Natchez Under the Hill (1)

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X:1 T:Natchez on the Hill [1] M:2/4 L:1/8 R:Reel B:George P. Knauff - Virginia Reels N:Published in Baltimore by Geo. Willig n.d. (1839) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:A A/E/c/A/ E/C/A/E/ | C/A,/E/C/ A,A/B/ | [Ec][Ec] (c/B/A/B/) | [Ac][EGB] [EGB]E | {E}Ac/A/ EA/E/ | CE/C/ A,e | a/g/a/e/ f/e/c | e/c/B/c/ Az || c/e/e/f/ e/c/B/A/ | c/e/e/f/ ee | {g}f/e/f/g/ a/g/f/e/ | e/f/f/g/ fg | [c2a2] e/a/c | [Ac]B/A/ BA/B/ | [Ac][Ac] c/B/A/F/ | E/A/A/B/ A z ||



NATCHEZ UNDER THE HILL [1]. AKA and see "Turkey In the Staw," "Old Bog Hole (The)," "Old Zip Coon." Old-Time, Breakdown. USA; Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia. A Major. AEae tuning (fiddle). AABB (Chase, Thede): AA'BB' (Beisswenger & McCann). "Natchez Under the Hill" is a title attached to a several distinct tunes and their variants, particularly in the Midwest. However, the most popular of the tunes with this title can easily be recognized for it was perhaps progenitor of, the American fiddling standards "Turkey in the Straw" and "Old Zip Coon" (it is distinct from the latter, a Northern relative, by virtue of the two different beginning measures). It appears to be American in origin, though Alan Jabbour sees the roots of the tune in the English country dance melody "Rose Tree (The)," while others note the similarities of the English morris dance tune "Old Mother Oxford." Jabbour (1971) states: "The only conspicuous difference in the melodic contours is that 'The Rose Tree' drops to tonic in the third phrase of the second strain, while the American tunes thrust up to the octave for rendering much of the same melodic material." Though it seems clear its roots were in the British Isles, "Natchez Under the Hill" appears to have been one of the earliest American tunes that can be characterized as "old-timey" (i.e. having entered American traditional fiddling repertoire via the folk process) and a popular one. It was first published in this country in George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels, volume I (1839) as "Natchez on the Hill", although Mark Wilson says it was mentioned in print twenty years prior to that. The title was again mentioned in a humorous dialect story called "The Knob Dance," published in 1845, set in Eastern Tennessee. Brown maintains the tune served as a "rhythmically enlivened" transitional melody between "The Rose Tree" and the song "Old Zip Coon" (curiously published in 1834, five years before the Knauff's printing of 'Natchez'--the two tunes were probably older than their publications), which closely follows "Natchez" harmonically and melodically (save the opening arpeggios of "Natchez" are replaced by a more sing-able phrase). By at least 1899 it was enough of a "chestnut" that it had become a category tune for fiddlers' contests, like the one held that year in Gallatin, Tennessee. Each fiddler would play his version, and the rendition judged the best won a prize (C. Wolfe, The Devil's Box, vol. 14, No. 4, 12/1/80).

Natchez-Under-the-Hill



Marion Thede (1967), quoting Cushman, elucidates the title, the name of a river town in the state of Mississippi:

'Natchez Under the Hill' was in that early day (the late 1700's and early 1800's) the sine qua non as the point of rendezvous for the rough and care-for-nothing men who navigated the keel and flat boats on the Mississippi River ere they were superseded by the steamboat. At that early day the city of Natchez was an excellent market for the products of the 'upper country', consequently hundreds of heavily laden and richly-laden boats congregated there, to the great dread of the law-abiding and peaceful inhabitants residing in the upper part of the city, known as 'The Bluff;' for the wild and lawless boatmen knowing no restraint...indulged in their caprices in every kind of rowdyism known to man...thus did those specimens of American freemen spend their leisure hours in drinking whiskey, yelling, fiddling, dancing, and fist-fighting...'

Natchez2.jpg
Chris Goertzen, in his book George P. Knauff's Virginia Reels and the History of American Fiddling (2017, p. 65), points out that Knauff's title in Virginia Reels, "Natchez on the Hill," uses a preposition with particular meaning, as Natchez 'on the hill' and Natchez 'under the hill' were very different environs divided by a host of factors, including income and social class. The latter was the rather disreputable place described above (and no doubt what is referenced in nearly all the 'Natchez/hill' titles)--whether or not Knauff meant to reference the upper town, or whether he 'corrected' what he thought was a mistake in the title is not known.



