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Pepper's Ghost
& other banjo visitations

liner notes, as published with CD
by Joel Mabus


Page 2 notes:

Let’s do the numbers: I started on the five-string banjo when I was in fifth grade. It’s been my haunt now for 50 years. (Maybe that makes me the ghost – or poltergeist – in the machine?) In 35 years of recording, and over 20 albums, this is my third project wholly devoted to banjo. So here with 13 banjo numbers – “a devil’s dozen” – is my latest visitation.

Conceived, performed & produced by Joel Mabus for Fossil Records
Recorded, mixed & mastered by John Stites for Arcadia Recording
Banjo built by Bart Reiter: his Round Peak model.
©(P) 2013 Joel Mabus - All Rights Reserved

Page 5 notes:

Sometimes, during an especially “spirited” jam session, playing some snaky old fiddle tune over and over for the umpteenth time, I get the uncanny feeling that long-dead musicians who once rendered the tune are catching a ride on my fingers. Now, I don’t believe in ghosts – especially not the Banquo or Jacob Marley kind. But sometimes the departed do insist on visiting. Often the mere fragrance of pipe tobacco or fresh-baked pie can conjure an old uncle or grandmother. Rational people might chalk that up to “sense memory” or vivid imagination. Philosophers would toss in Zeitgeist or Weltanschauung, or some other big German word. I say tap out the ashes, slice up the pie and play another tune. And if somebody on the other side wants to listen in, by Jinx, let ‘em listen! 

-- Joel Mabus

Page 3&4: track notes:

1.   Pepper’s Ghost (2:32) is a new tune named for an old-time stage illusion still used today. With a hidden room and an angled pane of glass, things appear or disappear as lighting is manipulated.  “Professor” John Pepper of London first used the trick in 1862, to create a ghost in a Dickens Christmas play.  It seemed a good title for this reflective tune.  Music by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

2.   Panhandle Prairie (5:08) paints a spectral encounter in the midst of the great dust bowl.  I borrowed some traditional elements here, but my unfortunate rake is a little more ghastly than most.  Music & lyrics by Joel Mabus ©2013, Fingerboard Music, BMI

3.   Dogs on the Davenport (2:02) is a rambunctious thing I made up on the banjo – a lot like a dozen similar “mountain minor” tunes.  But still there’s a difference: in mine you hear the dogs bark.  Music by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

4.   By the Waters of Minnetonka (3:05) is by Thurlow Lieurance, a classical composer in the romantic “Indianist” movement. In 1911 he took an Edison cylinder device to the Crow reservation in Montana to record Sitting Eagle, who sang this song of star-crossed lovers.  Lieurance arranged the primeval tune applying principles of Western music; his 1913 setting was hugely popular in its day, a gem beside the many faux “Indian Maid” songs from Tin Pan Alley. Public domain, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

5.   Leather Wing Bat (3:15) is the folksong we’ve known forever.  Except here, only the first verse is traditional.  I wrote the rest for other “children of the night.” Traditional, w/ new lyrics & arrangement by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

6.   Billy in the Low Ground (2:32) was a favorite of my great uncle, Oliver Wendell Lee – farmer, fiddler, and prairie sage.  (I can remember him fiddling this tune with a pen knife wrapped around the bridge for a mute!)  Some say the title refers to the lowlands’ King Billy – or just some poor hillbilly laid low.  Traditional, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

7.   Joke on the Puppy (2:28) a.k.a. Rye Straw.  Also cousin to Forked Deer and other titles. I’ve heard lots of vague and crooked versions of this 3-part tune, but I prefer mine firmly squared. Traditional, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

8.   Two Little Sisters (5:44) is my retelling of an ancient folk tale known world-wide, sometimes as The Singing Bone, or as The Two Sisters – the definitive musical ghost story.  Music & lyrics by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

9.   The Bunch of Roses (3:24) This march is one of the lesser known tunes that some call Bonaparte’s Retreat.  In ballad form it’s sung as The Bonny Bunch of Roses – wherein young Napoleon II and his mother bemoan his father’s failure to pluck for them “the bonny bunch of roses” (i.e. the British Isles ). Traditional, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI  

10. Three Thin Dimes (2:15) A bunch of us learned “dimes” about 40 years ago from The Hutchison Brothers, a hot bluegrass band from Barnesville , Ohio .  “Lost” John told me they got this roaring 3-part fiddle tune from their daddy, “Seed” Hutchison. Traditional, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

11. When They Ring the Golden Bells (7:19) was in our church hymnal when I was young, but we never sang it there.  Perhaps because the lyrics didn’t mention Jesus? Written in 1887 by the remarkable Dion De Marbelle. Public domain, arranged w/ additional material by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

12. American Patrol (3:34) was an instant hit for F.W. Meacham in 1885.  A “patrol” was a popular fad back then for piano recitals – an ordered medley of marches imitating a brass band on parade.  Adopted early on by actual marching bands, it was a standard long before Glen Miller’s 1942 foxtrot version.  Public domain, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

13. Fire on the Mountain (1:32) Most fiddlers like to burn this one down, lickety-split from top to bottom.  I prefer to let it smolder first. Traditional, arranged by Joel Mabus ©2013 Fingerboard Music, BMI

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