George Booker (1)

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GEORGE BOOKER [1]. AKA- "George Boker." AKA and see "Marquis of Huntly's Farewell (The)" (Marshall's Scottish Airs, 1822), "Keeper Hill" (O'Neill's Music of Ireland), "Georgia Town," "Camp Chase (2)." Old-Time, Breakdown. USA; Virginia, Tennessee, Southern Ky., West Virginia, Arkansas. A Major/Mixolydian. Standard or AEae (Lon Jordan) tunings. AABB (Beisswenger & McCann, Brody, Krassen): AA'BB (Phillips). Guthrie Meade and Mark Wilson (1976) believe the piece was originally a Scots tune of the "Hurdle Race"/"Angus Campbell" variety, basing their opinion apparently on a rendition of "George Booker" by the Tennessee fiddler Uncle Am Stuart (Vo 14914). Stuart was born in Morristown, Tenn., in 1856 and recorded the tune in 1924 when he was quite elderly; he had an archaic style formed in the latter half of the 19th century, and thus was closer perhaps to the American origins of the melody. Alan Jabbour, however, says the tune is a derivation of a Scottish strathspey called "Marquis of Huntly's Farewell (The)," composed by the great strathspey composer William Marshall and appearing in his Collection of Strathspey Reels (c. 1781). The high part of this tune "is almost certainly a hornpipe," states Miles Krassen (1973) in another opinion, "but the low part is not. (Glen Lyn, southwest Virginia, fiddler) Henry Reed (1884-1968) played a version with a low part that is much more characteristic of hornpipes." Jabbour remarks that "George Booker" is named after "a minor Revolutionary War hero" and is "one of the classics of what Henry Reed called the 'old East Virginia' repertory.

The melody first appears under the "Booker" title in George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels, volume III (Baltimore, 1839), apparently in honor of a Revolutionary War leader and local hero from Virginia (according to Jabbour). Researcher Chris Goertzen elaborates that this George Booker served as a militia lieutenant in the Revolutionary War and lived in Knauff's area of Farmville, Virginia; probably the same individual who was a local lawyer by 1809. Goertzen points out that the Booker family name "is common in the little cemeteries that dot Prince Edward County farms" [1]. Bruce Green thinks this tune may have been brought to the southern Kentucky region by a fiddler named John Gregory, originally from Virginia (in connection with similar Kentucky melodies, see Ed Hayley's "Grey Eagle Jig"). The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph in the early 1940's from Ozarks Mountains fiddlers (including Lon Jordan in 1941), although Drew Beisswenger (2008) says it is not often played by Ozarks fiddlers today. Alan Jabbour believes "George Booker" is similar to "Camp Chase" and speculates that the former may have been the tune originally played in the Civil War prison camp which gave West Virginia fiddler Solly Carpenter his freedom.

Texas fiddle lore has yet another story. The article "The Origins of the Texas Style of Traditional Old Time Fiddling" [1], at the Texas Old Time Fiddling Association website records:

Also, there is the story about a fiddler, George Booker, and a tune entitled "George Booker," that is occasionally performed by Texas fiddlers. George Booker was a well-known fiddler from Nacogdoches who was being held in jail there for murder. On the day before he was to be executed, he talked the sheriff into allowing him to play for a dance the night before with the sheriff as a chaperone. Booker performed well probably knowing this would his last time to play in the area. About three o'clock in the morning, Booker went out on the porch for some air and that was the last anyone had ever seen of him. The last tune he played at the dance was one of his favorites, "Fine Times at Our House," is now performed as "George Booker." This is a story that is told by J. B. Cranfill, (1858-1942) originally from Parker County who was a popular fiddler in the Dallas area. He was also a medical doctor, a leader in the Baptist Church and a newspaper writer. He wrote some very informative articles on old-time fiddling for Dallas and Houston news- papers that gave detailed accounts of fiddling activities of the period. The information also helped to support the idea that Texas fiddling was different from the other styles as early as the 1920's... "George Booker," is not a tune used in contests but is still a favorite of Texas fiddlers. It is often played by Smokey Butler of Huntington, Carl Hopkins of Porter and has been recorded by the late Terry Morris, one of the great legends of Texas fiddling.

"George Booker" was in the repertoire of fiddler S.S. Ransdell (Louisburg, Granville, County, N.C.) who competed in 1905 in the Raleigh, N.C., fiddler's convention, and was also played by Confederate veteran Arnold A. Parish (Willow Spings, Wake County, N.C.) at the next gathering, in 1906, as recorded by the old Raleigh News and Observer. Drew Beisswenger (2008) notes similarities with the "Green Corn" family of tunes (e.g. "Doc Brown's Dream"). Similarities also to the Missouri tune "Waldo."

Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - Am Stuart (Tennesse) [Krassen, Milliner & Koken]: Henry Reed (Monroe County, West Virginia) [Krassen]: Alan Block with Ebenezer (Brody, Phillips); Lon Jordan (early 20th century, Farmington, Arkansas) [Beissenger & McCann].

Printed sources : - Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 86. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 117. Krassen (Masters of Old Time Fiddling), 1983; pp. 19-20 and pp. 88-90. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; p. 84. Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 229. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 95.

Recorded sources: - Biograph 6007, Ebenezer- "Tell It to Me." Vocalion 14914, Uncle Am Stuart (1924). Recorded by Asheville N.C. (originally Tenn.) fiddler Dedrick Harris (b. 1968?) for Broadway in 1924. CD, Alan Jabbour, James Reed, Bertram Levy - "A Henry Reed Reunion" (2002).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
Hear Alan Jabbour's version from Henry Reed at a concert at Brandywine, 2002, at Slippery Hill [3]
Hear Alan Jabbour talk about "George Booker" and "Camp Chase", 2002, at Slippery Hill [4]



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  1. Chris Goertzen,George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels and the History of American Fiddling, 2017, p. 65.