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The very first smack riff, maybe

Everybody knows guitar heroes and smack habits go together like peanut butter and Elvis, but did you know the very first smack riff may have been for banjo?

Soldier’s Joy is a banjo tune of the Civil War era. I remember it from childhood (Soldier’s Joy, not the Civil War. Jesus). I always thought the tune sad and sweet; like being inside a music box. One (unconfirmed) explanation for the title is that “Soldier’s Joy” is morphine — first used in this war. That would make Soldier’s Joy…yes. Exactly.

Here’s a nice drop-thumb version of the tune Google found for me several years ago. The banjoist is Donald Zepp. I’ve just reGoogled and found that Zepp has a MySpace page with this and a few other tunes.


You can thank Enas Yorl for this. Thank him good and hard.

Bonus: here’s a clip of it the way I remember it. This is from the album The Three Pickers (that would be Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs).


Does anybody know how long a clip you can publish and still be covered under “fair use”? I kept this under 30 seconds to be on the safe side, but I’d like to know the real, official answer.

February 27, 2007 — 6:54 pm
Comments: 12

Brass Knuckles

I hate jazz. I mean, jazz of the squeak-blatt-toot variety. I know that makes me Mayor McCheese of Squaresville, but I always felt like jazz was an inside joke and I was definitely not inside. It’s all smack and sunglasses and a smug sense of its own coolness.

But somehow I love ragtime, jazz’s crazy grampa in the attic. Ragtime is a joke, too, but I’m in on it. It’s wild, exhuberant bullshit; it’s showy and silly and just this side of stupid. It’s whorehouse piano — poor old Scott Joplin hisself died of syphilis.

My very favorite ragtime piano tune is by two moderns, William Albright and William Bolcom. Yes, this is self-conscious smarty-pants clever-boots well-nigh-atonal modern crap and I ought to hate it, but I don’t. It’s one of those rare pieces of music I’d give a non-vital body-part to be able to play, and then I’d waste my life playing it all day.

Okay, I know what you’re going to think: “You’ve got to be shitting me, Weasel! This is complete crap. He’s just mashing keys there at the beginning, and then it goes downhill.” Well, yes, but give it a chance. Clinical psychosis is the charm of this piece.

The tune is all over the place, the timing is all over the place, but it holds itself together just well enough to keep you listening. Anxious, but listening. It goes haywire and, right before you click it off in disgust, it turns sweet. Drift along on the sweetness of it, and suddenly it’s in your shower waving a knife around.

It’s like bringing home that new person you’ve been dating for dinner with the folks. You know, that new person with Tourette’s Syndrome. Or listening to a very important speech delivered by George Bush. Or being called upon unexpectedly in a meeting, when you were all hungover and daydreaming. You close your eyes, whisper the please-keep-it-together prayer and hope for the best.

Behold! Brass Knuckles:


Dear Music Industry Goons: this is a completely illegal music ripoff, but I tried. Really I did. I bought this thing over twenty years ago. I don’t remember the name of the album. I don’t remember the name of the artist. I think it might have been from a label called “American Heritage” — or something like that. It was one of the few pieces of music I bothered to digitize off cassette (hence the dubious sound quality in spots), and even that was many years ago. I did a diligent Google search for “ragtime” and “brass knuckles” and “American Heritage” (in the course of which I found — and bought — a couple other albums with Brass Knuckles on, so you got a piece of me). This particular recording is nowhere to be found. I would happily have given credit (and excerpt and link). So before you cart me away to the hoosgow, would you at least tell me where this comes from? I want to buy the CD.

— 9:06 am
Comments: 7