Billy in the Lowground (1)

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X:1 T:Billy in the Low Ground [1] S:Leonard Rutherford (c. 1900-1954, Monticello, Ky.) M:C| L:1/8 Q:"Quick" D:Columbia 15209-D (78 RPM), Burnett and Rutherford (1928) F:https://www.slippery-hill.com/recording/billy-low-ground-9 Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:C CA,|:G,A,CD EGA(B|c)Bcd cGAG|E+slide+[A2A2]c AGEG|A(de)d ed c2| G,A,CD EGA(B|c)Bcd cGAG|E+slide+[A2A2] B AGEG|1cGAG EDCA,:|2cGAG EDC2|| |:g3a gecd|e(ga)(g e)dcd|e+slide+a2a abag|egag edcd | eg2a gedg|e(ga)(g e)dcd|+slide+[e2e2]+slide+[ee]-[de] cAGA|cGAG ED C2:|]



BILLY IN THE LOWGROUND [1]. AKA and see "Beaus of Albany (1)," "Billy in the Low Land (1)," "Braes of Auchtertyre (1)," "Fiddler's Drunk and the Fun's All Over," "Jinny in the Lowland," "Kerry Fulton's Schottishe," "Kerryman's Daughter (1) (The)." American, Reel. C Major (most versions): D Major (Bayard-Marr). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Beissenger & McCann): AABB (most versions). "Billy in the Lowground" is one of the most enduring and widespread of American traditional dance tunes in the key of 'C', known throughout the South, Midwest and West and even into the northern part of the United States. As with most such long-lived and widely disseminated reels, there is a tremendous variation of the core melody due to both regional style, musical style (e.g. bluegrass, western swing), and individual fiddler's idiosyncratic renderings.

The American tune borrows motifs from British and Irish sources. Miles Krassen (1973) identifies an Irish version called "Kerryman's Daughter (1) (The)" which may be cognate or ancestral, while R.P. Christeson suggests it can be traced to the Scottish "Braes of Auchentyre (1)" in (Cole's 1000) {as John Hartford has supported} and "Beaus of Albany (1)" printed by Boston publisher Elias Howe.
It has also been pointed out the the 'B' part of "Billy" is quite similar to the 'B' part of the Irish tune Sailor's Bonnet (The)." Samuel Bayard (1981) agrees with Stenhouse-Johnson in concluding that the tune originated in Britain as a slow 3/4 time song tune from c. 1710 or earlier, called "O Dear Mother (Minnie) What Shall I Do?" He sees the development of the tune as having then split into two branches, and that during the 1740's a 6/8 "giga" or jig form was composed called variously "All the Blue Bonnets are over the Border," "Blue Bonnets Over the Border (1)," "Over the Border (1)," or "Blue Bonnets (2)."

Later in the century the second branch was fashioned from the original 3/4 tune into a fast duple time (4/4) dancing air which went by several titles including "The Braes of Auchtertyre/Auchentyre" (the oldest and most common title), "Belles of Tipperary (1)," and "Beaus of Albany (1)." These latter tunes are the immediate ancestor of the "Billy in the Lowground" group of tunes in America. See also related tunes "Apple Blossom (1)," "Cranberry Rock," "Rymer's Favorite," "Dunbar," "Gilda Roy," Rocky Pallet," "Washroom Reel," "Indian Eat the Woodpecker," and the related part 'A' of "Shelvin' Rock (1)" (as played by Henry Reed and Melvin Wine, for example).

Early American printings of the piece can be found from the early 19th century onwards. The melody appears under the "Billy/Low Grounds" title in George P. Knauff 's Virginia Reels, volume III (Baltimore, 1839)–see also note for "Billy in the Lowlands (5)". Folklorist and fiddler Alan Jabbour finds that, in some sources, the title changed around 1800 to "Johnny in the Nether Mains."

The melody is widely disseminated through the United States, with the exception of the Northeast and north Mid-West. Bayard (1944) writes that when he collected the melody it was "current as a marching tune in Greene County, Pennsylvania, and is known to its 'Billy' form of the title farther south (as the tune resembles another Pa. tune called 'Jinny in the Lowlands').

