So many elements of our culture we inherit without ever knowing their origin story. After all, a lot has happened in the 2.5 million years of human life that occurred before each of us plopped into this world.
Take the Arkansas Traveler. I (and I imagine many other Americans) had known this melody (first as the “bumblebee song”) for some time without ever knowing its backstory, which you can read more about here.
The short version: a weary Traveler gets lost in rural Arkansas and comes across a Squatter, who humorously evades his repeated inquiries for directions.
The classic performance version of this tune presents it as a mix of music and comedy, alternating witty banter between the Traveler and the Squatter (whose evasive replies are typically clever plays on words) with musical verses. It’s a classic example of “old time” humor.
As the story goes, the Squatter repeatedly frustrates the Traveler with his evasive (but humorous) responses to the Traveler’s question, until the Traveler ultimately surprises him by playing through the heretofore elusive B part of the tune (referred to in this case as “the turn” of the tune). The Squatter is so delighted he invites the Traveler into his home.
The first picture in the video depicts the initial encounter, the second the joyous celebration that ensues when the Traveler plays through “the turn”.
In jams, of course, it’s just about the music. Arkansas Traveler has become a classic fiddle tune (and part of the “old time top 20“) in the key of D. Idiosyncratic versions abound, and many a fiddler can be identified by his or her particular rendition.
My version here sticks close to the classic melody, and the arrangement certainly leans more to the “melodic” style.
aDADE tuning, Brainjo level 4
Notes on the Tab
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes – to learn more about skips and syncopated skips, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course. Learn more about it here.