Arkansas Traveler (1)

Find traditional instrumental music
Jump to: navigation, search

X:2 T:Arkanses Traveller [sic] [1] M:2/4 L:1/8 S:William Sydney Mount manuscripts N:Mount annotates his manuscript page with “Stony Brook (Long Island, New York) N:August 22nd, (18)52” and “As played by P(?).J. Cook.” At the end of the first part is the N:note “octave 2nd time,” meaning presumably that probably the first eight bars are to be N:played an octave higher as a variation when the whole tune is repeated, probably with N:the two bar ending that Mount entered at the top of the page. Interestingly, Mount’s N:manuscript predates the first known publication of the melody, in Buffalo, N.Y., by N:Blodgett & Bradford in 1858, although the tune and the story of the traveler and the N:country fiddler were known to be in circulation some two decades beforehand, N:stemming probably from plantation sources and then to the minstrel stage. Z:Transcribed and annotated by Andrew Kuntz K:D (D/E/)F/D/ B,B,/D/ | A,A,/B,/ DD | EE FF | D/E/F/D/ B,D | (D/E/)F/D/ B,(B,/D/) | A,A,/B,/ DA | (d/c/)(d/A/) (B/d/)(A/G/) | (F/D/)(E/F/) D2 :| |:(a/g/)f/a/ (g/f/)e/g/ | (f/e/)d/f/ (e/c/)A2 | d/d/d e/e/e | (f/e/)d/f/ e2 | (a/g/)f/a/ (g/f/)e/g/ | (f/e/)d/f/ (e/c/)A | (d/c/)d/A/ (B/d/)A/G/ | (F/D/)E/F/ D2 :|]



Sheet music crediting Mose Case

ARKANSAS TRAVELER [1]. Old Time, Bluegrass, American; Reel, Country Dance. USA, almost universally known. D Major (Rosenbaum, Sweet, Titon, White): G Major (Shaw): A Major (Kerr). Standard or ADae (Edden Hammons, Molsky) tunings (fiddle). One part (Burchenal): AB (Shaw): AABB (most versions): AABBA'A' (Phillips, 1994). One of, if not the most famous of American fiddle tunes. E. Southern (1983) calls "Arkansas Traveller" a "plantation fiddle tune" (pg. 186), while Cauthen (1990) writes that it "had been played and sung as (an) anonymous folk tune, claimed and popularized by minstrel performers, then passed into the realm of folk music once more" (p. 15). It is true that at least some of the elements of the famous dialogue typically attached to the melody (i.e. the conversation between the 'hick' and the 'city-slicker') were in circulation in the 1820's and 1830's, during the plantation era, and it has been found that the tune and sketch had been joined and were being performed (in minstrel shows) not long after (Yates and Russell, O.T.M. # 31 Winter 78/79). {For more information see article by H.C. Mercer in JEMFQ VI:2 (18) Summer 1970.} Rosenbaum (1983) records that "Arkansas Traveler" was first published by Oliver Ditson and Company of Boston in 1863 and attributed to an itinerant musician or stage comedian named Mose Case, although Cazden (et al, 1982) reports it had been previously published in Buffalo, N.Y., by Blodgett & Bradford in 1858. Mose Case was an albino African-American based in Buffalo known as a virtuoso guitar player. His rendition of Arkansas Traveler has been called the gold standard for the tune. He died penniless in New York City in 1885. Authorship was also claimed by Marie de los Angelos Jose Tosso, sometimes known as Joe Tasso (1802–1886 or 1887), a Mexican born (of Italian parents) concert violinist, teacher and composer who lived in Cincinnati. Tasso, who had studied under Hector Berlioz, is reported to have been heard playing the melody as early as 1842.

