John Dilleshaw’s “Spanish Fandango”: Southern Marvel #4

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John Dilleshaw (left)

John Dilleshaw and The String Marvel play “Spanish Fandango.”

Recorded March 22, 1929, Atlanta, GA.

Thanks to Jas Obrecht for permission to share his research on “Spanish Fandango,” excerpted below from his wonderful site http://jasobrecht.com

In times before radio, records, and electric lights, people often played music to amuse themselves after dinner and at social gatherings. “Parlor guitar,” a favorite European musical fare during the late 1700s, caught on in America. Played with bare fingers on small-bodied instruments, parlor guitar became immensely popular, as evidenced by the stacks of musical scores published during the 1800s.

Many of these compositions called for the guitar strings to be tuned to an open chord. The most common of these tunings, open C (with the strings tuned C, G, C, G, C, and E, low to high) and open D (D, A, D, F#, A, D), clearly had European origins. The origins of open G, a favorite banjo tuning, are more difficult to trace. Two parlor compositions in particular would play a crucial role in the development of the blues.

Our journey begins with Henry Worrall. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1825, Worrall moved to the United States in 1835 and eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. For a while he worked as a glasscutter’s apprentice, but his passion was guitar music. A skilled performer and composer, he became a music professor at the Ohio Female College. One of his prize guitar students, Mary Elizabeth Harvey, became his playing partner and wife. In 1856, he completed Worrall’s Guitar School, or The Eclectic Guitar Instructor, which remained in print through the 1880s.

On June 29, 1860, Worrall walked into the Clerk’s Office of the Southern District Court of Ohio and filed copyrights for two instrumental guitar songs. “Worrall’s Original Spanish Fandango” called for the guitar strings to be tuned to an open-G chord (D, G, D, G, B, D, from low to high), with the explanation that the music was to be read as if the guitar were in standard tuning. Some of the song’s flourishes sounded like watered-down versions of earlier nineteenth-century European music. Its little alle vivace finale, for instance, could have worked as a Rossini opera coda. But with its lilting melody and easy chord changes, this song is clearly the direct ancestor of one of the most common blues strains.

Two words stand out in Worrall’s title. “Fandango,” thought to be of African origin, first appeared in the English language in the 1760s, used to describe a “native ball,” or dance. Then the term was applied to a lively 3/4 time dance that originated among Spanish-speaking people. An April 1796 playbill for New York’s John Street Theatre, for instance, advertised a “Spanish Fandango” between the play and the afterpiece, listing four dancers and five singers who did not appear in the play. Eventually the word was used to describe the music itself.

A prime example of an early recording of “Spanish Fandango” is John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel’s 1929 version  Dilleshaw, a 6’7” giant of a man, had learned the song while growing up in north Georgia’s rural hill country. On the recording, one guitarist fingerpicks leads in open G while the other flatpicks basic accompaniment. The musicians have changed Worrall’s sedate 6/8 to a more swinging 2/4 and added alternating bass and bluesy bends, but the final chorus’ droning bass recalls the feel of older parlor guitar pieces.

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One Response to “John Dilleshaw’s “Spanish Fandango”: Southern Marvel #4”

  1. Ron & Donna/Mignarda Says:

    It’s nice to come across this post while I was looking for Worrall’s original sheet music for Spanish Fandango. Tony Russell speculates that the String Marvel might have been Pink Lindsay.

    RA

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