This fall, I’ll be serving as an artist-teacher, leading a clawhammer banjo class at San Diego’s Museum School, right next to Balboa Park. This is a 10-week pilot program that is the result of a partnership between the Center For World Music, Deering Banjos, and the San Diego Music Foundation. The Center For World Music hopes to secure funding that will allow year-round banjo class as part of their “Music In The Schools” program, which brings classes in traditional musical arts from around the world to San Diego’s public schools.
“Streak of Lean, Streak of Fat” is an old time fiddle breakdown that some people call “Hell Broke Loose in Georgia”. The tune’s name, I’m told, is an old expression referring to bacon. If true, I can add this to the very long list of old time songs and tunes I play that reference pork products. I was inspired to arrange it for clawhammer banjo after listening to a 1930 recording by the phenomenal Georgia fiddler Ahaz Augustus Gray. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor. Not only is the fiddling fantastic, but you’ll get to hear backup guitarist John Dilleshaw cracking wise throughout the whole thing.
Most of his comments seem clownish in their use of long-forgotten slang terms (“Tennessee Chicken” apparently referred to any kind of meat except that of the bird). Sometimes though, he speaks not as an entertainer but as if he is a passerby who happens to hear the tune: “Listen! I hear music…. why, that’s that old tune, ‘Streak o’ lean, streak o’ fat.'” The tune seems to evoke nostalgic memories in the mind of the fictitious passerby: “Boy, I danced many a night to that.” “Reminds me of when I used to carry that Johnson gal around and go dancing.” I love this tiny narrative because it seems like some recursive echo of my own listening experience. It’s kind of beautiful and slightly funny that a 21st century guy like myself (or any fan of old time music) using music to imagine the past would do so only to find this fellow in 1930 doing that very thing himself.