The song of the week is 'Wreck Of The Old '97' in the key of D.
Flatt & Scruggs: key of Bb
The Osborne Brothers: mandolin intro break and verses in the key of E; fiddle break in the key of A; banjo break in the key of B
Mac Wiseman: key of D
Jason Homey & The Snake River Boys - key of D
Wreck Of The Old ’97 - Jason Homey and the Snake River Boys - YouTube
Here are four youtube jam videos I have made for Wreck Of The Old '97. In the one listed second, I am on guitar, playing the song in the key of D.
Jason’s YouTube Links – Alphabetical Listing – Parisology (cyberplasm.com)
Progression & Melody
Wreck Of The Old '97 uses the most commonly recurring chord progression in bluegrass, the 'Bury Me Beneath The Willow' progression.
(Prog. V7 on the Basic Chord Progressions chart.)
In the key of D: 1=D, 4=G, 5=A.
The D chord consists of the notes: D, F#, and A
The G chord consists of the notes: G, B, and D
The A chord consists of the notes: A, C#, and E.
Together, these notes make up the D major scale: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, and the melody of Wreck Of The Old '97 uses all the notes of the scale, with the lowest note in the melody being a D (the root note of the key), and the highest note in the melody being the E that is one octave plus one whole step higher than the lowest note in the melody.
Wreck Of The Old '97 has no chorus. There are 6 verses for the song, but it is common for only 5 verses to be used for the song.
While Wreck Of The Old '97 uses a very common chord progression - the most common of all progressions in bluegrass, there are some things about its melody that are uncommon in bluegrass. For instance, in the second line, at the point where the change to the '5' chord occurs ('A' in the key of D), the melody hangs on the 7th note of the scale ('C#' in the key of D), whereas it is far more common in songs for the melody to go the 2nd note of the scale ('E' in the key of D) at this point instead when the second line of the progression for a song is 1155.
From lowest to highest, here are the 9 melody notes of Wreck Of The Old '97 in each of the 8 keys that the song may be played in at the jam:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1) 9(2)
Key of G: G A B C D E F# G A
Key of A: A B C# D E F# G# A B
Key of Bb: Bb C D Eb F G A Bb C
Key of B: B C# D# E F# G# A# B C#
Key of C: C D E F G A B C D
Key of D: D E F# G A B C# D E
Key of E: E F# G# A B C# D# E F#
Key of F: F G A Bb C D E F G
In the files at the end of this write-up, I have included 2 guitar tabs of the melody: one written in the key of D, and one written in the key of C. The locations of the melody notes on the fretboard in the 'C' tab make the 'C' tab more conducive than the 'D' tab to working out a Carter-style break for the song. If for this reason, or some other reason, you choose to work with the C tab instead of the D tab, you will need to capo the 2nd fret in order to be playing the song in D. I have also included 2 banjo tabs of the melody, one in D and one in C. Since the lowest note of the melody is the 1st note of the scale (a 'C' note in the key of C, a 'D' note in the key of D), you will need to tune the 4th string of the banjo down to a 'C' note if you choose to work with the key of C banjo tab of the melody given here. Capoing to the 2nd fret will then raise the pitch of the 4th string back up to a D note. (In the banjo youtube jam video, I play in C tuning, capo 2 for D. On the Snake River Boys recording, I play in G tuning, no capo, but still with the 5th string raised up to an A note. In both cases I am playing in the key of D.)
Points of Interest
If you are interested in learning about the history of the song, and the event that the song is about, check this out:
The Wreck of the Old 97 - History and Music Video - YouTube
For those who are interested, here are a few non-bluegrass versions of Wreck Of The Old '97 (all referenced in the youtube video above) that I was familiar with before I got into bluegrass music. The second one is the second-oldest recording of the song, dating from 1924, and was the first million-seller 'Country' record. The B-side of the record is 'The Prisoner's Song', another old 'pre-bluegrass' classic that has been adopted into the standard bluegrass repertoire.
Johnny Cash: key of Bb
Vernon Dalhart: key of D
Hank Snow: key of A
THE WRECK OF THE OLD 97 by HANK SNOW - YouTube
19 songs were played at last night's jam: 12 from the main list, 3 from the additional songs list, and 4 that are on neither list:
All The Good Times Are Past And Gone - A
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - A
Cripple Creek - A
Gathering Flowers From The Hillside - G
Liberty - D
Light At The River - A
Long Journey Home - A
Old Joe Clark - A
Shortnin' Bread - G
Soldier's Joy - D
Way Down Town - E
Wreck Of The Old '97 - D
Angeline The Baker - D
Cluck Old Hen - A
Little Cabin Home On The Hill - A
Over The Waterfall - D
She's Gone, Gone, Gone - G
Lonesome Feeling - G
Sitting On Top Of The World - G
Wreck Of The Old '97 - melody in D
Wreck Of The Old '97 - banjo tab D
Wreck Of The Old '97 - banjo tab C
Wreck Of The Old '97 - guitar tab D
Wreck Of The Old '97 - guitar tab C
Wreck Of The Old '97 - mandolin tab