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I saw Johnny Shines with Robert Lockwood in London many years ago - a two night stint. At the end of the second night, some fool in the audience shouts, "Johnny Shines, you are a sexist!" Shines says, "What?" Guy repeats it. Shines says, "Texas? I don't know nothing about Texas." Collapse of interlocutor - Johnny Shines, by Chris Smith on prewarblues list, Bunker Hill, also present, dates it Sunday 28th October 1979

Author Topic: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice  (Read 7976 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« on: July 12, 2006, 11:14:31 PM »
Hi all,
Outfidel's mention of this tune in the "Country Blues Instrumentals" thread anticipated a post I have been meaning to make for some time.  "Buck Dance", or "Buckdancer's Choice", as it is sometimes known, has a lot in common with the instrumental "Spanish Fandango".  Both tunes are played in a variety of versions in both the Black and White fingerpicking traditions, and both seem to have had an origin in the Parlor Guitar craze of the late 1800s.  "Buck Dance" is just about always played out of C position in standard tuning, and often has passages where the player raps the top of the guitar in imitation of the rhythms of a buckdancer.  Here are a few versions I found.
   * Mississippi John Hurt--"Buck Dance" or "Stockwell".  John Hurt did this tune as "Buck Dance" on the Vanguard album, "The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt", and as "Stockwell" on "Mississippi John Hurt--Legend" on Rounder.  John Hurt's version employs variations of increasing complexity, as well as stop-time passages with the right hand tapping out rhythms on the top of the guitar.  John Hurt also makes liberal use of the "cheating" F chord, in which downbeats are struck on the open A string rather than the first fret of the sixth string, E, and has lyrics, which none of the other versions I have heard had.  They were all instrumentals.
   * Elizabeth Cotten--"Buck Dance".  Libba Cotten's version can be found on the "Shake Sugaree" CD on Smithsonian/Folkways.  Her version is tuned low, and has a stately quality in keeping with the Parlor Guitar feel that her version of "Spanish Flang Dang" also shares.
   * Sam McGee--"Buckdancer's Choice".  Sam's early version can be found on the old Yazoo compilation, "Mr. Charlie's Blues", and a more recent version is included on the album, "The McGee Brothers & Arthur Smith", on Folkways.  Sam's version remains very influential among Old-Time musicians, and is a real finger-picking showpiece with tremendous speed and drive.
   * John Jackson--"Flat Foot and Buck Dance".  John's version comes from his first album on Arhoolie.  "Flat Foot" is played with  a thumb lead in the style of a man playing the banjo on a guitar.  His "Buck Dance" that follows is unusual in having only one part, and no bridge.
   * Mance Lipscomb--"Buck Dance".  Mance's version, from his Reprise album, "Trouble In Mind", that has been re-issued on Rhino, is very funky, with particularly "wet" tuning, and employs tapped rhythms, like John Hurt's version.
   * Rev. Gary Davis--"Buck Dance".  Gary Davis's version is from the CD, "Pure Religion & Bad Company" on the Smithsonian/Folkways label.  He may have recorded the same song with a different title elsewhere; he often recorded instrumentals with a variety of titles.  His version, perhaps unsurprisingly, ups the ante in terms of chordal complexity, as demonstrated in his first four bars:
   |     C7        |      F      |      Cdim7      |      Cdim7/C      |
Rev. Davis also makes strategic use of stop-time in his version.
   * Tom Paley--"Buck Dancer's Choice".  Tom Paley's version comes from the old "Tom Paley & Peggy Seeger" album on Elektra.  For those unfamiliar with Tom Paley's playing, he was one of the original members of the revivalist Old-Time group, the New Lost City Ramblers, and is a terrific guitarist, Old-Time banjo player and fiddler.  His version comes out of Sam McGee's, but Tom adds lots of original touches.  Like Sam, Tom emphasizes speed and rhythmic punch in his version.  Incidentally, he also recorded one of the greatest covers ever, of Sam McGee's "Railroad Blues", on "New Lost City Ramblers, vol. 3" on Folkways.  Tom Paley's version in many ways out-shines Sam's own version.
   * John Cohen--"Buck Dancer's Choice".  Like Tom Paley, John Cohen was a charter member of the New Lost City Ramblers.  John is joined on his version by Tracy Schwarz, playing spoons really musically (really!), and while the version probably comes from Sam McGee's, I think of it as John Cohen's own.  If I had to choose, I believe I would select this version as the prettiest of the bunch, and John Cohen really does a beautiful job with it.
   * Algia Mae Hinton--"Old Time Buck Dance" and "Buck Dance".  Algia Mae's versions can be found, respectively, on her Hin-Tone CD (recorded June 20, 1996 in Port Townsend) and her Cello CD, both of which are confusingly titled "Honey Babe".  Algia Mae's versions of the tune definitely stand at the greatest distance from all the rest, for two reasons.
     1. Her versions of the tune are the only ones not played in C position in standard tuning.  Algia Mae instead plays the tune out of E position in standard tuning, with a much more bluesy feel and not a hint of the parlor.
     2. Algia Mae, instead of tapping out rhythms imitating those of a dancer, with her hands, actually dances the rhythms, while playing the tune.  I don't know if she still does this, but the piece was really a show-stopper when she did it, particularly when she danced while playing the 12-string guitar behind her head!  It was worth the price of admission to see how gleeful she was when doing this tune, she lit up like a little kid.  I hope she can still do it.
   * Bruce Molsky--"Buck Dancer's Choice".  Bruce's version comes from his brand new Compass CD, "Soon Be Time".  For those of you unfamiliar with Bruce's music, he is an outstanding Old-Timey fiddler and banjo player, and an excellent guitarist and singer.  His version, while coming out of Sam McGee's, is notable for its use of "new notes" in the bass that create a very distinctive sound.  Bruce also does a really nice version of Joe Callicot's "Fare Thee Well Blues" on the CD.