Sandy Hook, Kentucky, fiddler Alva Greene called his version "Matches Under the Hill," but had no explanation for the title. Kerry Blech suggests comparison with the Cape Breton/Scottish tune "Old Bog Hole" which seems to be a close relative or variant of "Natchez." A version of "Bog Hole" was fiddled by Joe MacLean on Rounder 7024, "Old Time Fiddle Music from Cape Breton Island."

"Natchez" was recorded in 1941 for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph from Ozarks Mountains fiddler Lon Jordan, of Farmington, Arkansas (AFS 5317 A3), and was reissued on the Library of Congress LP AFS L62, "American Fiddle Tunes from the Library of Congress," edited by Alan Jabbour. In introducing the tune, Mr. Jordan says before playing: "'Natchez Under the Hill'-it sounds a lot like 'Turkey in the Straw', but there's a difference!" Other Library of Congress recordings of the tune were made in 1937 of Theophilus G. Hoskins of Hyden, Kentucky (AFS 1520 A1), and in 1941 of Emmett Lundy of Galax, Virginia (AFS 4941 A3). See also the Texas variant "Why Can't a White Man Dance Like a N.... Can?" from the playing of Orville Burns and Ace Sewell. "Natchez under the Hill" is mentioned in a poem by Richard L. Dawson entitled "The Hoosier Fiddle," printed in the Indiana State-Sentinel [Indianapolis] of July 29, 1885, p. 6:

Bring up the Hoosier fiddle,
And play me the rollicking reels,
That gave such joy to the country boy,
And shake the old farmer’s heels;
Put by the waltz and the schottische,
And the operatic airs.
And give me a whirl with the Hoosier girl,
To the tunes that lighten my cares!

Set the wild “Gray Eagle” screaming,
Let the “Rye Straw” tickle my ear,
And fully as rich as old “Leather Breeches”
Are “Burnt Woods” and “The Forked Deer.”
Chase the “Possum Up the Gum Stump,”
From “Natchez Under the Hill.”
Wave the “Mullen Stalk” from “Hanging Rock,”
O’er the “Sunk Lands” dark and still!
Then fiddle me down to “Clear Creek,”
To that “Nine-Mile Island” of yours,
While the current rolls o’er “Mussel Shoals,”
And into “Broad Ripple” pours.
Then stir up “Hell on the Wabash,”
Let us hear “Five Miles Out of Town,”
“The Jaybird,” when “The Cackling Hen”
“The Black Cat’s” wail shall drown!

In “The Awkward Reel” comes dancing
“Sally Goodin” and rough “Buck Horn,”
And “The Wagoner” passes by waving grasses
And the rustle of “Yaller Corn.”
With “Billy in the Low Grounds,”
The “Injun Creek” we ford.
Then “Jump Up, Joe,” for still, you know,
There’s “Sugar in the Gourd.”

Then tune for the rich fantasias,
“Big Piney” so plaintive and slow,
Let “The Wild Goose” call, and the echoes fall,
From the “Walls of Jericho;”
So come to the rare “Lost Injun,”
And play it again and again,
Let its golden streams flow on in my dreams
And play no other then.

I listen and dream of my boyhood
In the heart of the Hoosier hills,
And the old days rise before my eyes
When the fiddle my memory thrills;
I think of the farmer singing
While the dinner is on the fire,
And the strange wild calls the fiddler bawls,
While the dancers never tire.

Yes, bring up your resonant fiddle,
And play for me far in the night,
Till the cares of the day are swept away
And sorrow has taken flight;
For all the heaven of music
No sweeter melody swells
Than the fiddle sings from bow and strings,
Where the happy Hoosier dwells.[1]


Additional notes

Sources for notated versions: - W.S. Collins (Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma) [Thede]; Mrs. John Hunter (Richmond, Va.) [Chase]; Lon Jordon (Farmington, Ark.) [Beisswenger & McCann].

Printed sources : - Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 87. Chase (American Folk Tales and Songs), 1956; p. 208. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; p. 112-113.

Recorded sources: - County 2730, Rafe Stefanini - "Glory on the Big Spring." PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor - "The Civil War Collection" (1996. Two versions: one from LOC recording in 1941 of Lon Jordon, Farmington, Arkansas; second from Bruce Greene, who learned it from fiddlers around Metcalf County, central Ky.). Rounder 18964-1518-2, Lon Jordan - "American Fiddle Tunes." Rounder 82161-1108-2, Lon Jordan - "Ozark Folksongs."

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]



Back to Natchez Under the Hill (1)


  1. Posted to the Mudcat Café forum, 26 Sept. 2019 [2]