Well, I hope you are doing well in this age of COVID-19. I managed to get out on a nice hike up in the nearby Rock Castle Gorge with my buddies Hope and Charlie Thompson, and Andy Buckman last Sunday. Mindful of “social distancing” it was good to be outside and active away from my farm for a day. With the worsening situation, we may not be able to do so next Sunday. Maybe staying home completely is the answer or only doing things solo or with couple others who with absolute certainty haven’t picked up those killer germs inadvertently.
This week’s tune is called Muskrat.
It is played here by fiddler Harold Hausenfluck and banjo man Andy Buckman who recorded this on a visit with Harold in the 1990s. Andy was Harold’s last banjo/OT music student before he (Harold) had his stroke in 1999. As a result, Harold lost the use of one arm but is still able to play the harmonica. Harold, who was blinded as an infant, still lives in a facility for the disabled in Richmond, Virginia known as The Virginia Home. Harold learned Old-time music mainly from “old-timer” players who he met on trips to Fiddlers’ conventions in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his dad.
He made several top-notch recordings prior to the stroke.
Harold is today being affected by the COVID-19 break and cannot have visitors for a while. Andy has lived in Franklin County east of Floyd County for the past 20 years. Married into Blue Ridge family with roots in Rock Castle Gorge. As a lifelong clawhammer banjo player, he specializes in “local” old-time music and played banjo on my 2005 CD “I’m Going That Way”.
Harold learned this piece in the 1970s from Hurley Smith who was first cousin to OT banjo/fiddler Glen Smith of Carroll County. He worked out the banjo part and taught it to Andy.
Someone, please post another version for our entertainment and comparison.
Reply from Trevor McKenzie
Hey Mac! Enjoyed Harold and Andy’s version of “Muskrat,” I had never heard it played on fiddle before and liked it played as a tune. Since you asked for other versions, here’s one from the AppState archives played and sung by Tab Ward on the banjo. His lyrics are not too kind to the “mushrat,” who ends up being a coat by the end of the song. Tab’s grandson, Rick, also sings this one where the muskrat’s hide ends up being a banjo head… Needless to say, things don’t end well for the creature in any of the sung versions!
Glad to hear you were able to go for a hike during this time of social distancing. I look forward to seeing you and picking some music whenever we are all able to get back out again!
Reply from John Schwab
Here’s another version of this tune by Land Norris. I love his banjo tuning. I love the stuck repeats at the end of the lines. Sounds a little bit like a stuck record but I doubt he heard it from a 78 rpm!
Reply from Mac Traynham
Thanks to Trevor and John for alternate versions of “Muskrat”. I especially love that tuning that Land Norris used on his banjo. Tab’s version is also a great version with all his verses and superb mountain clawhammer banjo playing. I am going to jot them down and learn that song ASAP.
Y’all stay safe!!
Reply from Andy Buckman
Here are lyrics to Muskrat that I learned firsthand. I got the first two verses from Harold. I may have learned the third verse from Harold or from Jim Barnhill. Jim is no longer with us but he was a fine guitar picker and singer who loved this song and tune.
As Trevor points out the lyrics are none too kind to the muskrat, but these lyrics also express the perspective of a poor farmer struggling to make a living. I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not the end of making a banjo head justifies the means!
For comparison’s sake here is a YouTube link to Doc Watson flat-picking and singing this tune. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msygBvR20sQ
Doc used the minor chord at the end of the first phrase as well as at the end of the first repeat of the third phrase. Harold and Jim held the major through the first and second phrases and only used the minor at the end of the first repeat of the third phrase.
Muskrat from Harold and Jim
Muskrat, oh muskrat, what makes you be so mean?
Hangin’ around the farmer’s field
Eatin’ up all his beans, beans
Eatin’ up all his beans
Muskrat, oh muskrat, what makes you smell so bad?
Hangin’ around the farmer’s field
Eatin’ up all he had, Lord,
Eatin’ up all he had
Muskrat, oh muskrat, I’ll nail you to the barn
Skin you out and sell your hide
Keep some pretty girl warm, warm
Keep some pretty girl warm
Reply from JoeBass
Here’s a great version that Gerry and Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller recorded a few years back on an amazing record called Cherry River Line: Traditional Music From The Monongahela National Forest that I mastered here at my studio. I don’t have the physical CD with the notes handy, but I’m sure Gerry can tell you where he learned it.
BTW, Cherry River Line is one of my favorite modern string band records of regional music, if you’re not familiar with it, I highly recommend checking it out. MP3 attached, link to buy record below. The album isn’t available for streaming.