Here are two stunning versions of Tommy Rooney's Jig.
The first version is one that Erskine recorded on a household reel-to-reel recorder in the mid 1960's. Despite their early arrival on the home-recording scene, they generally offered better sound than most cassette recorders which came in later on, probably due to the fact that they came with a half-decent microphone.
Hear Erkine Play Tommy Rooney's Jig
Anyhow, this recording really captures Erskine in the prime of his playing and you can hear the nuances of his intensely syncopated Gaspé rhythm and clogging much better in this recording than the previous version that was made on a cassette recorder.
While vacationing in Douglastown recently, Anthony Drody asked me if I played this tune and I answered that I do but I find it a very difficult one to really bring to life. As we began discussing this tune, he told me a story about how at one of the Wakeham Homecoming Fesitval's fiddle contests in the 1980's Erskine took second place to Girard Durette. Anthony had urged Erskine to play this tune and said that if he had, he could have won the contest. In Anthony's words, Erskine played this tune "just perfectly". I tend to agree with him. Tommy Rooney's Jig is in my opinion, another one of Erskine's masterpiece tunes.
The second version of Tommy Rooney's Jig comes from an unknown fiddler almost certainly from Douglastown. Erskine's reel-to-reel machine was for a period of time, in the hands of his brother Manny who lived in Douglastown and who probably made this recording of one of the local fiddle players. If anyone can identify who this fiddle player is with any certainty, please let us know by leaving a comment.
Hear unidentified fiddler play Tommy Rooney's Jig:
This other fiddler's version is particularly pretty, featuring many of the same cross string licks that Erskine used, especially on the high part. This recording is not at concert pitch, but instead comes out about 3 semitones lower in the key of B instead of D which gives the tune a more relaxed atmosphere than Erskine's recording. I'm not sure if this was just the way the fiddle and guitar tuned when this was recorded, or if the recording machine was operating at a slower speed. Anyhow, all of the recordings we have of this fiddle player made on the reels come out lower. We also don't have any idea who the guitar player is, but they do a wonderful job of providing tasteful backup on this tune.
Again, the fiddle is tuned to ADAE from low to high for this tune. This piece is part of a family of tunes in Quebec knows as "Grondeuses" or "growling" tunes. These are tunes which feature the violin tuned to ADAE and the low part of the tune is more or less confined to the two bass strings and makes heavy use of droning in the bass. This is what gives these "Grondeuses" tunes their great, growling quality. As well, the high parts of these tunes will really soar when they finally come around and this is especially true in Tommy Rooney's Jig. For me, Tommy Rooney's Jig is the best Grondeuse I've heard played before.
We mentioned in our previous post on this tune that it was supposedly composed by a Ms. Napoleon Rooney of Douglastown for a relative. Talking with people from Douglastown it seems this may or may not be true, but it is almost certain that this is a pure Douglastown tune having been composed by one of the old time fiddlers there. Again, if any of our readers know the true story of Tommy Rooney's jig, we encourage them to leave a comment or get in touch with us to let us know.