These are just a few versions of the tune I found.  Have any of you found other versions you particularly like?  This tune seems a good candidate for personalized versions employing old ideas while incorporating new ones, like Bruce Molsky's version.  Any takers?
All best,
Johnm         
« Last Edit: November 18, 2014, 06:39:29 PM by Johnm »

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2006, 01:37:05 AM »
Taj Mahal opens his LP "Oooh So Good 'n' Blues" with a version played on a National (or maybe it's a Dobro - sorry to mention that word in front of the National freaks). 

I'm no expert, but think he sticks to the "conventional" version played in standard tuning in C.  His version is somewhat simpler than some of the others, but no less enjoyable, and has influenced the (even simpler) version I attempt.  Whatever Taj takes on, he always sounds like he's really enjoying what he's playing.

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Offline dj

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2006, 04:32:19 AM »
Lil' Son Jackson does "Buck Dance" on the "Blues Come To Texas" CD.  This one's on the Juke.

Sanford L. Collins does "Buck Dance" on "Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music".  I haven't heard this one - it's on my ever-growing "things to get one of these days" list.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2006, 08:26:51 AM »
Ernie Hawkins does a version on his "Mean Little Poodle" CD. The track is titled "Fast Fox Trot/Buck Dance" and is based, as you might imagine, on two Rev. Gary Davis pieces, "Buck Rag" and "Buck Dance".

Offline outfidel

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2006, 09:50:12 AM »
Hi John,

There's also Merle Travis's "Saturday Night Shuffle" - I read somewhere that he originally called the song "Merle's Buck Dance". It sounds to my ears that it shares a lot in common with Sam McGee's "Buckdancer's Choice".

Merle's version can be found on Walkin' the Strings as well as the recently released In Boston 1959.
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Offline GhostRider

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2006, 10:06:09 AM »
Hi:

Tim Williams, a Canadian bluesman, recorded "The Buckdancer's Choice" on his "Indigo Incidents" CD in 1997. Live this is an acoustic tour-de force.

