I was playing a concert with Steve Eulberg, a pretty awesome dulcimer player (of both types of dulcimer), and he started playing this tune. I thought it was a cool enough tune to be my fiddle tune for today. I picked up the tune as we played it, but I didn’t know the name of the tune until after we played it, and I have to say that as tune names go, this one is almost as cool as “Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further Into the Fire.”
So, after we played Grasshopper Sittin’ on a Sweet Potato Vine once we played it again for Fiddle Tune a Day – and for good measure.
Grasshopper Sitting on a Sweet Potato Vine according to Fiddler’s Companion
GRASSHOPPER SITTING ON A SWEET POTATO VINE. Old‑Time, Breakdown. D Major. Standard tuning. AB (Silberberg): AABB (most versions). Galax, Grayson County, Virginia, area fiddler Luther Davis (1887-1986) is usually credited for most versions of this tune. African-American collector Thomas Talley printed a song by this title in his 1922 work Negro Folk Rhymes (reprinted in 1991, edited by Charles Wolfe). His lyric (which seems to scan with the abc tune below) goes:
Grasshopper a settin’ on a sweet tater vine,
‘Long come a Blackbird an’ nab him up behind.
Blackbird a-settin’ in a sour apple tree,
Hawk grab him up behind; he “Chee! Chee! Chee!”
Big hawk a-settin’ in de top of dat oak,
Start to eat dat Blackbird an’ he git choke.
Some see similarities to the Irish melody “(An) Comhra Donn” (The Brown Box/Casket/Coffin). Also melodic similarities in parts of some versions to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Sources for notated versions: Luther Davis (Galax, Va.) via Liz Slade (Yorktown, New York) [Kuntz]; Jere Canote [Phillips]; Greg Canote (Seattle) [Songer]; Stephanie Prausnitz [Silberberg]. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 2: Occasional Collection of Old‑Timey Fiddle Tunes for Hammer Dulcimer, Fiddle, etc.), 1982 (revised 1988 & 2003); pg. 14. Kuntz, Private Collection. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), Vol. 1, 1994; pg. 102. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 55. Songer (Portland Collection), 1997; pg. 88. Dean StreetMusic 101, Grand Picnic – “Grand Picnic.” Marimac 9009, Liz Slade ‑ “Old Time Friends” (1987).