The music itself was in print in 1847, Rosenbaum states, and both the tune and the accompanying skit are presumed by him to have been in oral circulation at the time. Bayard (1981) thinks the whole melody may be an "American amalgam," as he was unable to locate a recognizable version in British Isles traditions. The second strain became a "floater," according to him, and appears in otherwise unrelated tunes, and he speculates a portion of the first part may itself have been a 'floater' that became attached to the tune. In Francis O'Neill's Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody (1922) "Arkansas Traveler" is regarded as having a 'presumable' Irish history and three tunes are given which are proffered as in part ancestral to the American melody. O’Neill says: “Vying in popularity with ‘Turkey in the Straw’, another American favorite claims our affection. Famous in song and story, its origin has baffled investigation. An exhaustive research conducted by Dr. H.C. Mercer, an official of Buck's County Historical Society (Doylestown, Pa) relating to its history and antecedents failed of its purpose. All lines of inquiry extending to Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana, ended in contradiction, and uncertainty. Furthermore, the quaint dialogue between the ‘Traveler’ and the backwoods fiddler was based on nothing more substantial than a fertile imagination. The opening paragraph of Dr. Mercer's essay published in the Century Magazine—On the track of the Arkansas Traveler—is well worth quoting:

Sometime about the year 1850 the American musical myth known as "The Arkansas Traveler" came into vogue among fiddlers. It is a quick reel tune with a backwoods story talked to it while played, that caught the ear at sideshows and circuses, and sounded over the trodden turf of fair grounds. Bands and foreign-bred musicians were above noticing it, but the people loved it, and kept time to it, while tramps and sailors carried it across the seas to vie merrily in Irish cabins with The Wind that Shakes the Barley and The Soldier's Joy.

The tune is mentioned in a passage in Missouri physician William Percival King's Stories of a Country Doctor (1891), in his chapter called "Old Time Dances and Parties." After a community barn-raising...:

...the young men would repair to the house in the dusk of evening. If the quilt was done it would be taken out of the frames; if not it would be wound up--that is lifted to the ceiling or "loft," and then securely tied overhead. If there was a bed in the "big room" it would be taken down and removed. The fiddlers would get ready while everybody ate a hasty supper. This evening meal was enjoyed most by the old folks, for the younger ones would be so elated with the prospect of what was to come they could not eat. The "fiddlers" (there were no violinists in those days) would take their places i the corner and begin to "tune up." Four young men would seek partners and take their places for a cotillion. Then the fiddlers would strike up a familiar strain and the dancing would begin."
And it was dancing.
None of your gliding and sliding to and fro, a little hugging here and there, touching the tips of fingers and bowing and scraping. Oh, no. This was dancing. The music was such as "Fishers," "Durangs," "Rickett's," and "The Sailor's" hornpipes, "The Arkansas Traveler," "Cotton Eyed Joe," "Nancy Rowland," "Great big 'taters in sandy land," "Pouring soapsuds over the fence," "The snow bird on the Ash bank," "The Route," "The Rye Straw," "Run, nigger, run," etc. Sometimes one of the fiddlers would act as "prompter," or, if he could not, then some one would be selected. ... [pp. 48-49].

Though classed as a reel, the tune as printed with Dr. Mercer's clever essay and elsewhere, is scored as a Buckdance, and in a key much too low for certain instruments. The editor who is responsible for the setting above presented ventures to suggest that like ‘Old Zip Coon’ or ‘Turkey in the Straw,’ ‘The Arkansas Traveler’ had been evolved from a venerable Irish strain by some backwoods fiddler whose identity is lost in the oblivion which engulfed the composers of the multitude of Irish melodies that have survived many influences inimical to their preservation.”

In Maine the piece was used for the dance "Green Mountain Volunteers" by the Singing Smiths (South Parsonfield, Me.), though the traditional tune for that dance was "Green Mountain Boys (1)." It was one of the 'tune catagories' for an 1899 fiddle contest at Gallatin, Tenn.; i.e. the fiddler who played the best rendition of "Arkansas Traveller" won a prize (C. Wolfe, The Devil's Box, vol. 14, No. 4, 12/1/80). Arthur Tanner (Ga.) remembers his father (Gid Tanner of Sillet Lickers fame) and uncle (Arthur Hugh Tanner) playing it "from the stage (in the 1920's/30's) and setting around the house...It would tear the audience up" (Rosenbaum). The piece was found in the repertory of most traditional fiddlers in Union and Snyder counties, Pa. (Guntharp), while Cazden (et al, 1982) found the melody and humorous text well known throughout the Catskill Mountain (New York) region (he recorded a version from that locale in 1949). Kentucky fiddlers played the tune: it has been collected from Luther Strong (by Alan Lomax), John Salyer, J.W. Day, Clyde Davenport, African-American fiddler Bill Livers, Walter McNew and Kelly Gilbert (Titon, 2001). Cauthen (1990) notes in a very complete statewide survey that it was variously recorded as having been played throughout Alabama: in the northeast part of the state (in reports of the 1926–31 De Kalb County Annual Convention), the northwest (mentioned in a 1925 Univ. of Ala. master's thesis), southwest (recorded in a newspaper account of a contest in Grove Hill, May, 1929, and recalled by Alfred Benners in his 1923 book Slavery and Its Results as having been played by slave fiddler Jim Pritchett in Marengo County), southeast (listed by Robert Park in his book Sketch of the 12th Alabama Infantry as played by Ben Smith, a Georgian in the regiment in the Civil War; and recorded as having been played at a fiddlers' convention in July 1926 at the Pike County Fairgrounds), and finally the central part of the state (played at a contest in Verbena in 1921, as recorded by the Union Banner).

