Category Archives: bestof

Pompey Ran Away

Pompey Ran Away” is a colonial American piece of music. It comes our way via an African player – probably a 1st generation African captive living as a slave – and a Scottish tourist who wrote down what he heard and published it when he got home. It is a missing link between African music and American music influenced by African immigrants. It is a living document of the survival of African music in the new world. Mind boggling!

I learned it from this fragment of sheet music:

Pompey Ran Away sheet music

I came across that in “Sinful Tunes and Spirituals” By Dena J. Epstein, which describes the music this way:

[It lacks] any distinctive African flavor, sounding much like other non-African dances. Presumably much was lost in the transcription, as the tunes were filtered through the ears and musical sensibilities of a musician bred in the European tradition. Perhaps only the dance steps retained African elements, but it is at least possible that African aspects of the tunes may still be identified.

Because of what the author said about the lack of African sound I didn’t expect to find any, but it looked easy enough to try the tune out so I gave it a quick shot while I was reading. It’s tricky to play, like a tongue twister. There’s no apparent form, just this circular pattern made of short melodic fragments. The major scale of the melody could easily be an Irish fiddle tune, the author is right about that. But the way the motifs are woven together could never be from that source. I stuck with the tune for a couple days and when I eventually mastered it enough to really know what it was supposed to sound like what I found was something unmistakeably west African, maybe from Ghana or Mali, which is also where most slaves came from.

In my final version I tried to create variation by using a few different octaves, doubling notes, using harmonics, and shifting the accent. But I have no idea how to play in any African style of any kind; anything African you hear in this was always there.

other versions

There’s a purely Mali-flavored version by Bob Carlin and Cheick Hamala Diabate over at Rhapsody. This feels very different than what got written down back in the day. I doubt it sounds all that much like what that poor fucking slave dude was playing, whoever he was. But it probably is indicative of what the music of his childhood sounded like.

My favorite version is by a gourd banjo player named Pete Ross. It keeps the characteristic circular rhythm which implies west Africa without being full bore west African. I found it among the samples for David Hyatt’s gourd banjo store.

The other versions that I found were all in 4/4 and sounded miles away from what was written down. For example, this is the version by Carson Hudson Jr.. Still, I loved the sound of his band (with the wicker rattle and simple drum) and I found his writing about the song cool:

Among runaway notices printed in 18th century Virginia newspapers there appear occasional references to fugitive slaves who play upon the banjo, banger, or banjar. This curious piece, with its constant repetition of phrase, is from “A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs”(1782). It is subtitled “A Negro Jig (Virginia).” It is performed on a gourd banjo, accompanied by a wicker rattle and goatskin drum.

performance notes

I play it as a cross between country (representing the celtic fiddle influence) and an African kalimba player I heard once in Washington Square Park (representing the west African roots). Also there’s some punk rock in there. 80s Sonic Youth was on my mind for some reason.

The instrument is a 1965 Gibson SG going through a 12 watt National-Dobro amp made in the 1940s. The tone of this combo is incredible. I really love it. But it only works in place as a loud as a bar, because the amp makes a lot of white noise. That’s what the white noise in the recording is.

My creative work here is hereby in the public domain.

Here’s an MP3 if you want it.

Deep River Blues

Under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 unported license as always, here’s my version of the Delmore Brothers / Doc Watson tune “Deep River Blues,” via YouTube:

Also available in MP3, Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Flac.

This is an old song but not 19th century by any means. I’m posting it because (1) it’s been too long since I posted new music and this was the nearest thing at the tip of my fingers and (2) it’s a great fit for my new 2007 National Estralita, which I bought because it’s loud enough for unamplified shows and love because the sound is so thick and warm.

Centennial Grand March

This is a recording of an 1876 tune called “Centennial Grand March”. It’s a bit tricky, and when I first tried it on stage about a year ago it scared the hell out of me. Now that I’ve got it down it’s a lot of fun to play. I love the chromatic melodies, the way the parts tell a story, and the mood.

This is my third recording of work by W. L. Hayden, the composer. I did a couple pieces from Hayden’s Star Collection of Guitar Music, from which I learned Celebrated Shoo Fly Galop and Must I, Then.

MP3: Lucas Gonze – Centennial Grand March

FLAC: Lucas Gonze – Centennial Grand March

Sheet music: at the Library of Congress web site.

Feel free to share and remix per the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 unported license.

Technical notes

I got rid of the high pitched background whine in my first video by using an external iSight video camera rather than the one built into my laptop. To use an external camera you have to use iMovie 06 rather than the more recent 08 version, so I switched to 06, and it turned to be a lot better and easier to use.

Also, I got a more full and punchy sound by switching from the built-in mic to an external one, a Sure SM81.

Carrie Waltz, v2

This post is my second recording of D. E. Jannon’s 1854 piece Carrie Waltz. I previously blogged it about a year ago on

MP3: Carrie Waltz, version 2 (2:27)

I redid it because I’ve gotten better since then. Now I know to make a song start strong in the first couple seconds, to make the lines more fluid and improvisational, and to mash the guitar right onto the mic for a hotter recording.

Sheet music here:

Versions of the recording in other file formats:

You are free to share and remix this recording per the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US license.

Ella Waltz

MP3: Lucas Gonze with Gibson L3Lucas Gonze — Ella Waltz

This post is a recording of the composition Ella Waltz by D.E. Jannon, which was published in 1854.

It is the third of a set of three waltzes by D.E. Jannon. I have also blogged recordings of Amy Waltz and Carrie Waltz. I don’t consider the series finished because I want to redo the Amy one, but who knows whether I’ll really come up with a better version in the end. It takes a ton of practice and a lot of trial and error with the arrangement to make one of these recordings, and I have other tunes that I want to move on to.

As I was learning the 3 waltzes I made up a back story for them. In my imagination they are named after D.E. Jannon’s three daughters. They are ordered from oldest to youngest. Amy is a teenager, Ella is a little kid, Carrie is in-between. Amy is going through a phase where she is hustling all the time and in a hurry to get away from her parents. Ella has been falling down, dropping things, running into stuff, and generally being accident prone. Carrie is moderate in all things.

The original writing on this tune had dead spots, places where the writing was thin or weak and needed fixing, so I rewrote many of the parts. My version isn’t as simple as the original, which is a loss, but it sounds better.

By the way, I got the name of this tune slightly wrong while I was working, and even though I corrected it in the end some of the metadata and file names are wrong. Right: Ella. Wrong: Emma.

These recordings are released under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license per my boilerplate licensing statement.

This blog entry is a repost from my tech blog, where I was putting music before I created this blog.

Ogg Vorbis: Lucas Gonze — Ella Waltz