ha (Scot.) hall, house.
Hal-an-Tow the name of a song well-known in British traditional music, often sung by morris teams in connection with the May 1 sunrise ritual ("We were up, long before the day-o, to welcome in the summer..."). It was recorded by the Albion Band and was a commercial success for the Oyster Band. There's some disagreement about the meaning of the title, but the best explanation so far is that it's simply "heel-and-toe". The rest of the chorus ("jolly rumbelow") appears to be nonsense syllables.
hallan (Scot.) a wall shielding the fireplace from drafts from the front door - the forerunner of the foyer.
Hall, Than pseudonym used by Ritchie, Jean.
halt (UK) lame. Also used as a verb in place of "limp".
halyard song one of the types of shanties.
Hamilton, Frank see the Weavers, Carawan, Guy.
hammer a way of producing a decorative note, widely used by all stringed instrument players. The note is plucked and a lefthand finger is brought sharply down onto the fingerboard, producing a note that suddenly rises in pitch (hammering on). The word is sometimes thought of as being modern, but it's listed in a musical dictionary from 1668.
Its opposite is hammering off - the note is played on a stopped string and the finger suddenly lifted off, giving a note that drops in pitch. This latter is also known as "pulling" or "pulling off", an inevitable source of weak jokes.
hammered dulcimer no relation to the Appalachian dulcimer, which is held on the lap or placed on a table and strummed. The hammered dulcimer looks like a small piano with no keyboard and no top. It's played by hitting the strings directly with small wooden hammers, much as in vibraphone playing. Since there's usually no provision for damping the strings, the sound is sustained and busy. It's best suited to acoustic bands or outdoor playing. Considered the forerunner of the piano (along with the clavichord), the hammered dulcimer is found in many cultures (see cimbalom for some other names). Compare with psaltery.
Hammond Jr, John (1942- ) son of Hammond, John and a performer of country blues since 1962. He has recorded numerous albums for various labels and has appeared at major festivals. He is considered an expert at the bottleneck style of blues playing; he plays both the acoustic guitar and the National steel guitar, and performs many of the songs of Johnson, Robert.
Hammond, John (1910-1987) producer for Columbia and Vanguard records. He recorded works by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday, and arranged concerts for musicians like Count Basie and Broonzy, Bill. In the 60s he supervised recordings for Dylan, Bob, Seeger, Pete, Cohen, Leonard and others (it's largely due to him that Columbia recorded Dylan). His writings on music have been widely published.
handkerchief dance A morris dance in which the motions of the dancer's arms are accented by the waving of large white handkerchiefs. See also stick dance.
Handy, W.C. (1873-1958) (William Christopher Handy) a multi-talented songwriter, arranger, collector, editor, and musician who started in the minstrel tradition with a group called "Mahara's Minstrels". He was the author of "St Louis Blues" (1914), "Beale Street Blues" (1917), "Memphis Blues" (1912), and many others. He joined with Harry Pace (1884-1943) to form Pace and Handy, a successful music publishing company originally in Memphis, but which moved to NYC in 1918. It was dissolved in 1921, becoming Pace Records. Pace recorded many black musicians until it was taken over by Paramount in 1924. W.C. continued to write and arrange; his autobiography is called "The Father of the Blues".
Hannah the sun. The word seems to have originated among black prisoners in the US south.
Harburg, Yip (1898-1981) (Isadore Harburg) not a folkie by any means, but perhaps he should be considered one for his superb 1932 song, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime". Few professional songwriters could get away with what would later be considered a protest song, and an artful one at that.
Other well-known works: "Over the Rainbow", "Off to See the Wizard", and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road", co-authored with Harold Arlen for the film "Wizard of Oz" (1939).
Hardanger fiddle a Norwegian violin with drone strings under the main strings and fingerboard; it's used occasionally by folkie fiddle players.
Hardin, Tim (1941-1980) began as a singer-guitarist-pianist in the folk revival and was popular at clubs and festivals from the 60s to the 70s. Originally, he performed traditionally-styled folk and country, but later began to experiment with jazz-oriented blues and complex arrangements.
Songs of his that became famous, either through his recordings or those of other artists, include "Misty Roses", "The Lady Came From Baltimore", "Black Sheep Boy", "Reason to Believe", and "If I Were a Carpenter".
harmonic a note produced on any instrument is not one, pure frequency. It consists of a series of tones (see harmonic series). These tones follow a strict order, because physics says that the note will divide itself up according to simple ratios: after the fundamental, which is the lowest frequency and the one that determines the pitch, the first harmonic is the octave with a ratio of 2:1. Next is the fifth, with a ratio of 3:2.
As the frequency goes up, the harmonics eventually produce all the notes of the natural scale (see harmonic series, below). Some may be absent, depending on the method of producing the note, and some may be extra-loud. It's the balance of harmonics that gives the note its characteristic sound, and why we can tell the difference between the note played on a violin and the same note played on a flute. See also formant.
