Author: Daniel, Bert


My astrological sign happens to be Cancer. And as everybody knows, you canít teach a crab to walk straight . All my life Iíve been intrigued by things that are a little bit warped and itís no different when it comes to my music. There are just certain tunes which stick in my head and fascinate me, simply because they donít fit the standard mold that tunes are supposed to adhere to. Iím talking here mostly about the crooked tunes.

Let me explain to those of you who donít know what a crooked tune is. A crooked tune (at least as I understand it, and Iím no expert) has an extra number of beats than you would expect each time around in the melody. It might be an extra measure or it might be an extra half a measure. For a Bluegrass fan, I guess the most familiar crooked tunes I could think of would be Bill Monroeís Jerusalem Ridge (which has an extra half measure between the B and C parts), and Ralph Stanleyís Clinch Mountain Backstep (which has an extra half measure halfway through the B part).

Lots of Old Time tunes are crooked. I suppose part of the reason Bill and Ralph built crookedness into their tunes is that they wanted some of that old timey sound to come through in their compositions. Crookedness imparts a special flavor to each and every tune that it infects. You listen to a new tune that sounds pretty straightforward, maybe even simple, and just about the time you start to be lulled by the simplicityÖĒwhat was THAT? Iím not sure what happened there. I guess Iíll have to listen more carefully next time around and see whatís going on.Ē

Just like that, a funny wrinkle in the music has drawn us into listening more carefully than before. Once you get used to this sort of thing, you come to expect it. Iíve heard quite a few tunes that I suspect might be crooked, but Iím never quite sure until I see the music. For example, Iíve never seen the music for Three Forks of the Cumberland by the Foghorn Stringband, but I suspect that the tune might be crooked. It just sounds that way. Sometimes Iíve been fooled though. You can think a tune is crooked even when itís not. I guess I like tunes that sound crooked, whether they actually are or not!

Crooked tunes are really fun to learn to play. I go to an Old Time Jam most Wednesday nights (See a prior Welcome column of mine, Wednesday Nights). A couple of weeks ago one of the regulars called for a tune, new to the rest of us, Rayna Gellertís Winder Slide. The tune wasnít so hard to learn, but fitting that ninth measure into the B part when the A part only had the normal eight was a challenge for most of us. Just about the time it started to get comfortable for us, George stuck his foot out (virtually ensuring that one of us cruelly titillated jammers will call for that tune again, sometime in the future).

Yes, crookedness has gotten a bad rap in my opinion. Fans of being crooked arenít all out there robbing banks. Letís declare late June to late July (Cancer in the astrologic zodiac) crookedness month, and play crooked tunes for thirty days. Just a thought. Got to go now. I have to practice Hell Amongst the Yearlings.
Posted:  7/28/2009

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