Annotation:Camp Chase (2)

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X:1 T:Camp Chase [2] S:French Carpenter (1905-1965, Clay County, W.Va.) M:C| L:1/8 N:AEae tuning R:Reel F: Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:Amix [A,2E2A2]-|[E2A2e2]a2 egag |egag edcd|eaba eaba|eaba edcd| egag egbg|egag edcc|d2[d2f2]eged|BcAd cAB^G|1A6:|2A8|| +slide+[E4E4][C4E4]|+slide+[A2A2]Ad cABB|[M:2/4]A2A2|[M:C|]+slide+[E4E4][C4E4]| D2{F}ED B,2B,2|[E4E4][E4E4]|[C2E2][CE][CE][E2A2][EA]d|cABc d2d2| e4g4|f4e4|c2Ac BAB^G|A6||

CAMP CHASE [2]. American, Reel (cut time). A Major. AEae, DGdg (Harvey Sampson) or Standard tunings (fiddle). AABB. No relation to "Camp Chase (1)." The tune and attached story are popular among fiddlers in the central West Virginia area. The legend has been related by several writers (with slight variations) but most versions begin at the point that Solly "Devil Sol" Carpenter (fiddler French Carpenter's grandfather and himself one of the most influential fiddlers in West Virginia history) has been imprisoned during the Civil War at a Union prison in Camp Chase, located near the west side of Columbus, Ohio, where the present-day Fort Hayes is situated. Little remains of the prison camp save for a cemetery on West Sullivan Ave., and a small stone retaining wall on West Broad Street, Columbus.

The story goes that while Solly was incarcerated the commandant held a fiddler's contest to give the best player a chance to fiddle his way to freedom, or, as some versions go, to win a reprieve from a death sentence. Devil Sol, a man named Bowie and others played and apparently all the fiddlers played the same tune. Solly won by adding some unusual new notes to the tune according to his fancy (or perhaps, as one writer suggests, in desperation). West Virginia fiddler Wilson Douglas, a protégé of French Carpenter, relates "There was quite a few who played in the contest; but Saul put these two high notes in. That tune, he called it 'Camp Chase.' It was some kind of a tune before but they hadn't named it yet. And when he got out of there he called it 'Camp Chase,' and it's gone by that name ever since." Although Sol gained his freedom in the contest he had to sign a parole, pledging not to take up arms against the Union; as the story goes, he ignored this and headed south to join another Confederate unit. French Carpenter himself introduced the tune on his LP "Elzic's Farewell" (recorded 1964):

This is an old piece that was played by my grandfather when he was in prison at Camp Chase, Ohio. That was back in the old war, they had five men in prison, and the soldiers and the officers knew that the five could play the fiddle, and they set aside a day to have a contest, and the best fiddler was to win his freedom, and my grandfather, Solly Carpenter, played this piece along with ‘em, and he added two little notes to the tune that they played, that won his freedom. Through our generations of the fiddlin’ Carpenters, we’ve always kept this in our minds, as one of the most important tunes of all of our fiddling is called Camp Chase.

Carpenter's name appears on the 1862-1863 prison registers of Camp Chase [1], which records that "Sol Carpenter" of Clay County was received at the camp on March 17th, and released on April 9.

Alan Jabbour notes a similarity between one of the versions of "Camp Chase" and George Booker (1) <@@@TAG133140@@@> and suspects it may be the latter that was played in the contest; the name "Camp Chase" may then have been applied to the tune by W.Va. fiddlers who were familiar with the legend and Solly's Carpenter's music (Bill Hicks {1972}; Krassen {1983}). "George Booker" seems related, notes Jabbour, to the 18th century Scottish strathspey Marquis of Huntly's Farewell (The) <@@@TAG110162@@@>

It will be noted that there are similar such legends in British Isles and other traditions in which a fiddler tries to play his way to freedom (or plays a masterpiece just before he is executed). Perhaps the oldest, and certainly one of the most famous, is the myth of the Greek harper Orpheus, who played his way out of Hades. See also the tunes "MacPherson's Lament," "Last of Callahan," "Callahan" and the Cajun "Guilbeau's Waltz" and "Valse à Napoleon (1)" which have similar tales attached.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Krassen (Masters of Old Time Fiddling), 1983; pp 58-59. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 44.

Recorded sources : - Augusta Heritage Recordings AHR-004C, Harvey Sampson and the Big Possum String Band - "Flat Foot in the Ashes" (1986/1994. Learned by Calhoun County, W.Va., fiddler Harvey Sampson, probably from one of the Carpenter family). Buffalo Skinner Recordings, Kim Johnson - "Keepers" (2009). Burning Wolf 001, Reed Island Rounders - "Wolves in the Wood." Kanawha 301, French Carpenter - "Elzic's Farewell" (1978. Originally recorded 1963). PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor - "The Civil War Collection" (1996. Learned from Gerry Milnes, who had it from Emery Bailey, Calhoun County, W.Va.). Smithsonian Folkways SFW40149_105, French Carpenter - "Back Roads to Cold Mountain" (2004). Modock Ramblers - "Old Tunes & New Blood: Legacy of Wilson Douglas" (2015).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: A Guide to Recorded Sources [1].
Hear French Carpenter's 1963 recording at Slippery Hill [2]
Hear Wilson Douglas's 1973 field recording by Kevin Delaney at Berea Sound Archives [3]
Hear/See Wilson Douglas fiddle the tune (March, 1999) at [4]

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  1. West Virginia - The Other History [5]