Bitter Creek

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X:1 T:Bitter Creek N:From the playing of Oscar & Doc Harper (Texas) N:Fiddle Oscar Harper was born in 1888, probably in Ashdown, Ark., close to the N:Texas border, but grew up in Texas northeast of Dallas and died in that city N:in 1952. Doc Harper played guitar. M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel Q:"Fast" D:OKeh 45485 (78 RPM), Oscar & Doc Harper (1929) D:County CD 3525, Oscar & Doc Harper - "Old Time Texas String Bands, vol. 2" D:https://www.slippery-hill.com/content/bitter-creek-1 Z:Andrew Kuntz K:G ([Bg]||Sb)gdg edBe|dBGB AGEG|DB,DF GABe|dBAG A2g-a| bgdg edBe|dBGB AGEG|DB,DF GABe|dBAF [G2B2][G2B2]|| |:DB,DB, DFGF|ECEC EFGE|DB,DG EFGA|BdAF GFGE| DB,DB, DFGF|ECEC EFGE|DB,DG EFGA|1BGAF [G2B2][G2B2]:|2BGAF [G2B2]DG-|| G2g2 dedc|BGAG [E3A3]G|DB,DF GABe|dBAG A2 G2- G2g2 dedc|BGAG EFGE|DB,DF GABe |dBAF G2g2-| gage dged|gded Bcd2|gage dged|BGAF EG-Gg-| gage dged|gded Bd-dg-|gage dged|BGAF G2gaS||



BITTER CREEK. AKA – "Bitter Creek Breakdown." American, Reel (cut time). USA; Texas, Kentucky. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (Brody, Phillips): ABB'C (Harper): ABCDD (Devil's Box): AABBCCDD (Christeson). The tune was recorded in Dallas, Texas, for OKeh Records at the end of November, 1929, by Texas fiddler Oscar Harper (1888-1952), accompanied by guitar player Doc Harper. In 1942 Harper was recorded playing "Bitter Creek" by John Lomax for the Library of Congress[1].

Although (according to collector R.P. Christeson) "Bitter Creek" was a local Texas tune, it was popularized by fiddler Tommy Jackson and quickly became widely disseminated. Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson, whose heyday was in the mid-20th century, also had an influential version, albeit played in five parts. He told Gus Garelick that he himself had metaphorically "crossed many a-bitter creek in my life," but maintained there actually was a Bitter Creek in Texas. Bitter Creek, Nolan County, Texas, is a ghost town and no longer exists, although it is thought to have been located south of present Sweetwater. In 1923 oil was discovered there, leading to its brief existence; by the 1950's only five residents remained.

Joel Shimberg notes the similarity with this tune and French-Canadian fiddler Henri Landry's "Carnival Reel."


Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Red Williams (Dallas, Texas) [Christeson]; Benny Thomasson (Texas) [Brody]; Howdy Forrester via John Hartford [Devil's Box]; Tommy Jackson [Phillips].

Printed sources : - Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 45. R.P. Christeson (Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; No. 130, p. 92. The Devil's Box, vol. 22, No. 4, Winter 1988; p. 51. Martin (Benny Thomasson Fiddle Transcriptions), 1997; No. 2, p. 9. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 26.

Recorded sources : - County 724, Benny Thomasson – "Country Fiddlin' from the Big State" (1970). County CD 2712, Art Stamper – "The Lost Fiddler" (c. 1982). County 3525, Oscar & Doc Harper (et al) – "Dallas Bound: Old-Time Texas String Bands, vol. 2" (the four-part version of the tune). MCA 162, Tommy Jackson – "Square Dances Without Calls." OKeh 45485 (78 RPM), Oscar & Doc Harper (1929). Rounder 0004, Clark Kessinger – "Old Time Music." Voyager Records, Benny Thomasson – "Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle?"

See also listing at :
Hear Oscar and Doc Harper's recording at Slippery Hill [1] and youtube.com [2]



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  1. The 1942 "Bitter Creek" recording was of Harper playing fiddle, with Harmon Clem (gtr.), Homer Peters (ban.), Ray Hanby (bass), with Bob McClary calling dance figures.