Curt Bouterse
Waiting for Nancy
American Old Time Music
Spanish Old Time Music
Spanish Old Time Music Band
About Me
Nixon, Nancy, and Me
What's in a Name?
Pensées I: Pardon My French
Pensées II: For Believers Only
Bureaucracy & Chocolate
My Résumé
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Waiting for Nancy: Notes

Two Halves of the Same Gourd

Curt and I probably met in 1968, the year I began driving 100 miles south from my home in Los Angeles, California, to sing at the Heritage, a traditional folk music club in the Mission Beach district of San Diego. He was the only hammered dulcimer player anyone knew then. He had arranged American fiddle tunes on a Chinese version of that ancient instrument, and also played a graceful two-finger style on his fretless "banjer." It took a while to learn to pronounce his old Dutch name (Bau'-terz), but only a little longer to work out banjo parts for his dulcimer tunes, and guitar accompaniments to fit his melodic picking on the autoharp.

After 1972 our paths diverged, and we couldn't get together so often. Curt formed a band to explore his new theories of Medieval music in Europe, and later traveled as far as Bali in search of traditional music communities, before earning a doctorate in World Music. I went on tour as bassist with the songwriter-poet Tom Waits, and afterwards managed the True & Trembling String Band in Los Angeles, featuring the late Don McCarty, the second hammered dulcimer artist in California. In 1978 I left L.A., moving first to Canada and then to Massachusetts, where I developed the exhibition 'Ring the Banjar!: The Banjo in America from Folklore to Factory' for the MIT Museum. It helped to catalyze a revival of America's "own" musical instrument.

In 2004, Curt cut a gourd in half and crafted two 18th-Century-style banjers from it. He gave one to me, and kept the other. Even though they're not exactly alike, it's clear that they spring from the same natural source. That same sort of bonding gives this album its life. It's about two brothers, of different blood, joined by a dedication to music that originated a long time ago, in deep places.

Bob Webb
March 2008

Thanks to George Winston, Stu Jamieson and Sam Hinton for their love, inspiration and support through the years. Thanks to David Swarens for the loan of vintage instruments for this recording. Bob sings out to Helen and Margaret, for their gifts of trust and confidence. Curt dedicates this music to Joanne, Cathy and Mary...and Nancy.

Waiting for Nancy: Song Notes

1. Sweet Sunny South. ©Charlie Poole, Norman Woodlief. 2:39
Curt: Vocal, William Sydney Mount fretless banjo by Curt Bouterse in gCGCD tuning (Nylgut strings)
Bob: Fairbanks-Vega Tu-ba-phone No. 9 banjo in gCGCD tuning, capoed seven frets (steel strings)
The legendary North Carolina banjo-player Charlie Poole (1892-1931) recorded this song for Columbia Records. Curt and Bob learned it from the New Lost City Ramblers. The excitement in the arrangement is the result of the two banjo voices, low and high, played together.

2. Otto Wood the Bandit. ©Walter B. (Kid) Smith, 1931. 3:19
Curt: Voal harmony; Oscar Schmidt modified 12-bar autoharp
Bob: Vocal melody; Martin 000-28 guitar in standard tuning
Otto Wood came from Wilkes County, North Carolina. His troubles began in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1923, where he killed a pawnbroker who had sold a watch that he had come to redeem. The court ruled it a crime of passion and he was spared the death penalty. He escaped from prison four times and died on December 30, 1930, in a gunfight with the police chief of Salisbury, North Carolina. Walter Smith's ballad was first recorded by his own string-band, the Carolina Buddies, and later popularized by Doc Watson.

3. Waiting for Nancy. ©Curtis Carlisle Bouterse, 1978. 3:19
Curt: Frank Proffitt black walnut fretless banjer in gCGCD [liner notes incorrectly list gCGCE] tuning, one-half step down
Bob: Frank Proffitt tiger maple fretless banjer in gCGCD tuning, one-half step down
Several of Curt's finest tunes for fretless banjer, including "Nixon's Farewell," have been popularized around the world by string bands and banjo-pickers, but none is so often played and recorded as "Waiting for Nancy." Curt composed this tune in Old Town, San Diego, while waiting for a friend who never showed up. So something fine came out of his disappointment.

