Cumberland Gap (1)

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X:1 T:Cumberland Gap [1] S:Uncle Am Stuart (1853-1926, Morristown, Tennessee) M:C| L:1/8 D:Vocalion 14839 (78 RPM), Uncle Am Stuart (1924) F:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74O2Yl-DwSw F:https://www.slippery-hill.com/recording/cumberland-gap-0 Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:G ((3ABc||d2) (3cBA GBAc|Be2f e2((3ABc|d2) BA GBAG|EG2A G3B| dedB GBeB|edef efge|dedB GBAG|EG2A G3B| dedB GBeB|edef efge|dedB GBAG|EG2A G4|| d2ga bgag|eaab (3aba ge|dgga bgag|(eg)ga g2(3age| dega bgag|eaab (3aba ge|dgga bgag|(eg)ga g2e2||



CUMBERLAND GAP [1]. AKA - "Tumberland Gap." American, Reel (cut time). USA; Arkansas, southwest Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, western North Carolina, Alabama. G Major (most versions): A Major: D Major (Tommy Jarrell). Standard, DGdg (Harvey Sampson) or ADad (Tommy Jarrell/Bruce Molsky) tunings (fiddle). ABCC'DD (Phillips): AABB (Thede): AABBCC (Brody). The Cumberland Gap is a pass in the Appalachians between upper Tennessee and Kentucky. It is through this passage in the mountains that Daniel Boone in 1773 led a group of pioneers into Kentucky along his famous Wilderness Road, an event famous in American history that association with may have helped to popularize the melody (or, rather, populaize the title for a fiddle tune, as there are several different tunes that are called "Cumberland Gap"). The tune is very wide-spread throughout the upland South and many variants exist, along with some unrelated tunes that bear the same title. Alan Jabbour has written that it dates "well back" in the 19th century, and, while it bears melodic resemblance to some Irish reels in part, its derivation is yet to be determined. Mike Yates (2002) says that Bascom Lamar Lunsford maintained that "Cumberland Gap" was a speeded-up version of the ballad "Bonny James Campbell" (also rendered as a southern fiddle tune) while Yates finds the Niel Gow's "Skye Air" carries a "faint suggestion" of the Appalachian standard. Still, Yates admits there seems to be no early printings of the tune.

Various verses have been set to the tune. Banjo player Dent Wimmer of Floyd, Floyd County, Virginia, sang:

My and my wife and seventeen chaps,
Walked all the way to Cumberland gap.

Cumberland Gap's an awful dry place,
You can't get water to wash your face.

Jabbour found 32 recordings of tunes with the title "Cumberland Gap" in the Library of Congress sound archives, while Bruce Greene and John Harrod's field recordings of Kentucky fiddlers alone yielded fifty-two performances of the title. One of the earliest versions was recorded on an Edison Bell cylinder by Allen Sisson. The tune was played by Rock Ridge, Alabama, fiddlers c. 1920 (Devil's Box, vol. 17, #2, p. 20). It was in the repertoires of Fiddlin' Cowan Powers 1877-1952? (Russell County, southwest Va.) who recorded it in 1924 for Victor {though it was unissued}, and African-American fiddler Cuje Bertram of Kentucky's Cumberland Plateau region (Bertram recorded it on a 1970 home recording made for his family, see "Cumberland Gap (4)"). "Cumberland Gap" was also in repertoire of J. Dedrick Harris, from eastern Tennessee, who fiddled regularly with Bob Taylor in his run for Governor of the state in the late 1800's. Harris moved to western North Carolina in the 1920's and influenced a generation of fiddlers including the Helton brothers, Manco Sneed, Bill Hensley, and Marcus Martin. In the Round Peak region of western North Carolina the melody was known by the title "Tumberland Gap" for many years until the isloation of the area broke down. Near Round Peak, Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell (d. 1986) remembered the tune "came around" the region when he was a young man, around 1915, and was not known before then. The tune was mentioned by William Byrne who described a chance encounter with West Virginia fiddler 'Old Sol' Nelson during a fishing trip on the Elk River. The year was around 1880, and Sol, whom Byrne said was famous for his playing "throughout the Elk Valley from Clay Courthouse to Sutton as...the Fiddler of the Wilderness," had brought out his fiddle after supper to entertain (Milnes, 1999). Webster County, W.Va., fiddler Edden Hammons also played "Cumberland Gap", recorded at his home in 1947 by researcher Louis Watson Chappell. Fiddler Allen Sisson (1873-1951), from the Georgia/Tennessee border, travelled to New York in February, 1925, to record his version of "Cumberland Gap" for Victor Records. Sisson cut eight sides that day, accompanied on each by Victor's ubiquitous studio pianist John F. Burckhardt, a versatile musician who, in addition to backing a variety of singers and instrumentalists in different genres, proved adept at backing fiddlers such as Sisson, John Baltzell, and Harold Veo, along with banjo players Fred Van Eps and Shirley Spaulding. The "Cumberland Gap" title appears in a list of traditional Ozarks Mountains fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954.

Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - Luther Strong [Phillips]: Walter Fenell (Latimer County, Oklahoma) [Thede].

Printed sources : - Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 62. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 114.

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. fidder Harvey Sampson from his father). Broadway 5118-A (78 RPM) {1924} and Library of Congress AFS 4804-B-3 {1941}, Osey and Ernest Helton (Asheville N.C.). Cartunes 105, Bruce Molsky and Bob Carlin - "Take Me as I Am" (2004. Sourced to Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham). Columbia 15303-D (78 RPM), Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers (1928). Conqueror 8239 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts. County 723, Cockerham, Jarrell, and Jenkins- "Back Home in the Blue Ridge." County 2702CD, "Tommy and Fred." Document 8040, "The Hill Billies/Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, vol. 2" (reissue). Document DOCD-8040, The Hillbillies (reissue, originally recorded 1926). Document DOCD-8057, "The Skillet Lickers, vol. 2 - 1928-1929" (reissue). Edison 51690-L (78 RPM), Allen Sisson (1925. Identified on label as "Champion Fiddler of Tennessee"). Marimac 9008, The Lazy Aces String Band - "Still Lazy after All These Years" (1986. Learned from the playing of Arthur Smith). Musical Traditions MTCD 321-2, Dent Wimmer (et al) - "Far in the Mountains, Vols. 1 & 2" (2002). Rounder 1005, Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers- "Hear These New Southern Fiddle and Guitar Records." Rounder 0058, Corbit Stamper and Thornton Spencer - "Old Originals, vol. 2" (1978). Rounder 0089, Oscar and Eugene Wright (W.Va.) - "Old-Time Fiddle." Voyager 340, Jim Herd - "Old Time Ozark Fiddling." West Virginia University Press Sound Archives ‎43492, "The Edden Hammons Collection, vol. 2" (1984). Vocalion 14839 (78 RPM, 1924) Uncle Am Stuart (b. 1856, Morristown, Tenn). Yodel-Ay-Hee 05, The Wildcats - "On Our Knees" (1992).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear the Skillet Lickers 1928 recording at Slippery Hill [2] and at youtube.com [3]
Hear Uncle Am Stuart's 1924 recording at Slippery Hill [4] and at youtube.com [5]
Hear Allen Sisson's 1925 recording at Slippery Hill [6] and at youtube.com [7]



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