Harmonics can be demonstrated on any fretted instrument (guitars make good ones). Place a lefthand finger lightly on a string over the 12th fret (a node point) and pluck firmly near the bridge. A high-pitched tone should sing out. This is the octave harmonic. Repeat over the 7th fret. This is the fifth (if you've plucked the E string, the harmonic will be a B note).
Harmonics are occasionally used as musical notes (and then called, although rarely, flageolets), particularly by guitarists (since the guitar harmonics are easy to do and quite loud), and violinists - the string is lightly touched while bowing to subdue the fundamental note (and any other harmonics that don't have a node at that point). Violin harmonics are thin and very high-pitched, giving quite an atmospheric effect.
There is a discrepancy in terms between the musical and physical use of the word. In music, the first harmonic is the octave. In physics, the first harmonic refers to the fundamental.
harmonica widely known as "harp", "mouth harp", "French harp" and *never* as "mouth organ", this is actually a versatile instrument in the hands (mouth?) of a talented player. It's a wonderful choice for song accompaniment, and can go from a plaintive cry to a hurtling steam-train rhythm. It's particularly good at accompanying the blues.
The harmonica is diatonic, but can manage other keys using the technique of "cross-harp". For instance, if you're playing a blues in C Major and would like to have a Bb note (see seventh), an F Major harmonica can supply that. It takes a bit of getting used to if you want to play in some other key than the one stamped on the case. Another example: if you have a C harp and want to play in the Dorian mode ("Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is in the Dorian mode), you could just go ahead and play, placing the keynote on D. Since the Dorian mode is the same as the key of D minus the two sharps that are usually there, you're away (C Major has no sharps or flats).
There are also harmonicas with buttons that provide sharps and flats, allowing other keys, but they are rarely used. There is also a glass harmonica, which has nothing at all to do with the above.
Harmonica Frank (Frank Floyd) recorded for Puritan in the 50s, featuring "white rockabilly and black rural rhythm-and-blues styles". He also recorded on the Adelphi label and continued to do stage work at least into the 70s.
harmonic minor see scale.
harmonic series a note, or any musical sound, is made up of a series of sounds, each called a harmonic; the pitch of each harmonic is related to the fundamental note by its numerical position: the octave is twice the fundamental, the third harmonic is three times the fundamental, the fourth harmonic four times, and so on. The presence or absence of various harmonics, and the loudness of each, determines the musical tone or timbre (see also formant).
Note: there are two different ways of counting the harmonics. One is to specify the fundamental, and the next tone (the octave) is called the "first harmonic". The second method is to call the fundamental the first harmonic, and that's the method used here, since it simplifies explaining the frequencies.
Note 2: the following applies only to a pure musical note. Every sound produces harmonics, but they aren't always related by simple integers. If you thump your fist on the desk, for instance, there'll be lots of harmonics, but the relationship between them is every which way, and so the resultant sound has little musical pitch.
The harmonic series is the basis for our musical scale series, although there are differences from our modern standard. Here are the first 16 harmonics for a C note with the pitch taken as 1 Hz for illustration. You can see that all of the notes of the scale in C have been generated, except that F is sharp, and a flatted seventh is added (F appears as harmonic 21, or it can be taken as 4/3 above C).
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 C C G C E G Bb C D E F# G A Bb B C ^ ^ ^ ^
The caret (^) marks the notes that are always shown in musical dictionaries as being unmusical, to the annoyance of those who favor scales made from the series (see just intonation). There is no reason that the F#, A, and Bb can't be considered musical notes, even if they are flat (from the current standard) by a noticeable percentage of a semitone - it's just the way the scale has evolved throughout our musical history.
(If you'd like to experiment with this and you have a guitar and an electronic tuner, tune the 3rd string (G) down by about 30 cents. When a Bb is played on the 3rd string, 3rd fret, it will be in the 7/4 ratio marked above when you play it along with the C on the 5th string, third fret. What a blue note! Try a C-E-Bb super-blues seventh chord.)
The ratio of any interval can be found easily from the above series; for instance, a third is C to E, which is 5 to 4. A fifth is C to G, or 6 to 4 (usually taken as 3/2) and so on.
The natural third, fourth, and fifth sound just fine, so the scale of just intonation used the above system, and adjusted the non-conformist notes (the A, for instance, can be set by taking it as a pure fourth above E).
This didn't work well when it came to playing in other keys (discussed in natural scale), so another fix was the Pythagorean scale, and then the meantone scale, which got all the thirds correct and allowed at least some key-changing. Eventually we arrived at our present equal-tempered scale. See also temperament.
harmonium see reed organ.
harmony whenever two or more notes sound together, that's harmony. Whether or not you're pleased with the sound depends on contemporary taste, your preferences and so on. In medieval times they had an enormous list of shall-nots for harmonies (see tritone). They would have been shocked at our blues and ragtime harmonies. See also parts of music.
