Ye Olde Compact Discs

2006. Down the Road I'll Go


Curt Bouterse is a traditional American folksinger and one of the great old-time fretless banjo pickers. He was born in rural Kentucky, but has lived most of his life in urban Southern California. He sings the songs of his mother’s East Tennessee traditions, as well as many newly-made, original “old time” tunes. Both Guy Carawan and George Winston credit Bouterse as a musical influence. He has shared the stage with Doc Watson, Jean Ritchie, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, even appearing on the sound track of Ry Cooder’s ‘The Long Riders.” Yet he has never made a solo recording–until now. “Down the Road I’ll Go” features remarkable performances on fretless banjos, gourd banjers, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, and autoharp, as well as three stunning duets with his sister, Lee Davis. And don’t miss his amazing medley of “Angelina Baker/Sally Goodin'” played on the Thai mouth organ! Bouterse, who holds a PhD in ethnomusicology, doesn’t even own a fretted banjo, preferring fretless banjos in the style of the 19th century. Some of his banjos are early factory-made types, others were made by 20th century Appalachian builders such as Leonard Glenn and Frank Proffitt, and some he has made himself.


“Picking of a cleanness I’ll never be able to achieve, excellent singing, and superlative material choice.” –Big Jim Griffith, folklorist, Tucson, AZ

“Congratulations!” –Jean Ritchie

“Pure old-time music played for the joy of it.” –Holly Tannen, Mistress of Folklore


A review by San Diego’s own Folk Guru and Festival Founder, Lou Curtiss.

I’ve known Curtis Carlisle Bouterse since about 1963 when we revived an on-campus club at San Diego State together called the Campus Organized Folksingers and Folksong Society (the group had actually been founded the summer before by folksinger Michael Cooney, so he’d have an on-campus forum to have Sam Hinton perform in concert). The idea Curt and I had, together with some other folksingers on campus, was to provide information about folk happenings and to organize a few picking sessions. Our Thursday old time pick sessions at noon in the Rose Arbor behind Scripps Cottage (in its old location up the hill from where it is now) most always featured Curt with the many instruments he played (autoharp, hammered dulcimer, and old time banjos – I think he was playing a fretless banjo even then), along with so many others like Dennis Squier, Wayne and Warren Stromberg, Clarke Powell, Nicolette Axton (now Birkett), Corkey Woerner, Ray Bierl, and even yours truly with my Hohner Marine Band harmonica. It was always Curt, however, who led the way with ideas, new (old) songs, and things we should be listening to. When we heard about the 1963 UCLA Folk Festival it was Curt who thought a bunch of us should go, and we did (in 1964 and 1965 too). Talking about a San Diego Folk Festival led to the first one in 1967. Curt was emcee and performer at that one and he’s been a part of every other one along the way, including last year’s 33rd Annual Adams Avenue Roots Festival. Curt finally has a CD that includes material from at least a part of his old time music repertoire. It’s called Curt Bouterse Down the Road I’ll Go (Fretless Old Time Music) and it centers around the old time fretless banjo music and songs that Curt has been singing at folk and roots festivals, concerts, and coffee houses in the area for as long as I’ve known him. The CD is on Eagles Whistle Music, which is part of Dancing Cat Productions (P.O. Box 951, Drain,OR 97435). The fretless banjo or banjer, as Curt and the folks who invented it call it, was the first instrument I heard Curt play. He had built his own right around the time I met him. About that same time he had acquired a yang chin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) and a little later a Frank Proffit-built fretless banjo. Back then you could check out an autoharp from the property room at SDSU for the afternoon if you were a student (as I did in many a case), but it seems to me that Curt had an arsenal of autoharps even then, including one of the little four-bar Zimmerman from the 1800s. He also built an Appalachian dulcimer during those early years. It was an exciting time in the early and mid-1960s. Lots of old timers were being discovered and rediscovered and on any weekend you might see such folks as Mississippi John Hurt, Clarence Ashley, Rev. Gary Davis, Roscoe Holcomb, the Stanley Brothers, Elizabeth Cotton, Almeda Riddle, Son House, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Hobart Smith, J.E. Mainers Mountaineers, the Blue Sky Boys, Frank Proffit, and Furry Lewis either in San Diego or in L.A.,along with revivalists like the New Lost City Ramblers to sort of set everything in perspective. That’s also what Curt Bouterse was all about (and still is). If you had a question about a traditional song, Curt could usually answer it. He probably doesn’t know this but when I started putting the folk festivals together, I knew I was going in the right direction when I had his approval (along with Sam Hinton, Stu Jamieson, my parents, and, later, Johnny Walker). Curt, for example, came back to San Diego after seeing Roscoe Holcomb,or maybe it was because he’d just seen The High Lonesome Sound, a film thatJohn Cohen put together (now available on video). He told us that this was someone worth hearing and that we ought to all go out and get the LP Mountain Music of Kentucky on the Folkways label, which about five or six of us did that I know about. That record and its CD reissue (with added tracks) is still in my collection. Curt never turned me on to a type of music that I was sorry about (I confess to only a passing interest in Gamelan) although I sure think any kind of ethnic music should be listened to, preserved, and known about. Now let’s move on to what’s on Curt’s CD, which features a number of instrumentals played on various kinds of banjers, hammered dulcimer, and at least one on the Khaen, a six-pipe pentatonic mouth organ from Thailand on which he plays ‘Angelina Baker’ and ‘Sally Goodin,’ naturally. There are some ballads and folk songs sung solo and in duet with his sister Lee, played on autoharp,Appalachian dulcimer, and various banjers, including ‘Turkish Enemy,’ Pretty Polly,’ ‘Your Long Journey,’ ‘Two Little Children,’ and others. This is a fine and long overdue CD from an artist who ought to be a lot better known in folk life circles. I hope he doesn’t wait too long for the next one. The CD also includes excellent notes about Curt and about the songs, but I could have told him he got ‘Temperance Reel’ from a hammered dulcimer player named Chet Parker off a Vanguard Newport Folk Festival LP (or maybe from a Chet Parker LP on Folkways, but I’d guess it was the former since I remember playing the Newport LP for Curt). At any rate, check out the fine cover photo by Virginia Curtiss (available at reasonable rates to do your CD cover photo) and most of all checkout the music. You won’t be sorry.