In another Deep South state, Mississippi, it was recorded in the field from the playing of old time fiddlers Stephen B. Tucker, John Hatcher and W.E. Claunch (Mississippi Department of Archives and History). The tune was listed for sale on cylinders in a 1901 Columbia catalogue and in the same format the next year by Edison (Standard Cylinder 8202, played by Len Spencer, Oct. 1902 {The tune was re-released as "Return of the Arkansas Traveler" in 1910 by the same company [Standard Cylinder 10356]}). Edison also released a version played by Joseph Samuels in Nov. 1919 contained in the "Devil's Dream Medley" (1st tune). Texas fiddler Eck Robertson's (a duet with fiddler and Confederate veteran Henry Gilliland) recording of the piece for Victor records (backed by "Sallie Gooden") was the third best-selling record of 1923 (although it had been released in a limited pressing a year earlier). The piece was "very popular" at Southwest dances around turn of the century, according to Arizona fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner. It was cited as having commonly been played for dances in Orange County, New York, in the 1930's (Lettie Osborn, New York Folklore Quarterly), and appears in Vance Randolph's list of traditional Ozark Mountain tunes he recorded for the Library of Congress in the early 1940's. Finally, it was recorded as having been in the repertory of Maine fiddler Mellie Dunham, Henry Ford's national champion old-time fiddler, and regularly played by him in the 1920's. During the 78 RPM era the Kessinger Brother's 1928 recording of “Arkansas Traveler” was released in Québec under the title “Reel des Voyagers” (Melotone M18020).

Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - Frank George (W.Va.) [Krassen]; James Marr (Mo., 1948) [Bayard]; eleven Pa. sources [Bayard]; Gordon Tanner (Dacula, Gwinnett County, Ga.) [Rosenbaum]; Jim Bowles (Rock Bridge, Monroe County, Kentucky, 1959, played with fiddle tuned ADae) [Titon].

Printed sources : - Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 20 (appendix), p. 580; No. 74, p. 49 (an odd variation); and No. 316, pp. 267–271. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 25–26 (3 versions – 1 Bluegrass). Buckley (Buckley's New Banjo Method), 1860; p. 30. Burchenal (American Country Dances, vol. 1), 1917; p. 58. Cazden (Dances from Woodland), 1945; p. 25. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 4. Dunham (50 Fiddlin' Dance Tunes), 1926; No. 7, p. 5. Ford (Traditional Music of America), 1940; p. 46. Howe (Musician's Omnibus, No. 1), 1862; p. 47. Jarman (Old Time Fiddlin' Tunes), 1938. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 2: Old-Timey Fiddle Tunes), 1988 (revised 2003); p. 1. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1); No. 5, p. 22. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; p. 44 (includes 'A' part variation). Linscott (Folk Songs of Old New England), 1939; p. 83 ("The Country Dance"). O’Neill (Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody), 1922; No. 238. Phillips (Fiddle Case Tunebook: Old Time Southern), 1989; p. 3. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 17. Rosenbaum (Folk Visions and Voices: Traditional Music and Song in North Georgia), 1983; pp. 106–107. Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 30, p. 12. Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 26. Shaw (Cowboy Dances), 1943; p. 390. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964; p. 53. Titon (Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes), 2001; No. 3, p. 34. White's Unique Collection, 1896; No. 171, p. 32.