Consonance and dissonance, the prime properties of harmony, are properly defined in terms of the music's horizontal motion (melody), and not the pleasant/unpleasant common definition. Consonance is stable ( thirds, fifths, octaves), while the instability of the dissonance (all other intervals) urges a resolution to a consonance. However, folk music likes things simpler:
If the sound is currently said to be pleasant, the harmony is consonant. If the sound is jarring, it's dissonant. However, even dissonance is acceptable, since it makes for nice musical contrasts. For instance, the minor second in a chord (eg, a C major chord containing C-G-Eb-E, where the minor second is Eb and E) played by itself is rather sour sounding, but used in a ragtime progression, it nicely kicks off the next chord change. See also anticipation, bitonal, parallel, tritone.
harmony singing in the singing of older songs, the harmony is usually very simple. Groups might sing most of a line in unison and/or octaves, and then switch to a parallel fourth or fifth for the closing cadence. Despite its simplicity, the effect can be powerful. In more recent songs, the unison and octave harmonies might also have some added thirds or sixths.
See also parts of music.
harp 1. An instrument that's more-or-less triangular in shape and has a sound board at the bottom; the strings are plucked directly and can be reached from either side. There are many different sizes, from tiny handheld to the giant orchestral versions. 2. When used in the context of the blues, it always means the harmonica. 3. See also sacred harp. 4. The metal frame around the periphery of a piano or other instrument to take the strain of the string tension.
harpeggio (archaic) see arpeggio.
harpsichord (also "cembalo") much like a piano, but the keys pluck the strings with leather thongs (or "jacks", which is the rod holding the thong) instead of hitting them with hammers. The sound is abrupt and bright, but control of the loudness is difficult. Most of the harpsichord's repertoire is from classical music, but it is played in folk music. Synthesizers usually have a setting for the harpsichord sound, and this is used to good effect in traditional song performances.
Hart, Tim in the late 60s, he performed traditional British music as a duo with Prior, Maddy; they recorded a two-volume set called "Folksongs of Old England", an album called "Summer Solstice", and then went on to form Steeleye Span.
Hartford, John (1937- ) first came to the public eye in the 60s through his exposure on the Glen Campbell and Smothers Brothers TV shows. He plays guitar, fiddle and banjo, and has demonstrated clogging steps at festivals. His best-known composition is "Gentle on My Mind".
haugh (Scot.) level ground beside a stream.
Havens, Richie (1941- ) singer-songwriter-guitarist who began in the Greenwich Village folk revival of the 60s. He popularized "Handsome Johnny", a song by Lou Gossett Jr (who started off in the NYC folk scene before turning to acting). Other popular songs from his albums include "Just Like a Woman" (Dylan) and "Eleanor Rigby" (Beatles). His lush voice is complemented by a unique guitar style: he uses open tuning and rapid, intricate strumming, and he has an amazing left thumb - he hooks it over the neck, not just to fret a bass string as many do, but to fret whole chords. He has recorded extensively (A&M 1977, Elektra 1980, Rykodisc 1985) and is a favorite at clubs and festivals. He has appeared in a few films, 1972-87.
Hawaiian guitar a six-string guitar stopped with a steel bar to produce the familiar gliding tones. Compare with Dobro, National. The gliding from one note to an adjacent one is called portamento; the glide from one note to a distant one is a glissando.
Hawes, Bess Lomax (1921- ) sister of Lomax, Alan, Bess is both a collector and a singer-guitarist. She assisted in the production of the Lomaxes' books, and joined the newly-formed Almanac Singers in the late 40s. She co-authored (with Jacqueline Steiner) "The MTA Song" about the same time (see folk process). She has played at major festivals and taught folklore at US universities.
hawker (Brit.) a street or door-to-door salesman. See also drummer.
Hawks see The Band.
Hays, Lee member of the Almanac Singers and later the Weavers. He co-authored "If I Had a Hammer" and "Wasn't That a Time", which became the title of the Weaver's biographical film (see movies). He died in 1981 during the editing of this film.
His biography, "Lonesome Traveler" (Doris Willens, Norton Publishing) was published in 1987, and takes its name from one of his songs.
head 1. The plastic or animal-skin diaphragm stretched over the hoops of instruments like the drums or banjo. 2. An instrument amplifier that does not have loudspeakers of its own. So-called because it almost always sits on top of a large speaker near the performer.
head arrangement an arrangement of a song or tune worked out by a solo performer, or performers, by playing it until it sounds right, as opposed to one formally worked out on paper beforehand. Needless to say, most folk music consists of head arrangements.
