Sally Ann, the Gal I Like: Fiddle Lesson with Craig Judelman

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In this lesson Craig teaches a tune that he learned from Bruce Greene. Bruce learned it, in turn, from Snake Chapman.

Recording of the tune by Snake Chapman, on Slippery Hill

This fuller history below is courtesy of a commenter on Neighborly Music, the organization in Portland, Oregon run by Maggie Lind that has been teaching oldtime classes for many years now.

“The source recording […] is a recording of Owen “Snake” Chapman made by Bruce Greene in 1989. Owen Chapman was from Pike County, Kentucky – in the far eastern part of the state, bordering West Virginia. His family had lived on their property in “Chapman’s Hollow” for 150 years. He learned many tunes from his father, a fiddler who was born in the early 1850s; George “Doc” Chapman (he wasn’t a doctor, but had a reputation for knowledge of herbal cures) was reportedly 67 years old when Owen Chapman was born in 1919. Owen Chapman worked as a coal miner until he was diagnosed with black lung.

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Chapman recorded this tune on his CD “Up in Chapman’s Hollow” as “Little Sally Ann.” He learned the tune from his father, and remembered lyrics his father sang to the tune:

Sally Ann’s the gal I like,
We go to the ball and dance all night.
And just before the break of day,
She takes wings and flies away.
Fly around here little Sally Ann (3)
And try to do the best you can.

Kentucky fiddlers Buddy Thomas and Art Stamper both recorded versions of the tune under the title “Possum Up a Simmon Tree,” and West Virginia musician Franklin George recorded a version on banjo under the title “Nancy Ann.” Buddy Thomas, from Emerson in northeastern Kentucky, learned his version from a neighboring banjo player, Vestner Fannin. Buddy recalled a lyric (warning: anti-opossum violence):

‘Possum up a ‘simmon tree
One eye shining down on me
Picked up a rock a-lying by
And kazoop! I took that ‘possum in the eye.

Buddy Thomas has serious health problems and grew up in abject poverty (“so poor even the poor folks said we were poor”). He died of a heart attack when he was just 39 years old, leaving behind one of the great albums (still available on CD) by a Kentucky fiddler, “Kitty Puss: Old-Time Fiddle Music from Kentucky.” Buddy Thomas’s maternal grandfather, Jimmy Richmond, was a fiddler, and Buddy learned many of his grandfather’s tunes through his mother, who would whistle the melody of her father’s tunes (“All her family were good whistlers and they used to win all the whistling contests that they had through our part of the country”). 

For “modern” commercial recordings of Kentucky fiddlers, you can’t do better than Snake Chapman, Buddy Thomas, Art Stamper and J.P. Fraley.”

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