Recorded sources: American Heritage 516, Jana Greif – "I Love Fiddlin.'" Atlantic Records LP1350, Hobart Smith – "American Folk Songs for Children." Brunswick 225 (78 RPM), The Tennessee Ramblers. CCF2, Cape Cod Fiddlers – “Concert Collection II” (1999). Columbia A2140 (78 RPM), Don Richardson (1916). Columbia 15019 D (78 RPM), Gid Tanner & Riley Pucket. County 412, Doc Roberts. County 514, Earl Johnson and His Clodhoppers – "Hell Broke Loose in Georgia" (orig. rec. 1927). County 517, Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland – "Texas Farewell." County 526, Gid Tanner. County 723, Cockerham, Jarrell, and Jenkins – "Back Home in the Blue Ridge." County 775, Kenny Baker – "Farmyard Swing." Edison 51381 (78 RPM), Jasper Bisbee {appears as 1st tune of "Girl I Left Behind Me" medley}. Flying Fish 102, New Lost City Ramblers – "20 Years/Concert Performances" (1978). Folkways FA2337, Clark Kessinger – "Live at Union Grove." Folkways FA2371, Roger Sprung – "Ragtime Bluegrass 2." Folkways FTS 31089. Gennett 7011 (78 RPM), Clayton McMichen's Georgia Wildcats (1932). Heritage 060, Art Galbraith – "Music of the Ozarks" (Brandywine 1984). Kicking Mule 203, Art Rosenbaum – "The Art of the Mountain Banjo." Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Cyril Stinnett – "Plain Old Time Fiddling." Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Kelly Jones (b. 1947) – "Authentic Old-Time Fiddle Tunes." Old Homestead OHCS 145, the Skillet Lickers – "A Day at the Country Fair" ("The Original Arkansas Traveller"). Paramount 3015 (78 RPM) {the same as Brunswick 8052}, 1927, and Edison 52294 (78 RPM), 1928, John Baltzell (Mt. Vernon, Ohio) {Baltzell was taught to play fiddle in part by minstrel Dan Emmett, d. 1904, who was born in and returned to [1888] the same town}. PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor – “The Civil War Collection” (1996). Rebel 1552, Buck Ryan – "Draggin' the Bow." Rebel 1515, Curly Ray Cline – "My Little Home in West Virginia." Rounder 0100, Byron Berline – "Dad's Favorites." Rounder 0117, "Blaine Sprouse". Rounder 0361, Bruce Molsky – “Lost Boy” (1996). Rounder 1003, Fiddlin’ John Carson. Rounder 1133/1134, Ed Haley. Sonyatone 201, Eck Robertson (Texas) and Henry Gilliland (Ok.) – "Master Fiddler." Starr 15911 (78 RPM), Robert Lemiux (accordion) (1935, as "Reel Arkansas"). Supertone 9172 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts. Tennvale 003, Pete Parish – "Clawhammer Banjo." Victor 18956 (78 RPM), Eck Robertson (Texas) {1922}. Victor 21635 (78 RPM), Jilson Setters (AKA Blind Bill Day, from Rowan Cty. Ky.), 1928. Voyager 301, Byron Berline – "Fiddle Jam Session." Voyager 304, Bill Long and Bill Mitchell – "More Fiddle Jam Sessions." West Virginia University Press Sound Archives 001, Edden Hammonds, vol. 1 (1999). Recorded by Franklin County, Va. fiddler J.W. "Peg" Thatcher in 1939 for Library of Congress, and by Clayton McMichen (Ga.) and Dan Hornsby in 1928. In repertoire of Uncle Jimmy Thompson (Texas/Tenn.) {1848-1931}, Uncle Bunt Stevens (Tenn.), Fiddlin’ Cowan Powers (Russell County, S.W. Va.) {1877-1952?}.

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear Luther Strong's 1937 LOC recording at Juneberry 78's [2]
Hear Don Richardson's 1916 recording at the Internet Archive [3]
Hear Jim Bowles (Ky.) 1959 field recording at Slippery Hill [4]

Hear John Salyer's (east Ky.) 1941/42 home recording at Berea Sound Archives [5]
Hear Quebec accordion player Robert Lemieux's 1935 recording (as "Reel Arkansas") at the Virtual Gramophone [6]


Back to Arkansas Traveler (1)