Tim developed his version from Rev. Gary playing it live, Mike Seeger's recorded version with the New Lost City Ramblers, and from Brian Davies (he toured for years as guitarist/banjoist with the Limelighters and Glen Yarborough).

I should note that instead of rapping on the guitar to imitate the dancer's feet, Tim uses a variety of natural harmonics for this purpose.

Tim plays the tune in C, modulates to G and back to C.

Alex

http://www.telusplanet.net/public/belzners/timcds.htm
« Last Edit: July 14, 2006, 12:11:04 PM by Pyrochlore »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2006, 10:19:04 AM »
Yes, Tim's version of this just smokes!

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2006, 11:54:13 AM »
My "old technology" card index - which I gave up on 1975ish - tells me I have "Buck Dance" on the following LPs

K C Douglas (Bluesville 1050)
Scott Dunbar (Folkways 2654)
J.W. Jones & Ephram Carter (Testament 2223)
Horace Sprott (Folkways 2654)

But without listening won't be able to ascertain if its the same "Buck Dance" or they are just performing a 'buck & wing".

Offline Johnm

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2006, 05:03:35 PM »
Hi all,
I dug out the K.C. Douglas version that Bunker Hill cited; I have it and had completely forgotten about it.  It is played in C standard tuning, but is different from all the other versions.  It's main strain is a VI--II--V--I circle of fifths progression.  From there, K.C. launches into other variations, though always returning to the main strain, so that it is like a classical rondo form:  ABACAD and so on.  This version has a very strong improvised feel in its variations.
All best,
Johnm

Offline banjochris

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2006, 01:14:22 AM »
Dan Gellert plays a great version of this on fretless gut string banjo on his latest album, Waitin' on the Break of Day -- a wonderful album, just solo banjo and fiddle and singing. His version is derived from Sam McGee's but comes out sounding like an old minstrel piece.

Chris

Offline OMpicker

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2006, 06:38:56 PM »
As a brief interlude, I found the following to be of interest: a discussion of the "buck dance", which is relevant to this tune as a dance accompaniment...and therefore inspiration or at least some context for how you might choose to play it.

"The history of the Buck and Wing (Buck Dance and Pigeon Wing) or Buck dancing is a pre-tap dance routine and was done by Minstrel and Vaudeville performers in the mid nineteenth century portraying the African-American males, known as "Bucks." Originally the Pigeon Wing steps (foot shaking in the air) were a big part of this early folk dance but later seperated when variations began such as the shooting out of one leg making a "Wing."
   The term "buck" is traced to the West Indies where Africans used the words po' bockorau (Buccaneer), and later the French term Buccaneer. Ship captains would have the men dance on the ships (dancing the Slaves) to try to keep the morale up as well as a form of exercise. It was one of the dances that became popular with the Irish Buccaneers who did Jigs and Clogs, reels etc. who would be known as Buck Dancers. These terms would eventually become dance steps.