Headline Singers a short-lived group formed in 1942, consisting of Guthrie, Woody, Leadbelly, Terry, Sonny, and McGhee, Brownie. What folkies wouldn't give to hear what they sounded like.
headstock on a stringed instrument, the flat projection at the end of the neck that holds the machine heads (tuning pegs).
Heaney, Joe (1920- ) Irish traditional singer, and a seanachie, living in the US. He sings in the a cappella style in both English and Gaelic on his many albums. An important source for those interested in traditional vocal styles.
Hellerman, Fred one of the Weavers, later a solo performer (guitar, vocal) and composer. Two of his best-known songs are "Healing River" and "Man Come Into Egypt".
Helmholtz notation see octave notation.
Helms, Bobby (1933- ) country-style singer, best known to the public for "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Special Angel", and "Fraulein", which is a staple at folkie jam sessions.
hemiola (also "hemiolia") a baroque rhythmic device, consisting of a triplet in the space of two notes, in alternating measures with the twos, or it could be the reverse: two notes in the space of three, also in alternating measures with threes. It's still used, with a usual example being "America" from "West Side Story" ("I like to be in...").
hemiope (archaic) a three-hole whistle that could be played with one hand. The instrument is still in use by morris musicians, but the word has faded.
hemitonic including sharps and flats; opposite anhemitonic. Most folk music is hemitonic, though some modes and the pentatonic scale are devoid of sharps and flats.
Hemsworth, Wade (1916- ) singer-songwriter born in Brantford, Ont. He travelled widely in the northern areas of Ontario and Quebec, and wrote many songs about the experiences, including "The Blackfly Song", "Log Driver's Waltz", and "The Wild Goose". He has appeared at various folk festivals, and his songs have been widely performed and published.
Henderson, Hamish during WWII, Hamish noted down ideas for poems, and published them after the war; in the early 50s he began collecting and studying the folklore of his native Scotland. The result was later to be the writing of many of his own songs, including the well-known "51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily" (set to the pipe tune "Farewell to the Creeks" and aka "Farewell to Sicily"), "John McLean's March", "D-Day Dodgers" and others. He has published a book of WWII ballads, has recorded a large number of traditional singers, and has compiled a collection of the work of Robertson, Jeannie.
Henske, Judy popular on the US west coast in the early 60s, she joined the short-lived Whiskeyhill Singers in 1961. She recorded albums for Elektra, and then seemed to drop out of show business.
heptatonic scale any scale comprised of seven notes, not counting the octave. Our familiar major and minor scales are examples.
Hester, Carolyn Texas singer who came to the NYC folk scene in the late 50s. She was popular at the clubs and festivals, and married Farina, Richard. She toured the US and Britain and recorded several albums. After forming a folk-rock band and touring in the mid-60s, followed by a return to simpler music in the 70s, she seems to have dropped out of the folk scene.
Herald, John with Weissberg, Eric and Bob Yellin, John formed the Greenbriar Boys bluegrass group in 1958 (when Eric left in 1959, he was replaced by Rinzler, Ralph). They backed Baez, Joan on the second of her albums for Vanguard.
He has backed many people on guitar, including Ian & Sylvia. He has a solo album on Paramount.
herbs in times past, herbs were given prominence in folksong. Some of this was due to their culinary popularity, and some due to special symbolism. An example of the latter would be "Sprig of Thyme", in which the herb represents virginity:
"Once I had a sprig of thyme,
I thought it never would decay,
Until a saucy sailor chanced upon my way,
And he stole away my bonny sprig of thyme."
"Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" (aka "Scarborough Fair") is an example of herbal references (see copyright).
Herbs and other plants also played an important part in seasonal ritual, just as the mistletoe and Easter lily do today. One of the most charming of the seasonal songs is the carol "Candlemas Eve" (Feb 1), written by English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), of which the first verse is:
"Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe,
Instead of holly now upraise the greener box for show.
The holly hitherto held sway, let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter Day, or Easter's Eve appear."
The complete song can be found in the "Oxford Book of Carols". See also scan.
See ritual for a carol that mentions herbs in the culinary sense.
hertz the unit used to denote frequency, abbreviation Hz. It refers to the number of cycles per second, and was formerly known as CPS.
hexachord from medieval music theory, a six-note scale of the form tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone, such as C D E F G A or G A B C D E. It was used from about the 11th century to about the 16th, and is said to have had its notes labelled ("ut-re-mi") by Guido d'Arezzo, who recommended the use of three hexachords based on C, F, and G. If the singers needed other notes, hexachords could be merged by pivoting on a common note. About the time of the Renaissance, another note was added to make a seven-note scale (eight with the octave). In the C system shown above, this seventh note was either "b-soft" (our Bb), or "b-hard" (our B natural).
Compare with its more popular cousin in folk, the pentatonic scale.
