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What’s in a name?

Early on when I started playing clawhammer banjo, I learned a fab “D” tune called Spotted Pony. It was a catchy tune with a fun ascending passage that defines the tune. In fact, my buddy Ted and I regularly play it today. When I went to Midwest Banjo Camp, it came up at many of the jams because it’s not a super-difficult tune and it’s a lot of fun to play. Here’s some folks having a go at it in a video I found on YouTube with a quick search…..

Then, at the same banjo camp, Cathy Barton taught me another Spotted Pony, this one an “A” tune. I had no idea there were two tunes with that distinctive name. Here are Spencer and Rains performing the “other” Spotted Pony….

Now let’s fast-forward a few years. I guess I got a bit mixed up. A good time to start learning fiddle is when you’re about 6. I started at 60. I suppose I dropped a digit along the way. What kind of madness was that? OK, maybe not madness, but for sure it’s my folly. Anyway, in an effort to boost my learning, I immersed myself in fiddle music, and started listening to it at every opportunity. Along the way, I discovered Charlie Walden and Patt Plunkett and their wonderful Big Fiddle Show on the YouTube machine. The next one is the Holiday Special on Friday if you’d like to check it out. On one of the shows, Charlie made reference to Spotted Pony, saying the tune I first learned by that title is not called Spotted Pony, but actually called Snowshoes, and is a tune popularized by Tommy Jackson in Nashville.

That was the first I heard of Snowshoes, so I went back to YouTube. No doubt the tune I first learned as Spotted Pony and the Tommy Jackson tune Snowshoes are the same tune, but if you compare the two, I’d say Showshoes is a fancied up way of playing it. Here are Louise Steinway and Isaac Callender as part of their fiddle tunes and coffee series….

My favourite version of Snowshoes is from a jam session featuring Daniel Carwile. I could watch this video over and over again, and I guess I have. I admire Daniel Carwile’s fiddling.

So call the tune what you like. It’s a tasty dish either way you serve it up. The question though, is how it came about the tune has 2 names and the name Spotted Pony is also used for another tune. The Traditional Tune Archive offers answers:

This tune is sometimes called “Spotted Pony” because Pete McMahan’s performance was mis-titled on the 1967 Voyager LP “More Fiddle Jam Sessions,” which was an influential recording in West Coast old time music circles at the time. When the original field recording was made, Pete did not announce the name of the tune, but Vivian Williams, who edited the tape for producing the LP, heard someone say “Spotted Pony” and erroneously assumed that it was the name of the tune Pete played.

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