Monthly Archives: December 2007

Celebrated Shoo Fly Galop

This post is a recording of Celebrated Shoo Fly Galop by W.L. Hayden, which was published in 1877.

I like the way this rocks out. It’s a fun uptempo dance tune. Also I dig the idea of the celebrated shoo fly, which reminds me of a Mark Twain story called “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County:”

In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend’s friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that, if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it certainly succeeded.

So what kind fly is a shoo fly, anyway? There is no such thing. It’s a folksy expression along the same lines as like flies to shit or keg flies. For example, the shoo flies in this 1915 recipe for shoo fly pie don’t mean the pie is made of bugs, they mean it’s sticky and sweet:

shoo fly pie recipe

How does shoo fly pie taste? According to this person who made it, your mileage may vary:

To me this pie did not smell good or look good but Darrell’s co-workers seemed to like it.

holding a shoo fly pie

The dance is something called a galop. I come across a lot of galop music and references to the galop, so it must have been popular. The Polka History of Dance explains it this way:

The popularity of the polka led to the introduction of several other dances from central Europe. The simplest was the galop or galoppade which was introduced into England and France in 1829. Dance position was the same as for the waltz or polka, with couples doing a series of fast chassés about the room with occasional turns. Music was in 2/4 time, often merely a fast polka. The galop was particularly popular as the final dance of the evening.

And wikipedia says:

In dance, the galop, named for the fastest running gait of a horse (see gallop), a shortened version of the original term galoppade, is a lively country dance, introduced in the late 1820s to Parisian society by the duchesse de Berry and popular in Vienna, Berlin and London. In the same closed position familiar in the waltz, the step combined a glissade with a chassé on alternate feet, ordinarily in a fast 2/4 time. The galop was a forerunner of the polka, which was introduced in Prague ballrooms in the 1830s and made fashionable in Paris when Raab, a dancing teacher of Prague, danced the polka at the Odéon Theatre, 1840.

The galop was particularly popular as the final dance of the evening. The “Post horn Galop” written by the cornet virtuoso Herman Koenig was first performed in London, 1844; it remains a signal that the dancing at a hunt ball or wedding reception is ended.

There are mistakes left in the recording. Unedited solo acoustic instrumentals on guitar are an unforgiving form, and I’m not yet good enough to get a perfect take within a reasonable amount of time and labor. The medium is like watercolor painting in the sense that no corrections are possible. The hardest part for me is the tradeoff between passion and correctness. I can do a version with no ugly mistakes pretty reliably, and I can do something which is passionate and musical any time I’m in the right mood, but I can’t consistently do both at the same time. At the same time, the sonic clarity of 1-track real-time acoustic playing means that I can’t avoid a hard phrase by mumbling it or cover it up by emphasizing whatever is on other tracks.

I learned this song from David Allen Coester‘s digitization of “Hayden’s Star Collection of Guitar Music.” There is no composer in the original publication, and Hayden is credited as the arranger rather than the composer, but I gave Hayden the composition credit by default. Here is the sheet music:

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

Must I, Then

This post is a recording of the composition Must I, Then? by W.L. Hayden, which was published in 1877.

The title of this song is my favorite part of it. There are about 100 silly questions you could make up for the request this person is responding to. “Ebenezer, please walk the cow to the auto show.” Etc. Fill in your own.

This song is a bit too pretty for me to be comfortable with, but then again that’s the 19th century for you. It’s just the esthetic of the time. Irony was far in the future, as relevant to them as 22nd century art is to us.

The source is an 1877 book entitled “Hayden’s Star Collection of Guitar Music.” The book was kindly digitized and hosted by a guy named David Allen Coester. Coester is an independent musician who just happens to be bringing primary historical materials on the internet.

There is no composer listed, and Hayden is credited as the arranger, not the composer. I gave him the composition credit by default.

I like the lines in this composition. The phrases aren’t broken up neatly, instead they stretch out into long run-on sentences. The result is that the song is really just two lines.

It’s surprisingly hard to play. This tiny bit of music took me a long time to master, and even now I make a lot of mistakes. There is an easy way to play it but it sounds cramped. To let the notes breathe I picked fingerings which use open strings rather than fretted ones whenever possible. This enables them to ring for longer and gives them a woody resonance. Using open strings rather than fretted ones is tricky when you’re up above the first position, because it effectively means that you’re playing in two positions at the same time. Another difficulty is that the note after an open note can’t be on an adjacent string, because then my finger on the adjacent string will accidentally lean over and stop the ringing note. The requirements aren’t hard to meet on a physical level, but there are mental gymnastics that I can only pull off when I’m in a state of deep concentration.

I have heard this style of fingering called “harp picking” because the overlap of ringing open strings gives a shimmering quality similar to a harp. I don’t really lay on the shimmering sound, though. It sounds like you’re trying too hard when you hit people over the head with it.