In England from the late 16th century, the notes of the hexachord were labelled fa-so-la-fa-so-la, which was called, not surprisingly, "fasola". The seventh note ("mi") was added about 1600 to give an octave. No one seemed worried by the repetition of the syllables or the out-of-place "mi", and instead of causing confusion, it was said by a 1654 Playford music tutor to ease things for its practitioners. Eventually it lost out to the do-re-mi system and the convenience of the movable do.
The expanded hexachord and its fasola syllables survive in the music of sacred harp singing.
hexatonic scale any scale comprised of six notes, not counting the octave, such as the hexachord. Compare with pentatonic scale.
hey a figure in morris and country dancing. In the 16th-17th centuries, it was also a dance on its own (and sometimes spelled "hay").
Hibbs, Harry (1942-1989) acclaimed singer-songwriter-accordionist from Newfoundland. He toured Ontario, the Maritimes and the UK, and had his own TV show in the early 70s, playing his style of east-coast folk songs and tunes, plus his own songs. He recorded more than 10 LPs.
Hickerson, Joe (1935- ) singer and guitarist with albums on Folkways, Folk-Legacy, and others. Since the 60s, he has worked for the Library of Congress, and is currently (1996) head of their American Folklife Center. He plays at folk festivals, clubs, and folk societies as time permits.
It's of interest to note that "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Seeger, Pete originally had only three verses, and it was Joe who expanded it to the present form.
high C a word that seems to exist only in popular usage; no musical dictionaries mention it. Musicians use it occasionally to refer to the C one octave above middle C.
high hat see cymbal.
High Level Ranters traditional band from Newcastle, England, who took their name from that city's High Level Bridge (which isn't far from the High Level Folk Club). They specialize in songs and tunes from the north of England. One of the members is Alistair Anderson ([1948- ]), concertina and Northumbrian pipe player extraordinaire (see bagpipes).
high lonesome the "high lonesome sound" is a vocal styling in Appalachian music - a high-pitched solo or harmony. It would be impossible to notate, and has to be learned from its practitioners. Holcomb, Roscoe is a good example of the solo style.
high string guitar (also "high strung") a guitar strung with the lighter six strings of a 12-string, or a 12-string from which the heavier gauge strings have been removed. The tone is light but penetrating and ideally suited to lead.
high strung see high string guitar.
Highwaymen another of the fresh-scrubbed folk groups that sprang up in the 60s folk revival. They had a number-one hit with "Michael" in the fall of 1961, and popularized "Cottonfields" and "Gypsy Rover".
At present (1994) there is another group called the Highwaymen, no relation to the above - see Kristofferson, Kris.
hillbilly these days, the word is seen as disparaging and displays the naivete of the speaker. It was used quite a lot in past years, usually referring to country or old-timey music.
Hill, Joe a songwriter for the IWW (see also union songs). He was executed for a murder in 1915, although the circumstances were in doubt. His suspicious death resulted in the song "Joe Hill" ("I never died, said he"). It has become a marching song advising perseverance to union members.
hind (UK, also "hend", "heynd", "hynd", "hyn") noble, fine-looking, or a fine young fellow, as in the famous ship "The Golden Hind". It was used as either noun or adjective.
hinny (northern Eng., also "hinnie") friend, buddy, mate, lover. General-purpose term of affection.
Hinton, Sam (1917- ) a marine biologist and self-taught folksong expert, greatly knowledgable about every aspect of folklore. He began performing folk music in 1936 with guitar, vocal and harmonica. He has given many concerts at major festivals and has four albums on Folkways plus others on other labels.
HIP Historically Informed Performance - see period.
historical accuracy on the one hand, the collections show that a song can travel for 300 years or more with barely a change in the lyrics (but see communal origin, last paragraph). On the other, no balladmaker ever let facts get in the way of good drama.
A.L. Lloyd noted that Jane Seymour, one of the wives of Henry VIII, gave birth naturally but died a few weeks later. The balladmakers thought that the story would be improved by having her die in the midst of a Caesarian section ("Do open my right side and find my baby"), and that's how "The Death of Queen Jane" ( Child 170) goes.
A good example of the balladmaker's polishing is the beautifully-written "Lord Maxwell's Last Goodnight" (Child 195). In 1608, Lord John Maxwell murdered the laird Sir James Johnstone, the culmination of a family feud. He knew he would have to flee the country to avoid prosecution.
The song begins with his wife's pleading:
"Good my lord, will you stay here, about my father's house?
Walk into these gardens green, in my arms I'll thee embrace.
Ten thousand times I'll kiss your mouth -
Make sport and let's be merry."
"I have killed the laird Johnstone - I care not for the feud.
My loyal heart did still incline, he was my father's death.
By day and night, I did pursue, all on him revenged to be,
I thank you, Lady, for your kindness, but I may not stay with thee."
