The tune “Spanish Flang Dang” or “Spanish Fandango” was a popular instrumental piece in the late 19th & early 20th century. As I understand it, the piece derived originally from a guitar instruction book in which it was given as an example of playing in “Spanish” tuning. For those of you who aren’t up on the complexities of guitar tunings, “Spanish tuning” is another term of open G tuning, which simply means that the guitar is tuned so that all six strings, if played unfretted, sound a G major chord. The standard tuning for a guitar (from bass string to treble string) is EADGBE, while the open G tuning lowers a few notes as follows: DGDGBD.
Many old time pickers had a version of “Spanish Fandango” in their repertoire, but my arrangement is based on Elizabeth Cotten’s. Cotten’s version of the tune (“Spanish Flang Dang” as she called it) is unusual in that it’s a waltz—this tune typically was played in 4/4 time.
Now Cotten played both guitar & banjo, but she played this song on the guitar—in fact most people do, & I myself have played it on the guitar quite a lot—after all, it got its start as a piece written for guitar. Why did I choose to record it on the banjo?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been thinking about adding some instrumental pieces to my performance repertoire, & when this idea first occurred to me, I immediately started making a list of instrumentals I already knew, as they’d be the easiest to get into performance shape. “Spanish Flang Dang” was high on the list. But as I sat in the music room the first day of practicing these pieces, I realized the guitar I liked to play in open G tuning needed to be re-strung & I wasn’t in the mood for that. & I didn’t feel like re-tuning another.
Laziness was the mother-of-invention, because there was a banjo in a stand right next to me. Those of you who know the banjo know that open G is the most common banjo tuning—so here was an instrument in open G right at my fingertips. True, it only had 5 strings instead of 6, & one of the 5 is a high-pitched drone—but why not try it?
I did, & it was great fun to play. I liked the way it sounded; Eberle did too. So today’s recording is yours truly playing Spanish Flang Dang on our 1930s Windsor banjo. Hope you enjoy it!