“Juba Breakdown” is the first tune in Ellis’ Thorough School for the Six or Seven- Stringed Banjo (PDF). It’s a lot of fun to play.
This recording is 1:10 long. The tune would be a natural fit to connect segments in a larger piece like a radio play, so I have also clipped out shorter snippets to fit as needed:
13 second MP3 at 320K
54 second MP3 at 320K
Here’s the sheet music for people who are inclined that way (I use the 1st banjo part):
I’m playing it in an anachronistic style, something along the lines of 1930s country, which it absolutely wasn’t.
My recording is hereby in the public domain. Do whatever you want with it.
Blind Willie McTell — Dying Crapshooter’s Blues (MP3)
I recently received an email from an enthusiastic Porter Grainger fan. In fact, his first comment was to point out that “Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues” actually made it onto piano rolls! Readers of this blog – and of the book – will know that the composer of “Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues” was Porter Grainger. Grainger was one of those souls who disappeared almost completely from public consciousness, even though he left a significant mark on the music of the 1920s.
Essay on Blind Willie McTell on Pseudopodium blog:
[Blind Willie] McTell himself said of his most strikingly original composition, “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” (1.9MB MP3): “I had to steal music from every which way you could get it to get it to fit.” Although the criminal’s mock testament has a history ranging from Villon to “Streets of Laredo” and “St. James Infirmary,” McTell’s three years of tinkering resulted in a structure part recitation, part theater — a three-act pop opera complete with opening fanfare.
Rather than think of the distinction between folk and pop as being authentic vs staged, I think of it as being about the eternal vs the fresh. Themes of death, marriage, birth, poverty, war — those are the folk side. Themes of innovation, immediacy, daily life, triviality — those are the pop side. If you write a country song about video games, it’s fresh. If you write a metal song about the death of a friend, it’s eternal.
My antique music is sometimes authentic and sometimes staged, but is almost always about eternal things.
Acomment in classic banjo forums:
there is a great desire for many people to play illiterate. Movies always show cowboys “making their mark.” Reading 19th century accounts of cowboys (Andy Adams Log of a Cowboy and W.S. James 27 Years a Mavrick [sic] for example) paints a different picture of the cowboy’s education level.
I seem to have fallen into this trap of thinking that a great deal of folk music is fake. Composed to capitalize on a market of nostalgia. I guess fake is not the correct word. Written for the masses longing for simpler times that never were.
This post is sheet music for St Louis Waltz, which I recorded as Death Valley Waltz.
MP3 from the MIDI
Sibelius source file
I found the song in a field manual for musicians in the American civil war. That field manual is “The Drummer’s and Fifers’ Guide” by Bruce and Emmet. This guide is still around because it is used by the subculture of civil war re-enactors.
The original is this antique manuscript:
For a contemporary musician that manuscript is a bit hard to read and lacks chord changes, so I wrote out a new version:
The profound thing about playing music in nursing homes and hospitals is that it can be a real help for people going through hard times. The live music is basically a distraction. It’s escapism. You help people forgot their troubles for a short time.
Sometimes people will get up and dance. Sometimes I’ll be rewarded with big smiles.
Other times nothing. The listeners are unmoved and I feel like I’m bringing trivial happy talk to people coping with real problems.