He bids a sorrowful goodbye to his properties in Scotland, and then gives her a ring:
"Now he has ta'en a good gold ring, where at hang signets three,
Says `Take you this, my own dear love, and, aye, have mind of me.'"
Maxwell's friends meet to see him off into exile:
"The wind was fair, the ship was clear, the good lord went away,
The best part of his friends were there, to bid him fair convoy.
They ate the meat and drank the wine, presenting in that good lord's sight,
Then he is over the flood so gray,
Lord Maxwell's ta'en his last goodnight."
The power and beauty of the lyrics and the accompanying melodies have ensured that this song has lasted almost 400 years. It seems a shame to bring reality into it. Maxwell shot Johnstone in the back, according to contemporaneous accounts quoted by Child. The touching pleas of his wife are sheer invention: Maxwell started divorce proceedings against her, and she died before he left the country in 1608. In 1612 he returned to Scotland, where he was tried and beheaded (he was turned in by a member of his family). Perhaps the balladmaker was right in tampering with the story.
Incidentally, the best version of "Lord Maxwell" you'll ever hear is the June Tabor version on her "Ashes and Diamonds" album, with the ballad's new tune composed and played by John Gillaspie.
The story of "The Gypsy Laddies" (also discussed in folk process and variant) provides a case in which a ballad, while largely fiction, has a foundation of truth. For centuries, the ballad was seen as a songmaker's concoction, but recent evidence unearthed by musicologist Sigrid Rieuwerts of the University of Kent in 1991 shows that it contains quite a few kernels of truth.
A quick recap of the song and all its many cousins: a band of Gypsies comes to the castle when the Earl is away. They lure his wife away (with hallucinogenic drugs - nutmeg, no less!) and are long gone when he gets home. He rides after them and has all the Gypsies hanged. In some variants, he doesn't do anything, and the lady and her Gypsies live happily ever after.
Child said that this was all a figment of someone's imagination, and that the connection to the Earl of Cassilis (which he is in most of the earliest versions) is accidental, no doubt a confusion between "castle" and the Scottish pronunciation of "Cassilis", which is sometimes spelled "Cassilles".
Ms Rieuwerts' evidence goes like this: in 1609, the Scottish Parliament declared that Gypsies were to leave the country or face execution. A few years later, constituents of the Earl of Cassilis took him to task for not enforcing the law - Gypsies were living nearby and lowering the tone of the neighborhood. He complied by rounding up seven of them and having them hanged. One of them was named Johnny Faa, and sure enough, early versions of the ballad are called "Johnny Faa", and the number of Gypsies hanged is seven. However, there is no evidence one way or the other that the Earl's wife was kidnapped. That part may or may not be dramatic embellishment.
The name of the Earl varies. After about 1740, when Allan Ramsay published a version of the ballad in his "Tea-Table Miscellany", he became, variously, "Duglass", "Fyvie" and others. This, says Ms Rieuwerts, was to avoid giving a bad reputation to the Casillis family, who were still around at the time.
hobo songs the Depression of the 30s forced many people to live on the road, with trains being the prime transport. "Riding the rods" turns up in hobo songs all the time, and refers to clinging to the reinforcing rods under a freight car, a very hazardous means of travel (also known as "riding the blinds" - blinds were freight cars).
Railroad "bulls" (police) are mentioned a great deal, usually in the context of throwing people off the freights. "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a classic hobo song in which the hobo dreams of the ideal land where the booze and food is free and "the railroad bulls are blind."
Many of the hobo songs show brilliant turns of phrase, as in the black humor of "Jay Gould's Daughter" (Jay Gould was an extremely wealthy financier):
"Jay Gould's daughter is a friend of mine,
and that's why I ride on his railroad line."
Since so many people were out of work and homeless, there was a general tolerance for the hobo. Woody Guthrie's "Hobo's Lullaby" is a gentle, compassionate look at people at the mercy of economic conditions.
hocket (prob. from Fr. "hoquet") alternating rests and notes, staggered in the parts of medieval plainsong for dramatic effect (which didn't always go over with management - see moldy figs).
hoddin (Scot.) coarse.
hoedown a community dance, usually featuring folk or squaredancing.
Hogmanay (Scot.) New Year's Eve.
hog-rubber (UK) a wonderful term - someone employed to rub down hogs, or someone fit only for such employment.
hokum see hokum blues.
hokum blues today, the word "hokum" implies something that's nonsensical, or insincere and superficial, but to blues musicians of the 20s and 30s, it meant a lighthearted, humorous approach to blues playing, with up-tempo instrumentals and light lyrics. Perhaps the musicians who took the blues seriously would have preferred the modern definition - compare with the been-down-so-long style of lyrics often found in the blues. See also Tampa Red.