Notes for the album.

1. Old Time Religion. (Curt Bouterse) Peace Medal gourd banjer, 2003. Nylon, d-G-D-G-A. As a singer of folksongs and a student of the oral process, I often wonder why some songs succeed and others don’t, why some retain their structure and others adapt to their environment. Everybody knows the old spiritual; I’ve sung it all my life. With its simple format and substitutions of “the Hebrew children,” “Paul and Silas,” it is easy to sing and can go on forever. But, as a preacher’s kid, each different subject evoked the more complex story, and I wondered what would happen if the allusions were made more evident. One day, as I played the tune on the banjer, I created a “B” strain and the words “came tumbling down.” The Bible-story verses could be continued indefinitely. The last two, New Testament, verses are pre-existing, floating quatrains from the shape-note tradition.


2. Two Little Children. (Homer Franklin Morris) This is one of the songs my sister and I grew up singing with my mother. My parents used to sing it together as did my father’s parents, who had a gospel program on a radio station in Orlando all through the 1930s. It’s clearly in the family of sentimental dying-orphan songs so popular in the late Nineteenth, early Twentieth Century. Only after looking it up on the Web did I realize it had been written by a music publisher from Georgia and recorded by Kelly Harrell and the Virginia String Band in 1927. Interestingly, though there are two children in the song, we always sang, “row me over the tide.”

3. Handsome Molly. (Traditional) Notched gourd banjer, 2003. Nylon, f-A#-F-A#-A#. I’ve sung this for over forty years in the style of a fiddle-accompanied song, with voice alternating with instrument so, perhaps, I learned it from Mike Seeger. But since I never have been able to stand my fiddling, I’ve used my Thai mouth organ instead. Only recently have I begun playing this on the banjer. I was shocked, some ten years or so ago, to hear Mick Jagger (!) sing a version on the (FM) radio. It was clearly a vintage recording but I had never heard this last verse. While researching the verse on the internet, all the versions seemed rather fragmentary or misunderstood, so I worked it over. I’ve always sung the tag at the very end but only recently realized it actually is from a version of “The House Carpenter,” which I don’t even sing.



4. Temperance Reel, or The Teetotaler’s Fancy. (Traditional) This tune is a result of Stu Jamieson’s urging me, in the early 1960s, to expand my reportory of (mostly slow) hammered dulcimer tunes. He suggested “Haste to the Wedding,” “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” and several others, of which, only this one I could play. I used to begin my busking sessions in Balboa Park with this piece: by the end of it I was guaranteed 30 people standing around, asking, “What is it?”

5. I’m Not Ready/Nicolette. (Curt Bouterse) Octagonal box banjer, 1963/1976. Steel, f#-B-F#-B-D#. Both these songs are from my book, “Nixon’s Farewell.” Since they are both in open C tuning and “Nicolette” only has one verse, I have played them together almost from the beginning. The opening lines came to me in one thought but it took weeks of wrestling before I came up with a workable rhyme for “married.”
This box banjer utilizes the walnut neck of the first instrument I made. For ten years it was on a bird’s-eye maple banjo-mandolin pot, then, for the US bicentennial, I built the octagonal, all wood, box–also bird’s-eye maple–to fit inside an old wooden fiddle case.



6. Scoldin’ Wife. (Traditional) I learned this song from Holly Tannen, Mistress of Folklore, in the late 1960s, as is. I must admit to using her Feminist cover as justification for singing it but it is so far “over the top” in its imagery I don’t think many take it seriously. I haven’t heard anyone else sing this so don’t know her source. Interestingly, it gets the biggest response from school-age audiences, including college. The verses themselves seem to be floating, occurring in different songs by Fiddling John Carson, Uncle Dave Macon, and others. Curiously, the phrase “If I had a scolding wife,” appears in conversation, in a play by Mercy Otis Warren, “The Blockheads,” 1776. [Thanks to Google.]

7. The Ways of the World. (Traditonal) Leonard Glenn banjer, 1973. Steel, f-A#-F-A#-C. This tune was learned from the Library of Congress recordings of Luther Strong, one of my favorite fiddlers. There is a high, third strain which I occasionally play but loses much in translation from the fiddle. I had long played this on the hammered dulcimer but now prefer the banjer version but in order to play the syncopations in the ending phrases I have to hammer-on and pick-off quite a bit. This led me to work the whole tune out in a sort of left-hand pizzicato, which I play here the second and third times through the melody. I haven’t heard any traditional banjer players use this technique but it’s not unheard of with other long-neck lutes of the world. This is another of the fiddle tunes which seem to me to imply the title words in the rhythm of the melody, as in the last three notes of “Sol-dier’s Joy.” I imagine I can hear “(and be-ware) the Ways-of the-World.”



8. Cold Winter’s Night. (Arranged & adapted by Curt Bouterse) In the 1960s I heard (and taped) a selection of songs of California migrant workers, collected by Sam Eskin, that were played on KPFK in Los Angeles. One of them was called “Cold Winter’s Night.” It had various floating verses, a chorus, “So fare ye well, my own true love,” and I still sing it. But about twenty years ago I reworked the verses and set them to one of my favorite melodies from the Sacred Harp, “Tribulation,” which only had one verse, about Death. I used a technique of Almeda Riddle’s, of varying the last line of a verse when repeated. I really liked the idea, and since most of these verses already had varied forms, it seemed inevitable. The spoken last few words were inspired by Stu Jamieson, who reminded me of this Scotch-Irish tradition.
There is another traditional version of this song, by Mrs. Goldie Hamilton, “Sweet Wine,” recorded by the Library of Congress in Virginia, in 1939, on New World 80549, “On My Journey Home.”

