Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Drops of Brandy

Here is a great almost-Appalachian sounding tune that Erskine played in double tuning, AEAE. This is not the well-known Irish or Métis tunes that also both go by this title. Honestly, we're not sure where this version of the melody comes from. Nonetheless, it is a great, twisty tune.

The Drops of Brandy

This was recorded in 1984 at a family reunion in Douglastown, Quebec. At the time, one of Brian's uncles was working further down the coast and couldn't make it to the reunion. So someone there had the great idea that they would tape the evening for this uncle so he wouldn't miss out completely. No doubt there was no shortage of great fiddling and dancing that night.

I really love this recording because in the background you can hear what a great party they were having and can hear dancers' feet. You really feel the excitement of the music and party coming through in this recording. At one point, Brian's uncle Watson yells out "Come on, Tommy" to his cousin, Tommy Girard, to either start or keep on dancing. Fantastic stuff.

Brian tells me that:
"These people would dance all night, with their white shirts dripping with sweat, you had to be there to witness it. Neighbors would drop in for a while to dance, and others would follow.

News gets around quickly in a small town, The fiddle would pull the whole town together on any night of the week."

I think Brian's description paints a really vivid picture. I think to myself how great it would have been to have been there in the flesh at one of these parties with friends, family, and old-time fiddling. His description also attests to the power that that fiddle once enjoyed in entertaining people, being able to pull a whole town together. At the same time, when I hear descriptions such as these I find it sad that this kind of entertainment is fast disappearing in much of North America having been replaced by the television set and modern pop music.

There are some really great cross-string licks in this winding tune. As well, Erskine gets some really nice long-bows on the second part where 2 or 3 notes are played without changing bow direction. This is a bowing style that is somewhat unusual compared to the bowing style he uses in his other tunes.

This tune reminds me of some of those lonesome southeast Kentucky tunes that guys like John Salyer, Luther Strong, and Hiram and Art Stamper played in AEAE tuning. Check out this clip of Art Stamper playing Goodbye Girls, I'm Going to Boston. I think you'll hear some similarities in the melody and harmony.

Until recently, I beleived that the older southeast Kentucky tunes were really heavily Scots-Irish based and that only in the Northern and Central parts of the state were there more similarities with French Canadian fiddling. However, after listening to several tunes from the great Quebecois fiddler Isidore Soucy and tunes like Drops of Brandy I'm convinced that there are more similarities than I used to believe. Sometimes I put my IPod on random shuffle and when certain Isidore Soucy tunes come on, I swear I'm listening to John Salyer until I look at the display. Tonight I listened to John Salyer's Give the Fiddler a Dram and swore I had heard Soucy play the same tune. Although my attempts to find local French Canadian tunes played in Appalachia have so far been in vain, one of these days I swear I'll hit the jackpot.

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