I learned Birdie in a Snowbank off of a Fred Stoneking recording. I really appreciate having had a chance to hang around Fred at fiddle contests while I lived in Indiana.
I learned some cool old Missouri tunes from Fred, and enjoyed his gentle crustiness.
Really, one of the best things about living in Evansville was my proximity to great Missouri Fiddlers (also to Kentucky and Tennessee Fiddlers.) There weren’t many fiddlers around the Evansville area, but there sure are some great fiddlers that don’t live too far away.
Birdie in a Snowbank according to Fiddler’s Companion
BIRDIE IN THE SNOWBANK. AKA – “Birdie in a Snowbank.” Old-Time, Breakdown. USA, Missouri. D Major. Standard tuning AA’BB’. From the playing of Lee Stoneking and his son Fred. The tune is derivative of the Irish “Boys of Bluehill,” or “Beaux of Oak Hill .” A similar Ozark region tune, points out Drew Beisswenger (2008), is Vesta Johnson’s “She Ought to Been a Lady.” Source for notated version: Fred Stoneking (b. 1933, Missouri) [Beisswenger & McCann]. Beisswenger & McCann (Ozark Fiddle Music), 2008; gp. 134. Rounder CD 0381, Fred Stoneking – “Saddle Old Spike” (1996).
Boys of Bluehill according to Fiddler’s Companion
BOYS OF BLUEHILL, THE (Buacailli Ua Cnoc-Gorm). AKA ‑ “Beaux of Oak Hill ,” “Boys of North Tyne,” “Lads of North Tyne,” “Silver Lake ” (Pa.), “Jenny Baker,” “Lonesome Katy,” “Two Sisters ,” “Twin Sisters .” Irish, Reel or Hornpipe. D Major. Standard tuning. AABB (most versions): AA’B (Moylan). O’Neill (who said the melody was unknown to Chicago Irish musicians beforehand) had the tune from a seventeen year old fiddler named George West, who, though gifted musically, was somewhat indigent and did not own a fiddle. He had formed a symbiotic musical relationship of sorts with one O’Malley, who did own a fiddle and who eked out a meagre living playing house parties despite the loss of a finger from his left hand. O’Malley, however, invariably could only make it to midnight before he became too inebriated to bow, at which time West took over his fiddle and finished the night’s engagement. “Thus lived the careless, improvident but talented Georgie, until an incident in his life rendered a trip to the far West advisable.” Early American recorded versions on 78 RPM’s give the title as “Boys from the Hill” and “Slieve Gorm.” Fiddler Tommy Dandurand (Chicago/Kankakee, Illinois) recorded the melody as “Beau of Oak Hill” in 1927, and it is this title that is familiar to many American fiddlers not influenced directly by Irish repertoire (of which “Boys of Bluehill” is a staple hornpipe). Earlier recordings of the melody were by Charles D’Almaine (c. 1913), paired with other tunes in his “Fisher’s Hornpipe Medley,” and by William B. Houchens (1922) in his “Turkey in the Straw” recording.
There are ‘Blue Hills’ in many regions of the world, including Massachusetts (near Milton and Canton) and Scotland, and a ‘Blue Hill’ in Maine. The tune is perhaps older in American tradition than in Irish, although its provenance is unknown, although in American tradition it is almost always played as a reel rather than a hornpipe. In the 19th century it appears in publications such as Ryan’s Mammoth Collection (1883) as “The Boys of Oak Hill” (by which title it also appears in one of the Scottish Kerr collections). The earliest American printing seems to be as “The Two Sisters” in Knauff’s Virginia Reels (1839). More that a century and a half later a version of “The Two Sisters” could be heard in the playing of Appalachian fiddler Sherman Wimmer as the similarly-titled “Twin Sisters” (also played by Ernie Carpenter). Other American variants are the southwestern Virginia/north Georgia “The Old Ark’s A-Movin” (see Taylor Kimble’s version, for an example of that variant), the Pennsylvania-collected “Silver Lake” (which Paul Tyler has also found in an 1842 notebook from Ohio), Ira Ford’s “Lonesome Katy” (probably from the Mid-West) and the Kentucky variant “Jenny Baker” (from the Jimmy Johnson String Band). See as well Ozark fiddler Vesta Johnson’s “She Oughta Been a Lady,” Mel Duham’s “Pussy and the Baby,” Ozark musicians Lee and Fred Stoneking’s “Birdie in the Snowbank,” and one of the many “Hell on the Wabash” titles, particularly one played by Clay Smith of Star City, Indiana.
Interestingly, there’s some evidence of the melody travelling back to Ireland from American (i.e. non-O’Neill’s) sources. A reel called “Keep the Old Ark Rolling” appears on Pádraic Mac Mathúna’s album “Blas na Meala,” a variant of “The Boys of Bluehill.” The liner notes to the album, by Séan Potts, state that it’s “one of the many tunes brought to the US by Irish immigrants. The titles and rhythms were often changed to suit the American country style. The melody is almost identical to the Irish hornpipe, The Boys of Bluehill. Pádraic got the tune from two musical friends in Cork, Matt Cranitch and Noel Shine.” In fact, Matt Cranitch played in an old-time string band in Cork for a time, and may have picked up the tune from an American player.