Rocky Road to Jordan

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X:1 T:Untitled Breakdown T:Rocky Road to Jordan S:Bob Walters (Nebraska) M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel B:Christeson - Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, vol. 1 (1973, No. 107) K:D dB|A2 FE DEFG|AFAc d2A2|B3B BdcB|ABcd e2a2| A2 FE DEFG|AFAc d2A2|B3c BAFB|AFDF D2:| |:ag|fgaf d2 fg|afdf afdf|gabg e2 ef|gfga bgag| fgaf d2 fg|afdf afdf|e4 [c4e4]|[e4e4]d2:|]



ROCKY ROAD TO JORDAN. Old-Time, Breakdown. D Major. “Rocky Road to Jordon” is one of ‘100 essential Missouri tunes’ listed by Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden. It was in the repertoire of fiddlers Casey Jones (1910-1987, Mo.), Dwight Lamb (Iowa) and Bob Walters (Nebraska).

The tune was mentioned by name in Edgar Lee Masters' (1868-1950) 1942 contribution to the Rivers of America Series, The Sangamon, Chapter 6, an examination of the common folk of Menard County Illinois. In it, he recalled a visit in 1914 to an old friend of Masters' father, by the name of John Armstrong, of Oakford, during which Armstrong was asked to play the fiddle:

He made no excuses, he just got up and took his fiddle, and called to his daughter to play the organ for him, and gave him the key. The daughter arose without a word, with no expression on her face, just arose like a wraith, and sat down at the organ and gave John the key. Then John tuned his fiddle and sat back and began to preface the playing of each piece with some story concerning its origin, and where and how it got its name, and where he heard it first. For years he had attended the dances, the county fairs, the camp meetings, the festivals. These were the continuation of the New Salem events, and I felt he was re-creating the past of the deserted village for me. I could image myself in the Rutledge Tavern, listening to John Armstrong tell stories of the Sangamon River, of Bowling Green, of Mentor Graham whom he knew, of William G. Green, at the time not so many years gone from earth.

John played such pieces as "Rocky road to Jordan," "Way up Tar Creek," "Foggy Mountain Top," "Hell Amongst the Yearlings," "Little Drops of Brandy," "The Wind the Shakes the Barley," "Good Mornin', Uncle Johnny, I've Fetched your Wagon Home." He played a piece which he called "Toor-a-Loor," and another which he called "Chaw Roast Beef." (excerpt found [1])

Masters' is most famous for his Spoon River Anthology (1915). He mentions the tune again in a later novel about a boy, Mitch Miller (1920, p. 162), perhaps based on this same visit with Armstrong:

"Wal (swear word)," says John, "they put up a platform and one after another they get up on the platform and dance, and when they get real earnest they take their shoes off. Jim Tate who went out to Kansas was the best platform dancer we ever had around here. He came over one night to Old Uncle Billy Bralin's whar my uncle was a fiddlin'--the best fiddler they ever was here. And Jim heard him and got to jigglin' and finally he looked in the room and says, 'Calr the cheers out, I'm goin' to take off my shcoes and come down on her.' So they did, and while he was dancin' his foot went through one of the holes in the puncheon floor and skinned one of his shins. Up to then they had always called this piece 'Shoats in the Corn', but after that they called it 'Skinnin' your Shins," and after that "Rocky Road to Jordan," "Way up to Tar Creed," "A Sly Wink at Me," "All the Time a Goin' with the High Toned Gals," and a lot more that I can't remember, and between every piece he'd tell a story.


Additional notes

Source for notated version: - Bob Walters (Nebraska) [Christeson].

Printed sources : - Christeson (Old Time Fiddler's Repertory, vol. 1), 1973; No. 107, p. 73.

Recorded sources: - Missouri Old-Time Fiddlers Association MSOTFA 102, Casey Jones - "Rocky Road to Jordan" (1992). Rounder 0429, Dwight Lamb - "Joseph Won a Coated Fiddle" (1999). Bob Walters - "The Champion" (2013).

See also listing at:
Hear Casey Jones's recording at the MSOTFA site [2]
Hear Chirps Smith play the tune at the Fiddle Tune Archive, Old Town School of Folk Music [3]
Hear Steve Rosen and Paul Tyler play a slow version of the tune at the Fiddle Tune Archive, Old Town School of Folk Music [4]



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