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TOW #003: Boston Boy
"He played an old tune he called Soldier's Joy, then he played one he called The Boston Boy." So after Soldier's Joy last week, Boston Boy seemed natural. (But no, next week will not be Jenny Lynn, even if it is the greatest of all!)
Like most people, I first heard this tune on The David Grisman Rounder Album. Supposedly, David heard it from a tape of Bill Monroe playing a bunch of old tunes. To my knowledge, Bill never recorded it (correct if wrong, please.) Ricky Skaggs has it out on Ancient Tones, and he also plays it on Mandolin Extravaganza. So the tune is having a kind of resurgence. I think the Kentucky Thunder version is a little fast, so the Extravaganza may be a better place to learn it. David Grisman wrote about the tune and had music and tab for it in his Frets column. Some people may still have copies of that.
I like this tune because of the way it sits on the fingerboard. It exploits one of the strengths of the mandolin: its symmetry. Since the mandolin is tuned in fifths, everything is movable, in a way that makes perfect sense. The tune to Boston Boy moves so logically from one string to the other. That may be one reason you can get some speed on it if you want.
And now an announcement: after a short reign (three weeks!), I am resigning as TuneMeister. It's been a fun three weeks, and I've learned a lot, but it's time to step down and let new blood take over. I hereby nominate George Hunt. Is there a second? (Second!) A motion that nominations be closed? (So moved!) All in favor of George Hunt, who's waiting in the wings with Mississippi Sawyer, and who has already agreed to this succession, say aye! (Aye!) OK, George is elected, overwhelmingly. Next Monday, hit us with it George!
> To my knowledge, Bill never recorded it (correct if wrong, please.)
Bill finally recorded it '94, in what must have been one of his last recordings sessions. It's only available (at this time) on the MCA four-CD set, the very last tune on the last disc. (By some chance, his version and the Ancient Tones cut are both exactly the same length, 2:30, but I like the Monroe version much better than RS's.) I agree with John's assessment that the Extravaganza version is the much more musical Scaggs performance.
There's a version on the MandoMonsters CD, by Steffey, I think, that's pretty good. I don't really care for the Grisman version; I remember that Tony Rice sorta plays fast and loose with the melody on his break, which, I think, kicks off the cut.
Down side to the tune -- it's one of my favorite tunes, especially C tunes, but it's messed me up. I can't remember Texas Gales anymore; the two tunes are definitely related, and after learning BB, TG just sorta disappeared from my fingers.
Big old duh upside my head! I was going on Grisman's comment in 1987 or so that Bill had never recorded it. But I have no excuse--I own the 4-CD set. Guess I just don't have it memorized yet.
Does someone have tab, or midi or something? I've looked in my usual places and can't find anything..
In the Fiddler's Fakebook (and the Mandolin Picker's Fakebook for TAB), David Brody lists Take Me Back to Georgia as the version of Boston Boy on Grisman's Rounder Album. I only have it on the Common Chord album so I can't say for certain that this is the same tune. I know that when I play the Brody version it sounds vaguely like the Grisman version on CC and the Monroe version on the MCA box set. At least it's in C major and has a triplet intro
On a related note, I like the ToW idea. So far we've hit three songs that I have been working on and I've found the discussions, tabs, and discographies helpful. For those of us going to the SK Mando camp perhaps we can add these tunes to those suggested in the mailing and work on them there as well.
I went to my Monday evening student tonight and he had picked a new tune which he wants to learn - Boston Boy. Creepy. His one is from some Mel Bay "Irish" fiddle book. I say "Irish" because there are as many American and Scottish tunes in it as Irish. They must've thought if it had Irish in the title it would sell more. Or am I being cynical? Anyway, it's a good version, not quite as Monroe plays it, but not that far away.
The I-IV-V-I progression/melody of "a" part makes me think of the the second half of "Big Sandy".
Here's 8 bars of "a" using some chromatics (#2nds for each chord), but still retaining the feel of the melody):
I learned the tune off an Adam Steffey version on the Young Mando Monsters CD. I assumed he started the tune with the A part. Then RS released his version, and he starts with the other part. Now I'm confused and have my A and B parts mixed up. Who is playing the A part first?
Hi everybody, this is my first post. I am really enjoying the TOW idea, but may I suggest in the future picking songs that are easily accessible on the web. If we all work on the same version to start with it may be more beneficial. The posted Ricky Skaggs version is really good. Too good, in fact for me and may I assume other beginners. I think it may be better to start with a simpler version.
