Fire on the Mountain (1)

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FIRE ON/IN THE MOUNTAIN [1]. AKA and see "Betty Martin," "Old Mother Gofour," "Pretty Betty Martin," "Hog Eye (1)," "Oh Yes Mammy Look at Sam," "Sambo" "Ten Little Indians," "Tip Toe Fine." Irish, Old-Time, Bluegrass; Reel or Breakdown. USA, widely known. G Mixolydian (Hudson): A Mixolydian (Wilkinson): A Major ('A' part) & D Major ('B' part) {most versions}: A Major {Beisswenger & McCann/Walden}. Standard, AEae or ADae tunings (fiddle). AAB (Brody, Krassen): AA'B (Beisswenger & McCann): AABB (Hudson, Lowinger): AABB' (Phillips/1994). A popular 'American' fiddle tune that has numerous variants (some quite distanced from each other) and is widely disseminated throughout the South and Midwest. It is typically played at breakneck speed, giving rise to popular folklore for the origins of the title: i.e. the fiddler plays so fast the fiddle catches on fire and lights up the woods (Lowinger, 1974). The title may be Celtic in origin: Scottish clans often used blazing bonfires on Highland hills as gathering signals (ironically, this also may be the origin for the Ku Klux Klan's blazing crosses).

Krassen (1973) notes his 'B' part has similarities with a 78 RPM recording of Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers' "Hog-eyed Man," and Bayard (1981) also recognizes the similarity between the second parts of the same tunes, though a closer match to "Fire On the Mountain" he believes to be "Betty Martin," which is "reminiscent all through." Guthrie Meade (1980) links the Kentucky version of the tune (which also goes by the name "Big Nosed Hornpipe") to the "Sally Goodin'" family of melodies. "It has been suggested that the tune originated from eastern European migrants, some of whom made commercial recordings in New York in the early part of the 20th century," says Mike Yates (2002). Winston Wilkinson, in the Southern Folklore Quarterly (vol. vi, I, March, 1942), gives a bar-for-bar comparison of the tune with a Norse 'halling' tune, set by the Norwegian composer Greig and published in Copenhagen in 1875 (Norges Melodier, 1875 & 1922, iv, p. 72). The tunes are so close as to be almost certainly cognate. Jeff Titon (2001), picking up this theme, speculates that the various related "Fire on the Mountain" tunes may have resulted from the influence of influential Norwegian fiddler Ole Bull, who toured the United States extensively in the 19th century.

Wilkinson's version of "Fire on the Mountain" collected from Albermarle County, Va., fiddler "Uncle Jim" Chisholm is similar to Glen Lyn, Va., fiddler Henry Reed's version. Wilkinson's version is nearly identical to the tune as it appears in the 1841 music manuscript collection (with the title "Fire upon the Mountains") of Dublin dentist and music collection Henry Hudson (1798-1889), whose informant (for this and several other tunes) was a man named James Barton. Samuel Bayard records the tune's earliest American publication date is 1814 or 1815 in Riley's Flute Melodies (where it appears as "Free on the Mountains"), and as "I Betty Martin" in A. Shattuck's Book, a fiddler's manuscript book dating from around 1801. Mike Yates (2002) summarizes that "'Fire on the Mountain(s)' is one of a broad family of early 18th century (or earlier) tunes that shades into one another and are as old as 'Hey Betty Martin, Tip Toe.'"

The piece was recorded in the early 1940's from Ozark Mountain fiddlers by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph for the Library of Congress. It is on Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden's list of '100 essential Missouri fiddle tunes'. Lowe Stokes (1898–1983), one of the north Georgia band 'The Skillet Lickers' fiddlers, remembered it as having been fiddled by his father. The Red Headed Fiddlers, A.L 'Red' Steeley and J.W. 'Red' Graham, recorded the tune in 1929, titled by the recording engineers as "Far in the Mountain"-evidently they were from the North and could not recognize the correct title when pronounced with Southern accents.

Verses are sometimes sung to the melody, especially in the variants by other names such as "Betty Martin," "Ten Little Indians," "Pretty Betty Martin" and "Hog Eye (1)." Wilkinson (1942) says that the following verse made its way into some editions of Mother Goose [see Mother Goose's Quarto, Boston, 1825]:

Fire on the mountains, run, boys, run,
Fire on the mountains, run, boys, run.

Other verses (some of which are floating) have been:

Fire on the mountain, run boy run;
Sal, let me chaw your rosin some.