9. Yankee Doodle. (Arranged & adapted by Curt Bouterse) Wm. S. Mount (1856) banjer,1983. Nylgut, e-A-E-A-B. Everyone knows this song, or at least the chorus. I’ve always been curious why it seemed frozen in time: it appears in the “Revolutionary War” section of folksong collections but I’ve never heard any traditional musician sing or play it. Perhaps it’s the unabashedly Patriotic, and slightly Literary, verses. I tried to reinvent it as it might have become if “Colonel Gooding” had become “Sally Goodin.” And the chorus seemed to need to end with its stronger half instead of the weaker. Yankee Doodle rides again!



10. Seneca Square Dance. (Traditional) Around 1970 my friend, Bob Webb, owned a coffee house in Mission Beach, in San Diego, where a fellow named Tom Waits was the doorman. I didn’t hang around just for the waitresses, I played there regularly. I learned this tune from the Highwoods String Band and ten years later, when Ry Cooder asked me to play on the soundtrack of “The Long Riders,” this was the first tune he suggested.

11. I’m So Glad (My Troubles Don’t Last Always). (Traditional) Horsehead gourd banjer, 2004. Nylon, d-G-D-G-A. In the early 1960s, “The Sign of the Sun” Bookstore, near San Diego State College, used to have concerts of traditional musicians, including Son House, Bukka White, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and Mance Lipscomb. I believe it was from Mance that I learned this song. Only recently have I begun to play it on the banjer.



12. Your Long Journey. (Doc and Rosalee Watson) Another coffee house which flourished in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, was “In the Alley,” run by Rich Copeland in Escondido, just north of San Diego. My favorite time there was when I opened for Doc Watson for four days, two shows a night. I decided I was going to do all different songs, which meant 70 or 80 tunes, so I enlisted the aid of all my friends. In particular, my dear friend Carol McComb and I played guitar and autoharp on Carter Family songs, and this Doc and Rosalee Watson stunner, which we called, at the time, “Your Lone Journey.” Doc was very complimentary, but at the end said, “You know, it really is Your Long Journey.” Either way, it is a week I will never forget. In this version I return to my roots to sing with my sister.

13. Pretty Polly. (Traditional) Cherry, Shaker box banjer, 1984. Gut, d-A-D-G-A. Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the haunting sounds of Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, Hobart Smith, and Roscoe Holcomb. I have no idea how many versions I’ve heard of this song but I was particularly attracted to the strange contrast of the first-person opening verses and the rest of the third-person narrative.



14. Shortnin’ Bread. (Arranged & adapted by Curt Bouterse) Hawk head gourd banjer,2004. Nylgut, c-C-G-C. Another song I’ve sung since childhood morphed (back) into a banjer tune. I shaped up a few more verses and produced more of a narrative. Playing this melody on a four-string (3+1) banjer creates syncopations, often on the chanterelle, that show up better with fewer pitches. The vocal refrain seemed redundant in this version.



15. Turkish Enemy. (Traditional) This version of the ancient ballad is from Stu Jamieson. The story plunges right into the action with no preliminaries. Stu always played it on fretless banjo with the striking double upward slides after “in the lowdown,” suggesting the line “lowland low” of other versions. He learned it from Jimmy Dalton of Big Stone Gap, Kentucky, the first man in his Army unit killed after they went into Normandy. The song itself, and its stinging anti-war sentiments, still has the power to move me, but our family’s personal history makes it even more powerful. My father’s first ship after he became a chaplain at the beginning of the war was the USS Astoria, a heavy cruiser, which was sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in 1942, the worst American naval defeat of the war. Three other cruisers, two American, one Australian, were destroyed in that same night off Guadalcanal, ending up on what became known as Iron Bottom Sound. If my father had been among the half of the crew which did not survive, my sister (born two months later) and I would have had a very different life. My father, though only slightly wounded, was never very far from that day for the rest of his life and I can’t sing this song very often.

16. Down the Road I’ll Go. (Curt Bouterse) Singer gourd banjer, 2003. Nylgut, d#-D#-A#-C#. Uncle Dave Macon has always been one of my favorite performers and I like many of his songs, though most don’t fit my style. I’ve always been fond of the line, “I’ll rise when the rooster crows,” so I worked it into a banjer tune I came up with. The verses also came out being rather rooster-ish, though the title ended up more conventional.



17. Parting Friends. (Traditional) This fine old hymn is from the “Southern Harmony” by William Walker, first published in 1835. It is clearly related to, or perhaps the source of, “Wayfaring Stranger,” which was collected as a fragment by John Jacob Niles, in Kentucky. I also play the melody, along with “The Promised Land,” as a medley on the mountain dulcimer. I worked out this duet years ago so Lee and I could sing it by ourselves, though she sang it as a solo (then Lee Berg) on the classic “Mud Acres” recording. Here she takes the melody while I sing a reduction of the two other harmony parts. No one had a dry eye when we sang this five years ago at our mother’s funeral.