Holcomb, Roscoe (1913- ) traditionalist singer, guitarist and banjo player, Roscoe absorbed the folk music of western Kentucky where he was born. In 1959, John Cohen (see New Lost City Ramblers) discovered him and arranged for a Folkways recording. Since then, Roscoe has toured most major festivals, playing his folk and old-timey music. He has three solo albums on Folkways, plus two others with other artists. His vocal style has been called the high lonesome sound - a sound that's intense, minimalist, and very powerful in its effect. It takes some getting used to for those unfamiliar with the tradition.
Hole in the Wall see Purcell, Henry.
Holiday, Billie (1915-1959) (Eleanora Fagan) "Lady Day" was one of the very best jazz singers of her time or any other. Songs of hers that ended up in the folk blues tradition include "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" (which was popularized by White, Josh). "Strange Fruit" (a song about lynching) was recorded in 1939 for Commodore Records, which must have taken a great deal of bravery in those days. Her autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues", was filmed in 1972 and starred Diana Ross as Billie.
hollers worksongs from the black agricultural workers, trackworkers, etc., of the US south (aka "field hollers", "arhoolies"). The workers were poorly paid, or convict labour - hardly more than slaves. The hollers are simple in structure and often have inventive imagery together with references to the difficulties of the life. An example is "Go Down, Old Hannah" (Hannah was a name for the sun):
"Go down, old Hannah, and don't you rise no more, (2x)
And if you rise up in the morning,
Won't you set the world on fire."
The songs are similar to the blues, but were sung unaccompanied. See also lining track.
Holy Ground an Irish sailor song and expression. According to O Lochlainn, Colm, the Holy Ground was the waterfront district of various cities, including New York.
Holy Modal Rounders originally an old-timey group, they moved to a more contemporary approach in the late 60s. The original members were Steve Weber (who had studied to enter the clergy - thus the group name) and Peter Stampfel, who is also the author of the lunatic songs "Random Canyon" and "Romping Through the Swamp". The group's most famous work would be "If You Wanna Be a Bird" from the soundtrack of the 1969 film "Easy Rider".
Homer and Jethro a duo consisting of Ken ("Jethro") Burns (1923-1989) and Henry ("Homer") Haynes (1917-1971). They produced parodies of pop songs, such as "Battle of Kookamunga" (1959) and "Sink the Bismarck" (1960). Their hilarious parodies obscured the fact that Jethro Burns was one of the best mandolin players anywhere - he has been called the "Django Reinhardt of the mandolin".
homophonic a style of music, vocal and/or instrumental, that consists of a melody line supported by harmony lines; compare with polyphonic, of which it's a subset. See also antiphonal, monophonic. Most folksongs are homophonic (or monophonic).
homorhythmic characterizing a tune with simple rhythms throughout. Also called isometric and chordal style. Most folksongs have simple rhythm (but see rubato).
honkytonk (also "honky-tonk") 1. A roadhouse or bar featuring entertainment. The term seems to have come from C&W (Webster's says that it's "of uncertain origin"). 2. A style of piano playing deriving from sense 1. Like the similar barrelhouse, it's a term with a loose definition, but generally refers to the loud, vigorous approach you'd expect in a roadhouse atmosphere. In some instances, thumb tacks are inserted into the hammers to produce a loud, metallic sound ("tack piano"). 3. An all-purpose word used in lyrics: "Quit your honkytonkin' ways."
hook (also "flag") in notation, the tail on the stem of a note to denote the time value.
Hooker, John Lee (191?- ) Mississippi and Detroit blues singer and guitarist. During the 50s, he made recordings that influenced many other blues and rhythm-and-blues musicians. He sometimes recorded as "Texas Slim". His 60s recordings and Newport Folk Festival appearances brought him a great deal of exposure to folk and pop fans (the Rolling Stones have recorded his material).
hoot a hootenanny.
hootenanny 1. An informal gathering of singers and musicians, similar to a jam or singaround; the word was popular in the 40s, 50s and 60s and was said to have been popularized by the Almanac Singers. The origin of the word is obscure. It predates its folk usage with the meaning of "gadget" or "thingmajig". Now rarely used, if at all. Sometimes spelled "hootnanny" or shortened to "hoot". 2. An ABC TV show in the early 60s, which caused a fuss among folkies by banning Pete Seeger (see blacklist).
hoot night used fairly often in the 60s and 70s to mean open stage.
Hopkins, Lightnin' (1912- ) (Sam Hopkins) Texas blues singer and guitarist, widely influential on other blues pickers during the folk revival. He began recording in the late 40s and was quite successful, making hundreds of recordings through the 60s.
hornpipe a tune, generally used for dancing and generally played on the fiddle. Most are in 2/4 or 4/4 time, although the rhythmic grouping is what defines it, rather than just the time signature. The rhythm goes "diddle-diddle-diddle". See also reel, strathspey, and jig.
horse a sailor's debt - see Poor Old Horse.
hot licks see licks.
hotlist see Internet folk.
house concert a concert by a fairly well-known performer held in someone's private home. The advantage is that you don't have to book a formal stage; the disadvantage is that you can only get so many people in a house, so many have to miss out. The house concert is fairly common in folk music, where musicians might not have enough public draw to support the rental of a theater. See also kitchen music.
