Cold, Frosty Morning


Here's a lovely modal melody that sometimes appears in fakebooks simply as "Frosty Morning." According to one such collection—the online resource for traditional music, Hetzler's Fakebook—this fiddle tune memorializes an actual historic event. Here's the tale as it is told there:

The fiddle tune Cold, Frosty Morning remembers the battle of Culloden Moor. On the morning of April 16, 1746 an English Army of 8,000 massacred a Scottish army of 7,000 ending the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland.

George II gave the Duke of Cumberland instructions that the Scots had to be punished for supporting Charles Stuart. Many who had joined Stuart's army were executed and their land given to those who had remained loyal to King George.

After their victory the English were determined to make sure the highland clans did not rebel again. The English army killed any Highlander they could find. Even Highlanders who had not joined the rebellion were slaughtered. There were even cases of highland women and children being murdered. As a result of these atrocities the Duke of Cumberland was given the name Butcher.

The tune is performed in a variety of styles and, as you will hear in the audio clips below, it is open to a variety of interpretations. The first of our clips is from Tony Ellis who is best known not as a fiddler, but as a banjo player. He is accompanied by Zan McCleod a first-call Celtic multi-instrumentalist based in the D.C. area. On this track from the 1998 CD, Quaker Girl, Zan is backing up Ellis on bouzouki, an instrument that strikes many an untutored American as a sort of over-sized mandolin. Whereas our rhythm guitar part is much more typical of old-timey or bluegrass music, Zan demonstrates here the idiomatic Irish approach, one that can be best approximated on guitar by using an altered tuning: DADGAD.

Audio Clip: Tony Ellis and Zan McLeod playing Cold, Frosty Morning


Speaking of old-timey and bluegrass, here's a version of the tune that straddles both traditions owing to Mark Johnson's unique "clawgrass" style of banjo pickin'. As the name suggests, his style combines the clawhammer approach typical of old-time banjo (in which the strings are plucked with the thumb as usual, but struck with the rest of the fingers with the back of the fingernails) with the Scruggs style associated with bluegrass (in which both thumb and two fingers pluck the strings "normally"). He's joined by Emory Lester on mandolin. The cut is from their 2006 release, Acoustic Rising.

Audio Clip: Mark Johnson and Emory Lester on Cold, Frosty Morning



To wrap up our unintended "duet" theme, here's one last interesting combination: Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer, from the CD of the same name (shown right). The recording pairs two highly respected Nashville musicians, David Schnauffer and Butch Baldasarri. Schnauffer was credited with reviving the use of the dulcimer in country music, recording on this gentle traditional instrument with The Judds, Johnny Cash, Kathy Mattea, Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins and many others before his death (at only 53) in 2006. Baldasarri has been a force on the mandolin scene for many years and is widely respected for his versatility in a variety of styles, including bluegrass, classical and Celtic mandolin. Our clip features Baldassari out front with Schnauffer laying down the accompaniment.

Audio Clip: Butch Baldassari and David Schnauffer on Cold, Frosty Morning

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