18. Angelina Baker/Sally Goodin. (Traditional.) This is my tribute to Eck Robertson, the great Texas fiddler, who made one of the first recordings of folk music back in 1922. His version of “Sally Goodin” is an all-time classic and my rejoinder when classical violinist friends condescended over “fiddlers.” One hearing shut them up. His endless variations have been an inspiration for both my hammered dulcimer and banjer playing. They are without peer but, as Browning said, “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”
When I was stationed in Amarillo in the mid-1960s I used to go by Eck’s house and listen to him talk. Once I brought my little fretless banjer and he began to pick “Rovin’ Gambler.” He said the banjer was his first instrument but his brother wanted to play so he switched to fiddle.
I learned “Angelina Baker” from a West coast band who used the Kenny Hall words: i.e., the title repeated four times. I am amused by that anarchic quality but have pulled up 2 traditional verses here.
I play a small pentatonic mouth organ (G-A-c-d-e-g) which my friend, Noel Montrucchio, brought back for me from R&R in Thailand, in the 1960s. I have several other, larger versions, but this is the only one I can keep working. I often joke this instrument is from the southern mountains, just not Our southern mountains. And this is the sort of music we would play on it if we had the chance.

2008. Waiting For Nancy


This long-awaited album brings together two friends who have played old-time music together for 40 years. Curt Bouterse and Bob Webb helped to perpetuate traditional American folk music on the U.S. west coast, beginning in the 1960s. Curt’s name is legendary, for introducing American fiddle tunes on the hammered dulcimer. He has inspired two generations to learn to play that instrument, and he was also an early exponent of both the Southern mountains fretless ‘banjer’ and the Carter-style autoharp. Bob has taken traditional Southern music, and the songs and shanties of deepwater sailors, to such diverse places as Poland and New Zealand. He is well-known in Europe and the U.S. as a baritone singer, who accompanies himself on the rare MacCann-duet concertina, five-string banjo and guitar. This wide-ranging CD features both artists together, and separately, playing their own accompaniments on a wide variety of instruments.

Waiting for Nancy:
Old-Time Country Duets.
Curt Bouterse and Bob Webb

  Curt Bouterse and Bob Webb met in 1968. Both started out as musicians in the West Coast folk revival, but their diverse musical interests, and Bob’s eventual move East, resulted in their musical partnership being only a sometime thing. “Diverse” is almost too pale a word for the paths each has taken. Curt formed a medieval music ensemble, traveled to Bali to explore musical traditions there, and got a doctorate in world music. Bob went on the road as Tom Waits’ bassist, managed a string band in Los Angeles, and after moving to Massachusetts developed a seminal banjo exhibition for the MIT Museum.
  The most interesting of the instrumentals are the banjo duets. “Waiting for Nancy” and “Bear’s Leaving Town” (both written by Curt in 1978) are exciting listening. Two banjos back up Curt’s rendition of “Sweet Sunny South,” a perfect setting for Charlie Poole’s wistful song. The last track, a “Reuben’s Train”-esque version of “Nine Hundred Miles,” features both Curt and Bob singing, both playing Curt’s gourd banjos. This would be a really stunning finish to the album if it wasn’t a whopping seven and a half minutes long. The singing doesn’t start until five minutes or so into the track. There’s a saying I’ve seen on hats and T-shirts: “Old-Time Music – better than it sounds.” I believe this track to be a perfect example of that phenomenon. It must have been fun to play; Curt mentions in the liner notes that they played the tune for 20 minutes, probably inducing the tune trance that’s such a great feature of playing old-time tunes. Sometimes it doesn’t translate to listening, though.
  The more familiar tunes “Seneca Square Dance” and “Mississippi Sawyers” are played as banjo/hammered dulcimer duets. These are less successful. The instruments are playing in the same pitch range for the most part and the dulcimer‘s sustain gives a muddy feeling to the mix, covering the banjo’s quicker attack and decay.
  Some songs on this CD will be familiar to listeners. Others are less well known, of greater antiquity, with interesting arrangements. I found a couple of things distracting, though. Most of the vocals are way in front of the instruments, giving an auditory picture of voices a few inches away from your ears while the instruments are several feet away. The vocal harmonies, though precisely worked out in terms of pitch, don’t always match the phrasing of the lead vocals.
  Special mention needs to be made of “Texas Rangers.: I remember listening to the New Lost City Ramblers’ version; the liner notes also cite Ian and Sylvia as a source. I have seldom had such vivid pictures in my mind from hearing a song as I had from listening to Bob and Curt’s arrangement, Curt freely echoing Bob’s meditative vocal phrases on the hammered dulcimer. This form of emotional punctuation is common in Indian classical and ghazal singing, which translates to this song with an eerie effectiveness.
  Among the less-well-known songs are “A Long Time Ago,” a humorous capstan shanty with concertina accompaniment, “Ticklish Reuben,” an early-twentieth-century novelty “laughing” song, and “I Only Want a Buddy (Not a Sweetheart),” widely popular in the 1930s, recorded by Bradley Kincaid and Bing Crosby, among others.
  The liner notes are a delight. Scholarly background information, instrument details, and general musings are imparted with a light touch and a solid sense of humor.

  Hilary Dirlam

Old-Time Herald, October-November 2008

2010. Banjer On My Knee

This album is dedicated to my two traditional music fathers and gurus, now both departed, Stu Jamieson and Sam Hinton. Even more than my first two efforts, it is a tribute to the folk process and my small part in it. In the world of traditional music it is not just a poetic truth that “no man is an island.” The creation, shaping, and ultimate acceptance of any tune is the responsibility of families, villages, and nations of listeners and performers. This is a collection of favorite songs transmitted and inspired by some of the wonderful people I have met over the past half century. Many of them were learned in oral fashion from these great singers and players while others were created “under the influence.” In all cases I owe a great debt to them and hope my efforts help keep both their memories and the traditions of these songs alive. 

 Once again I am joined by my sister and favorite singing partner, L. Lee Davis. I am also proud to be able to work with my old friend, Ray Bierl, who has become a fantastic fiddler since I first knew him some 50 years ago, along with the fine guitarist, all-around nice guy, and best traditional bass voice in the nation, Larry Hanks.
  There is, perhaps, a greater variety of music in this selection: sad and joyful, private and public, religious and secular, quiet as well as boisterous. Not everyone will be equally attracted to every piece but these are all songs and melodies which move me in the many moods and facets of my life. For that I make no apologies.

