Fortune (1)

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X:1 T:Fortune [1] S:fiddler & banjo player John Rector (1889-1985, Galax, Virginia) M:C| L:1/8 N:See an elderly John Rector play the tune N:on youtube.com [1] N:From a 1926 field recording by John Lomax F:https://www.slippery-hill.com/recording/fortune-0 Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:D +slide+a2-|abaf fede|fded d2a2-|abaf fed2|A3B A2a2-| abaf fedf|[dg][dg][dg]a b2a2-|abag ed-c2|[d3f3][df][d2f2]a2-| abag fedf|edce d2a2-|abag fded|A3A A2a2-| abag f[df]fd |[d3g3]a b2a2-|abag ed-c2|[d3f3][df][d2f2]|| +slide+f2-|fgfe defd|edce dded| defd |A3A A3e-| fgfe de[d2f2]|[d2g3]a g2 A2-|ABA2 AB c2|d6f2-| fefg fedf|edce ddef-|fgfd edcB|A3AA3e-| fgfe de[d2f2]|[d2g3]a g2 A2-|ABA2 AB c2|d6|]



FORTUNE [1]. AKA- "Once I Had a Fortune." Old-Time, Song and Breakdown. USA, "most popular around Galax, Va." (Krassen, 1973). D Major. Standard or ADae tunings (fiddle). AB (Silberberg): AABB (Brody, Krassen, Kuntz, Phillips). Called a "Blue-Ridge Mountain standard," it is found in western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, but has become particularly identified with Galax/Hillsville, southwestern Virginia area, style bands. It was, for example, one of the few tunes recorded by legendary Galax, Va., fiddler Emmett Lundy, and Galax, Va., storekeeper, banjo and fiddle player John Rector was recorded playing "Fortune" in 1926 by collector John Lomax. Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell (1901-1986) said of the melody: "I can recollect hearing my daddy play it as far back as I can recollect. I don't know where that started from...it was more just an old, well, a flat foot dance tune I'd say."

Once I had a fortune, I put it in my trunk,
I lost it all a-gambling one night when I was drunk.

Wish I had a pretty little hog/horse, corn to feed him on,
And a pretty little wife around the farm to feed him when I'm gone. .... [Jarrell]

Oh once I had a fortune, I put it in my trunk,
I lost it all a-gamblin' one night when I was drunk.

Chorus
Fortune I had it, fortune I lost it,
Fortune I lost it one night when I was drunk.

Once I had a fortune but now I've lost it all,
Drinkin' and a gambling and playin' at the ball.

I'm packin' up my suitcase and now I say goodbye,
I'm gonna live a gamblin' man until the day I die. ... [The Backwoods Band]

Galax, Virginia, storekeeper, banjo and fiddle player John Rector sang the song for Library of Congress collector John Lomax in 1926. His first verse went:

Once I had a fortune, locked it in my trunk,
I lost it all a-gambling one night when I got drunk.

This is very similar to a song called "I'll never get drunk anymore" collected from black singers in East Tennessee in 1905[1]:

My father give me a fortune,
I locked it in my trunk;
I spent it one night in gamblin',
The night that I got drunk.

Oh, I'll never get drunk any more;
I'll lay my head in the bar-room door,
But I'll never get drunk any more.

See also the related "Sugar Hill" tune family.

Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - The Bogtrotters (Galax, Va) [Brody]; Charlie Higgins (Galax, Va.) [Krassen]; John Rector (Galax, Va.) [Milliner & Koken]; The Backwoods Band (Kuntz); Tommy Jarrell (Mt. Airy, N.C.) [Kuntz]; Ottis Burris [Phillips]; Vivian Williams (Seattle) [Silberberg].

Printed sources : - Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 112. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; p. 46. Kuntz (Ragged but Right), 1987; pp. 309-311 (two versions). Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 217. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 91. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 47.

Recorded sources: -Biograph 6003, The Bogtrotters (Galax, Va.) - "The Original Bogtrotters" (Wade, Crockett, and Fields Ward). County 705, Otis Burris- "Virginia Breakdown." County 778, Tommy Jarrell- "Pickin' On Tommy's Porch" (1984). County CD 2719, The Camp Creek Boys. Folkways FTS 31038, Roger Sprung- "Bluegrass Blast." Heritage XXIV, Smokey Valley Boys - "Music of North Carolina" (Brandywine, 1978). Marimac 9009, Andy Cahan - "Old Time Friends" (1987). Rounder 0361, Bruce Molsky - "Lost Boy" (1996). Musical Traditions MTCD321-2, Rob Tate - "Far in the Mountains, vols. 1 & 2" (2002). Tennvale 003, Pete Parish- "Clawhammer Banjo." Rounder CD 0028, Fred Cockerham - "High Atmosphere." Rounder 0128, The Backwoods Band- "Jes' Fine" (1980. Influenced by the fiddling of Otis Burris and the singing of Scotty East). Tennvale 002, Barry Poss- "Galax '73."

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]

Hear John Rector's 1926 field recording by John Lomax at Slippery Hill [3]
See a video of an elderly John Rector fiddling the tune at youtube.com [4]


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  1. E.C. Perrow, "Songs and Rhymes from the South," Journal of American Folk-lore, vol. XXVIII, 1915-16, p. 131.