Uncle Jaque's Soap-Box

“Rock Me To Sleep, Mother”

Posted in Antique Music by Uncle Jaque on 07/26/2010

Here’s an old song that was quite popular back during the Civil War, but has faded into complete obscurity today.

Kathi Ryan recorded a version of it set to her own music some years ago but I doubt if many people have heard it.

I have been asked to do the music for a Family Member’s funeral in a couple of weeks, so I’m busting my hump practicing it.   I think that it is ideal for the occasion.  It’s not an easy song to play for a rank fumblefingers, but it’s coming.    It is a really pretty song, IMHO.

The chords are my best guess and are of course subject to tweakage.

If you like antique music and can handle it, by all means give it a go!

"Rock Me To Sleep, Mother"

I capo my guitar up to the third fret to play it in the “G” chord pattern.  It takes a fair amount of vocal range, as a lot of these old songs do, so others may have to find another key that it works in.


My Favorite Banjo…

Posted in Antique Music by Uncle Jaque on 11/15/2009

(In response to a thread on   The Mudcat Discussion Forum about “What is your Favorite Banjo?”)


Being a cheap Yankee, when I developed a passion for the old Minstrel style, I took my Brother’s old Sears and Sawbuck 5-string that was probably made in Japan, back when Japan was making all of our cheap stuff for import, and dismembered it. About the only lessons I had was that red book of Pete Seeger’s which I never got all that far into to begin with.

First I carved a hard maple fretless neck for it, with a head stock for friction pegs which I made from black walnut.
Our Drum Major (3rd Maine Infantry Field Music – CW reenactment) had a busted hide bass drum head which was big enough to cut a head out of and he helped me hoop and stretch it to replace the farby white plastic head it came with.  Man; what a job that is!

Gut strings came from “Boston Catlines” – the fellow who makes the strings for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  “Chris Olav Henrecksen” or something like that as I recal.  Is he still in business?  I’ve busted through several of my 3 meter lengths and need some more.
Oy!; those things do NOT come cheap!  That’s what the Old Timers used though, and they do have a unique action and sound.

So my bodged-together “Banjer” isn’t 100% authentic (it only has an 11″ hoop; most of the minstrel jobs went as big as 14″ or more) but it is a lot of fun and I don’t have to worry about taking it afield on reenactments and such as much as I would if I had a gen-yoo-wine antique or legitimate repro like Wunderlich or Flesher make.  Not that I could afford one of those, of course!

Uncle Jaque Performs in the Pavilion

Oh Mah Dahlin' Nellie Gray, They has Takey You Away...

Someday I hope to start from scratch and build a proper one or find an affordable wreck that I can restore.

Back when we lived in the Portland area – again a dozen or more years ago – I found a Vega “Folkmaster” in a little music and antique shop that has long gone out of business – the Rose Cottage Shop I think it was…

The fourth string had a nasty habit of buzzing on the lower frets, and no one wanted it.  Since the chap who ran the place was willing to let it go for around $50 (complete with a cardboard case no less!) and I like to tinker, I took it home.
After considerable diagnostic examination, I discovered that the neck had been installed cockeyed – twisted down a little – which is why the action on the trebles was fine while the bass buzzed from being too low.

“Well Sha-zzamm” I said (or words to that effect) as I slipped a thin wooden shim under the bass end of my bridge.
That Vega and I have been getting along just fine ever since, twisted neck and all.  As I see the term “Vega” mentioned in here a number of times, I guess that I got a pretty good deal after all.   Don’t see many “Folkmasters” though.
Not a fancy banjo by any means, but good and sturdy and plays about as well as a hammerhead like me needs it to.
I’ve never known mother-of-toilet-seat inlays and gold plated farb-de-ralls on an instrument make it sound any better, but if that’s what chimes your G-string and you can afford ’em, then by all means have at!

Much as I have a beat up old Russian WW-II surplus Mosin Nagant M-44 carbine as my “Truck gun”, the Vega is my “Truck Banjo” and serves most credibly in that capacity.

Back in the early 1960s when I was a kid and in love with “Joannie” Baez, I saw one of the Kingston Trio guys playing a long-neck 5 sting.  Not sure just what kind it was, but I immediately took to lusting after one.
Even back then they were scarce as hen’s teeth and expensive as hell if you could find one, and I don’t think that anyone has made one since the Weathermen were blowing things up.   Eventually I just gave up on the idea.

All these years later though, I have idly pondered the utility of one of those long necked critters; since I like to play in the Minstrel tuning (with the “C” stepped down to Ab or G#, whichever you prefer) I could tune one down to that for the old “stroke” style and then capo up about 3 frets (?) to do standard modern tuning.   And I very well may string it up with nylon, as for one it’s cheaper than gut strings and they have a nice “folksy” sound to them.  Have you ever tried ’em on yer banjer?

I have an album by a chap name of “Levy” i think it was, called “That Old Gut Feeling”.
He’s apparently a cheap booger too, as he cops out and strings up with nylon in stead of the real deal.  He provides a guide as to what guitar nylons to subsitute.

Pete Seeger mentioned gut substitutes too as I recollect, using fishing leader of various tests and a tennis racket string (for the “C”).  Back when I was hanging out with the Ken & Marie Vinyard Family (God rest their dear Souls!) up in Crystal NH, he came by an old Civil War period minstrel banjo – probably the first one I’d ever seen – which we strung up that way, and it sounded pretty decent!   Had a hard time keeping it in tune though as I didn’t know about how they tuned ’em down back then.

Don’t you wish they taught banjo and fiddle in stead of the bloomin’ clarinet and saxaphone in school music programs?

I think that school whould be a hell of a lot more fun if they did!  Lord knows those Jr. High School bands couldn’t possibly sound much worse!   [‘{8^{D~

Music Score: “Angel Band” ~ 1860

Posted in Antique Music by Uncle Jaque on 11/15/2009

Still learning the ropes, here.

Let’s try putting this into the “Music” category….