This review appeared in Sing Out! vol. 54, No. 3

“Bouterse was born into a Kentucky musical family. He grew up as part of a Navy family and lived all over the US. While in high school he began to play the hammered dulcimer, and in 1961 he met his mentors Sam Hinton and Stu Jamieson. Since then he has had a long and varied musical “career” alongside his day job as an anthropologist, historian and musicologist. Probably his most ‘high profile’ musical credit was his involvement with Ry Cooder on the classic movie soundtrack for ‘The Long Riders 
Curt’s new recording ‘Banjer On My Knee!’ features him performing on a variety of instruments including both mountain and hammered dulcimer, banjo, autoharp, fife, drum and the kubing, a Philippine Bamboo jaws harp. The CD is dedicated to his two mentors and is chock full of wondrous American traditional music.
The recording opens with ‘Gold Watch and Chain’ from the Carter Family. Curt has rearranged it as a waltz and the song takes on a wholly different character. He is joined by L. Lee Davis on vocals, Ray Bierl on fiddle and Larry Hanks on guitar and vocals. ‘Rocky Hill’ follows from the playing of Stu Jamieson. Curt accompanies his vocal on a banjo tuned to low A tuning. It’s an especially rich sound with lots of slides. The popular ‘Jennie Jenkins’ is up next, from the playing of E.C. and Orna Ball. The call and answer vocals with L. Lee and the mountain dulcimer accompaniment are especially lovely. Curt comments that ‘Early in the Morning’ was the first tune he heard on the hammered dulcimer. It was played by an unknown West Virginia musician and collected by the Library of Congress.
This is just a taste of the eighteen tracks of wonderful American traditional music to be found on ‘Banjer On My Knee!’ Don’t pass this one by.”

Tom Druckenmiller

Somehow this was reviewed by the German country music site, .

“‘Gold Watch and Chain Waltz’ ist einer jener Songs, die mir aus dem Herzen sprechen. Für mich gemacht. Sentimental bis zum geht nicht mehr, ehrlich, verletzt, direkt. Manche Musiker verstehen es, den ganzen Weltschmerz in ein Stück zu legen. Wie Curt Bouterse mittels Dulcimer, Autoharp, Löffeln, Schlagzeug, Banjos und noch viel primitiveren Instrumenten bzw. Perkussionsmitteln.
Erstaunlicherweise kommt diese Old-Time CD aus Kalifornien. Ich hätte gewettet, sie kommt aus den Appalachen, so ursprünglich klingt sie (Anspieltipp: “Oh, Death”). Gesanglich bewegt sich der Tonträger im Mittelfeld. Dabei muss man aber die gewählten Stücke in Betracht ziehen, die allemal sehr viel vom Sänger verlangen. Einen Höhepunkt macht Patsy’s “Life’s Railway to Heaven” (ich kenne das Stück nun mal vor allem von ihr). Wunderschön und sehr, sehr religiös (für mich ist DAS Religion nicht das Tragen von Hemden mit Kreuzen und dem zeigen darauf, wenn man fotografiert wird. Für mich muss man den Glauben leben).
Hier scheint alles ehrlich und aufrichtig zu sein. Und gleichsam wichtig. Eine angenehme Arbeit, vor der man sich verbeugen muss.

My Translation (compilation of not-very-sensical translations). I welcome corrections.

“‘Gold Watch and Chain Waltz’ is one of those songs that speaks to me from the heart. Made for me. It doesn’t get any more sentimental: honest, vulnerable, direct. Some musicians know how to put the pain of the world into one piece. Like Curt Bouterse with dulcimer, autoharp, spoons, drums, and many more primitive instruments and percussion. Surprisingly, this Old-Time CD comes from California. I would have bet it was from the Appalachian Mountains, it sounds so natural/original/primordial (e.g., ‘Oh Death’). Vocally, it moves in the middle ranges.[?] However, here one must take into consideration the selected pieces, which always require a lot from singers.  A high point is Patsy’s [Cline?] ‘Life’s Railway to Heaven’ (I know the piece above all from her). Beautiful and very, very religious (for me [true] religion isn’t wearing shirts with crosses and pointing to it, if you are photographed; for me, one must live the faith). Here everything seems to be honest and sincere. And, as it were, important. A pleasant work, before which one must bow.”

“Hard work and honesty created folk music. The right tune could ease a hard day, bring a smile to a tired face, and liven up a quiet night at the pub. So today’s recordings suffer from enshrinement. Sanitized and held on high, the tunes lose what made them so special to the people who sang them.

I didn’t understand this until my junior summer when I took on a personal care attendant job. For five, twenty-three hour shifts, six days a week I lived with a couple who had been married twice as long as I had been alive. She had taught him in high school back in the day when area families hosted small town teachers. While I did the dishes after dinner, she would sit in the kitchen and sing me the songs he had sang her while they were courtin’.

In a voice as old and worn as the Appalachian Mountains surrounding our town, she sang songs of love and joy, waiting and sorrow. For the first time, I heard the soul that lives in traditional folk music.

Curt Bouterse’s Banjer On My Knee: Traditional American Old-Time Tunes And Songs captures the spirit that invaded the kitchen during those summer nights. The tight line up includes: Bouterse on dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, autoharp, spoons, kubing, fife, drum, and bango; Ray Bierl on fiddle and guitar; Larry Hanks on guitar; and L. Lee Davis joins everybody on vocals.

From the earnest Gold Watch and Chain Waltz to the haunting, a cappella version of Lone Prairie, Bouterse’s arrangements highlight the heart of each song. The effect is a walk through American folk history. The album is an instructive for the newcomer, but also a welcome addition to the connoisseur’s collection.