-- The legendary dancer "Master Juba " did a Buck and Wing in the 1840s. It is said that the Buck and Wing 'routine' was first performed on the New York stage in 1880 by James McIntyre as well as inventing the 'Syncopated Buck and Wing.' king Rastus Brown is considered one of the best Buck and Wing dancers in history. During the dance craze of the 1920s, buck and wing dancers would be considered sqaure and corny when compared to the newer style of tap dancing that was slowly replacing the buck and wing style of previous years.
-The Buck and Wing was adapted to the Minstrel stage from the recreational clogs and shuffles of the African-American. The Buck and Wing is said to be a bastard dance, made up of Clogs , Jigs , Reels, Sand dance etc. which later gave birth to the Time Step and Soft Shoe. The Buck and Wing can and was used in Reels, Clog dance , Can-Can (Pigeon Wing,) Jigs and Tap . The modern Buck and a Wing is characterised by wing-like steps done in the air (known as "wings") done mostly on the balls of the foot and which is considered the forerunner of rhythm tap. The Hornpipe of England was a elaborate Pantomime of English sailors, mimicking their duties while patting the feet to a tune.
Buck: (Buck dance)
- Originally just a stamping of the feet to interpret the music which later became more refined when mixed with the Jig and Clog. In Tap Dance it is known as the earliest version of the "Shuffle and Tap Steps." The Basic Chug or Buck step is done by pushing the ball of the foot across the floor, at the same time dropping the heel, with or without weight. Buck dancing was the first known American Tap form performed to syncopated rhythms. These rhythms were performed on the "Offbeat or Downbeat" which came from Tribal rhythms in Africa. Buck dance was a type of countrified Clog or Tap dance. Usually associated with Barn Dancing or Country Dance. The Indians (Mainly Ute), also had a Buck dance, participants would dress in Deer Skins (Buck) and do a ceremonial dance called Buck Dancing.
Originally the music used was 2/4 time and was of the Syncopated March type. The Mobile Buck was an ancestor of the common Buck Dance that later evolved into the Time Step.
Pigeon Wing:
- Originally (1830's) just the shaking of one leg in the air. Was also known as the "Ailes De Pigeon" in Ballet . Was commonly called to as "Pistolets " by the French and just plain ole "Pigeon Wing" by the Folk dancers, later taken over by minstrel dancers. In the Can-Can the "Pigeon Wing" was bringing the bust into play by leaping forward, kicking high and throwing the shoulders back while "carrying on the arm" (or holding one leg up against the cheek, while hopping lightly on the other leg). Basically it's just the lifting of the leg (demi-Plie') and move the leg too beat the back calf of the other foot. Can be done in front of other leg or as in the variation of Michael Jackson's modern version of his front lifting leg swing. When Minstrel dancing came envogue, many variations came about, namely a small hop on one leg while shooting out the other leg to form a "Wing."
Wings: The more modernWings started to become a basic stable to tap dancing around 1900. "Wings" are basically derived from the much older minstrel variations of the Pigeon Wing but no real air step. Eventually becoming "air steps" that have the dancer springing up from one leg off the floor, and using the correct timing to do a certain amount of taps with the same foot before landing back down while the other "winging leg" usually remins motionless. There are variations such as the pump (winging leg goes up and down), double back, pendulum, Three-tap wing (one tap on the way up and two on the way down), Five-tap wings, etc."

The page is located here: http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3buckw1.htm, and also includes citations of the early appearance of the terms buck, etc. in sheet music.
Dennis

awoolmd

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #11 on: August 20, 2006, 04:56:15 PM »
I don't really look at all the different versions of Buck Dance as the same song, but as different songs in the same form, like a "fox trot" or "waltz." My understanding is that at the house parties where county blues were popular there was an expectation that the entertainer could play something for the folks who wanted to Buck dance, and so most of the guitarists came up with one or more songs in this form.
BTW OMpicker, thanks for the great infomation.

Offline Deadeye

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #12 on: August 26, 2006, 12:43:56 AM »
Hey all.
I don't get to drop by as much as I would like, but everytime I do, I find something that grabs my attention. This time it is the discussion of the Buck Dance and Wing 

This dancing used to be seen all the time at family gathering or at blues festivals here in Mississippi. I used to see it all the time. 'specially when some of the older men had a little too much to drink.

There is a lot of skill to their technique, and the old men had a way of doing it without making it look like it was taking a lot of effort. This could only come from years of practice. I rarley see it any more. The young folks just didn't want to learn.

Maybe somewhere theres some folks that passed it down.

good to see ya'll still yappin..

Greenwood, Mississippi

Offline Pan

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2009, 08:53:23 AM »
Hi all.

Has anyone figured out what exactly Mississippi John Hurt is singing in the end of his Stocktime / Buck Dance song? I hear "My little girl" repeated but the rest is unclear.

Thanks

Pan

Offline banjochris

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Re: Buck Dance/Buckdancer's Choice
« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2009, 12:02:56 PM »
It's probably the filthiest thing John Hurt ever sang on record:

My little girl, she bust her drawers [3x]
I'm scared, the goodies comin' from Santa Claus.

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