4. A Long Time Ago. Traditional. 2:20
Curt: Vocal harmony
Bob: Vocal melody; Mac-Cann-duet concertina by Colin & Rosalie Dipper
In the 19th Century, "A Long Time Ago" was a popular capstan shanty, a work-song intended to coordinate labor at the capstan, which heaved-up the anchor of a sailing ship. Several versions survive: the most common tells the story of a young sailor who finds himself thoroughly miserable on a voyage around Cape Horn. Another version is set in the American South. This version tells an amusing story about Noah and the animals who made the voyage aboard his ark. It comes from the singing of Bo's'un Chenowith, who sailed in the ship 'Mount Stewart,' and can be found in 'Shanties from the Seven Seas: Shipboard Work-songs and Songs Used as Work-songs from the Great Days of Sail' (London, 1966), by Stan Hugill. Another Noah text is published in William Main Doerflinger's 'Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman' (New York, 1972). Bob learned it from Stan Hugill, a long time and a very long time ago.

5. Seneca Square Dance. Traditional. 3:33
Curt: Hammered dulcimer
Bob: Fairbanks-Vega Tu-ba-phone No. 9 banjo in fCFAC tuning, capoed seven frets
Curt learned this old dance tune around 1970 when the Highwoods String Band performed it at The Heritage. Bob began playing it in 1973 with his group, the True & Trembling String Band. It's one of those old-time fiddle pieces once known as "Indian" tunes, so nominated by nothing more than the inclusion of a minor chord in the accompaniment. (Related to "Give Me Back My Fifteen Cents," "Little Rabbit Where's Your Mammy," and others.)

6. Ticklish Reuben. Cal Stewart, 1899. 3:09
Curt: Vocal; Oscar Schmidt modified 12-bar autoharp
Bob: Gibson L-3 guitar in standard tuning
Cal Stewart (1856-1919) was an inveterate composer of "laughing" songs and other novelty pieces, which he performed in his country-comic role as "Uncle Josh Weathersby." His successes include "And Then I Laughed," "I Laughed at the Wrong Time," and of course, "Ticklish Reuben." The banjoists Uncle Dave Macon and Wade Mainer later recorded versions of this song. Curt's paternal grandfather, Matthew John Bouterse, sang it, accompanied on his old jumbo Gibson guitar. Curt says, "He was quite a laugher. It was of the few non-religious songs I ever remember him playing."

7. The Bear's Leaving Town. ©Curtis Carlisle Bouterse, 1978. 3:53
Curt: Homer Ledford fretless banjer in gCGCD tuning, one-half step down
Bob: William Sydney Mount fretless banjo by Curt Bouterse in gCGCD tuning, one-half step down
Curt dedicated this tune to Bob in his chapbook, 'Nixon's Farewell & Ten Other Newly Made Old Time Banjer Tunes in Traditional Style.' Thirty-some years ago, Bob was once called 'Bear,' having some to do with his physique, and also some gently perceived relationship to Winnie-Ther-Poo.

8. Bachelor's Hall. Traditional. 3:31
Curt: Vocal; Khaen
The British maritime composer Charles Dibdin (1745-1814) used the title and theme before 1800, but the actual beginnings of this particular tune are unclear. Curt learned it from Mike Seeger, then substituted the khaen, a Thai bamboo mouth-organ, for Mike's country fiddle playing.

9. Gypsum Davey. Traditional. 3:47
Curt: Jethro Amburgey dulcimer tuned B-b-b
Bob: Vocal; African style 4-string bonja by Curt Bouterse in dDGB tuning
Forty years ago, Bob gathered 127 published versions of the old ballad "Johnny Faa," "Gypsy Davy," or "Black-jack David" for Bess Lomax Hawes's ethnomusicology class at California State University, Northridge. But this version came recently from Jeff Warner, whose parents, Frank and Anne Warner, compiled one of the most important collections of American folk song.
[I don't ordinarily like to play favorites with traditional tunes: after all, I only record my first choices. But if I could only rescue one of these songs from a burning building, this would be it. This is Bob at his best. CCB]

10. Boney on the Isle of St. Helena. Traditional. 3:02
Curt: Vocal harmony
Bob: Vocal melody
Bob was inspired to sing this song after hearing Frank and Anne Warner's field recording of Charles K. (Tink) Tillett, recorded on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1940. It is published in Anne Warner's 'Traditional American Folksongs from the Anne and Frank Warner Collection' (Syracuse, 1984). Curt crafted the harmony from the widely-disseminated fiddle tune "Bonaparte's Retreat." He says, "The two melodies are clearly related. The opening of each harmonized beautifully, and the rest was easy."