House, Son (1902-?) (Eddie James House) a country blues artist who first recorded for Paramount in 1930. Songs of his included "Dry Spell Blues" and "Preachin' the Blues". Johnson, Robert said that he learned the blues by listening to Son House.
Houston, Cisco (1918-1961) (Gilbert Houston) a sidekick of Guthrie, Woody. He recorded a wide variety of American traditional songs, both for Asch, Moses and Vanguard Records. He travelled widely during the Depression years, working at various jobs and performing where he could, including clubs and radio stations. Before WWII, he teamed with Woody, and again after the war, with Leadbelly and Elliott, Jack.
He was fairly successful in the folk revival, playing many venues in the US, India, and the UK, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1961.
Howlin' Wolf (1910-1976) born Chester Burnett in Mississippi, Howlin' Wolf played delta blues in the 30s and 40s. He moved to Chicago and began adapting the delta blues to electric instrumentation. Widely influential on blues players of today.
How to Play the 5-string Banjo an instructional booklet and record produced by Seeger, Pete for Folkways in the 50s and still available from music stores. It influenced just about every 5-string banjo player in folk music.
Hudson Dusters a short-lived electric group that backed Van Ronk, Dave in the late 60s.
Hugill, Stan (1906-1992) English sailor, "the last real shantyman from the golden age of sail". He was an expert on songs of the sea and his books are an authoritative reference source for information on shanties. His books include "Shanties from the Seven Seas" and "Sailortown, Songs of the Sea". He was also a performer at British folk clubs and international festivals.
humour no folk jokes for you, but in the Irish tradition, a humour is an instrumental tune that can be a jig, reel, hornpipe, etc. Typical usage is "The Humours of Ballyconnell". The name is used in much the same way as air. See also fiddle tunes.
Sorry about the lack of jokes. There's a good story about how classical music can go through the folk process, though. There's a well-known Bach piece called, these days, "Sheep May Safely Graze". Because of the word association (sheep - safely - shepherd - the Lord is my shepherd, etc), and because Bach was known for sacred music, it usually ends up in "inspirational" or Christmas collections.
In fact, it's from the "Birthday" Cantata (BWV 208), which Bach wrote for the birthday of the Duke of Weimar in honor of his hunting ability! The original "Was mir behagt" goes on to say "My only delight is the merry chase." The English version is certainly accurate - it might well have said "He won't shoot any cows".
hurdie (Scot.) buttocks.
hurdy gurdy an ancient instrument, held in the lap or suspended from a neckstrap. Looking something like a model of an old sailing ship without masts, it has a handle at one end that turns an internal wheel that is covered in rosin. Keys operated by the player's left hand depress various strings onto this wheel; there is another string that drones permanently (some models have sympathetic strings). The sound is best described as a cross between the fiddle and the bagpipes. It's a favorite of street musicians, although in the 17th and 18th centuries it was taken quite seriously - Haydn wrote for it.
It's occasionally confused with the portable barrel organ, which is more like a player piano in that it requires no skill.
The origin of the term may annoy its fans and delight its detractors: it appears to be from the Scots term "hirdy-girdy", meaning an "uproar". Occasionally you might hear players who take it a bit too seriously calling it a "vielle a roue", which has a rather high cringe factor, even if it is the French for "wheel fiddle".
Hurt, John (1892-1966) Mississippi John Hurt made some race records of vocal and guitar in the 30s and then retired from active playing. He was rediscovered in the early 60s and was an instant hit at folk festivals, charming everyone with his warmth and humor. His fingerpicking guitar style directly or indirectly influenced every guitar player in folk music. His nickname, "Uncle John", is apt, but might sound condescending to some (it's not meant to be).
There probably isn't a picker or singer from the time who doesn't know at least one of his songs ("Creole Belle", "Richland Women", "Coffee Blues", "Louis Collins", "Candyman Blues" and many others).
Hutchings, Ashley ([1945- ]) one of the founding members of British electric folk. He was in the original Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, and left to form the Albion Band. He can be found as a bass player on just about every folk-rock recording of the 70s.
hyper said of a performer who is over-enthusiastic and altogether much too fast and loud. This is usually due to stage fright or the bar band effect.
Its opposite number can be quite funny. Performers who make a living singing for schoolchildren will often launch into a first set for adults as if they were still in a classroom. Spoken slowly and clearly: "Let's all sing this together and clap our hands!" It takes a few songs or a visit to the beer tent before they gear up again.
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The Folk File: A Folkie's Dictionary Copyright © 1993-2009 Bill Markwick, All Rights Reserved.