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Ian Tyson RIP

Back in the early 80s, I finished school and headed west. I had an old car and a bit of cash and I wanted to see a the west. Once I hit the prairies, I heard Ian Tyson singing cowboy songs on just about any radio station I tuned into. By the time I got home, quite a few of those songs were running through my head. I listened to so many of his songs over the years.

Ian Tyson was a great singer, a fabulous songwriter, and maybe even a national treasure. RIP

Filed under: RIP
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The Birds Out Back

Temperatures are mild this morning and it’s even a little sunny. The birds out back are very active. Lately we’ve seen lots of chickadees and nuthatches and juncos, but this morning there were goldfinches, house sparrows, mourning doves and house finches.

The goldfinches lose their bright yellow colour in the winter and that process seems to be happening now. Some of the goldfinches I watched this morning still had some bright yellow, but others had hardly any yellow showing.

When I see the house finches, I recall a description of them I read somewhere – suggesting they look like a bird that has had raspberry jam poured over its head.

Groups of mourning doves perch in the old apple tree for hours some days.

It isn’t nesting time, but the house sparrows occupy some of the bird houses this time of year.

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Red Hot

Somehow, back in October, I missed notices of the passing of Robert Gordon. Back in my younger days, I was a big fan of Mr. Gordon, especially his work with Link Wray, who has been gone since 2005. I think I wore out a copy of their recording Fresh Fish Special back when I lived in my little storefront painting studio on Ossington Ave.

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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.