Mabel

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MABEL. AKA and see "Dubuque." Old-Time, Schottische (cut time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The tune has a variety of titles in American tradition, of which perhaps "Dubuque" is the best known, but also includes "Duck River," "Fiddling Phil/Phiddlin' Phil," "Five Miles Out of Town," "General Lee," "Muddy Road to Kansas," "Old Dubuque," and "Sally in the Green Corn." The first strain of "Mabel" is cognate with the "Off to California (1)" tune family.

Elmo Newcomber and guitarist Slick Jones playing at a Texas barbeque in the late 1950's

"Mabel" comes from the playing of Texas rancher and fiddler Elmo Newcomer, who was recorded at his home near Pipe Creek, Bandera, County, by John Lomax during a 1939 field recording trip. Newcomer also had a reputation as a fine dance caller and was much in demand in his county for his music; he even produced music sold under the label Crow Mart. His "Mabel" is clearly a member of the "Dubuque" family; played not as a breakdown, but as a deliberate, moderately paced piece that Lomax characterized as a 'schottische'. According to Lomax's field notes (located at American Memory [lcweb2.loc.gov/afc/afcss39/fn0001/fn0001.sgm]):

The fiddle tunes and breakdowns on this record were played and sung by Elmo Newcomor, in his ranch home on the San Antonio-Bandera Road, near Pipe Creek, Texas, Bandera Co., May 3, 1939. Mr. Newcomer was introduced to Mr. Lomax by J. Marvin Hunter, editor of Frontier Times and Director of the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera, Texas. Mr. Newcomer and his family of wife and four children live in a very old two-room house, where Mr. Newcomer lived from the age of two, and where his mother died when he was four. He has "always" played these tunes and is a favorite caller at dances. His Rye Whiskey with antics is a general favorite at fiddle contests. Mrs. Newcomer is a member of the school trustees of Pipe Creek.

To Lomax's surprise, Newcomer was quite familiar with who he was:

His greeting to Mr. Lomax was "Shake, boy. I've heared about you all my life. Me an' a neighbor boy was both left to live alone with our fathers. We read in a paper when we was about fourteen years old, that you was sellin' a book of cowboy songs. So we scraped our savings together an' sent' em to you an' sure 'nough here come the book. Here, Clyde, Bring me that cowboy song book. Can you reach it? (It's put away up high where the baby can't reach get to it). We read it and sung from it so much and loaned it out so much that it's might nigh tore up." There was the book of cowboy songs, no two pages hanging together, but apparently all there between the covers, one of the 1910 edition [Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, by John A. Lomax, 1910]

Newcomer sang these couplets to the first strain of the melody:

Glory to the Meetinghouse and glory to the stable,
Glory to the little girl that they call Mable.

Love it is a an awful thing and beauty is a blossom,
If you want your finger bit just poke it at a 'possum.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources:

Recorded sources: Library of Congress AFS 02632 A02, Elmo Newcomer (1939). Rounder CD0262, Mike Seeger - "Fresh Oldtime String Band Music" (1988. Learned from a 1939 recording by Elmo Newcomer, Pipe Creek, Texas, recorded by John and Rudy Lomax for the Library of Congress).

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
Hear Elmo Newcomer's "Mabel" at the Library of Congress [2]




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