“Whiskey Before Breakfast”–An Easy Version and English “Speed the Plow”

My tune this month is an easy version of “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” A closely related tune to this fiddle tune is the English song, “Speed the Plow.” While searching on my computer for relevant photos to illustrate the music, I found some incredible photos which my high school-aged school son snapped in 2004 in London of Queen Elizabeth and the royal family riding in several gilded carriages. With the queen’s passing this week, the photos have special significance. It is a once-in-a-life time chance that you will see the queen in person, these photos have a fairly tale-like quality. I will use them to add a special touch to this blog post.

Learning the fiddle tune, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” by ear

Here’s another one of my favorite fiddle tunes to play on the mountain dulcimer, “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” It is one of the first tunes which I ever learned to play. Years ago, we attended a weekend camping dulcimer festival in Alabama. I remember that I heard strains of a beautiful dulcimer tune being played at a nearby campsite. I went to investigate what was going on. Well, there was Paul Andry and his wife, Dee Andry. Paul had just learned to play the song himself and he taught it to me. Years ago, that’s how you used to learn to play tunes on the dulcimer — by listening to somebody else. (That was before computers, books or sophisticated written tab.) When I first played this fast and furious dulcimer tune, I probably skipped every other note but I wanted to keep up with the jam. This summer, hoping that my beginning dulcimer players would learn this tune, I wrote out a simpler version for them to play.

About Whiskey Before Breakfast

This widely known old-time, breakdown tune is sometimes referred to as “Spirits of the Morning.”
Who knows what the song’s origins are; they seem to be Canadian since the tune is a standard in
Canadian prairie repertoire and Metis fiddle players of the northwestern states and Canada. It was popularized in Canada in the 1950’s and 60’s through the recordings of Andy DeJarlis, a Metis fiddler and broadcaster. We learned the tune from Paul Andry and Margaret Wright. Millard Chaney, Lagniappe club member, likes to strum very rapidly to keep up with fiddle players. He showed us how to slide fingers up and down the fretboard to fret the notes in Part A to keep up the pace rather than fretting each individual note. Strum this fiddle tune.

Simpler Version of “Whiskey Before Breakfast”

“Whiskey before Breakfast” is one of my favorite dulcimer tunes, but it is not easy for beginning dulcimer players to play. It has lots of runs and quick notes. If you are playing in a jam setting, it’s hardly likely that the group will want to play this tune slowly for beginners. So, hum. I realized that you can “skip” some of the notes and the tune will still resemble it’s overall structure. I used my method of “skipping notes” to make a simpler version.

Tips for playing the tune even easier

Millard gave us a tip for playing the tune even easier. In the first measure, slide either your thumb or index finger up the fretboard to reach the notes — it doesn’t matter if you hit all of them. That helps with speed. Don’t try to play this run using multiple fingers.

A second tip is In Part B (measures #13 – 16). These chords really make the tune unique; I suggest learning to play these chords. The key is to form a “C-shape” with your hand and firmly hold it in place. Make a barre chord (pinkly, ring and middle fingers) to play the notes, reaching up with your thumb for the higher note. Then freeze this form, and simply slide your entire hand down one fret for the next note. Keep the same hand position, changing only the fingers necessary to play the chords. Move your hand as little as possible. I think of CPR and the C-grip you must make to hold a mask down on a person’s mouth and nose. You must keep a strong grip on things. It works! Give it a try.

Attached is a image of the easy version of the tune, and a PDF file which you can download.

Related English Tune, “Speed the Plow”

Since Queen Elizabeth passed away so recently, we are interested in “all things English.” I am including information about “Speed the Plow” as a special tribute to the late queen.

This tune, “Speed the Plow, is related and very similar to “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” It is an English tune with a fascinating history. It is a reel which has been popular with fiddlers being played for over 200 years in North America, Ireland, Scotland and England. The song was composed by John Moorehead, an Englishman who emigrated to Armagh, Ireland, in 1782. A talented young violinist, he became employed by London’s Covent Garden Theatre in 1798 and wrote the tune the following year, originally entitling it “The Naval Pillar” after a military victory. It spread rapidly throughout Great Britain and the English colonies. The melody was used in a theatrical play, “Speed the Plough,” leading to the song’s current title.

The phrase, ‘God speed the plough,’ is derived from a wish for success and prosperity in the new planting year. It is related to the English medieval celebration marking the new farming season on Plough Monday, the first Monday after the twelve days of Christmas.

The tune was tabbed out by Helen Bankston and is found in our dulcimer tune book, “Jambalaya Jammin’.” This tune is not necessarily easy to play — it has lots of runs and lacks the same barre chords on measures #13 – 16. Since it is her tab, I won’t post it, but if you are interested, then look it up in your “Jambalaya Jammin'” Tune Book or message us so we can forward you instructions on how to purchase the book or acquire the tab arrangement.

We are saddened to hear of Queen Elizabeth’s passing this week. And as been said many times, this is the only Queen of England that most of us have known. I certainly will cherish my son’s photos. We hope King Charles III the best. My, that seem awkward to say; we will adjust!

Here are some additional photos in this procession which seems to end up in Buckingham Palace. My son couldn’t remember the details of the occasion, keep us guessing.

One comment

  1. Maylee, I am interested in purchasing a copy of the Jambalaya Jammin Tune Book if that is possible. Please email me and let me know how much and where to send payment. I am thankful for your sending the tab out for us to enjoy each month and the very interesting topics you cover bring the wide world a little closer to South Georgia. Thanks again, Vicki Allen

    Sent from Outlookhttp://aka.ms/weboutlook


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