Curt Bouterse
Banjer on my Knee
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Banjer on my Knee: Song Notes

1.Gold Watch and Chain. [Trad.] 2:52. Curt, voice and Oscar Schmidt autoharp (ca.1941); Lee, voice; Ray, fiddle; Larry, voice and early 1920s Gibson L-4 guitar. Even after singing it for 50 years this Carter Family classic doesn't pale but, recently, treating it as a waltz, it has taken on an entirely new character. I gave a gold watch and chain to my first love; we are still good friends.

2.Rocky Hill. [Trad.] 3:00. William Sidney Mount banjer, in Double C (gCGCD tuned down m3 to A), spoons. Another great tune learned from my mentor, Stu Jamieson. I don't know anyone else who plays it. The phrase, "got my rations on my back, musket on my shoulder," is derived from an oral formula common in the 18th and 19th century. (Google "musket on my shoulder.") Stu was also influenced by Uncle Dave Macon and often played in his style. I include an Uncle Dave intro as a tribute to him. Impromptu percussion accompaniment is a tradition which is ancient and widespread but underrecorded.

3.Jennie Jenkins. [Trad.] 3:25. Jethro Amburgey dulcimer, tuned 1-1-5; Curt and Lee, voices. I learned this from a recording of Estil and Orna Ball back in the 1960s and Lee is the perfect vehicle for this old-time flirting song.

4.Early in the Morning. [Trad.] 1:15. hammered dulcimer. This was the first hammered dulcimer tune I ever remember hearing. I taped it from the radio, recorded for the Library of Congress by "an anonymous player from West Virginia". Its characteristic "crooked" tune is typical of an old style of solo performers, fiddlers and others, when they were not playing for dancing but just for themselves. The meter is 5,5,7,4+2,4,4. As I recall it was titled "Drunken Sailor" but I always thought it more closely resembled "Going to Boston." When I realized they both used the last line, "early in the morning," I supposed they might have interacted around this shared phrase and chose it for my title.

5.Life's Railway to Heaven. [ca. 1900. Attributed to Charles Davis Tillman] 4:48. Curt and Lee,voices; Ray (voice & lead guitar, 1958 Martin D-18); Larry (voice & rhythm guitar, 1920s Gibson L-4, dropped D tuning). My sister and I have been singing this song since we were in grade school, from an old hymnal which had it, "respectfully dedicated to all railroad men." I am particularly fond of Ray's understated but sophisticated guitar solo.

6.Froggy Went a-Courtin'. [Trad., arr. CB] 4:10. This is dedicated to my mother. She used to sing it around the house when I was very young and I always enjoyed the asymmetrical phrasing. Unfortunately, I never paid much attention to the verses past the beginning few - or maybe she didn't sing very many. Anyway, I have gathered some favorites I know she would have enjoyed. 

7.Hey, Ben! [CCB] 3:10. Curt, voice and Wm. S. Mt. banjer, open C tuning (gCGCE, tuned down 4th to G); Ray, fiddle, GDAE. I wrote this song when my old friends, Lou and Virginia Curtiss had their son, Ben, back in 1976. I imagined him growing up in the midst of Old-Time music parties and becoming a musician. He turned out to be a Byzantine scholar and we all couldn't be prouder.

8.Hills of Mexico. [Trad., arr. CB] 3:46. Notched gourd banjer (gCGCC, tuned down 4th to G). This was inspired by Roscoe Holcomb's version from his old album with Wade Ward. Unfortunately, only some of the words were intelligible but I was enchanted by the possibilities of the story, a version of "The Buffalo Skinners," with unique touches like the "Mexican cowboy." In particular I was haunted by the line, "the bells they did ring and the whistles they did blow," so I had to compile a more complete account.

9.Good Old Chicken Pie. [Similar songs attributed to Collins and Harlan (ca. 1907), Frank Dumont (1906), and J E Ditson & Co., (1886).] 2:10. Curt, voice and autoharp; Ray Bierl, fiddle; Larry Hanks, Gibson L-4 guitar. I asked Ray to provide some "chicken music" on the fiddle: he succeeded beyond my expectations. This was one of my paternal grandfather's favorite songs he used to accompany on the old Jumbo Gibson he bought in the late 1920s. He was a complex and difficult man in many ways but when he sang this song (and "Ticklish Reuben") he became the jovial, entertaining raconteur we all admired and loved.

10.Oh Death. [Trad.] 3:50. Kubing (Philippine bamboo Jew's harp), voice. Doc Boggs has been one of my favorite players since I first heard his recordings in the early 1960s. This is perhaps his most dramatic and moving song.

