Friday, March 16, 2012

“Soldier’s Joy”

Happy Friday! After a couple of excursions into the outer reaches of the banjo world, we’re about as traditional as can be this week—the only concession to my quirky tastes is that this old-time standard is being played two-finger style rather than the more common old-time clawhammer playing style.

As was the case when I used a video to illustrate my post about the two-finger style, the player is Richard Hood, who plays in The Bristol Brothers, & in also an accomplished fingerstyle guitarist.

But rather than going over old ground, I just want to note that “Soldier’s Joy is a venerable piece of music, both as an instrumental dance tune & as a vocal song. It was famously recorded as a vocal by Riley Puckett with Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers for Columbia in 1929. This version was a wild romp, with the concluding verse running as follows:

25 cents for the morphine, 15 cents for beer
25 cents for the morphine, they’re gonna drag me away from here.

“Soldier’s Joy” has remained a staple in old-time circles, & has crossed over to Bluegrass as well. But the tune itself is old, with British Isles origins; a hornpipe with antecedents in both Scotland & Ireland. Sheet music to the tune exists from the eighteenth century, & there are a number of variations that share parts of the lyrics & the tune, including “Hog-Eye Man” & “Love Somebody, Yes I Do.”

Given "Soldier's Joy" popularity as an instrumental tune, there are countless arrangements for all the instruments typically found in old-time music settings: fiddles, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers, & guitars. The image at the top of the page gives hammer dulcimer tab above the standard notation. “Soldier’s Joy” is invariably played in the key of D.

But mostly, it’s a song to be enjoyed, & Mr Hood does a wonderful job on a vintage short-scale fretless banjo!


  1. Nice! I play that one on mountain dulcimer and it sounds much like this version. My favorite version, though, is John McEuen and Earl Scruggs (with John playing Uncle Dave Mason's banjo) on the original Will the Circle Be Unbroken album.

  2. Yes, I remember that version--it is indeed very good! It sounds great on the dulcimer too, I've heard that as well. Thanks!


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