Over the Waterfall

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OVER THE WATERFALL. AKA and see "Fellow that Looks Like Me (The)," "Punkin Head." Old-Time, Breakdown. USA, Virginia. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Silberberg): AABB (most versions). "Over the Waterfall" is sourced to fiddler Henry Reed (1884-1968) of Glen Lyn, Virginia, and was learned from directly from Reed and popularized by folklorist and fiddler Alan Jabbour through his recording with the Hollow Rock String Band in the late 1960's.

Josh and Henry Reed (banjo), c. 1903.

Reed himself may have learned it from hearing it emanating from a steam-driven calliope in a circus or medicine show, and told Jabbour that he had it from "Teets's Show when I was just a little thing, about five or six years old" [1]. "Over the Waterfall" is a melody that is fairly wide-spread throughout the British Isles and North America, explains Jabbour, and was used both for a well-known British-American song sometimes called "Eggs and Marrowbones" (AKA "Old Woman from Wexford," "Old Woman in Dover," "Wily Auld Carle" etc.) and as an instrumental tune. Jabbour notes the British broadside versions tell of a man pushing a woman into the water, and suggests there may be a connection with the song theme and the title of Reed's tune. Comparison with "Dark Girl Dressed in Blue (2) (The)" in O'Neill's Music of Ireland (1903) reveals a striking similarity between them, and the set dance "Job of Journeywork (1)" also has melodic similarities (although not enough to establish a cognate relationship). It is possible that the "Over the Waterfall" melody was adapted or derived from an Irish source, although no definitive connection has been established.

It has been suggested that "Over the Waterfall" may originally have been a composed piece from the turn of the century that was disseminated via traveling-circus and riverboat musicians. Composed it was, for the melody was the vehicle for a comic song by 'J.E. Poole' called "Fellow that Looks Like Me (The)," published in the mid-19th century [2]. John F. Poole was a songwriter and proprietor of the Olympic Theater on Broadway in New York City, who also composed the words to "Tim Finigan's Wake" (c. 1861) for vaudeville impresario Tony Pastor (to the melody of "The French Musician"), and who is credited with the the words and music to the labor protest song "No Irish Need Apply." He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and although he emigrated to New York as a boy, he remained committed to his Irish roots, and it may be that the air to his "Fellow that Looks Like Me" was similarly an aspect of Irish cultural immigration.

The earliest sound recording was in the very last years of the 1920's by Al Hopkins and His Bucklebusters, who recorded it on a 78 RPM disc (Brunswick 184). "The Fellow that Looks Like Me" was in the repertoire of Virginia fiddler Stuart Lundy (son of Galax fiddler Emmett Lundy) under that title, as well as the aforementioned Bucklebusters. Lundy died in the late 1970's. The Hopkins family (Al is referenced above) was also originally from Galax, suggesting the tune was in the repertory of musicians in the region. The Reed version of "Over the Waterfall" has become very common among old-time fiddlers (indeed, it has become hackneyed), and is now usually regarded as a beginner's tune. The Glen Lyn fiddler played another tune, "Chinchbug" (Bedbug has no wings at all, but he gets there just the same) notes Jabbour, that has a similar first strain to "Over the Waterfall." Kentucky fiddler J.P. Fraley played a version of the tune (as "Waterfall"), learned from the fiddling of his father; a somewhat more melodically complicated version, and West Virginia fiddler Franklin George had a third part to the tune.

Source for notated version: Fennigs All Stars (N.Y.) [Brody].

Printed sources: Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 211. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 177. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; p. 114. Sing Out, 198-; p. 76. Welling (Welling's Hartford Tunebook), 1976; p. 4.

Recorded sources: CCF2, Cape Cod Fiddlers - "Concert Collection II" (1999). Document 8041, Al Hopkins and His Bucklebusters (reissue). Front Hall 01, Fennigs All Stars- "The Hammered Dulcimer." Kanawha 311, "The Hollow Rock String Band" [3] (1968). Kicking Mule 202, John Burke- "Fancy Pickin' and Plain Singing." Rounder 0122, Norman Blake- "Rising Fawn String Ensemble."

See also listing at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [4]
Hear Alan Jabbour's 1967 field recording of Henry Reed playing the tune at American Memory [5]

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