11. Fair and Tender Ladies. Traditional. 2:39
Bob: Vocal; Louden S-25 guitar in standard tuning
Redrafted for the commercial folksong revival from a Maybelle Carter recording, "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies" was popularized in the early 1960s by The Kingston Trio. Bob has been striving to master its complex melody and poetic lyrics ever since. It's surely an ancient mountain love song, and remains a beauty for the ages.

12. Mississippi Sawyers. Traditional. 4:40
Curt: Hammered dulcimer
Bob: Fairbanks-Vega Tu-ba-phone No. 9 banjo tuned to fCFAC, capoed up two frets.
No one seems to know how this famous dance tune got its name, but Curt suspects it comes from the dangerous, dynamic snags called "sawyers" that created a serious hazard to navigation on the Mississippi River. "The characteristic rocking-thirds motif of the melody," he notes, "seems to mimic the movement of the sawyers in the water."

[From the Dictionary of Regional American English by Joan Houston Hall: Sawyer 4, A menace to navigation consisting of a log or tree caught in a river in such a way that its top bobs up and down with the current. esp. Mississippi-Ohio valleys. cf. planter 1 (similar stationary obstacles.)
1785 (MS Journal of Jas. Boyd, Lancaster PA, quoted in 1804, Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal, I,1,) "This morning we had like to have run foul of a sawyer. These are old trees which lie in the river fast at the roots, and from the manner of their tops rocking up and down they are called sawyers. They are deemed very dangerous."
1786 (Quoted in 1877, Magazine of American History, I, 312). "Arrived in Guyandot this evening and lay all night off its mouth in rapid water - obliged to make fast to a sawyer."
1843 (The New Purchase; Seven and a Half Years in the Far West, Robert Carlton) "A sawyer is either a long trunk, or more commonly an entire tree, so fixed that its top plays up and down with the current and the wind, and is therefore periodically perilous to the navigator."
184- (Anon., in Cyclopaedia of Wit and Humor, Wm. E. Burton, 1866) "Oh sometimes we run foul of a snag, or sawyer; then again we occasionally collapse a boiler and blow up sky high." {"Run foul of a sawyer [or snag]" was a common phrase in the early 1800s.} In this same narrative is found an early version of an allusion from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. "...a ham, like a turkey, are a monstrous onconvenient bird - a little too much for one, and not quite enough for two.")]

13. Hopalong Peter. Traditional. 2:38
Curt: Vocal; Jew's harp
A recording by a string band known as Fisher Hendley and His Aristocratic Pigs is the source of this now-common old-timey tune. Curt and Bob heard it first as recorded by the New Lost City Ramblers, but Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead sang it too. Curt's version makes a fine children's song, or even a lullaby.

14. Texas Rangers. Traditional. 4:06
Curt: Hammered dulcimer
Bob: Vocal
Bob first heard this ballad sung by Ian and Sylvia in 1964, but it was included in seminal collections of cowboy songs dating to the turn of the 20th Century. Bob calls it a lament for both sides of the Indian Wars: for the First Peoples, who gradually lost their freedoms to invasive progress, and also for the Rangers, who paid with their lives to pry open the American west to settlement. European hammered dulcimers were occasionally encountered in settlers' cabins on the prairie, so Curt's playing adds a sadly appropriate punctuation to what is ordinarily an unaccompanied ballad.

15. I Only Want a Buddy (Not a Sweetheart) ©Edward H. Jones, 1932. 3:04
Curt: Vocal; Oscar Schmidt modified 12-bar autoharp
Bob: Martin 000-28 guitar in standard tuning
Edward Jones' song was recorded by several rural string-bands in the 1930s, and by the southern singer Bradley Kinkaid, from whom Curt learned it. Bing Crosby also recorded it, in 1936, making it an early crossover that was popular among both rural and urban audiences.

16. Nine Hundred Miles. Traditional. 7:36
Curt: "Picasso" 4-string gourd banjer by Curt Bouterse, tuned fFAC
Bob: African style 4-string bonja by Curt Bouterse, tuned cCFA
This tune is made by two gourds singing head-to-head. The melody is less like "Nine Hundred Miles" and more like a related song, Reuben's Train." Bob explains, We recorded it face-to-face, with the banjos almost touching. We were sitting in a doorway, playing between two rooms just like musicians in slave quarters once played for dances." Curt adds: "We sat facing each other and played this tune on small 4-stringed gourd banjers for almost 20 minutes, and didn't want to stop. We knew we were on to something good."
[Note that our banjers are in different tunings, leading us to focus on differing aspects of the melody. Listen to this with good separation of the channels. CCB]

[Click on any picture to enlarge.]