Hamblen family fiddle pieces

Kerry Blech sent me a copy of this amazing collection of transcriptions. It documents the fiddle music of David Hamblen and his son Williamson. In recent times the music was studied in depth by traditional fiddler Steve Green. His research of the collection is largely responsible for some of the pieces being back in circulation among current players of traditional music.

Click on thumbnail images below to view larger images and on the evident links to hear tunes.

The collector: A.P. Hamblen

This collection was compiled by Armeanous Porter Hamblen (see photo), son of Williamson. A.P. did most of the transcribing. The first three pieces in the series were transcribed by another family member, John Marshall Gillaspy (see photo). He was a bandleader and composer of music for brass bands. It appears that he was prevailed upon by A.P. to see if he remembered any of David's old fiddle pieces and that he responded by sending the three to A.P. by mail. The idea to preserve their ancestors' music seems clearly to have been A.P. Hamblen's.

A.P. Hamblen was the family historian. He published an extensive book on the history of the family. He played the fiddle himself and composed songs and tunes. One of his instrumental compositions was a tribute to his grandfather David and his music. It is included below.

A.P. was born on December 26, 1875 in Brown County, Indiana and died February 25, 1958 in Franklin, Indiana. (The details of his death information were provided by Kerry Blech.)

The fiddlers: David and Williamson Hamblen

David Hamblen was born in 1809 and Williamson in 1846. A.P. gives their biographies in his book which tell about everything one could want to know about them.

Note: It was interesting to learn that these fellows had a downstate Illinois connection. At times, David lived in Shelby Co. and Williamson in Shelby and Douglas Counties. This seems appropriate. Both of these counties border the hub of downstate Illinois traditional music, Coles County (of course.)

David Hamblen biography (from A.P. Hamblen's book)

Williamson Hamblen biography (from A.P. Hamblen's book)

Bruce Taggart

Bruce introduced me to the A.P. Hamblen book. He is a native and lifelong resident of Brown County, Indiana. The Taggarts were among the early settlers of the county. There are numerous references to them in A.P. Hamblen's book. For example, it is stated that one of David Hamblen's sons "took employment in the wagon making shop of William P. Taggart and moved to the Taggart village." And David Hamblen is himself buried in Taggart Cemetery.

Aside from being interested in local history, Bruce is a traditional fiddler and builder of fine instruments (fiddles and mandolins in particular.) As one would expect, he is interested in the musical side of the Hamblen family.

"2-point" fiddles

Bruce owns a fiddle made by Williamson Hamblen. It is one made in the curious "2-point" body style. Though disassembled as found, you can click here to view some photos of it.

I took a stab at building a couple of "2-pointers" myself. I made this one for Gena and gave it to her for Christmas. The label states it was "given to her as a reward for learning to play it," a reference to the caption for fiddle No. 6 in the image below. This one was well underway by the time the original surfaced. The only model I had was the almost side view of the one in the Hohenberger photo. Starting with that and a few fundamental measurements from a regular fiddle, I guessed its design into being. Click here to view some photos of it.

This one was copied after Bruce's original, though with liberties. The body outline and scroll are deliberate copies, but not the placement of the pegs. I copied the f-holes but put them at less of a slant than the original's. And I did not copy the abrupt arching of the front and back. Click here to view some photos of it.

2-pointers in the UK

Tim Phillips of Wales builds an amazing variety of fine violins, among them a 2-point model. Tim is surely the most imaginative builder in practice. In fact, it is noteworthy that the idea of the 2-point design came to him independently, whereas even Williamson Hamblen had a known model. Tim calls this style the "top corner" model, and it is but one of his innovative deviations from the violin building norm.

Click here to visit Tim's website and see his work.

Williamson Hamblen's fiddles

This item is from A.P. Hamblen's book. The photo shows David Hamblen's fiddle, another owned by Williamson Hamblen, and 10 fiddles built by Williamson Hamblen. The accompanying information offers incredibly insightful details on Williamson as a fiddle builder.

Bruce Taggart's original Williamson Hamblen 2-point fiddle is No. 8 in this photo.

Photos of Williamson Hamblen

This is the best-known photo of Williamson.

Note: There has been some speculation about the approximate date of this photo. It is a bit of a mystery. First of all, the photo was taken by Frank M. Hohenberger. His collection is archived at Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Click here to go to information about Frank Hohenberger.

Here are some facts:

* Frank Hohenberger was born in 1876 and it is believed that his earliest photos date from 1904.
* He was in Indianapolis until re-locating his photo studio to Nashville in Brown County in 1917.
* However, he began making trips to Brown County to take photos in 1912.
* The photo of Williamson Hamblen is said to have been taken in Brown County.

So it would seem that the photo was most likely taken sometime between 1912 and 1920 when Will Hamblen died. However...

* A.P. Hamblen states in his book that Williamson moved to Franklin, Johnson Co., Indiana in 1910 and lived out the remainder of his years there.

Here are a couple more of Williamson with his fiddle. (from A.P. Hamblen's book)

The fiddle in these images looks to be the same one in the Hohenberger photo. I thought it would be interesting to see if it could be determined which one it is in the image of the group of fiddles. The two strongest candidates are No. 4 (1887) and No. 7 (1904). I believe it is No. 7. This is assuming it is in fact present in the group photo, which I think is likely. It seems to have been his favorite one to pose with. I think he would have kept it.

Click here to see comparison

Williamson and Eunice Hamblen (from A.P. Hamblen's book)

Transcriptions collection index and introduction

These pages are at the front of the book and explain the collection.

Download the transcriptions collection

Sound files of the tunes

The tunes were entered into the notation program and synthesized sound files were generated. Below you can hear these. A few of the common pieces were not copied. Their titles are in maroon text.