The resemblances between this tune and 'Jinny in the Lowlands' may be fortuitous; but they have at any rate attracted enough notice from the players to cause confusion of the titles..." Tom Carter and Blanton Owen (1976) maintain the tune and title are characteristic of the Franklin, Floyd and Patrick County area of southwestern Virginia, and represent an older fiddle repertoire which predates the later development of stringband or fiddle/clawhammer banjo tunes.

"Billy in the Lowground" was played by Arizona fiddler Kenner C. Kartchner for dances in the Southwest at the beginning of the twentieth century (the piece was identified by him as having come to that region from the American South, and assessed it as "a good one"). It was recorded from the playing of an Ozark fiddler for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph who collected in the early 1940's, and, likewise, by Herbert Halpert (also for the Library of Congress) in 1939 from Tishomingo County, Mississippi, fiddler John Hatcher. Texas fiddler Eck Robertson recorded it commercially for Victor records in 1923 in a medley with "Sallie Johnson" (the disc was backed with "Done Gone (1)").

Cauthen (1990) collected evidence from period newspapers and other accounts in Alabama and records that it was one of the tunes commonly played throughout every region of that state in the first part of the 20th century. The Marion Standard of April 30th, 1909, reported it was one of the tunes (along with "Miss McLeod") played at a housewarming in Perry County, Ala., in 1827. Elsewhere in the deep South, a Georgia fiddler named Ben Smith, serving with the 12th Alabama Infantry in the Civil War, played the tune in that conflict according to a memoir of the unit. According to Bell Irvin Wiley, writing in his book The Life of Johnny Reb (1943), "Billy in the Lowground" was a favorite tune of Confederate fiddlers.

Dick Burnett
It is also known to have been associated with Kentucky fiddlers (Wolfe, 1982). The famous Kentucky musician Dick Burnett related this improbable story about the origin of the tune and title:

You know how come them to make that? There was a man a goin' through an old field one time and he had his fiddle with him and he walked out on the bank of a sink hole and it broke off and he fell down in that hole and couldn't get out. He just sat down there and took his fiddle and played that tune. His name was Billy something but I forgot his full name. .... (Charles Wolfe)



Billy in the Lowground was a popular fiddle tune among Kentucky musicians. It was recorded in 1937 for the Library of Congress by the Lomax's from the playing of Luther Strong in Hazard, Kentucky (see below). African-American fiddler Cuje Bertram claimed to have taught it to Leonard Rutherford (Monticello, Ky.), and in Jeff Titon's (2001) opinion the two versions are in fact quite similar, although Bertram's is more intricate.

Kentucky fiddler John Salyer's version (see Titon, Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes, 2001) was an uncommon rendition and shares similarities in the high part with another Kentucky fiddler, Doc Roberts, notes Titon. "Billy Lost in the Lowlands" is what fiddler Darley Fulks called the tune, the substitute word "Lowlands" in the title also being found by Bayard employed by some Pennsylvania fiddlers. Both the "Billy in the Lowground" and "Billy in the Lowlands" titles appear in the Berea, Ky., 1919–1928 contest tunes list, finds Titon. Indiana fiddler John W. "Dick" Summers (1887-1976) called his version of 'Billy' by the title "Red Church." See also Ohio/Kentucky/W.Va. border region fiddler Ed Haley's "Dunbar" for a related melody.

The tune was in the repertories of Uncle Jimmy Thompson 1848–1931 (Texas, Tenn.), Fiddlin' Cowan Powers 1877–1952? (Russell County, southwest Virginia) [and recorded by him in 1924 for Victor, though the side was unissued], Bob Wills (Texas), black Kentucky fiddler Cuje Bertram, and Alabama fiddlers Monkey Brown (1897–1972) and D. Dix Hollis. North Georgia fiddler Lowe Stokes recorded "Billy" in 1930 with guitarist Riley Puckett; his rendition features an extra beat (as does Ozark fiddler Seth Mize's version-see Beisswenger & McCann). Other early recordings include Georgia's Fiddlin' John Carson (1923) and the Kessinger Brothers (1929). See also the similar "Green Back Dollar."

