A happy Banjo Friday everybody! Hope you’re ready for a great old-time banjo tune, because that’s just what we have for you today.
Although this version of “Darling Corey” by Roscoe Holcomb dates back to a recording made in the 1960s during the folk revival, the song itself is old, as is the style in which Holcomb plays it. The first recordings of “Darling Corey” date back to 1927, when Buell Kazee & B.F. Shelton each sang it with banjo accompaniment. Kazee played the song in his usual banjo frailing style, but Shelton played the banjo two-finger style with the thumb taking the lead in the same way as Roscoe Holcomb. Two-finger, by the way, refers to the fact that the player only uses his/her right-hand thumb & index finger; three-finger playing (as performed by bluegrass banjoists & in different ways by old-timers like Dock Boggs & Charlie Poole) adds the middle finger as well.
I don’t know what specific tuning Holcomb is using in this recording, tho the key center appears to be E flat. Given that fact, I’d assume Holcomb is using some form of D-tuning with a capo on the first fret, but that’s just a guess. Shelton used an unusual variant of the “double C” tuning, which finds the banjo tuned gCGCC; these days you often see it tabbed in either double C tuning (gCGCD) or “Mountain Minor” (gDGCD); in the latter case the song is played either in G or capoed up to A. Pete Seeger played “Darling Corey” in “Graveyard tuning, which is a form of open D: f#DF#AD.
There are definite hints of Dock Boggs in Holcomb’s version—as Holcomb sings it, the song shares some lyrics both with “Country Blues” & “Danville Girl.” Some have also suggested a connection with both “Little Maggie” & “East Virginia.”
Hope you enjoy this wonderfully dark old-time tune.