Eck Robertson’s “Sallie Gooden” and drone notes

This is from a recent discussion on Fiddle List [click here] about various ways to obtain drone notes on the fiddle…

>The old-time sound of Sally Gooden is important to me, just the way it
>is to Glenn — not the sound a listener hears, but the sound “next to my
>ear” as the fiddlemakers say.


John mentions re-tuning the fiddle as one method of getting the “pinky drone” effect; eg. on Sally Gooden, as well as his method of fourth position playing.

Photo of Eck Robertson by Peter Feldmann, 1964Eck Robertson, in a photo I took at UCLA in 1964.

In 1976, I produced an Lp recording of all of Eck Robertson’s Victor 78s,
including his “Sallie Gooden” – recorded July 1, 1922 as a solo fiddle piece. During the process of remastering that recording for the Lp, I purchased a mint copy of the original Victor Talking Machine Co. 78 RPM disc (Victor 18956, matrix No. 26664-1) from David Freeman at Floyd, VA. I listened to that original, and my 15 IPS analog tape copies, many, many times, trying to figure out that mysterious “drone” sound which gave that performance such a haunting, ethereal quality. (It remains one of my favorite fiddle recordings.)

I believe that Eck recorded that piece in “standard” tuning (and have heard field recordings made by Michael Bass of Eck playing it the same way in 1965), and of course used his pinky to get the drone note. However, I believe also that some mechanical fluke occured that morning to add a sort of “accoustical halo” to the sound. That recording was made mechanicaly, not electricaly, using a recording horn (sort of a reverse megaphone) to amplify the sound waves enough to move the steel recording stylus across the wax of the master disc. This is interesting in itself: the force generated to cut the master came from Eck’s violin, just as in all recordings made before the use of microphones, ca. 1925/26. It occured to me that there might have been some resonance in the mechanical linkage of the horn to the stylus that resonated with the precise note Eck choose for his drone note, thus creating that ethereal effect. So we are endowed with that amazing fiddle recording, perhaps, because the Victor engineer had a scew loose. . .


PS – “Any bird can build a nest, but it isn’t every bird that can lay an egg.”
-Stan Laurel

About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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