11.Gold Rush Medley: Camptown Races/Oh, Susanna/Buffalo Gals. [Trad.] 5:35. Gourd bonja, tuned dDaa; dulcimer (made by CB), tuned dDD; fife and drum. I was delighted to find that there are many traditional tunes that can be played on two strings tuned a fifth apart. In this case these three melodies are so closely related I have to concentrate not to accidentally change from one to the other in mid-song. I added more percussion on these pieces, including the fife and drum, which tradition was probably more widespread in the 19th century than it is now. I will be disappointed if you, or your children, aren't dancing by the end of these familiar tunes.

12.Little Birdie/Glory in the Meeting House. [Trad.] 5:54. Notched gourd banjer, tuned gCGCC down a 4th to G. I learned "Birdie" from Rossie Holcomb and it was Joanne and Lisa's favorite. "Glory" was one of the wonderful, haunting tunes by the great Kentucky fiddler, Luther Strong. For this tune alone I could say, paraphrasing King Agrippa, "Almost thou persuadest me to become a fiddler."

13.Brother Green. [Trad. Richard Dorson has a woman from Illinois relating it was composed by Rev. L J Simpson, an Army Chaplain, on the death of his brother, killed at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February, 1862. I spent my Junior High School days in Clarksville, 30 miles from there, and visited the beautiful, somber site.] 5:16. Dulcimer (made by my mother, Virginia Lee Hargis Bouterse, Hindman, Ky., 1982.), tuned 1-1-8. Stu Jamieson learned this from Margot Mayo's family in Kentucky. Most version have the dying soldier from the Union side. The "brother" of the song refers to male nurses, usually from conscientious objector backgrounds, like the Shakers and Quakers (and Walt Whitman), who offered palliative care to those who were seldom saved by the primitive medical establishment. 

14.Felicita. [CCB] 2:30. Curt, Fairbanks & Cole fretless banjo, "sawmill" tuning (gDGCD, down a 4th to D); Ray Bierl, fiddle, ADAE. Another of my tunes, composed in the 1970s, dedicated to a wonderful woman and the times we spent in Felicita Park in Escondido, just north of San Diego. This is one of Ray's favorites.

15.Yonder's Gallows Tree. [Trad., arr. CB] 4:05. I learned this from my favorite Traditional American musician, Frank Proffitt. I had never been fond of the "Hangman" stories but Frank's version was not only the most beautiful and simple but resolved a couple of issues for me. In most examples there is no indication of the crime, but here she has "stole a silvery cup" and seems to accept her fate. His gentle rendition also somehow shed a new light on the most vexing issue: her family's seeming indifference and even voyeurism about the hanging. We didn't bring a ransom, we just came to watch, always offended me. But Frank's matter-of-fact singing suggested (at least to me) that, though the family may be poor and powerless, we can at least be with you in your final hours. And public hangings were communal events, with a host of social implications, until fairly recently. So, I decided this was, at last, a version I could sing. But there was one last hurdle: I had always been left unfulfilled by the truncated nature of the mini-ballad. It seemed like a gimmick: no money, no money, no money, Money. The end. So I exercised my oral transmission rights and composed some finishing verses.

16.Ducks on the Pond. [Trad.] 4:07. Hammered dulcimer. I learned this tune from Larry Hanks back in the 1970s while working on a movie soundtrack with him, Holly Tannen, and a host of high powered musicians, including Byron Berline. While the big band members were inside recording, he and I were sitting on the street in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, at 2 am, with only his mandolin for company. Among the tunes he played, this one mesmerized me. Even though I didn't play the instrument, I learned to pick the melody on it and determined to remember it. When I got home to San Diego, I pulled my "tater bug" Washburn out of the closet and relearned it, transferring it to the hammered dulcimer. For 30 years it has been one of my favorite tunes to play. A couple of years ago Larry was at the (San Diego) Adams Avenue Roots Festival on a workshop with me and I played it, crediting him. His response: "I didn't know I knew that tune." When I finished recording this cut, several years ago, I walked out of the booth and George Winston said, "That was one of the great moments in old-time music." Thanks, I like it too.

17.Lone Prairie. [Trad., arr. CB] 2:40. Curt, Ray, Larry. The shape note hymn, "Devotion," from the Southern Harmony is in the same tune family as "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," "The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn," and "The Leatherwinged Bat." The harmony parts are from the hymn. Though this is not intended to be documentary, it's entirely possible for three cowboys to have had a shape note background.

18.Promised Land. [Trad.] 5:33. Amburgey dulcimer, tuned 1-1-8. This is a song from my childhood but the minor tune is from the Southern Harmony shape note hymnal. (It's not too much of a stretch to see the change from minor to the modern, major mode as reflecting theological changes from the 19th to the 20th centuries.) I also have worked in another, similar, hymn from the same source, "Parting Friends." All my dulcimer playing (as with everyone else in folk music) is indebted to Jean Ritchie, who was a charming friend to both my parents and me.

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