The couple I worked for have long since passed on and it’s been years since I thought of them. But when I heard Bouterse begin Froggy-Went a-Courtin’ as I was washing dishes, I smiled. Their old kitchen, lost down time’s river, had come right back. She’d always blush when he joined in “with a sword and a pistol by his side” as he rode up to Miss Mousie’s door. There was honesty in the way her cheeks turned pink. And like that old tune, it came in a story that could only be told with a song.”

By Peter Massey, on March 31st, 2011, Green Man Review

Notes on the album.

This album is dedicated to my two traditional music fathers and gurus, now both departed, Robert Stuart “Stu” Jamieson (1922-2009) and Sam Duffie Hinton (1917-2009). Even more than my previous recordings, this is a tribute to the folk process and my small part in it. In the world of traditional music, it’s not just a poetic truth that ‘no man is an island.’ The creation, shaping, and ultimate acceptance of any tune is the effort of families, villages, and nations of listeners and performers. This is a collection of favorite songs transmitted and inspired by some of the wonderful people I have met over the past half century. Many of them were learned in the oral tradition from these great singers and players while others were created ‘under the influence.’ In all cases, I owe a great debt to those who have gone before me and hope my efforts help keep both their memories and the traditions of these songs alive. Once again, I am joined by my favorite singing partner, my sister, L. Lee Davis. I am proud to be able to work with my old friend of some 40 years, Ray Bierl, a fantastic fiddler, as well as Larry Hanks, an excellent musician, all-around nice guy, and best traditional bass voice in the nation. Once again I am joined by my sister and favorite singing partner, L. Lee Davis. I am also proud to be able to work with my old friend, Ray Bierl, who has become a fantastic fiddler since I first knew him some 50 years ago, along with the fine guitarist, all-around nice guy, and best traditional bass voice in the nation, Larry Hanks. There is, perhaps, a greater variety of music in this selection: sad and joyful, private and public, religious and secular, quiet as well as boisterous. Not everyone will be equally attracted to every piece but these are all songs and melodies which move me in the many moods and facets of my life. For that I make no apologies.

1. Gold Watch and Chain Waltz. [Trad. arr., CCB] 2:55. CB, voice and autoharp; Lee, voice; Ray, fiddle; Larry, voice and guitar. Even after singing it for 50 years this Carter Family classic doesn’t pale but, recently, treating it as a waltz, it has taken on an entirely new character. I gave a gold watch and chain to my first love; we are still good friends.

2. Rocky Hill. [Trad.] 3:00. William Sidney Mount banjer, spoons. Another great tune learned from my mentor, Stu Jamieson. I don’t know anyone else who plays it. The phrase, “got my rations on my back, musket on my shoulder,” is derived from an oral formula common in the 18th and 19th century. (Just Google “musket on my shoulder.”) Stu was also influenced by Uncle Dave Macon and often played in his style. I include an Uncle Dave intro as a tribute to him. Impromptu percussion accompaniment is a tradition which is ancient and widespread but underrecorded.

3. Jennie Jenkins. [Trad.] 3:25. Jethro Amburgey Kentucky dulcimer, tuned 1-1-5; Curt and Lee, voices. I learned this from a recording of Estil and Orna Ball back in the 1960s and Lee is the perfect vehicle for this old-time flirting song.

4. Early in the Morning. [Trad.] :55. hammered dulcimer. This was the first hammered dulcimer tune I ever remember hearing. I taped it from the radio, as I recall, by “an anonymous player from West Virginia” recorded by the Library of Congress. Its characteristic “crooked” tune is typical of an old style of solo performers, fiddlers and others, when they were not playing for dancing but just for themselves. The meter is 5, 5, 7, 4+2, 4, 4. As I recall it was titled “Drunken Sailor” but I always thought it more closely resembled “Going to Boston.” When I realized they both used the last line, “early in the morning,” I supposed they might have interacted around this shared phrase and chose it for my title.

5. Life’s Railway to Heaven. [ca. 1900. See the info at] 4:45. CB, Lee, Ray (voice & lead guitar), Larry (voice & rhythm guitar). My sister and I have been singing this song since we were in grade school, from an old hymnal which had it, “respectfully dedicated to all railroad men.”

6. Froggy Went a-Courtin’. [Trad., arr., CCB] 4:10. This is dedicated to my mother. She used to sing it around the house when I was very young and I always enjoyed the asymmetrical phrasing. Unfortunately, I never paid much attention to the verses past the beginning few – or maybe she didn’t sing very many. Anyway, I have gathered some favorites I know she would have enjoyed. I know I do.

7. Hey, Ben! [CCB] 3:10. CB, voice and Wm. S. Mt. banjer, open C tuning; Ray, fiddle, GDAE. I wrote this song when my old friends, Lou and Virginia Curtiss had their son, Ben, back in 1976. I imagined him growing up in the midst of Old-Time parties and becoming a musician. He turned out to be a Byzantine scholar and we all couldn’t be prouder.

8. Hills of Mexico. [Trad., arr. CCB] 3:45. Notched gourd banjer. This was inspired by Roscoe Holcomb’s version from his old album with Wade Ward. Unfortunately, only some of the words were intelligible but I was enchanted by the possibilities of the story, a version of “The Buffalo Skinners,” with unique touches like the “Mexican cowboy.” In particular I was haunted by the line, “the bells they did ring and the whistles they did blow,” so I had to compile a more complete account.

9. Good Old Chicken Pie. [?Perhaps \”Bake That Chicken Pie,\” variously attributed to Collins and Harlan (ca. 1907), Frank Dumont (1906), and J E Ditson Co., 1886.] 2:10. autoharp; Ray Bierl, fiddle; Larry Hanks, guitar. I asked Ray to provide some “chicken music” on the fiddle: he succeeded beyond my expectations. This was one of my paternal grandfather’s favorite songs he used to accompany on the old Jumbo Gibson he bought in the late 1920s. He was a complex and difficult man in many ways but when he sang this song (and “Ticklish Reuben”) he became the jovial, entertaining raconteur we all admired and loved.