I have some old notes of part of the song, at least I hope it's the same song everyone else is talking about and I can see similarities to what I have and Ricky's version. This is also my first time to tab and it is really basic. No timing info at all. Maybe someone could flesh it out, correct it, add part B etc. Or at least give me some feedback.
John, Thanks for posting the abc format. That's a big help. I made a gif file out of the two parts you put into abc.
Darrel Toole wrote:
> Okay, I give..
> Does someone have tab, or midi or something?
> I've looked in my usual places and can't find anything..
> Darrel Toole
John Strong was good enough to post this a couple of months ago:
Hi Comando gang,
I worked out Ricky Skaggs' breaks in Boston Boy on the Ancient Tones CD. Love that tune! I like this CD alot - seems to have a warmer feeling to it than Bluegrass Rules, if that makes any sense. Anyway, someone else on the list mentioned BB so I thought I'd share with the group. I think its a pretty accurate transcription (>95%).
I want to take the tune of the week, Boston Boy as an example of approaches to learning a new tune. I hope other people will have some ideas about this. I have a feeling this is going to be a little long; brace yourselves! This is what I did yesterday with the tune:
1. Before I looked at the music I have for this (David Grisman's "Frets" column from 1987), I tried to see how much of it I already knew. It's a tune I've heard for years, and have played it once or twice. It's good to start out knowing what you know and what you don't know. I found I could start off OK and figure out a lot of it. If I didn't have any music, I could get it this way--eventually--and it might even be quicker in the long run. But I'm not going to throw away a tool if I've got it, so on to the music.
2. My first impulse is to dive right into the tune, but I made myself stop and look over the chords. I-IV-V-I on the A part, repeated. That told me the tune was not "crooked," and made me think about the chords as I learned the notes. In fact, the notes for this tune really follow those chords closely, so thinking about the chords as I learn the notes really makes it sink in quicker. Also, I want to avoid the embarrassing experience I've had of learning a new tune but not learning the chords. Fine when you're alone, but when you play it with others, you need those chords!
3. Notes vs. tab: I can read both, but I'm more fluent on tab on the mandolin. Not to get into that controversy again, but I'm glad I have both for this, and glad I can read them. Each has value and can help. More on that in a minute.
4. I played through the A part, slowly. Then I looked to see the structure of the tune. It breaks in two, with four bars of melody, then another four that are almost exactly the same. This is very important to know, because you find out how much you have to learn. In this tune, there's really only four bars to learn in the A part. Celtic players are very good on picking this out by ear; Robin Bullock did a good job on this method of ear-learning at the Kaufman camp last year. I played through the A part a few more times.
5. Now here's an important step I've learned: I closed the book. It's a little scary to do that, because you don't think you know the tune yet. You don't, but you do. But if you keep on reading the tune, you'll greatly delay learning it by ear. I've had the bad experience of having a tune called out that I've played a lot by reading, but when I try to play it with others, I realize I don't have it in my head at all, or at least not enough to play. So if you want to be able to play from memory and not have a book in front of you, you have to close the book and learn it. So I picked through the A part again. I messed up some, but I got it. I played through a few more times, then I opened the book again and played over it to correct trouble spots. Then I closed the book again and played it over and over, finding that I was getting it and could play a little faster. I've found that I can learn much more fully by using my ears than my eyes. Over two years ago, I decided I was going to learn how to sing at least one new bluegrass song a week, so when I went to the weekly jam, if nobody else there could sing (or remember all the words to songs), I could do it. I used to sit down and write out all the words on index cards, then go over and over, trying to memorize. Then one day, I rode to work, listening to a song over and over. By the time I got to work (45 minutes), I had the song perfectly. Going straight from ear to brain is faster for me that eye to brain.
6. Next I went back to the music and looked at the patterns. Looking at both notes and tab, I could see the same notes/numbers coming up again and again: 2-5-2-5 on D string for C chord, on A string for G chord, or an interval of E-G-E-G in C, B-D-B-D. This happens several times in the A part. That's what this tune is about, I said to myself, remembering something Mike Compton said last year as he played a Bill Monroe song. "What's this song about?" Mike asked as he played. "It's about this lick," he said, as he played a slide that kept recurring. Figuring out how the tune works, its structure, and what the licks do is the difference between learning notes and playing a tune, really playing it. I'm never going to be the fastest or fanciest picker, but I'd like to be one who plays with feeling and understanding. If all you do is put notes together, you'll never get that.