"Billy in the Lowground" is mentioned in a poem by Richard L. Dawson entitled "The Hoosier Fiddle," printed in the Indiana State-Sentinel [Indianapolis] of July 29, 1885, p. 6:

Bring up the Hoosier fiddle,
And play me the rollicking reels,
That gave such joy to the country boy,
And shake the old farmer’s heels;
Put by the waltz and the schottische,
And the operatic airs.
And give me a whirl with the Hoosier girl,
To the tunes that lighten my cares!

Set the wild “Gray Eagle” screaming,
Let the “Rye Straw” tickle my ear,
And fully as rich as old “Leather Breeches”
Are “Burnt Woods” and “The Forked Deer.”
Chase the “Possum Up the Gum Stump,”
From “Natchez Under the Hill.”
Wave the “Mullen Stalk” from “Hanging Rock,”
O’er the “Sunk Lands” dark and still!
Then fiddle me down to “Clear Creek,”
To that “Nine-Mile Island” of yours,
While the current rolls o’er “Mussel Shoals,”
And into “Broad Ripple” pours.
Then stir up “Hell on the Wabash,”
Let us hear “Five Miles Out of Town,”
“The Jaybird,” when “The Cackling Hen”
“The Black Cat’s” wail shall drown!

In “The Awkward Reel” comes dancing
“Sally Goodin” and rough “Buck Horn,”
And “The Wagoner” passes by waving grasses
And the rustle of “Yaller Corn.”
With “Billy in the Low Grounds,”
The “Injun Creek” we ford.
Then “Jump Up, Joe,” for still, you know,
There’s “Sugar in the Gourd.”

Then tune for the rich fantasias,
“Big Piney” so plaintive and slow,
Let “The Wild Goose” call, and the echoes fall,
From the “Walls of Jericho;”
So come to the rare “Lost Injun,”
And play it again and again,
Let its golden streams flow on in my dreams
And play no other then.

I listen and dream of my boyhood
In the heart of the Hoosier hills,
And the old days rise before my eyes
When the fiddle my memory thrills;
I think of the farmer singing
While the dinner is on the fire,
And the strange wild calls the fiddler bawls,
While the dancers never tire.

Yes, bring up your resonant fiddle,
And play for me far in the night,
Till the cares of the day are swept away
And sorrow has taken flight;
For all the heaven of music
No sweeter melody swells
Than the fiddle sings from bow and strings,
Where the happy Hoosier dwells.[1]


Additional notes



Printed sources : - Adam (Old Time Fiddlers' Favorite Barn Dance Tunes), 1928; No. 42. Bayard (Hill Country Tunes), 1944; No. 5 (appears as "Reel"). Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 234A-E, pp. 192–194. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; Appendix No. 23, pg. 581. Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; pg. 92. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 42–43. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; No. 54, p. 41. Stephen F. Davis (Devil's Box), vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1988; p. 39. Stephen F. Davis (The Devil's Box), pp. 51–53. Fiddler Magazine, vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 1996; p. 30. Ford (Traditional Music in America), 1940; p. 65 (as "Billy in the Low Land"). Kaufman (Beginning Old Time Fiddle), 1977; pp. 68–69. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; p. 74 (an irregular version with nine measure parts instead of eight). Lowinger (Bluegrass Fiddle), 1974; No. 21. Messer (Anthology of Favorite Fiddle Tunes), 1980; No. 65, p. 39. Phillips (Fiddle Case Tunebook: Old Time Southern), 1989; p. 6. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 25 (three versions). Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 74, p. 27. Silberberg (Fiddle Tunes I Learned at the Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 10 (two versions). Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 78. Titon (Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes), 2001; nos. 9A,B,C (three versions), pp. 40–41. Welling (Welling's Hartford Tunebook), 1976; p. 1.