10. Oh Death. [Trad.] 3:50. Kubing (Philippine bamboo Jew’s harp), voice. Doc Boggs has been one of my favorite players since I first heard his recordings in the early 1960s. This is perhaps his most dramatic and moving song.

11. Gold Rush Medley: Camptown Races/Oh, Susanna/Buffalo Gals. [Trad.] 5:30. Gourd bonja, tuned (8)-1-5-5; Kentucky dulcimer (made by CCB), tuned 1-1-8, fife and drum. I was delighted to find that there are many traditional tunes that can be played on two strings tuned a fifth apart. In this case these three melodies are so closely related I have to concentrate not to accidentally change from one to the other in mid-song. I added more percussion on these pieces, including the fife and drum, which tradition was probably more widespread in the 19th century than it is now. I will be disappointed if you, or your children, aren’t dancing by the end of these familiar tunes.

12. Little Birdie/Glory in the Meeting House. [Trad.] 5:52. Notched gourd banjer. I learned this song from Rossie Holcomb and it was Joanne and Lisa’s favorite. Glory was one of the wonderful, haunting tunes by the great Kentucky fiddler, Luther Strong. For this tune alone I could say, paraphrasing King Agrippa, “Almost thou persuadest me to become a fiddler.”

13. Brother Green. [Trad. Richard Dorson has a woman from Illinois relating it was composed by Rev. L J Simpson, an Army Chaplain, on the death of a brother, killed at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February, 1862. I spent my Junior High School days in Clarksville, 30 miles from there, and visited the beautiful, somber site.] 5:10. Ky. dulcimer (made by my Mother, Virginia Lee Hargis Bouterse, in Hindman, Ky., 1982.), tuned 1-1-8. Stu Jamieson learned this from Margot Mayo’s family in Kentucky. Most version have the dying soldier from the Union side. The “brother” refers to male nurses, usually from conscientious objector backgrounds, like the Shakers and Quakers (and Walt Whitman), who offered palliative care to those who were seldom saved by the primitive medical establishment.

14. Felicita. [CCB] 2:28. Fairbanks & Cole fretless banjo, “sawmill” tuning; and Ray Bierl, fiddle, ADAE. Another of my tunes, composed in the 1970s, dedicated to a wonderful woman and the times we spent in Felicita Park in Escondido, just north of San Diego. This is one of Ray’s favorites.

15. Yonder’s Gallows Tree. [Trad., arr. CCB] 4:05. I learned this from my favorite Traditional American musician, Frank Proffitt. I had never been fond of the “Hangman” stories but Frank’s version was not only the most beautiful and simple but resolved a couple of issues for me. In most examples there is no indication of the crime, but here she has “stole a silvery cup” and seems to accept her fate. His gentle rendition also somehow shed a new light on the most vexing issue: her family’s seeming indifference and even voyeurism about the hanging. We didn’t bring a ransom, we just came to watch, always offended me. But Frank’s matter-of-fact singing suggested (at least to me) that, though the family may be poor and powerless, we can at least be with you in your final hours. And public hangings were communal events, with a host of social implications, until fairly recently. So, I decided this was, at last, a version I could sing. But there was one last hurdle: I had always been left unfulfilled by the truncated nature of the mini-ballad. It seemed like a gimmick: no money, no money, no money, Money. The end. So I exercised my oral transmission rights and composed some finishing verses.

16. Ducks on the Pond. [Trad.] 4:00. I learned this tune from Larry Hanks back in the 1970s while working on a movie soundtrack with him, Holly Tannen, and a host of high powered musicians, including Byron Berline. While the big band members were inside recording, he and I were sitting on the street in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, at 2 am, with only his mandolin for company. Among the tunes he played, this one mesmerized me. Even though I didn’t play the instrument, I learned to pick the melody on it and determined to remember it. When I got home to San Diego, I pulled my “tater bug” Washburn out of the closet and relearned it, transferring it to the hammered dulcimer. For 30 years it has been one of my favorite tunes to play. A couple of years ago Larry was at the (San Diego) Adams Avenue Roots Festival on a workshop with me and I played it, crediting him. His response: “I didn’t know I knew that tune.”

17. Lone Prairie. [Trad., arr. CCB] 2:40. CB, Ray, Larry. The shape note hymn, “Devotion,” from the Southern Harmony is in the same tune family as “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” “The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn,” and “The Leatherwinged Bat.” The harmony parts are from the hymn.

18. Promised Land. [Trad.] 5:30. Jethro Amburgey Kentucky dulcimer, tuned 1-1-8. This is a song from my childhood but the minor tune is from the Southern Harmony shape note hymnal. I also have worked in another, similar, hymn from the same source, “Parting Friends.” All my Kentucky dulcimer playing is indebted to Jean Ritchie, who was a charming friend to both my parents and me.

2014. Wooden Nickel

 Notes on the album.

1. Boatman Dance. Traditional. 4:07. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, William Sidney Mount banjer in eAEaa, hand claps, jaw harp. I’ve known this tune since my childhood. I may first have learned it from Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs” arrangement.

2. Bangum and the Boar. Traditional. 4:20. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, Jean Ritchie dulcimer in aaD. I learned this in the 1960s from a recording of someone who played it on the dulcimer, but I never performed it until recently. Burl Ives sang a version of this song with a similar melody. The dulcimer that I play on this track was a gift from Sam Hinton.

3. Wooden Nickel. Curt Bouterse. 2:34. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, William Sidney Mount banjer in gDGcd, Ray Bierl: Fiddle in GDAE. I’ve played this tune of mine for over thirty years and just recently taught it to Ray Bierl. Now you can learn it.

