Friday, March 20, 2009

Blood of the Old Red Rooster

This is a very old murder ballad with lots of blood in it! Its better known title is "Edward", the story of a young man who kills his own brother in a foolish argument and lies to his mother about the blood on his sleeve. The version I am presenting here is only one of many different versions. I based mine mostly on the singing of Miss Irmadine Finch of Arkansas, 12 years old...the niece of famed ballad singer Almeda Riddle. Click here for a wonderful 1953 recording of Irmadine singing this ballad...

I find I can sing this nicely in the key of C. In noter style playing, it needs to be in ionian mode on the dulcimer rather than mixolydian mode, because it has several lower notes that dip below the tonic note of C, notably the G note that the song begins with. Thus I tuned my dulcimer in C ionian tuning of CGG...the very same traditional tuning that Jean Ritchie's father Balis Ritchie always tuned his dulcimer to. Whenever I tune to CGG I always think of the Ritchies of Kentucky and their musical family and neighbors. Their mountain area of Viper, Kentucky was a rich cradle of dulcimer making and ballad singing.
I put a few really fun noter slides in this tab that you can practice. See if you can get all the sliding notes to sound clear- then you can start adding yummy slippery noter slides in other tunes you play! Half the fun of noter playing is sliding up and down, like a kid in stocking feet on a newly waxed wood floor.

One more fascinating tidbit about this ballad. Irmadine sings a verse about the "Guinea goodle pig" and I wondered what that could be- a guinea pig, perhaps?? Then I wrote to an old-time musician friend of mine who grew up in West Virginia. He said his grandfather used to raise hogs and talked about a breed of hog supposedly brought from French Guinea in West Africa- the Guinea hog. He said this type of pig was known to be small and hardy, with black hair, and could withstand the hot weather better than the English breeds. Thus the hog farmers would try to breed a Guinea hog with their farm pigs occasionally. After some further investigation, I found that the American Guinea hog is a currently endangered breed of pig that is very useful for small family farms... read more here for example.


  1. Thanks for posting that sound clip, Lisa. I play by ear. If I can hear an song enough to sing, hum or whistle the tune, I can play it. So at least hearing Irmadine then I can follow your tab.

    I found a great website of Old Time music that is audio clips of some 400 songs, including the earlier ones you've posted.

    They might not be your exact version, but close enough to help others follow your tab more readily...

  2. Jean Ritchie sings a slightly different version (using the "Edward" title) on her CD "Ballads From her Appalachian Family Tradition". It is very haunting redition.

  3. Yes, there are usually several versions of just about any ballad that's over 100 years old. This "Irmadine" version of "Edward" is less haunting than many. But it was 'different' and that's why I chose to sing it several years ago, and now am figuring out how to play this particular version on noter dulcimer. It's good for all of us to figure our own favorite ballad versions onto dulcimer! That what people did way back when as well.