Recorded sources : - Berea College Appalachian Center AC003, "John Salyer: Home Recordings 1941-42" (1993). Berea College Appalachian Center AC005, Walter McNew – "Black Jack Grove" (1993). Brunswick 239 (78 RPM), Dr. Humphrey Bate and His Possum Hunters (1928) (Nashville, Tenn.) Columbia 15209-D (78 RPM), Burnett and Rutherford (1928. Recorded Nov., 1927). Columbia 15620 (78 RPM), Lowe Stokes (1930). County 202, "Eck Robertson: Famous Cowboy Fiddler." County 507, Lowe Stokes (North Ga.) (1930) – "Old Time Fiddle Classics." County 512, The Fiddlin' Bootleggers – "A Day in the Mountains" (orig. rec. in 1928). County 703, Benny Thomasson – "Texas Hoedown." County 733, Clark Kessinger – "The Legend of Clark Kessinger." Davis Unlimited 33014, W. L. Gregory – "Monticello: Tough Mountain Music from Southern Kentucky" (1974). Davis Unlimited 33015, Doc Roberts (Ky.) – "Classic Fiddle Tunes" (One of the first tunes recorded by this fiddler.) Document DOCD-5631, Cuje Bertram – "Black Fiddlers" (1999). Document 8045, "Lowe Stokes, Vol. 1: 1927-1930" (1999 reissue). Folkways 2337, Clark Kessinger (Va.) – "Live at Union Grove" (1968). Gennet 3235 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts (1925). Gennet 6390 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts (1927). Library of Congress 1010A2, Jilson Setters, recorded for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in June, 1937. Marimac 9110, Dr. Humphrey Bate and his Possum Hunters – "It'll Never Happen Again: Old Time String Bands Vol. 1." Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Casey Jones (1910-1967) – "Rocky Road to Jordon." Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers' Association, Cyrill Stinnett – "Plain Old Time Fiddling." Okeh 40020 (78 RPM), John Carson. Okeh 45397 (78 RPPM), Oscar and Doc Harper. Omac 1, Thomasson, Shorty, Morris, and O'Connor – "A Texas Jam Session." PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor – "The Civil War Collection" (1996. From Bruce Greene). Rounder 0046, Mark O'Connor – "National Junior Fiddle Champion." Rounder 0351, J. P. Fraley – "Mayville: Old Time Fiddler Tunes from Northeast Kentucky" (1995). Rounder 1004, "Ramblin' Reckless Hobo: The Songs of Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford" (originally recorded 1927). Rounder CD0262, Mike Seeger – "Fresh Oldtime String Band Music" (1988. Appears as part of "Billy in Waynesboro"). Sonyatone 201, Eck Robertson (Texas) – "Master Fiddler." Vanguard VSD 9/10, Doc Watson – "On Stage." Vetco 102, Jilson Setters, 1928 (under the name Blind Bill Day) {b. 1860, Rowan County, Ky.}, originally recorded on Victor 21407 (78 RPM) in 1928 (as "Billy in the Low Land"). Victor 19372 (78 RPM), Eck Robertson (Texas) (1922). Vocalion, 78 RPM, Burnett and Rutherford (Ky.) and Uncle Am Stuart (b. 1856, Morristown, Tenn.) (1924). Voyager 309, Benny and Jerry Thomasson – "The Weiser Reunion: A Texas Jam Session" (1993).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [2]
Hear Luther Strong's 1937 LOC recording at Juneberry 78's [3]
Hear Lowe Stokes' recording at Juneberry 78's [4]
Hear Burnett & Rutherford's 1927 recording at Slippery Hill [5] and youtube.com [6]
See Pete Martin's bluegrass transcription [7] (pp. 45-50)
Hear John Salyer's 1940/41 home recording at Berea Sound Archives [8]
Hear Bath County, Ky., fiddler Carlton Rawling's c. 1960's field recording at Berea Sound Archives [9]
Hear Delbert Hughes (Kanawha, W.Va.) home recording at Slippery Hill [10]



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  1. Posted to the Mudcat Café forum, 26 Sept. 2019 [11]