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The Dubliners singing Weilia Walia

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: TweedBlog, video. Tags: , ,

Tangleweed is getting ready for our Saturday show at the Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend, dusting off some of our Irish repertoire. We’ll almost certainly play this one, perhaps the catchiest song ever written about infanticide.

The footage is from Swedish television in 1973. Ronnie Drew has the lead vocal.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The first three Dubliners records, The Dubliners with Luke Kelly, In Concert, and Finnegan Wakes are three of the finest records you will ever hear in any genre.


John Hardy was a desperate little man

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

The song John Hardy has long been a staple of the bluegrass canon. Tony Russell’s Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942; lists seven prewar recordings by five different performers:

  • Eva Davis: April, 1924
  • Ernest Stoneman: August, 1925, July, 1928
  • Buell Kazee: April, 1927
  • The Carter Family: May, 1928
  • Clarence Ashley: April, 1930 (as ‘Old John Hardy’)
  • Roy Harvey: June 1931

Here’s an MP3 of the second Stoneman Recording, recorded in Richmond, Indiana for the Gennett Label, on July 9th, 1928:

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Postwar recordings by Bill Monroe helped cement the song’s place in the repertoire. Earl Scruggs helped make it an instrumental standard as well, with his excellent interpretation on the seminal Foggy Mountain Banjo album, now out of print and agonizingly expensive.

Though the usual lyrics sound include some commonplace elements, John Hardy was a real historical figure. Hardy, a West Virginia railroad worker, was found guilty of murder in the first degree in 1893, and hanged in 1894. has links to original news stories. First, the trial:

WELCH, W. VA., October 12. – At 8 o’clock this morning the jury in the case of the State against John Hardy, colored, for the murder of Thomas Drews, colored, at Eckman, this county, in January last, brought in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The trouble arose over a game of craps and was a cold blooded crime. Motion has been made for a new trial with but small hopes of success on account of the Criminal Court Judge’s indisposition. A recess has been taken until Monday morning.

…And then the execution:

WILD E, W. VA., January 19. – John Hardy, for killing Thomas Drews, both colored, was hung at 2:09 p. m. to-day. Three thousand people witnessed his death. His neck was broken and he died in 17 1/2 minutes. He exhibited great nerve, attributed his downfall to whiskey, and said he had made peace with God. His body was cut down at 2:39, placed in a coffin, and given to the proper parties for interment. He was baptised in the river this morning.

Ten drunken and disorderly persons among the spectators were promptly arrested and jailed. Good order was preserved. Hardy killed Drews near Eckman last spring in a disagreement over a game of craps.


of the same woman, and the latter proving the more favored lover, incurred Hardy’s envy, who seized the pretext of falling out in the game to work vengeance on Drews, who had shown himself equally expert in dice as in love, having won money from Hardy. Hardy drew his pistol, remarking he would kill him unless he refunded the money. Drews paid back part of the money, when Hardy shot, killing him. Hardy was found guilty at the October term.

The MP3 comes from the excellent Juneberry 78s website. Please consider buying one of their old-time music samplers to support their work.


O’Donoghue’s Opera, starring the Dubliners

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: TweedBlog, video. Tags: , , ,

This 37-minute film from 1965 captures the Dubliners in their native habitat, O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin. According to the Irish Film Institute’s website, O’Donoghue’s Opera was the first Irish musical film. The plot loosely follows the trad tune, ‘The Night Before Larry Was Stretched’. Lyrics are below the fold.



Jawharp virtuoso Obed Pickard playing Sally Goodin

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

Here’s a remarkable display of jawharp virtuosity by Obed Pickard, one of the early performers on WSM radio’s Grand Ole Opry. His earliest commercial recordings were in 1927. This is from 1929, cut for Banner and affiliated cut-price labels (Oriole, Regal, Conqueror, etc).

The tune is Sally Goodin (also spelled Gooden), an old warhorse of a fiddle tune first recorded by Eck Robertson. Pickard’s performance is charming — earnest, understated, and well-played.

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Courtesy of

By the way, there’s some hot jawharp, played by the author of this post, on the forthcoming Tangleweed CD, Most Folk Heroes Started Out As Criminals.


Video of Clarence Ashley playing the Coo Coo Bird

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: video. Tags: ,

Here’s some wonderful footage of Clarence Ashley playing his best-known tune, the Coo Coo Bird, some time in the 1960s. Ashley’s skills don’t seem have diminished a bit in the 30+ years since his landmark recording of the tune.


Henry Whitter playing Rain Crow Bill

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

Virginian Henry Whitter was one of the earliest country music performers to record extensively. While many of his solo recordings are unexceptional, his work with G.B. Grayson was often excellent. Rain Crow Bill was an old Minstrel harmonica solo that Whitter recorded at least twice: at his first recording session in December, 1923, as ‘Rain Crow Bill Blues’, and then in a later electrical recording in August, 1927.

Doc Watson recorded a very faithful interpretation of this recording on his great Home Again LP in 1967, and then an updated version on his Then and Now LP in 1973.

Rain Crow Bill (MP3)

Courtesy of


Eck Robertson playing Arkansaw Traveler

By Kenneth Rainey. Filed under: Audio, TweedBlog. Tags: , , ,

This recoding from June 30, 1922, is one of the earliest examples of American Vernacular fiddling on record. Alexander Campbell (‘Eck’) Robertson was a skilled contest fiddler from Texas whose recording career extended into the folk revival of the 1960s. This recording was paired with Robertson’s seminal recording on Sallie Gooden on Victor 18956.

The recording is a duet with fiddler Henry Gilliland, and it is believed that Gilliland is playing the melody and Robertson the harmony. It lacks the extraordinary variations of Robertson’s Sallie Gooden, but it’s still an interesting performance.

Arkansaw Traveler (MP3)

Courtesy of


Bascom Lamar Lunsford playing Doggett’s Gap

I’ve raved about Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s work several times before on this site. This is an early video clip of Lunsford’s fiddle playing. The tune is, for all intents and purposes, Cumberland Gap. His vocal performance in this ensemble piece is impressive, and displays a power not necessarily evident in his solo recordings.

The film speeds up and slows down over the course of the performance, causing the music to sound a little wobbly. Deal with it.