George Booker

by

Josh and Henry Reed

edited from http://www.ibiblio.org and http://www.totfa.org

Alan Jabbour says the tune is a derivation of a Scottish strathspey called “Marquis of Huntly’s Farewell (The),” composed by the great strathspey composer William Marshall and appearing in his Collection of Strathspey Reels (c. 1781). The high part of this tune “is almost certainly a hornpipe,” states Miles Krassen (1973) in another opinion, “but the low part is not. (West Virginia fiddler) Henry Reed played a version with a low part that is much more characteristic of hornpipes.” Jabbour remarks that “George Booker” is “one of the classics of what Henry Reed called the ‘old East Virginia’ repertory.

The melody first appears under the “Booker” title in George P. Knauff’s Virginia Reels, volume III (Baltimore, 1839), apparently in honor of a Revolutionary War leader and local hero from Virginia (according to Jabbour). Bruce Green thinks this tune may have been brought to the southern Kentucky region by a fiddler named John Gregory, originally from Virginia (in connection with similar Kentucky melodies, see Ed Haley’s “Grey Eagle Jig“).

The tune was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph in the early 1940’s from Ozark Mountain fiddlers (including Lon Jordan in 1941).  Alan Jabbour believes “George Booker” is similar to “Camp Chase” and speculates that the former may have been the tune originally played in the Civil War prison camp which gave West Virginia fiddler Solly Carpenter his freedom.

Also, there is the story about a fiddler, George Booker, and a tune entitled “George Booker,” that is occasionally performed by Texas fiddlers. George Booker was a well-known fiddler from Nacogdoches who was being held in jail there for murder. On the day before he was to be executed, he talked the sheriff into allowing him to play for a dance the night before with the sheriff as a chaperone. Booker performed well probably knowing this would his last time to play in the area. About three o’clock in the morning, Booker went out on the porch for some air and that was the last anyone had ever seen of him. The last tune he played at the dance was one of his favorites, “Fine Times at Our House,” is now performed as “George Booker.” This is a story that is told by J. B. Cranfill, (1858-1942) originally from Parker County who was a popular fiddler in the Dallas area.

The Highwoods Stringband plays “George Booker”:

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