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

hoop skirts

Cora Hatch

From a paper on the poem “Nothing to Wear”:

Cora Hatch’s public appearance had elements of both Harper’s New Monthly “true woman” and Flora M’Flimsey. In her initial divorce petition, she complained that B. F. Hatch refused to buy her flannel petticoats even though he freely paid large sums for her gowns and, especially, frilly and fashionable undergarments. The point of such garments was to be seen wearing them. The view that hoop skirts were designed to hide a woman’s legs is exactly wrong. They were to show them off.

woman in hoop skirt on a low table indoors with another woman looking on.
woman in hoop skirt in public, with a bit of leg showing and a man looking.

In the first cartoon, Clara is consulting with her friend Julia. She has rigged up an “imitation set of front door steps. “What is the effect now, Julia dear?” Julia replies: “Charming, love, you might even flirt just a little more with safety.” In the second, a voyeur is shocked to discover that the young woman’s calf is padded. It is titled “The Padded Calf — Veal A La Mode.” The cartoon warns the young woman (rather than chastises the man): “Don’t stuff your calves with bran, lest you should re-veal the real state of your understanding.” The “Patent Padded Calf” was a real product. Women did pad their calves, if they were insufficiently plump, because their dresses rose in the back whenever they bent over or ascended stairs and in the front whenever they sat down.

gig updates

I played a gig at the Ocean Charter School Winter Faire last weekend. This was a school fair in Culver City. The stage was in a big tent. The kids moshed a bit and generally committed to the music. An odd thing was that they formed this kind of open space for activity right in front of me and used it for all kinds of miscellaneous stuff, like playing with toys. They weren’t watching in the way adults would at a concert hall, they were just making the music a part of their own thing. The music wasn’t irrelevant, which I know because they weren’t drawn in by the other acts in the same way.

I played with my normal intensity, and afterward a few adults stopped me to say they liked it. I loved playing in that environment — there was high quality attention, decent sound, a sizeable audience, and interactive listeners.

Then this Thursday I played at the Hyperion Tavern for my regular bi-weekly show. I did two new songs.

One was the original 1907 Ada Habershon/ Richard Gabriel version of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken.” I started too fast, which matters because there’s a fairly hard fingerpicking part, but then I figured what the hell go with the flow and things worked out fine. Learning this song has involved a lot of research into its history, which was necessary because the 1935 A.P. Carter version is so famous that it has drowned out most information about its predecessor. The turning point in learning it was finding a 1962 recording of the original by a guy named Dorsey Dixon who was then an old man. I speculate that he played the original because he was born in 1897 and would have been familiar with the original for many years before A.P.’s version existed. He died in 1968, six years after this recording. It’s amazing and beautiful that his life span, his background as a musician, and this recording session by archivists during the 1960s folk boom all lined up to allow me to play this lost song.

The other new tune was Nothing to Wear, an 1857 “comic ballad” by Septimus Winner. The song is a lot of fun and people loved it. Google has a history of the song. has a midi version, which is as a-musical as all midi files but gives you an idea of the melody.

It takes me months to master a new song, so it was cool to get past that phase and inject fresh music into the set.

Alvin and Lucille page

There’s now a Myspace page for “Alvin and Lucille”, the jazz act I do with Tequila Mockingbird. We needed an online identity, and especially a place to put our recordings online so we could do bookings a little more easily.

As always the music is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license to enable remixing and sharing. The mixes generally have the guitar and vocals hard-panned to the left and right so you can sample one or the other without any trouble. You could sing karaoke or use the guitar as a backing track for a sax solo by turning off the channel with the vocals. Or you could turn off the track with the guitar and snag some of Tequila’s beautiful voice as an a capella vocal for a remix.

The jazz material is a different animal than the Americana I do here, so I’m going to maintain this site independently, and I’m not going to link directly to the MP3s because I think they need to be a separate listening experience.

Tequila’s a killer singer and I think the music is great. Check it out:

Alvin and Lucille on Myspace

1921 St Louis Blues by ODJB

MP3: Original Dixieland Jazz Band — St Louis Blues.

Wikipedia entry on ODJB:

Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) was a New Orleans band that made the first jazz recording in 1917. The group made the first recordings of many jazz standards, probably the most famous being “Tiger Rag.” In late 1917 it changed the name’s spelling to “Jazz.”

The band consisted of five white musicians who had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a diverse and racially integrated collection of musicians who played for parades, dances, and advertising in New Orleans.

The O.D.J.B. were billed as the “Creators of Jazz.” Trumpeter Nick LaRocca convinced himself, in his old age, that this was literally true, but there is no evidence from the interviews and writings of the other O.D.J.B. members that the rest of the band ever considered it anything more than a snappy advertising slogan.

MP3 is courtesy the 78 RPM collection at Image is thanks to