One of the charms — or perhaps drawbacks, depending on your point of view — of traditional music is that, because many of these tunes have been around for so long, much about them is often shrouded in mystery.
This week’s tune, “Forked Deer”, is no exception.
Sources tell us it first appeared in written form in 1839, and in recorded form by fiddler Charlie Bowman in 1928. But exactly when its melody first send longitudinal waves of air molecules at regularly repeating intervals crashing against the tympanic membranes of nearby listeners, we’ll likely never know.
Likewise, just exactly what the name “Forked Deer” (pronounced “fork-ed”) refers to will also remain forever an open question.
A two point buck? The Forked Deer river in Tennessee (pictured in the video above)? In the Ozarks, the title was considered vulgar, as apparently there’s a potential double meaning. Was this the author’s intent? Or perhaps the original title was something different: Forkey Deer? Forked Air?
We’ll never really know, but that’s ok by me. In my opinion, not knowing is part of the fun. As the common story of a book being ruined by its movie adaptation illustrates, sometimes it’s nice to leave some things forever open to the imagination.
One of the other charms of traditional music are the number of distinctive versions of a tune in circulation. With Forked Deer, it seems just about every fiddler over the years had his or her own idiosyncratic rendering, with parts ranging anywhere from 2 to 5.
The version presented here is based heavily on Tommy Jarrell’s. It’s a two part version well suited to jamming.
And you just might see another version of this classic in another Tune of the Week installment….
aDADE tuning, Brainjo level 3
Notes on the tab:
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes. To learn more about these, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.