Searching for public domain sheet music is a drag because the results are always dominated by commercial providers. So I created this custom search engine to limit the search results to sites in the “Sheet Music Sources” list in the right side of this page.
The sheet music collection at Mississippi State is a fine archive that I haven’t come across before. Something notable about them is that they publish the music as PDFs rather than images embedded in web pages. Although it’s a bit annoying to not be able to browse the pages, it’s really nice to not have to grab and print each page one by one.
Here’s the cover sheet for their scan of the 1899 cakewalk Smokey Mokes:
I put together a lead sheet of the 1920s classic “He’s in the Jailhouse Now” because I needed it to rehearse a biggish band, and there’s no reason to keep it to myself.
According to Roosevelt’s Blues, the song has been traced back to at least 1917, but the use of the abusive term “coon” in the lyrics may point to an earlier origin, perhaps around the turn of the century. The song’s origins were probably in the medicine show circuit, according to Songsters and Saints. Ernest Rogers claimed to have sung it over the radio as early as 1922. In 1924 it was recorded by the jug band leader Buford Threlkeld – “Whistler” – as “Jail House Blues”.The veteran medicine show entertainer Jim Jackson recorded it in 1927. Earl McDonald’s Original Louisville Jug Band recorded recorded an almost identical version in 1927. Again in 1927, Blind Blake recorded a version with a medicine show banjo player named Gus Cannon. There was another version, in 1930, by the Memphis Sheiks, aka The Memphis Jug Band. And the best known and most enduring early version was made in 1927 by the proto-country singer Jimmie Rodgers, who had a background in the medicine show circuit.
As old as this song is, the copyright status is less clean than with most of the music on this site. This is based most closely on the Memphis Jug Band’s version, which was recorded in 1930 and is not yet in the public domain in the US. Most of the words in that version probably come from sources now in the public domain, but there are also probably additions that are still under copyright, I just don’t know what they are. So caveat emptor if you record this. My own copyrightable contributions, including these files, are under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike license, which means you’re free to share and modify them as long as you give credit and extend the same courtesy.
I didn’t find any biographical info or other work by these people.
The performance is guitar playing
by L. Gonze, a.k.a. me,
and the recoding was released on May 7, 2008.
The dedication on the sheet music is darn nice:
What was going on in Guadalupe, California in 1885? Wikipedia saysThe Guadalupe Watershed was an area of intense activity during the California Gold Rush, with the quicksilver mines within Santa Clara County supporting the gold refinement process. Maybe Pianissimo was a musician who had gone west to strike it rich.
This song is a dance called a schottische. Per Wikipedia, Schottische was popular in Victorian era ballrooms (part of the Bohemian “folk-dance” craze) and left its traces in folk music of countries as distant as France, Spain (chotis), Portugal (choutiça), Italy and Sweden.
Musically this is an intricate little tune which feels like an evolutionary step on the way to ragtime and eventually jazz. Wikipedia says At the start of the 20th century in the Southern United States the schottische was combined with ragtime; the most popular “ragtime schottische” of the era was “Any Rags” by Thomas S. Allen in 1902.
If you want to dance along at home, it goes like this: step step step hop, step step step hop, step hop step hop step hop step hop. Posh dancers did it like this:
This recording is copyright 2008 by Lucas Gonze and released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States license. You are free to share or remix it as long as you give attribution and apply the same terms to works based on this one. If you need another license for some reason just contact me and we’ll arrange it.
You are welcome to link directly to any file I host, including MP3s. No need to host a copy to spare my bandwidth.
If you do a version of this and want a link here, let me know.