The song of the week is 'Wildwood Flower' in the key of D.
Flatt & Scruggs - key of D instrumental
The Carter Family - key of Bb: original recorded version with vocals
Mother Maybelle Carter - key of F# with vocals
key of F: instrumental
The chord progression for Wildwood Flower is:
Notice that the 1st, 2nd, and 4th lines of the progression are each 5 measures long.
Vocal or Instrumental?
Before moving to Boise, I was much more accustomed to playing Wildwood Flower at Bluegrass jams as an instrumental rather than as a song with vocals. But, despite the difficulties involved in singing Wildwood Flower, due to the wide range of the melody and the nature of the lyrics, there have been enough people at the beginner and intermediate jams over the past few years who like to sing Wildwood Flower that it has rarely been played as an instrumental when called at the jams. So, in making Wildwood Flower a song of the week for the intermediate jam, I have chosen to sing it rather than leading it as an instrumental.
When played as an instrumental at a bluegrass jam, Wildwood Flower is most often played either in the key of C or the key of G, with guitar players tending to prefer C and banjo players tending to prefer G.
When Wildwood Flower is sung at a jam, one can expect it to be played in any of the 8 standard bluegrass keys: G, A, Bb, B, C, D, E, or F. Because the melody of the song has an unusually wide range (it spans an interval of a major 10th: that is, one whole octave plus a third of an octave), one may find it difficult to find a key that one can comfortably sing the song in, and once one has identified a comfortable key to sing it in, one may discover that that is the only key that one feels comfortable singing the song in.
Since my early childhood, I have been familiar with set of lyrics for Wildwood Flower on the classic 1928 Carter Family recording (a recording that has greatly influenced most subsequent versions of the song), but have found the lyrics difficult to memorize, as some of the lines make little sense. As far as I can tell from listening to the old record, the lyrics on it are as follows:
Oh, I'll twine with my mingles and waving black hair
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair
And the myrtle so bright with the emerald dew
The pale and the leader and eyes look like blue.
I will dance, I will sing and my laugh shall be gay
I will charm ev'ry heart, in his crown I will sway
When I woke from my dreaming, my idols was clay
All portion of love had all flown away.
Oh, he taught me to love him and promised to love
And to cherish me over all others above
How my heart is now wond'ring no misery can tell
He's left me no warning, no words of farewell.
Oh, he taught me to love him and called me his flow'r
That's blooming to cheer him through life's dreary hour
Oh, I long to see him and regret the dark hour
He's won and neglected this pale wildwood flower.
If one compares these lyrics with the original set of lyrics published in 1860, one can see the full extent to which some of the lines got butchered in the transmission process that eventually resulted in the Carter Family version. The original lyrics are:
I'll twine 'mid the ringlets of my raven black hair
The lilies so pale and the roses so fair
The myrtle so bright with an emerald hue
And the pale aronatus with eyes of bright blue.
I'll sing and I'll dance, my laugh shall be gay
I'll cease this wild weeping, drive sorrow away.
Tho' my heart is now breaking, he never shall know
That his name made me tremble and my pale cheeks to glow.
I'll think of him never, I'll be wildly gay
I'll charm ev'ry heart, and the crowd I will sway.
I'll live yet to see him regret the dark hour
When he won, then neglected, the frail wildwood flower.
He told me he loved me, and promised to love
Through ill and misfortune, all others above
Another has won him, ah! mis'ry to tell
He left me in silence, no word of farewell.
He taught me to love him, he call'd me his flower
That blossom'd for him all the brighter each hour
But I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay
My visions of love have all faded away.
The way I sing the song is based on the original set of lyrics, but is influenced by my familiarity with the Carter Family version. For instance, I sing only 4 verses, by combining verses 2 and 3 together into a single verse. I omit the last three lines of verse 2 and the first line of verse 3.
Guitar & Banjo Melody Tabs
Without a capo, the key of C works much better than the key of D for working up either a Carter-style or a crosspicking guitar break for Wildwood Flower, which are the two main traditional approaches to playing guitar breaks for the song. For this reason I have not included a guitar tab melody sheet written in D in the attachments. To play a break in D based upon the key of C guitar melody sheet provided here, you will need to capo the 2nd fret of the guitar.
Two banjo tabs of the melody are given in the attachments, one written in the key of C with the banjo tuned to C tuning (GCGBD): capo 2 for D, and one written in the key of D with the banjo tuned to D tuning (F#DF#AD). These are the two options that I believe work best for working up basic Scruggs-style breaks for Wildwood Flower in D. (For clawhammer players, I advise tuning to double C tuning: GCGCD, capo 2 for D. To convert the C tuning melody sheet to double C tuning, all you need to do is to change the 1s to zeros on the line that represents the 2nd string.)
Here's the original recording of Earl's Breakdown:
Flatt & Scruggs
Jason's Intermediate Jam Blog 2017 - 2018
started as Beginner Jam in Jan 2015
Songs regularly called at Bluegrass Jams and links from Jason's "Song of the Week" emails. (from Renee)
in alphabetical order