I believe there are some discrepancies with the key signatures of some of the pieces. I included alternate versions for these with explanations. In these cases no notes were altered, only the key signatures.

Browser incompatibility issues

Below is an optional page you can try if you find that the sound files at this page do not play for you.

This page uses page-embedded players for the sound files. The player works in Windows, running Mozilla or IE. It is the only one I have found that does. Because the players for each of the 40 or so sound files are embedded in the HTML, the page is a bit slow in loading. But once it does, it is as fast as this page with the pop-up players.

Click here to go to this page.

If neither page works, you can right click (Windows) or Control/click (Mac) on the link to open a sound file. In the menu that appears, there is an option that begins with "copy". (e.g., "Copy link location" or "Copy shortcut") Choosing this will copy the URL of the file itself, the same as if you selected it and hit "Copy". You can then click-and-drag to select the URL in the browser's address bar (in the case of this page, where it says http://www.dearoldillinois.com/hamblen_fidtunes.html) Then replace the URL of this page by pasting in the URL of the file. Hit "Enter". This may or may not open a new window. The file should play in the default player on your computer (Windows Media Player and Quick Time are probably the likeliest on PC and Mac, respectively.)

In the same menu as the "Copy link location" option, there is usually an option for downloading the file to your computer. Downloading the files to a folder on your hard drive and playing them locally with whatever player you have may be the most convenient option if they won't play easily for you on the Web. You are, by the way, welcome to download them.


2. Three Forks of Cumberland - David Hamblen

Hear it

3. Big Tennessee - David Hamblen

Other versions are Nos. 154-6 from the Dear Old Illinois collection, as "Muddy Road to Kansas". A common and widespread tune, it has numerous other titles.

Hear it

4. Chadwell's Station - David Hamblen

Hear it

5. Lost Indian - David Hamblen

Hear it

6. Calahan - Will Hamblen

Hear it

7. Roving Sailor - Will Hamblen

This piece is written in the key of E. It is also given below in Em.

Hear it- as written in key of E

Hear it- key signature changed to G (E minor)

8. Shelbyville - Will Hamblen

Written in the key of A. Also given in A modal. Throughout this page the term "modal" is used to mean that the key signature change flats the 7th note of the major scale.

Hear it- as written in key of A

Hear it- key signature changed to D (A modal)

9. White Cockade - David Hamblen

Here A.P. Hamblen seems to have followed the "rule" heard occasionally that the final note of a piece is its key. It seems safe to say that the key signature of the transcription does not faithfully represent the source rendition. This piece is written in the key of E. As you can hear in the sound file, it is not very melodious when played as written. Changing the key signature to G yields a tuneful piece in G whose accompaniment progression spins off into Em at the end. For comparison, another such piece is hoedown No. 104 from the Dear Old Illinois collection, "Hop-Scotch Polka" (CD 2.29).

Hear it- as written in key of E

Hear it- key signature changed to G

10. The Cuckoo - Will Hamblen

This piece is pretty well known and it seems that it is always played in the mode with the flatted 7th note. It is true that the source rendition could have been as written, but I feel the evidence strongly suggests a mistaken key signature instead. It is given both ways below for comparison.

Hear it- as written in D

Hear it- key changed to G (D modal)

11. Mocking Bird

12. Unnamed - David Hamblen

Written in D. Key changed to G (D modal) and F (D minor).

Hear it- as written in key of D

Hear it- key signature changed to G (D modal)

Hear it- key signature changed to F (D minor)

13. Speckled Apron - David Hamblen

Written in A. Key changed to D (A modal).

Hear it- as written in key of A

Hear it- key signature changed to D (A modal)

14. Hankins's Raid - Will Hamblen

Hear it

15. The Spirit of David Hamblen - composed by A.P. Hamblen

Hear it

16. Unnamed - David Hamblen

Hear it

17. Turkey in the Straw

18. Sally Goodin

19. Cotton Eyed Joe

20. Unnamed - David Hamblen

Hear it

21. Mountain Hornpipe - Will Hamblen

Hear it

22. Bonaparte's March - David Hamblen

Similar to the version from Harvey Taylor in the Dear Old Illinois collection, fiddle tune No. 386 (CD 3.11)

Hear it

23. Queen of France - David Hamblen

Hear it

24. Drummer Boy of Waterloo - David Hamblen

The A part of this one seemed to be missing two notes. A phrase similar to the one suspected to be deficient appears in the B part, so I borrowed the two corresponding notes from it.

Hear it- as written

Hear it- with two borrowed notes added

25. Bonaparte's Retreat

26. Isle of St. Helena - David Hamblen

Hear it

27. Flowers of Edinburgh - David Hamblen

Hear it

28. The Campbells are Coming

29. Indian Eat the Woodchuck - David Hamblen

Hear it

30. Forked Deer - Will Hamblen

Hear it

31. Haste to the Wedding

32. Unnamed (noted as a version of "Boys of Blue Hill")

33. Girl I Left Behind Me

34. Jay Bird

35. Knock at the Door 'til the Cook Comes In - David Hamblen

Hear it

36. Cold Rain - Will Hamblen

An odd version of "Tune of a Thousand Names"

Hear it

37. Pride of America - David Hamblen

Written in A. Key signature changed to C (A minor)

Hear it- as written in A

Hear it- key signature changed to C (A minor)

37. Blue Bonnets Over the Border - David Hamblen

Hear it

38. Jolly Blacksmith - Will Hamblen

Written in the key of A. Given below in A and in A modal (key signature changed to D.) The modal version bears similarity to hoedown No. 178 from the Dear Old Illinois collection, "Old Mother Flannigan" (CD 3.2).

Hear it- as written in A

Hear it- key signature changed to D (A modal)