Fire on the mountain, run, boys, run;
Fire on the mountain till the day is done.

Fire on the mountain, water down below;
Never get to heaven 'less you jump Jim Crow.

Fire on the Mountain, fire on the hillside
Fire on the Mountain, run, boys, run.

Old Uncle Cyrus fished all night,
Never caught a fish on a crawfish bite.

Old mother Taylor she drinks whiskey,
Old mother Taylor she drinks wine.
Old mother Taylor she got drunk,
Swung across the river on a pumpkin vine.

Two little Indians lying in bed,
One turned over and the other one said,
Fire on the mountain coming son,
Fire on the mountain run boy run.

Two little Indians and their squaw
Sittin' on a mountain in Arkansas.

All little Indians gonna drink whisky
All little Indians gonna get drunk.

All my little Indians don't drink liquor,
All my little Indians don't get drunk.
(Sam Connor. The last two lines were also remembered by Arkansas fiddler Skeeter Walden)

Opie connects the lyric with the minstrel song "Jim Along Josie," absorbed into play-party tradition. "Jim Along Josie" was remembered from Missouri play-parties in the 1880's with the words:

Cat's in the cream jar, run, girls, run,
Fire on the mountain, fun, boys, fun.
Hey, Mim along, Mim along, Josie,
Hey, Jim a long, Jim along, Jo.


Source for notated version: Highwoods String Band (N.Y.) [Brody]; Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers (Ga.) [Krassen]; Clayton McMichen (Ga.) [Kaufman]; James H. "Uncle Jim" Chisholm (Greewood, Albermarle County, Virginia) [Wilkinson]; Jim 'Skeeter' Walden (1879–1956, Busch, north Arkansas) [Beisswenger & McCann]; Henry Reed [Milliner & Koken].

Printed sources: Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 152. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 106. Kaufman (Beginning Old Time Fiddle), 1977; pp. 76–77. Krassen (Masters of Old-Time Fiddling), 1973; p. 72. Lowinger (Bluegrass Fiddle), 1974; p. 17. Milliner & Koken (Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes), 2011; p. 200. Phillips (Fiddle Case Tunebook: Old Time Southern), 1989; p. 18. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 85. Wilkinson, Southern Folklore Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 1, 1942, p. 9. Spadaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; p. 39.

Recorded sources: Briar 4202l, The Kentucky Colonels – "Living In the Past." Brunswick 470 (78 RPM), The Red-Headed Fiddlers (1929). CMH 9006, Benny Martin – "The Fiddle Collection." Columbia 15185-D (78 RPM), Riley Puckett (fiddled by Clayton McMichen). County Records, Kyle Creed and Fred Cockerham. County CD 2719, Theron Hale. Document DOCD-8017, Fiddlin' John Carson (originally recorded 1926). Document DOCD-8038, A.L Steeley and J.W. 'Red' Graham {the Red Headed Fiddlers} (originally recorded 1929). Flying Fish 065, Buddy Spicher – "Me and My Heroes" (appears as the third tune of 'Fiddle Tune Medley'). King Records (78 RPM), Curley Fox (Greysville, Tennessee). Library of Congress Records, The Red-Headed Fiddlers – "Dance Music, Breakdowns and Waltzes." Morning Star 45004, Ted Gossett's String Band (western Ky.) – "Wish I Had My Time Again" (originally recorded Sept., 1930, probably with fiddling by Tommy Whitmer instead of Ted Gossett, although the recording was issued under the band name Buddy Young's Kentuckians). OKeh 45068 (78 RPM), John Carson (1926). Rounder 0023, Highwoods String Band – "Fire On the Mountain." Rounder 0035, Fuzzy Mountain String Band – "Summer Oaks and Porch" (1973. Learned from Henry Reed, Glen Lyn, Va.). Rounder 0197, Bob Carlin – "Banging and Sawing" (1985. Appears as "Far in the Mountain," learned from the Red-Headed Fiddler's record). Rounder C-11565, Bob Potts & Walt Koken – "Rounder Fiddle" (1990). Starday SLP 235, Curly Fox {Ga.} (1963). Stoneway 148, E.J. Hopkins – "Fiddle Hoedown." Vetco LP 104, Clayton McMichen – "The Wonderful World of Old-Time Fiddlers" (orig. rec. 1928). In the repertoire of black string band John Lusk Band (as "Sambo") from the Cumberland Plateau region of Ky./Tenn.

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




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