Episode 7: Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek is to banjo playing as See Spot Run is to literacy, or the Macarena is to national-dance-crazes-we’d-all-just-assume-never-happened.
You just can’t be a self respecting purveyor of 5 string pluckery and not play it. There’s just no getting around it.
And, as you folks know by now, this is for good reason. It’d be a dark, dark world without Cripple Creek on the banjo. So let’s get to it.
Step 1: Know Thy Melody
I imagine you’ve heard this one a time or two. But, just in case, or as a good refresher, let’s venture over for some cripple creekery from our fine fiddling brethren at the Fiddle Hangout. Remember, after listening to these, see if you can distill it down to the basic melody.
With Cripple Creek, we also have the advantage of being able to learn by singing, as it also has words! Various and asundry lyrical variations exist, but they all center around the same theme of venturing to cripple creek to rendezvous with your significant other. Here’s one such example.
What you’ll find is that if you fit those words into the melody, then you’ve successfully identified the bed of Cripple Creek. And once you can do that, you’re ready to find it on your 5 string!
Step 2: Find the Melody Notes
Ok, take out thy banjo, get into A tuning (aEAC#E tuning), and see if you can find the basic, unadorned melody of Cripple Creek. It should sound about like this:
And here it is in tab:
So far so good!
Step 3: Add Some Clawhammery Stuff
Ok, let’s start making this sound like a banjo tune. The simplest way to start to do so, using our standard protocol, is to strike each note that falls on a downbeat (the big, bolded notes in our tab above) with our frailing finger, and then follow it with a “ditty” stroke. In tab, this would appear as so:
And it would sound thusly:
So, in no time flat we’ve got a version that’s presentable for company. And so here’s what it sounds like with a fiddle:
Not bad at all!
Step 4: Beautify the Creekbed
Of course, there’s plenty of room to take this arrangement further, so now’s your chance to get creative with it. Remember, though, Cripple Creek is a dance classic – don’t sacrifice a driving beat for flowery ornamentations. Else you risk not being invited back to play for next week’s hoedown. Remember, the song is about heading out for a long awaited rendezvous with your sweetheart – now’s not the time for lollygagging with triplets and other foolishness.
Here’s my stab at beautifying its banks, while still trying to maintain a driving current.
And here’s that version tabified:
Paired with the fiddle again, it sounds like this:
Step 5: Practice Smart
So there you have it. If Cripple Creek isn’t currently a part of your repertoire, go forth and correct this immediately, lest you be expunged irrevocably from the banjo brotherhood. And don’t forget to avail yourself of the backup tracks over at oldtimejam.com. They’ll always keep your timing honest, and they’ll never tire of playing this one.