That Banjo From Hell

At the Mount Airy festival in the late 80's, we both remember a particular wee hours' session. An anonymous pilgrim from the far side of the campground heard something that caught his interest. Through the many intervening sessions in the darkness he followed his ears. Upon locating us he announced that he just had to see that..."That Banjo From Hell..."

"This work is often haunting in tone and can at times be a dark exploration. Specifically. in regards to the battle tunes, the images they cast are so vibrant that they make me want to see the film it should score. In all, the work is handled masterfully from beginning to end with little or no detail left unattended. This is a standout piece of work." - The Old-Time Herald Spring 2001



Notes on the tunes

Jine the Cavalry (14) General J.E.B. Stuart of the Confederacy was famous for his promotion of evening musical entertainments in his camp. Sam Sweeney (brother of the renowned and world famous Joel Sweeney) was his personal banjoist. This song was the one that traditionally concluded each evening's performance. Stuart was also well known for his LeMat revolver which was the most awesome revolver of the Civil War. It was a 9 shot cap and ball revolver with a .65 caliber shotgun barrel mounted below. (See above photo)

The Free State of Winston (3) (©2000 Harry Bolick) commemorates the free will and contrariness of the citizens of Winston County, Alabama, who refused to secede from the Union along with the rest of the state. 

The 1st of Arkansas (7)  is a tune composed by our good friend Pat Conte. The poem is from 1863 and was published in The Missouri Democrat newspaper of St. Louis.  

Jimmy Shenk/ Richmond (5) These two we learned to love from our dear friend and Tunesmithbandmate Jim Garber. 

The Eighth of January (12)was the date of Andrew Jackon's defeat of the British in 1814 in New Orleans. The battle took place days after the peace treaty had been signed. The news had not had time to reach Andrew Jackson and Major General Sir Edward Michael Pakenham, KB, the British Commander. Our unusual version of the tune comes from a recording by the Arkansas Barefoot Boys in the late 20's. 

The Texas Rangers (2) recounts an encounter in 1844 between 80 Comanche and 16 Texas Rangers led by John Hays. The rangers triumphed because they were all armed with Paterson revolvers, Sam Colt's first commercially available repeating pistols. This was a deadly surprise for the Comanche. Forty survived. The only major customer for these pistols was the Texas Navy. They purchased a good quantity of long arms and repeating pistols from Sam Colt's Patent Arms Company, Paterson NJ. The Texas Rangers purchased many of the pistols from the Texas Navy of the then republic of Texas. This song commemorates one of the major successes of the new technology over sheer numbers, ferocity, and old tactics. 

Rodgers and Spencer (11) (© 2000 Harry Bolick fiddle tuning:GDGB) Harry composed this tune in honor of Our 2nd spotlighted handgun of the Civil War - the Rodgers and Spencer! (see below) The US government ordered 5000 of them in early 1865. They were delivered in time for the conclusion of hostilities. Purchased at the price of $5.00 each, they were put into storage until 1903 when they were sold to Bannerman & Son of Long Island, NY, for 50 cents each. Though they were one of the best designed cap and ball revolvers they never saw official service. 

Sally in tHe Garden (1) comes from Gaither Carlton of Deep Gap, N.C. 

Streak of Lean (4) is from a Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers 78 comedy skit recording in which it is played through one time only. 

Black Cat in the Briar Patch (18) is from Melvin Wine of West Virginia. 

Deshutes or Lose it(6) © 1988 Scott Mathis. Our friend Scott Mathis, of New Mexico, composed this lovely tune on a harmonica while rafting down the rapids of the Deshutes River in Oregon. 

Hickory Jack (16) is from the library of Congress field recordings of Luther Strong in Hazard Kentucky, 1937. 

Chattanoogie (13) In 1863 Gen. U.S. Grant lifted the siege in Chatanooga, and with this decisive victory, was well on his way to becoming the chief general of the Union armies. We got this version from Joe Thrift of the Red Hots. 

Toms Creek 2 Step (8) (© 2000 Ken Bloom) In 1832, Ken's current hometown was called Toms Creek. In 1880 they renamed it Pilot Mountain (NC). He wrote the "B" part of this tune at the Brandywine festival in 1988 and the "A" part on the way to the studio, where he made this recording. 

Coleman's March (10) comes to us from Pete Sutherland. 

Cumberland Gap (9) By the 1770's this was a major portal to our new frontiers and soon to be acquired American territories. This title has a tremendous number of variant tunes. Harry got this one at the Brandywine festival, very late at night. It was dark. He has no idea who was playing the tune and this is the way he remembers it. 

"I Think My Brains Fell Out" (17) (© 1998 Harry Bolick) Years ago, when Harry wrote this, He was working with Jim Garber, from whom he stole this phrase. Jim used it instead of "Oops, I forgot..." Though it is on the Tunesmith recording we wanted to present it in a smaller, and hopefully clearer setting. 

In High school, Harry had an elderly and cranky social studies teacher who once stood in front of the class and announced that he had shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of a man who shook hands with Lincoln. "Anyone want to shake hands?" No one took him up on the offer. When a student was unable to answer in class he would often say, "Son, you're a Lost Ball in High Weeds" (15) ( © 2000 Harry Bolick fiddle tuning:GCGEb) 

Elk River Blues (19) comes from Ernie Carpenter of West Virginia.