7. I go back and work on the A part again. I'm not moving on to the B part yet because I don't want to interfere with what I'm learning, and I don't go to another tune for the same reason. I read a year or so ago where brain researchers had found that the deepest learning comes from concentrating on one thing, without moving to something else, then coming back to that thing 6 hours or so later. I learned the truth of this while learning words to songs on my drive. After driving in and learning a song, I would get back in the car to go home and listen to it again, or better yet to try to sing the words, then listen. It really cemented what I had learned earlier. This morning, before I wrote this, I sat down and played Boston Boy. A couple of trouble spots, but I had it from yesterday's learning.
8. Now to the B part, doing all the stuff above. Interestingly, the B part starts off with that same lick, E-G, played up an octave. That really is the rib for this tune.
9. After I had the B part, I played through the whole tune, not really fast, but playing all the repeats--you've got to learn it the way you'll play it. I sure do enjoy this tune! For a first-position tune, it covers a lot of the fingerboard, from the low G up to A on the E string. And I love the parts over the G chord in the B part. It's got that Monroe thing--I know he put that in there.
10. Now, convinced I had it, I played something else--Blackberry Blossom. Then I went back to Boston Boy. Still had it. Then to Billy in the Lowground, which is also in C and similar in many ways. I want to make sure one doesn't cover up the other in my mind, as Joe Cline said Boston Boy did to Texas Gales. Once something gets in the same brain groove, it's tough to wrestle them apart.
It's cool to learn a tune like this. Now I'm part of a chain. Somebody taught this tune to Uncle Pen, who played it on the fiddle and taught it to Bill Monroe. Bill played it on the mandolin, and one day Ralph Rinzler played young David Grisman a tape of it. David learned it, put it on an album with Vassar Clements and Ricky Skaggs on twin fiddles. Then Ricky recorded it again a couple of times. And now I'm learning it (finally, after listening to it for a long time). And now a bunch of us are doing it at the same time. I'm ready to pick it with somebody!
Has anyone besides me noticed how much Boston Boy sounds like White River Bottoms? I understand Boston Boy is from northern Kentucky, Bottoms is from southern Indiana so maybe there's some connection... spent my formative years between the forks of the White so this might be a good research project...
A friend of mine said a common way to play this tune used to be to play what is commonly known now as the B part, first. Any comments about this and is this widely known and I'm just out of it. I'm wondering how widely known that is or is it a little or hardly known fact.
I also have the A and B parts of this tune confused. The 2 versions I'm familiar with are from the Ricky Skaggs and KT Ancient Tones CD and Mando Monsters CD with Adam Steffey playing the mando. Both of these versions start with the opposite part, but I don't know who's playing the A part or is it the B part first.
The version in the fiddler's fakebook (listed as "travelin' back to georgia" or something like that) Is in the same order as the Scaggs version (and the BG Mando Extravaganza version) although I havn't heard any other versions...
Several people asked about the A & B parts of Boston Boy.
I just listened again to the Monroe recording (c. '94, one of his last studio recordings; its only release, AFAIK, was on the MCA box set, and those notes didn't offer many details.) He starts on the low part, which climbs in a I - IV - V - I progression from the low G on the mando (the pickup measure) to the open E string (at the very end of the phrase.) His B part is all on the first and second string and is a I - V - I progression.
Interestingly enough, the fiddle on this version plays the tune straight AABB; Monroe's break is AABA, and the banjo break is AAB -- pretty typical of the liberties WSM took with the fiddle tune form when he played 'em (see especially his Soldier's Joy on the Doc Watson duet disc.)
Most of the other recordings I know of have already been mentioned (Steffey on Mando Monsters, Skaggs on Mando Extravaganza, Wayne Benson on one of the Bluegrass '9x releases) but add the Grisman Rounder album, which has Skaggs and Vasser fiddling and his Riceness on guitar lead (and, as I recall, he sorta botched his break.)
The A part is similar, but not identical, to the A part of Texas Gales (Gals); this confused me to no end when I decided to learn BB -- I couldn't play TG for months afterward without going back into BB. The two tunes are certainly related!
Cache Valley Drifters do a real great version of Boston Boy I am not sure if they do the B part first....
Whoa...I call myself having everything the CVD have ever recorded...3 LPs, 2 Cassettes (live or radio shows) and two CDs. Am I having a Senior Moment??I don;t recall Boston Boy on any of them. Where, Please????
I have heard them play it twice in person: in addition with a real HOT version of Over the Waterfall which is not on any of their recordings.
I requested from Wally Barnick (Bass Player) to put those two songs on their next CD.
Sorry for not being clearer in my post! You are ok Ferd... no senior moment!