Research into this week’s tune, “Seneca Square Dance,” (a.k.a “Waiting for the Federals,” along with several other alternate titles) indicates that, though its origin remains unclear, it’s been around quite some time. It is speculated that the reference is to the Seneca indians.
Recordings of it first surface in the early 20th century. Notable amongst these is one by “Fiddlin’ Bob Larkan and his Music Makers,” where it goes by the title “The Higher Up the Monkey Climbs.”
More accurately, this tune sounds like an amalgamation of Seneca Square Dance (the A part) and Sally Ann/Sail Away Ladies (the B part). Mixing and matching of melodies, lyrics, and titles seems to have been a commonly employed method for bands of this day to expand their recording offerings.
As shown in their rendition, there’s a delightful absurdity that runs through the string band recordings of this era, from the non-sensical lyrics and neologisms to the witty banter to the spontaneous bursts of impossibly high falsetto voices. Though these were some of the most accomplished musicians of their day, they didn’t take themselves too seriously.
I wish there were more of this. Because, for me, more than anything, this music is about celebrating being alive, at this very moment. And that comes through clearly in much of the music of this age.
Speaking of delightful absurdity, here’s that version of “The Higher Up the Monkey Climbs,” fittingly coupled with an equally ridiculous Betty Boop cartoon of the same time.
Seneca Square Dance
gDGBD 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.
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course. Learn more about it here.