4. Wild Bill Jones. Traditional. 2:38. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, George Washington gourd banjer in dDAd. I’ve been rearranging many of the tunes I used to play on my old fretless banjers for my small, 4-string gourdies. The limited octave range of the smaller instrument seems to increase the intensity of this murder ballad.

5. Never Grow Old. James C. Moore. 3:14. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, Amburgey dulcimer (built by Curt’s Mother, Virginia Lee) in aaA, 1890’s Zimmermann Dolgeville 5-bar autoharp (with original strings), Lee Bouterse Davis: Vocal. This is one of the many great songs I learned from the underappreciated 1930s gospel singer Alfred G Karnes. Lee and I channel our paternal grandparents who had a gospel radio program in Orlando in the 1930s. My grandfather would have played his old jumbo Gibson. (We were probably fated to sing this song: Moore was an African-American hymn writer whose middle name was the same as the town where my mother and sister were born. The song is dated the month before my birth, on the same day, in a year that is an anagram of mine. Coincidence? Hah!)

6. Foreign Lander. Traditional. 2:37. Curt Bouterse: Vocal I learned this sing from Martha Hall on the old Folkways Records Mountain Music of Kentucky album (1960). I sang it as a fragment for years until recently finding more verses I liked.

7. John Hardy. Traditional. 4:01. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, gourd bonja in dDAA. I knew pieces of versions of this song that didn’t speak to me — until I was inspired by a fragment Stu Jamieson sang to me just before he died, which sounded more like a Child Ballad. I hope my arrangement does it justice.

8. Jenny’s Blues. Curt Bouterse. 2:46. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, Fairbanks and Cole banjo (#2854) in gDGcd, Ray Bierl: Fiddle in GDAE. Dedicated to a dear friend and her daughter, eternally young.

9. Blue-Eyed Gal In Sunny Tennessee. Curt Bouterse. 2:43. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, George Washington gourd banjer in bBEA. The melody came from the tuning and the song appeared in about fifteen minutes. I couldn’t find a way to shorten the title.

10. Goin’ to Boston. Traditional. 3:17. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, Jethro Amburgey dulcimer (built by Curt’s Mother, Virginia Lee) in aaA, Lee Bouterse Davis: Vocal. Another great song I learned from Jean Ritchie. Note the similarity of the melody to ‘Early in the Morning’ (on my Banjer On My Knee! CD) as well as ‘Drunken Sailor.’

11. Rainbow in the Willow. Traditional. 2:37. Curt Bouterse: Vocal. I learned this one from the singing of Almeda Riddle in 1963. A version of ‘Locks and Bolts,’ the vivid imagery makes it one of my favorite songs.

12. Roving Gambler. Traditional. 3:16. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, Leonard Glenn banjer in dGDga. I always liked this song but had considered it a guitar tune until recently. It was also the tune that Eck Robertson picked on my fretless banjer when I first met him in Amarillo in 1965 when I was working for my Uncle Sam. Eck told me he’d played it in his youth, before he learned to play the fiddle.

13. Bonaparte’s Retreat to the Isle of Saint Helena. Traditional. 5:49. Curt Bouterse: Jethro Amburgey dulcimers in aaA. I start with my old version of ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ which was inspired by Mike Seeger. I love the contrast of the free-rhythm first strain with the strict second strain. I then add ‘Boney on the Isle of Saint Helena’ and include the countermelody I composed.

14. Villulia. Traditional. 2:58. Curt Bouterse: Vocal. The original melody in The Southern Harmony only had two verses, so I found two more to complete the well-known story of the miracle of Jesus healing blind Bartimeus. This is an example of the highly-ornamented, solo tradition of religious singing which goes back to ancient European roots.

15. Fair Beauty Bright. Traditional. 3:02. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, Jethro Amburgey dulcimer in aaA. Lee Bouterse Davis: Vocal. My sister Lee has been singing this to my accompaniment since the days before I learned to play the dulcimer. Undoubtedly learned from Jean Ritchie.

16. Binfield’s Waltz. Neriah Binfield. 2:06. Curt Bouterse: 1890’s Zimmermann Dolgeville 5-bar autoharp (with original strings) I can’t remember where I learned this in the 1960s, but I have played it ever since. Only in preparing these liner notes was I able to identify its composer: the great autoharpist, Neriah Binfield, who only called it ‘Waltz.’

17. Claude Allen. Traditional. 3:51. Curt Bouterse: Vocal, George Washington gourd banjer in dDAd. This is another song with a wonderful melody that I’ve known and loved since the early 1960’s. I only occasionally played it until recently, when it found its voice on my small gourd banjer.

18. Waterbound. Traditional. 2:15. Curt Bouterse: Kubing (bamboo jaw harp). Learned from the New Lost City Ramblers, I’ve always sung this song with the accompaniment of a dulcimer or jaw harp. And now, not even sung.

2017. Nixon's Farewell

I asked Holly Tannen about the song, “Obama,” and whether it needed additional verses. She replied,
It’s so beautiful it made me cry.
The one verse is all it needs, but I predict that folks will make up
their own verses as well.
And the instrumentation is, of course, perfect!

        Love and respect,


For the cut, “In My Father’s House,” I immediately heard George Winston’s old-time gospel piano with a choir. He confessed, “I don’t normally play back up, but Curt asked me to. Dancing Cat Records have produced 5 CDs on him so far (mainly Old Time Appalachian tunes and his own pieces – his best-known are ‘Waiting for Nancy’, and ‘Nixon’s Farewell’ that have become Old Time music standards).
Curt is one of my big inspirations and influencers and I’ve been listening to him since 1975 so somehow I pulled this off. It was live and one take -One of those situations where we sort of only had 10 minutes to do it.”