high quality strings from sheep gut were made by professionals who spent their lives perfecting the process to fashion strings with a consistent diameter and the correct thickness to play all the notes demanded by violinists. In frontier America, the untrained string maker would perhaps make thicker strings of inconsistent diameter that can only be tuned so high. Apart from that, in an essentially solo fiddle tradition, there is no incentive to tune with another instrument. Therefore, even with modern strings, the convention of lower tuning from an earlier time would likely prevail.
For this recording we use a variety of fiddles, some with gut strings, some with synthetic, dated from 1790 to 1920. The banjos are re-productions of gourd and minstrel. The reader may notice our use of some minstrel banjos to convey a time period before minstrelsy. Gourd banjos were used up until 1840, after which frame (wooden rim) banjos became more popular. Here we have another anachronism, to which we can only reply that we are not purists. We are, however, searching for sounds that would be consistent with the music of our chosen time.
We have drawn from many of the same fiddlers as in the prior two CDs (Lost Indian and Chadwell's Station), as well as some new ones. The Hamblen Collection is still a source, as is Knauff's Virginia Reels, but as we have many more sources on this CD, their information will be included with their respective tune.