Pretty Polly Ann (2)

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X:1 T:Pretty Polly Ann [2] N:From the playing of fiddler Fonza Smith (Chilton N:County, Ala.), recorded by Bill Parker, 1965. M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel N:AEac# tuning (fiddle) Q:"Quick" D: Z:Transcribed by Andrew Kuntz K:A F|E[CE]EF A2Ac|BAFG A3F|E[CE]EF A2Ac|BAFA E3:| A-|B2c4-cc-|cB c2B3B-|cc4cB |AFEF A3:| |:F|E2C2A,2C2|EF3 D3F|E2C2A,2C2|EA2B A3:| |:B-|c2c4+slide+c2-|cBc2 E3B-|c2c4cB|AFEF A3:| |:A|A2e2c2e2- |ecfc e3e| c2fe c2A2-|AFEF A3:| |:"+"c2"+"A2"+"c2c2-|cBAB c4|"+"c2"+"A2"+"E2E2-|EEFG A4:|]

PRETTY POLLY ANN(A) [2]. AKA and see "Lonesome Polly Ann," "Sugar Betty Ann (1)/Sugar Betsy Ann (1)." Old-Time, Bluegrass; Breakdown. USA, Texas. A Major. AEae or AEac# tunings (fiddle). AABBCCA'A'. Bob Carlin (1985) notes the tune is possibly a variant of the song "Little Betty Ann," and further notes that, as "Betty Ann," it was recorded in 1947 for Columbia Records by fiddler Jesse Ashlock (who credited the tune to the father of his former employer, Texas swing fiddler Bob Wills). The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph from the playing of Ozarks Mountains fiddler Bill Bilyeu (pronounced 'Blue', of Day, Missouri) in 1943 [AFS 06904 A02]. "Pretty Polly (2)", from the playing of Pete McMahon and other Missouri fiddlers, is a related tune.

Chilton County, central Alabama fiddler Fonza Smith was recorded in the field playing "Pretty Polly Ann" in a 1965 collecting trip by Bill Parker. While little is known of Smith, he was active in the county for more that thirty years, as evidenced by this mention in the Clanton, Alabama, Union--Banner of Nov. 5th, 1931:


Mr. and Mrs. Hudson Crane entertained a large crowd at their home last Thursday night at a peanut parching and cake guessing, in honor of Miss Ruby Wells of Liberty Hill. Music was furnished by Mr. Fonza Smith and Ira Scott. Many games were played. They had a cake for matching paper dolls. Mr. Henry Smith and Ruby Wells won the cake. Miss Zonnie Hayes guessed what was in the second cake, a flag seed. The cakes were cut by the winners and served with peanuts to the guests. Every one had a jolly time, and plenty of peanuts and cake.

Cooking peanuts in the oven was called parching; for salted peanuts in the shell they must be soaked for 5 hrs. in a 50% water/50% salt solution.

And, from March of that same year (same paper):

Owing to the bad weather last Saturday the play “Two Days to Marry” at Vermont was postponed until next Saturday night, March 28th. Everybody is invited to come and bring some one with you. Admission 10 and 20 cents, and music by Mr. Gillman and Fonza Smith.

Somwhat more can be gleaned of Fonza's musical abilities from this account of a trip to Alabama hunting for folk musicians was printed in the newsletter Autoharp (an "Organ of the Campus Folksong Club of the University of Illinois") of October 7, 1963, penned by F.K. Plous, Jr., a member of the faculty[1]. Plous had made a connection with a young local dentist, a budding banjo and guitar player, who knew where to find some of the older traditional music in the Clanton, Alabama, area:

"We're going to see Fonza Smith," said the doctor. "He's eighty years old and still plows his own land. He's about the best fiddler around here--I've had him down to Montgomery on television, and he won the first prize at the county fair this year. He knows all the old tunes."

It was about eight miles to Fonza's house. The scene was familiar to all buyers of Folkways albums--an unpainted house, a grove of tall trees, a pair of dogs curled up in the drive and in the distance--more dogs, howling at the moon, or each other, or at strange sounds. We entered the house. Fonza (pronounced fin-zee) sat on a chair by the fire place with one foot in a pan of warm water, predatory to undergoing a small operation for a bothersome corn on his toe. Mrs. Smith, a large woman of the standard rural type, came bustling out of the kitchen brandishing a Super Blue-Blade and sat down to attack the corn on her consort's foot. With the stoicism of a monk Fonza joined in the conversation as his wife picked, pried and pared at his ailing tootsie. Only when she had pronounced him fit did he rise, go for his fiddle and begin the concert.

Doctor Parker started off on the banjo with "Cripple Creek". Then Fonza asked me if I knew it on the fiddle. I picked up my own fiddler and played the tune, as best as I could. But Fonza put me to shame. His own "Cripple Creek" was almost a jig. Distinct pieces of old Irish and Scottish fiddling floated through the tune; there were no slurred notes, little of the double-stopping and sliding with which I was familiar. Instead, each note rang out separately from the rest and each string was played singly. He used his little finger copiously, and the little trills and runs filled the room so that all our feed began tapping as if of their own accord.

For this sound and setting people come hundreds of miles. This is what the recording engineers cannot pick up. The old family farmhouse, the baying of the hounds, the faded photographs hanging from the wall, the bare floor, the sound ofthe crickets and the smell of the wild honeysuckle. Fonza Smith was fiddling well, and we all knew it. "Uncle Joe", "Sally Goodin", "Billy in the Lowground", "Stoney Point"--all were fiddled that night, and all of them in the same controlled and delicate style. The polished loving cup on the table testified that Fonza was the champion fiddler of Chilton county, but it was his music that proved it. The man had been practicing for 70 years.

A farmer gets up early in the morning, so we left at a respectable hour. As we pulled away there rang out from the door not "Good-bye!" or "So long!" but "Y'all come back!" the salutation universal south of the Mason-Dixon Line. We vowed to do so.

See also Smith's "Waltz of Jericho", a version of "Rye Whiskey"/"Jack of Diamonds," and a tune he called "Devil's Dream (4)," reminiscent of, but quite unlike the usual version.

Additional notes

Recorded sources : - Field Recorder's Collective FRC 714, Tom Fuller - "Traditional Fiddling from Oklahoma & Texas." Rounder C-11565, Brad Leftwich - "Rounder Fiddle" (1990. Learned from Tom Fuller). Rounder 0197, Bob Carlin - "Bangin' and Sawin'" (1985). (1995).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]
See/hear the Johnson Boy's version on [2]
Hear Tom Fuller's version at Slippery Hill [3]
Hear Fonza Smith's (Clanton, Chilton County, central Ala.) 1965 field recording at Berea Sound Archives [4]

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